The LCS Mothership
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.