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The LCS Mothership

December 17, 2008

From the Center for National Policy and its Blueprint for a Future Force:

To strengthen the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, the Navy must: eliminate requirements that are not vital for the ship’s success,particularly the 40-plus knot speed; finalize requirements; and negotiate contracts for a reasonable fixed cost. Next, the Navy must engage in an open dialogue about the operational and cultural preparation required to operate Littoral Combat Ships. Finally, the Navy and Marine Corps should report to Congress about the possibility of acting on the mission modules to the LCS to increase its versatility. These could include ideas already suggested by the Navy such as a surface fire-support module, a special operations module and humanitarian assistance module.

For a mothership, the vessel should be as austere as possible, something the LCS certainly is not. As an example of a true mothership, one should look to the war-era fleet carriers which were as lightly armed as possible, depending mainly on its parasite fighters for its defense. Where the giant supercarriers fail in their mothership role today, is its fighters and warship escorts are mainly used to protect the mothership, save in very benign threat environments. Sadly, the bulk of our conflicts at sea have been in the latter areas against mostly non-naval powers, clouding us to this inconvenient truth. In other words, as a mothership the supercarrier is more dependent on protection by her “children” instead of allowing them to fight as is their primary purpose.

We feel that as a mothership in its current form, the USS Freedom class LCS is too heavily armed, too exotic with untried technologies, and too costly. If the 2 former requirements are discarded, the last may take care of itself. This was also the point of the CNP article.

Armament on the USS Freedom consists of a 57mm gun, the Rolling Airframe Missiles, and .50 caliber guns. Really not a lot to discard as is, but the main gun and the RAM could be replaced with CIWS, with the idea that perhaps a missile armed corvette could be used to defend the ship. Eliminating the powerful gas turbines which drive Freedom to 40 knots might be replaced with  basic diesel engines would give adequate enough speeds for maneuvering in littoral seas.

In its new configuration as a mothership, the LCS could provide support for Naval Special Warfare boats as the HSV Joint Venture did in Operation Iraqi Freedom a few years back. There it virtually invented the mothership role as a “floating truck stop“:

The HSV-X1 Joint Venture, a 315-foot-long, aluminum-hull catamaran that has been modified to carry gunboats, amphibious landing craft, helicopters and marine platoons, has become a seaborne forward operating base for Navy special operations forces, which are helping to clear southern Iraqi waterways of Iraqi ships and mines. ”We are the mother ship,” said Capt. Phil Beierl, the Joint Venture’s commander.
The fast twin-hull ship has been anchored in Kuwaiti waters within sight of Iraq’s lone deep-water port, Umm Qasr. Like a floating truck stop, the Joint Venture has provided supplies, shelter and spare parts for more than a dozen Naval Special Warfare boats that have been darting in and out of the Khawr Az Zubayr, the waterway that links Umm Qasr to the Tigris River to the north and the Persian Gulf to the south.

At the USNI blog, Galrahn proposes something similar:

What is this platform exactly? Well, I spent 3 nights on USS Freedom (LCS 1) and it is difficult to compare the ship to anything else. It is not a warship, it is more akin to an amphibious ship and a logistics ship built to operate in a small war environment. The LCS is two things, speed and space, and while plenty of people have all these unmanned systems ideas for how the ship can conduct all these war centric activities, I would suggest perhaps the ship is better used as a fast littoral logistics and support vessel for PCs in building peacemaking capability at sea for the US Navy.

This is the future of expeditionary littoral warfare in a nutshell. The bottom line: with some major reworking, the LCS could become what its designers promised us in the beginning, an affordable and vital tool in the struggle to control the shallow seas and coastal regions of the earth.

19 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    December 30, 2008 8:09 pm

    WTF. Motherships need not be bought in large numbers to support riverine and FAC craft. I would estimate from 20-30 LCS are reqquired for this mission. As i also stated in another post, we shouldn’t limit ourselves to a single hull type for a mothership as we have with the aircraft carrier, which greatly limits the latter’s usefulness ( as in littoral or benign threat operations) and enhances the cost in my view.

