LCS: An Offer We Can’t Refuse?
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.”
The 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.
As 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.