Skip to content

LCS: An Offer We Can’t Refuse?

April 15, 2009

Listen to Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ reasoning for keeping the over-sized, overbudget littoral combat ship in the 2010 Pentagon Budget, via Danger Room:

the LCS “has a capability that we just have to have… It would have enormous value against fast boats like we see, for example, in the Persian Gulf.” Even at an inflated price, it would still be more economical than other options the Navy uses today. “You don’t need a $5 billion ship to go after pirates. You don’t need a $5 billion ship necessarily to do a humanitarian mission. So its flexibility and its ability to get into tighter places than other ships that makes it more attractive.”

lcs1The Admirals have convinced Congress and the public that the new littoral combat ship, LCS, whose production is ramped up in the new budget, is the final word in shallow sea, Brown Water operations. While it is an interesting concept as a fast wave-riding vessel, and at around $500 million significantly cheaper than every other USN warship program, it is still a very large and expensive vessel for such dirty naval warfare. The type of adversary the LCS would likely face in such waters would be a $10,000 speed boat available in large numbers by stateless pirates, or rising Third World navies such as Iran. Her large bulk leaves a dangerous opening for swarming  attacks by such numerous and agile craft, tactics the Iranian Navy practices on a regular basis. The Information Dissemination blog further reveals:

The Littoral Combat Ship is really not built well to operate in the littorals, since it will operate over the horizon and deposit its unmanned payloads into the littoral, nor a combat ship since it is a barely armed logistics ship.

Which brings us to the main gripe we have concerning the new budget, the large size of US warships and the shrinking size of ship numbers. Such a choice in the composition of the post-Cold War navy was intended as an answer to the growing proliferation of precision guided weapons at sea, to ensure the navy’s survival in a future exchange of such weapons that has already revolutionized war in the air and on land. Yet we think it will have the opposite effect should war come.  So fearful are we of some obscure “conventional war”, or losing the industrial experience to build giant warships, that we can’t even contemplate a fleet of low cost, high number corvettes, save this very flawed, too big and expensive LCS.

100,000 ton aircraft carriers, 10,000 ton missile battleships, and 3000 ton littoral ships stand out like a sore thumb near the coast-line and can only be bought in small numbers. The Big Ships were vulnerable enough in the pre-computer chip age when weapons needed numerous firings to ensure a hit. Now with new precision technology, smart bombs and missiles are almost assured of a strike. In the future, tens and maybe hundreds of thousands of fairly inexpensive and very effective robot weapons will be aimed at the tiny US Navy and her handful of very noticeable warships.

080728-O-0000X-007As I mentioned earlier, the LCS is in low-rate production, and will not be in service in any numbers until late in the next decade. We can hardly expect the pirates to wait another decade before we can build an adequate littoral fleet to fight them in their shallow water haunts. A crash production of small ships is called for here, not unlike the kind of Navy the Sri Lankans saw fit to create out of almost nothing to defeat some of the world’s worse terrorists. The Tamil Tigers possessed their own Navy, and like the pirates used small craft and motherships (floating warehouses) to maintain their insurgent-like capabilities on the high seas. A similar operation which the Sri Lankan Navy conducted to destroy these enemy resupply ships should be conducted against the Somali Pirates. Such an operation using many new small ships could significantly disrupt pirate activity without the dreaded need for major operations against the land bases.

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 17, 2009 12:18 pm

    57mm is perfectly adequate for a PC gun, but we placed 76mm on the Vietnam era Asheville gunboats of only 300 tons.

    I often look on Hanit as an example to the contrary for those who claim a small corvette couldn’t take a hit and survive in the littorals like say, a 10,000 destroyer.

  2. Double E permalink
    April 16, 2009 10:11 pm

    Mike,
    I agree- the Hanit incident is a prime example of the dangers of operating close to a hostile shore- the threats are everywhere. It is also an indication of how straight numbers don’t make the whole story. The chain of command both onboard and above the ship let hubris and complacency get in the way of effective tactical employment, and Hezbollah took the opening. It is pretty amazing only 4 sailors were killed considering the level of damage received to the affected compartments.

    I haven’t followed either LCS design very closely, but with only baseline armament of a 57mm gun (a popgun for a normal surface engagements, but perfectly adequate for small boats and *some* types of FACs) and a RAM/CIWS hybrid, she’s not much better armed than our current FFG7s. At least they put the main gun in an effective position this time.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 16, 2009 7:53 pm

    Double E, that seems more like a personnel problem with Hanit.

    The only good I see coming out of the LCS program is as a mothership, and like Galrahn says with much fewer bought.

  4. Double E permalink
    April 16, 2009 6:28 pm

    I think the LCS is a good idea gone awry (much like DDG1000, Seawolf, etc.). At least the Navy is trying something new with the acquisition process as well designing for mission capability, even if it ultimately results in wrong answers.

    And in the Navy’s defense, it has not been sitting on its hands with regards to littoral threats. Special Boat Units, Naval Coastal Warfare, and Riverine Squadrons along with the US Coast Guard have all been doing a pretty impressive job on various assignments overseas.