  2. WTF? permalink
    December 30, 2008 12:45 pm

    Maybe i’m missing something, but are we saying we want 20% of our surface force 55 of 313 ships to be unarmed “mother ships” for riverene craft support? Isnt the original intent of the LCS to provide ASW/Mine/Small Craft/Network Node capabilities and offer more, less expensive hulls to the overall surface force…..

  3. Mike Burleson permalink
    December 18, 2008 7:36 pm

    Well, seeing motherships as logistical vessel would make sense, since they aren’t the weapon for the new expeditionary warfare we are envisioning, but the enablers. It would also counter-act those who would describe it as a capital ship leading to the dangers of “warship worship” that now affects many Big Carrier supporters, to the detriment of real naval tactics.

  4. leesea permalink
    December 18, 2008 4:14 pm

    Mike, I guess you know I think of motherships as logistic in nature? They can stay in the rear safely, provide support at sea and not meet all the expensvie NVR rules.

    I have thought the Navy ought to change the next-gen LCS RFP by splitting the rqmts: one HSV as “real” warship and one HSV as tactical sealift ship. Well on second thought with differing ship standards maybe do two procurements (boy would that fluster NAVSEA!)

    Speaking as a former test director, I hope someone thinks outside the box on the current LCS OT&E parameters. The testers tend to get myoptic.

    Once again senior naval leadership would be good to have!

  5. Mike Burleson permalink
    December 18, 2008 3:15 pm

    Certainly the mothership is a warship, but don’t let that get you down. What is an aircraft carrier but a glorified depot ship and aircraft tender. As I said in another comment, I am not married to the LCS alone as a mothership but we must do something with them. We once had numerous types and sizes of carriers, light, escort, fleet, so why not experiment with various types of motherships? All of your ideas from the LSD to the sealift ship have merit.

  6. leesea permalink
    December 18, 2008 12:48 pm

    The basic decision – upfront – TLR issue is: Is a mothership a logistics support ship or a warship? If former there are pletny of less expensive sealift ships already in US inventory, if latter why not the old LSDs? See my post in USNI Blog for details.

    Both of the LCS hullforms have grear limtations for logistics support because they were built as hybrid warships. As Mike said size matters! heehee Speed is not something I see as needed for mothership?

    LSD conversion in magnitude of say $50 million? Try mods out on older LSD and then order newer one making both Marines and EXO community happy? I think the LSD(X) may still be in the outyear SCN?? What I am talking is additional ships not ones to be sliced off of the amphib lift pie.

    You want something cheap and quick? use a saalift ship or charter more OSVs like MSC has already done for NSWG. A both of those should be plural because they are in service TODAY.

  7. Mike Burleson permalink
    December 18, 2008 9:14 am

    To Anon. yes I believe it would though I am not married to the design. We should get some use out of it. Too big to hunt pirates on its own and too small for Blue water operations, really not needed there anyway. Might be too small to support larger corvettes but how about those small special warfare boats?

    Smitty, I agree and was leaning toward 30 or less?

    Distiller, as I said the LCS needs a speed reduction and shouldn’t be fighting pirates on its own (a frigate versus speed boats? Please!). It should support smaller and expendable craft which do the real fighting.

    And get this straight all, i would only support such a mission if we can bring down the price of this thing. I also insist that we should not stick to a single mothership design, with some running up to 20,000 tons, 10,000, and 3000. No more but also no less. otherwise we will be trapped into a single do it all, jack of all trades warship as we currently are with the aircraft carrier, unable to reduce it huge bulk or its price tag, unable to purchase in adequate numbers. We then lose sight of the weapon we need (the small attack craft)and become obsessed with the support platform. The answer here is versatility in concept.

  8. Distiller permalink
    December 18, 2008 6:34 am

    Hm – getting some use out of them …
    Is LCS loud at full speed? Can is scare pirates? Play Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, perhaps? Like in Apocalpypse Now. But don’t come too close – otherwise they’ll make a hole with a RPG, maybe start a fire and such.

  9. B.Smitty permalink
    December 17, 2008 9:25 pm

    Maybe. But we shouldn’t build 50+ more of them. They have too many “go-fast” design compromises.

    Might as well keep the few we can’t economically cancel the way they are, and design what we really want from scratch.

  10. Anonymous permalink
    December 17, 2008 9:12 pm

    Mike maybe I am missing something? Are you saying a 3000 ton LCS appropriately modified would make a good mothership? Mmmm

    I like the suggestion of others an LSD as mothership (need to compare costs on that one?). Or my concept of a dockship as mothership or GFS support ship, hands down cheapest and quickest COA.

    JHSV likewise needs some mods to serve as mothership. For instance there is no cargo handling gear topside, or organic means of loading/discharging mission modules. Joint Venture as does Swift suffers from less cargo volume and smaller ramp when compared to WestPac Express. JHSV has good ramp but less troop spots and cargo capability sort of in-between. What would be nice would be to see MSC chater one of Austal’s 125 meter cat HSVs for the Marines. Get it built and inservice before next-gen LCS and/or JHSV, and then have it run circles around the new boats!? LOL

    I saw a note on Inside the Navy in which USCG said they might, just might work with Navy on making the OPC a small combatant.

  11. Mike Burleson permalink
    December 17, 2008 8:52 pm

    Your comment on the JHSV would have been my preference, after its initial testing in 2003 off the Iraqi coast. We could’ve had a fleet of motherships, affordable and in service by now.

    My point is, since Freedom is in service and several more on the way, we might as well get some use out of them.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    December 17, 2008 5:18 pm

    Correction: It looks like the OPC started its design phase in Jan ’08. Still might be early enough for the USN to come onboard.

  13. B.Smitty permalink
    December 17, 2008 4:10 pm

    Since the OPC is just about to enter its concept design phase, maybe this is the perfect time for some UCSG/USN Jointness.

  14. B.Smitty permalink
    December 17, 2008 4:03 pm

    Just removing the turbines isn’t enough. The high speed requirement influences nearly every aspect of both LCS hull designs.

    Go back to the drawing board. Draw up a nice, old-fashion, boring, 30kt Deep-Vee hull, and forget about trimarans and 3000-ton semi-planing monohulls.

    Maybe even use the Bertholf, USCG OPC, or G&C “Baby Burke” (designed for the Aussies) as a starting point.

    Mike, I’m not sure you can really gut the LCSs much more. They are already very lightly fitted as it is. Besides, as you implied, if we’re going to do that, we might as well use the JHSV and scrap the whole LCS program.

  15. Mike Burleson permalink
    December 17, 2008 2:39 pm

    Leesea, did you even read the article, friend? I would only deploy LCS if she were gutted from non-essential weapons and tech, loses much of her high speed which as you say isn’t necessary (and maybe dangerous) and used to support combatants far smaller than herself. She already is a shallow water vessel which gives her an edge on merchant ships and old amphbis ships that most naval analysts have seen the mothership derived from.

    The kind of small combatants, corvettes, FAC, OPV, ect which yours truly sees dominating the future surface warfare cannot operate alone so far from port. The mothership is essential to future littoral warfare. The LCS frigate can’t do this alone, but with a proper conversion might add to this fight.

  16. leesea permalink
    December 17, 2008 11:45 am

    Mike since when are you buying the argument that bigger is better??

    The terminology used with LCS is all screwy. The ships should be seen as tactical warfare ships not tied just to the littoral missions. The Navy needs many more tactical hulls. As noted elsewhere there is no need for speedy ships for some littoral missions such as MIUW. The speed aspect is for manuever, only required for attack and retreat.

    Major rework of the top level requirements is what is needed. That ought to take NAVSEA ohh about 5 years?! What is needed now are off the shelf FAC and/or OPVs which can be in the fleet in under 3 years.


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