    Mike: Northrop Grumman has indeed built several SAAR V series of ships for Israel. It is a pretty impressive design, complete with VLS, ASCMs, a modular capability for cannon armament, and full helo support, all enclosed in a low observable hull. We would have to just make sure we don’t repeat the lessons learned the hard way by INS Hanit.

  5. west_rhino permalink
    April 16, 2009 2:38 pm

    Just what the chap with letters of mraque ordered…

  6. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 16, 2009 9:00 am

    And I hear some of our shipyards are building corvettes for foreign navies, notably Israel’s SAAR class. But none for us.

  7. Moose permalink
    April 15, 2009 10:50 pm

    Electric Boat would actually do hand-stands to get SSK work, work is work. The holdup was those who have interests tied to mainland China, those afraid of pissing off mainland China, and the USN worried about our SSNs getting the shaft all not wanting it to happen. Same reason we haven’t sold a whole fleet of AEGIS hulls to Taiwan.

  8. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 15, 2009 10:22 pm

    “LCS might well end up doing everything but littoral work.”

    Good point, which is why it went from 600 tons to 3000! The Navy doesn’t understand littoral warfare and doesn’t care to. Heretic makes the point that we get here often from critics of our corvette that if a small ship doesn’t have range and ample stocks of weaponry it won’t survive in the Blue Water long. Of course not, but it will dominate the future littorals, bring sanity back to shipbuilding, reduce the cost of surface combatants to something reasonable. Best of all, it will build on the growing and deadly capabilities of precision cruise missiles, rather than as an add-on to budget-busting battleships.

  9. Heretic permalink
    April 15, 2009 2:44 pm

    “600 tons? That’s back pocket stuff! It’ll never survive in the blue water-”
    “Uh, sir, it’s supposed to be a Littoral ship…”
    “And if it can’t self-deploy across the world’s oceans, it’ll never see any green waters beyond the USCG patrol zone! Lard that sucker up with everything except a crew and weapons! Don’t need any of that gunboat crap in the littorals.”

    By the way Mike, here’s an article (from Kyle’s Links at War is Boring) that shows just how reluctant the USN is to get into the SSK/SSP business. Taiwan wanted to buy some new SSK boats from the US, and have since 2001. The last SSK for the USN ordered/accepted was a Barbel-class boat made in 1959.

    Guess how eager the USN and Electric Boat were to come up with a foreign military sale SSK design for Taiwan. Go on … guess …

    It’s only been 50 years now since the last SSK entered service with the USN. I wonder if there’s been any technological advances in submarine technology in all that time …

  10. Distiller permalink
    April 15, 2009 2:40 pm

    Too early to say what will become of the LCS, and into what areas it will expand, and what versions they’ll do. Weapons, sensors, etc. I don’t like it very much, but it’s all the Navy will have.

    Just say that the displacement is enough for open ocean transit and operations, and that is a good thing, because I don’t see anywhere on the horizon a frigate programme for those secondary escort tasks. The Burkes are all tied up with the carrier groups! The amphib groups are happy to get a single one (very funny with thousands of Marines aboard!). It will be the LCS’ job to escort the PrePos and amphibs, and maybe even put some missile containers on the flight deck and play NFS, in case there are no Burkes available for that job, or the next cruiser is delayed any longer.

    Know what? LCS might well end up doing everything but littoral work. And the real littoral work might end up with ever expanding SOCOM.

    And that idea about LHDs and Skjolds: Very nice and sure useful, but way too expensive and inflexible. LCS will be its own mothership/tender, sized just so that it can go close to shore, but just so big enough to do blue water jobs and stay on station for a while.

    Now, I’m not sure if it’s correct, but the range of LCS-2 is given as 4500nm @ 20kts. Now, that’s exactly like the Burkes. What does that tell me?

  11. Mike Burleson permalink
    April 15, 2009 12:27 pm

    “the LCS should fear smaller boats since they are so poorly defended and un-armored.”

    And don’t forget, depending on who is doing the driving, often suicidal.

    West, good point, much like the 600 ton and affordable Streetfighter mutated into LCS.

  12. leesea permalink
    April 15, 2009 11:53 am

    technical distinction: LCS will operate in Green Water mainly and perhaps even further offshore than the USN admits? Brown Water ops are in rivers, lakes and estuaries, but the LCS should fear smaller boats since they are so poorly defended and un-armored.
    And yes the USN needs to buy an OTS FAC designs and build some NOW.

  13. west_rhino permalink
    April 15, 2009 11:27 am

    Let me see, what part of we need a fast attack type do they not understand? (Or is it that a fast attack would de-volve inot the LCS?)

Trackbacks

  1. Searching for the Arleigh Burke Replacement Pt 2 « New Wars
  2. Searching for the Arleigh Burke Replacement Pt 1 « New Wars
  3. The Littoral Combat Ship Trap « New Wars

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: