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LCS Alternative Wednesday

October 14, 2009
tags: ,

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By popular demand (actually it was ScottB and a couple others, but a still good idea!), here is a day set aside for one of the most controversial ship programs in recent history: the over-hyped, much delayed, much-overweight, undergunned, and over-priced littoral combat ship (LCS).

The Indispensable Perry’s Soldier On

Thanks to all of the above mentioned faults of the LCS, the ancient and over-worked remaining Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates continue to perform their essential functions in the fleet. Designed as a low end escort in the 1970s, the 55 Perry’s (many others built for foreign navies) have proved crucial in sundry but important functions of patrol and guarding the sealanes. The Navy apparently is in little hurry to replace these tired warriors in their thankless tasks. From Strategypage we learn more:

The U.S. Navy’s new helicopter UAV, the MQ-8B (formerly the RQ-8) Fire Scout, is being assigned to another class of ships. The RQ-8A was originally developed for use on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), and was due to enter service this year. But the LCS is behind schedule and the Fire Scout isn’t, so the navy is assigning the Fire Scout to other ships. The first  ship class to carry helicopter UAV is a Perry class frigate, the USS McInerney (FFG-8). This ship is assigned to the 4th Fleet, and will be operating in the Caribbean, chasing drug smugglers.

For the type of foes the Perry’s contend with in the post-Soviet era, they are much too large and expensive to operate. We continue to advocate low end corvettes and offshore patrol vessels for the role of anti-piracy and counter narcotics instead of overly-large frigates and the $700 million LCS, which are so much over-kill and a drain on stretched thin budgets.

*****

Fractured LCS Acronyms

Here are some acronym alternatives for LCS via the Navy discard pile, I suspect:

  • Little Crappy Ship
  • Look for Costs to Soar
  • Luxury Combat Ship
  • Looks Cool offShore

Feel free to add your own in the comments and we’ll post them in future articles!

*****

Sea Lance Gets a New Birth

Just as Spain took our 1970s plan for a Sea Control Ship as the basis for their light aircraft carrier, Taiwan borrows a 1990’s Navy idea for a small LCS catamaran dubbed Sea Lance. Information Dissemination translates the report:

According to legislative sources, this new missile-craft will have a 900-ton displacement, will be used for coastal defense, but also have the flavor of larger missile corvettes, and be specifically designed to counter the Type 022. It will have a dual-hull, stealth capability, eight Hsiung Feng III antiship missiles, auto-cannons, with a total length of 40 meters, and a crew complement of 45.

On a hull 1/3 the size of LCS, we have a capable coastal warship with a heavier armament than the frigate-sized American ship. Obviously the Taiwan Navy wasn’t distracted trying to matched Blue Water capability on a ship supposedly geared toward littoral warfare. Also something which the blogger Raymond Pritchett mentions is a bit bizarre concerning the ROC vessel:

Building missile boats to fight missile boats strikes me as an odd approach, as helicopters are obviously the more effective approach.

Mr Pritchett bases his statement here on the lessons of the Gulf Wars, when the poorly handled navies of Iran and Iraq were roughly handled by the superbly trained and equipped Western fleets. The wrong place to establish doctrine, especially considering the corvettes of today are much better armed than the fast attack craft of yesterday.

Corvettes fighting corvettes makes plenty sense when you consider that tanks are best for fighting tanks, jets versus jets, submarines as a counter for enemy submarines. It is rational then that “the best weapon to counter enemy small surface combatants is a force of small surface combatants“, especially considering the naval craft can loiter much longer in its own environment than an aircraft can in the air.  Certainly the helicopter enhances the surface vessel’s abilities, but can in no way replace it in terms of persistence. But sink the helo’s mothership and you’ve effectively countered the air threat.

*****

 LCS Independence doesn’t like the water

Another strange comment comes from Rear Adm. Bill Landay, the “Navy’s program executive officer for ships” on plans to send the newest littoral combat ship Independence to sea for trials. Here is the admiral via Chris Cavas at Navy Times:

“Every time you go to sea, it’s a disruption to your production. We were going to sea, we were coming back, we were working on issues a couple days, we were going to sea, we were working on issues. We were making progress, but we also were, quite frankly, impacting our production, because there were a lot of other things we still needed to do,” Landay said. “So we made a conscious decision at one point that said we know enough, and there are some things we need to go work, let’s go put the ship back into production for two, three, four weeks to make progress on all the production stuff that we want to do before we go back to sea again.”

I think I see where he is coming from, that the experimental ship had technical issues still to work out in port. But the Navy needs more ships in the water and less in port. With so many setbacks, the entire LCS program appears too complicated and needlessly so considering the really low tech missions required of such vessels, chasing smugglers and pirates. Which is why we insist it a mistake to marry Blue Water abilities in a 3000 ton hull, for a ship meant to be built in sizable numbers and sail in harms way against a treacherous shoreline. They should have stuck to the original streetfighter design with this vessel and suffered fewer headaches.

*****

Ireland’s Littoral Ship Woes

Eire’s own debate over large versus small warships echoes this blogger’s arguments against the large and pricey LCS class. Here is Sunday Independent:

PROPOSALS to equip the Naval Service with up to 20 smaller, faster and cheaper patrol boats to cover the entire coastline, with a new shipbuilding industry to supply them and create jobs, have been rejected by the Department of Defence. Under the submission to Defence Minister Willie O’Dea by the Euro Marine company, offshore P1-65 patrol boats could be supplied at a cost of €5m each, and 10 could be bought for the cost of one offshore patrol vessel (OPV).

The department, which is engaged in a €200m ship replacement programme for Ireland‘s eight-ship navy, and intends to buy two OPV ships for around €100m if it gets Cabinet approval, rejected the plan saying essentially that the boats are too small and were unsuitable. Yesterday Clare-based businessman Bill Rigby refuted the department’s arguments and said in his opinion most of the Irish coastline is unprotected. He said his boats are designed to operate in bluewater sea conditions and in shallow water where 62 metre boats being procured by the Naval Service cannot operate.

“It is beyond our belief that two or three larger boats can be effective, as emergent activities develop, the time of response by these larger, slow-moving ships is less than acceptable as they are rarely in the vicinity unless by chance,” he said.

Concerning the prices in US dollars, that would be $75 million for the OPV’s and $7.5 million for the smaller craft. If only the LCS had come in at $75 million, right? But we understand the argument of Big versus Small, where there would be fewer vessels to cover an extensive shoreline with the Irish OPVs. We can’t imagine what Navy the nation would defend against, other than Britain which could make mincemeat of larger ships. The greater threat would be from smugglers and illegals so the smaller ships make more sense here.

Mr Rigby’s argument then holds true for the gold-plated but shrinking US fleet, that no matter how capable individual vessels are, they can’t be in many places at one. Less ships mean less presence. This is common sense which has somehow escaped our modern-day naval strategists.

*****

24 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2009 10:53 pm

    Mike,

    I just posted a yet different version of it over at Information Dissemination. I -hope- that each iteration has become more persuasive. Several -enhanced- LCS platforms each armed with an OtoBreda 127 / 64 and having 56 immediately ready rounds available for Naval Gunfire Support just might ruin somebody’s day! Follow that with several flights of Vipers dispensing Hellfires and then some follow-up sorties by Harriers or F-35s coming from out the blue-water realm and an -enhanced- version of the LCS might prove its worth.

    Of course, it’ll never happen…

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 15, 2009 5:42 am

    DE, I’m glad you are speaking out at the USNI blog where more Navy types can see the LCS has problems. The service is on a desperate PR campaign seeing their funds are threatened, unlike anything I’ve heard since Rickover began naming submarines after cities!

  3. October 14, 2009 11:24 pm

    Mike,

    I just posted a portion of the following over at the USNI Blog. While I don’t believe that the LCS is really usable (in its present form [both types]), I can’t help but hope that we will learn some useful lessons from it (besides it being a damned-near complete fiasco). Perhaps with some modifications one or both designs could be salvaged and made into useful warships. I don’t know, but this program ?-might-? be made salvageable.

    Slower and better armed would be my wish for the LCS (other than something else besides the LCS [really, something else -smaller- and quite different would be my preference – especially in far greater numbers]).

    Yet, if we’re going to end up building some number of the two LCS designs, then I would expect that we should lessen the top speed from 47 knots to something like 35 knots by reducing the size of the present gas turbine installation. Smaller gas turbines and the same sort of cruising diesels would make the basic hull lighter and capable of longer sustained operations. Also, this would allow for a greater weapons load-out.

    Now, for the start of a greater weapons package, then replace that forward 57 mm BAE / Bofors cannon with something far more substantial like the (Oto Melara) Otobreda 127/64 gun system. Picture is here:

    PDF information sheet is here:

    http://www.otomelara.it/EN/Common/files/OtoMelara/pdf/business/naval/largeCalibres/127-64LW.pdf

    Wikipedia entry for the gun mount is here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Otobreda_127/64

    The Otobreda 127/64 gun has four separate ready ammo drums, with each drum carrying 14 rounds of differing types of ammo. The rate of fire is 40 / 45 rounds per minute. That is twice the rate of fire for the USN Mk 45 (5″) 127/54 & 127/62 gun systems. Do we all understand a potentially superior gun system (longer range, four-way multi-targeting capability) when it’s shown to us?

    Then, replace the two single-purpose 30 mm chainguns with two of the dual-purpose 57 mm BAE / Bofors cannons. Push out the modular bays for the weapons (as sponsons) so that the two 57 mm cannon could shoot fully forward and aft in support of the larger, forward 5″ cannon and also in support of the RAM launcher (weapons coverage redundancy is the operative term, here).

    And, as with the U.A.E. Baynunah class of multi-role corvettes, install Mk-48 or Mk-56 VLS launchers on the flanks of the hanger superstructure in sponsons. These would carry the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) as a dual-purpose strike and defensive missile system. Again, weapons systems redundancy is the intent.

    Given these modifications, then the LCS type could function as a truly armed warship. Four different weapons systems -each- with two or more functional capabilities would make it an effective surface combatant (not a limited-role PC-like over-sized and under-armed limited capability FF-like but only semi-warship which is what the presently-configured LCS happens to amount to being).

    Then, add a couple of SH-60 Seahawks and you would have an ASW and potential OTH strike capability. Or, perhaps it would be useful if an AH-1Z Viper or an UH-1Y Venom were to be embarked along with a MQ-8B Fire Scout. That would provide some OTH strike capability along with the basic UAV’s scouting, intelligence-gathering, and targeting capacity. There wouldn’t be an ASW component in this latter package. But, if you’re operating off the coastlines of failed (or, otherwise) nation-states lacking submarines – well, here you have a capable platform created out of the presently anemically-rendered LCS design.

    OK, now here’s the sweetener mix for the USMC. Think about four, six, or eight of these -enhanced- LCS out in front of an amphibious assault group. There would be multiple 127/64 gun systems capable of time-on-target fire. Those firings would be informed based upon satellite intel or the reads from UAVs launched from the gators’ aviation decks. The LCS would be able to carry two of the above-mentioned AH-1Z Viper attack helos, each. So, right after a time-on-target barrage then the Vipers could sweep over the beach and reduce remaining opposing forces to a further degree of wreckage. Further offshore there might be a screen of Burke-class DDGs providing theatre AAW coverage for both the inshore LCS and the offshore, approaching gators. Flight-deck gators could provide Harrier and/or F-35 strike capability in support of the inshore LCS forces (if they were enhanced as described, above).

    The present forms of the two LCS designs do appear to be greatly limited in their functionality. Perhaps it is time to look at the design as something (a blueprint) that can be significantly improved upon and enhanced.

    Still, I think that corvettes are a better force multiplier, in most instances.

  4. Bill White permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:21 pm

    Just a reminder, that inspite of the large cost overruns, both the LCS ships are currently costing LESS than the Navy’s other Austere ship the venerable FFG-7, Oliver Hazard Perry class when they are compared with same year dollars adjusted for inflation.

    Leads me to believe that the original bid prices were unrealistically low, especially after they were modified with much tighter survival requirements by the Navy.
    Those tighter survival requirements have bought us very little in real world “fighting hurt” capability for huge dollar expenditures.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 14, 2009 6:03 pm

    Chuck said “You are close to being inconsistent with regard to the Irish OPV.”

    I know I was treading on thin ice here. Would that we were having this argument in the US, and the LCS was really a 1000 ton OPV! It’s really about what fits for each particular nation and I can see Rigby’s argument that a smaller ship would get more work done, and be widely available. Basically I was pointing out the Big versus Small argument wasn’t exclusive to the USN. Still I haven’t given up on my advocating a 1000+ ton ship as an LCS alternative, have no fear.

    Heretic-thats perfect!

  6. leesea permalink
    October 14, 2009 5:30 pm

    Anybody heard anything about a Fire Scout being on the LCS-1 when she deploys?

  7. Chuck Hill permalink
    October 14, 2009 4:43 pm

    Mike,

    Take care. Tou are close to being inconsistent with regard to the Irish OPV. The type the government has proposed are very close to the OPVs you have been advocating (about 1000 tons light, maybe even less). They are even planning on using RPVs. There is more information here:

    http://www.independent.ie/national-news/navy-will-use-8364100m-ships-to-operate-robot-spy-planes-1885329.htm

    A little more of the article you quoted gives more of the government’s justification for their choice:
    ———————————-
    “Under his proposals he claimed his boats, with a top speed of over 40 knots, armed with two 25mm Bushmaster cannons with armoured crew spaces, would have a range of 1,500 miles, would be more efficient than the larger ships proposed and reduce overall costs.

    “He envisaged an initial plan of investing in three boats at a cost of €15m-€18m, “which will give three-times the coastal coverage of one €100m ship”.

    “However, the department told Mr Rigby that his ships were essentially for inshore work and would be unsuitable. It said: “The present requirements for the Naval Service are for Offshore Patrol Vessels that can conduct 42-day patrols with up to 70 per cent of that time spent at sea in the harsh North Atlantic conditions.

    “As the weather and wave heights experienced in the north-west Atlantic are predicted to worsen over the next 30 years, the Naval Service require larger rather than smaller vessels at this time.”
    ———————————-
    Looks like the intention is to exercise sovereignty in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) rather than to repel invasion.

  8. Heretic permalink
    October 14, 2009 4:14 pm

    LCS = Lockmart Capsizes at Sea

  9. Tarl permalink
    October 14, 2009 4:06 pm

    Don’t forget the British were also greatly outnumbered in the air, where the US had total dominance in the air, land, and sea.

    Don’t forget the British got to fight at the extreme range of Argentine aircraft, and thus Argentine numbers were effectively diminished by their low sortie rate and short time on station.

    a helo can fly below the corvette’s radar horizon and fire on an ESM bearing (if the corvette is radiating), or pop up and take a quick look with its radar while still out of SAM range.

    Exactly.

  10. Jed permalink
    October 14, 2009 2:00 pm

    The “Helicopter Action Group” is (or was ?) a well established NATO navies tactic, so much so that in the “good old days” of the cold war, we would practice Sea Kings vectoring Lynxes with their full load of 4 Sea Skua’s against simulated “prospective” targets as big as Krivak class frigates etc. They have good radar and decent SAM’s – so then it comes down to operational art, tactics and training – can you fly low enough to get into the clutter while still able to paint the target with your radar etc.

    If son-of-Sea-Skua or whatever is an imaging infra-red seeker, then you can maybe approach your target without giving your self away with your own emissions. This also counts for AW101 sized helo’s carrying something like the new NSM3.

    Of course the more stuff you stick on your ‘small boat’ to enable it to defend itself against helo launched missiles, the bigger it will get…………..

  11. Byron permalink
    October 14, 2009 1:55 pm

    Correcting myself: Mac is going to the Pak Navy.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    October 14, 2009 1:35 pm

    Mike said, “Send a helicopter against vessel with adequate SAM protection like a corvette and see how long it lasts. Helos are easily countered on land or sea, just ask the Viet Cong or the Mujahideen.

    What corvettes have “adequate SAM protection”?

    The Viet Cong and Mujahideen shot down helos as they overflew their SAM and AAA positions. Certainly if the helo blunders in to the corvette’s missile range, it very well may get shot down.

    However, a helo can fly below the corvette’s radar horizon and fire on an ESM bearing (if the corvette is radiating), or pop up and take a quick look with its radar while still out of SAM range.

    Penguin Mk3 can be fired from over 55km away. Even Sea Skua out-ranges most corvette SAM systems like Barak and RAM.

  13. William permalink
    October 14, 2009 1:16 pm

    “Send a helicopter against vessel with adequate SAM protection like a corvette and see how long it lasts.”

    That would depend on the relative range of the corvettes radar/sam vs the range of the helos ASM.

  14. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 14, 2009 1:10 pm

    Byron-Not my info but Strategypage, and not incorrect but outdated I think. Thanks for pointing this out though because Mac is going to Turkey soon.

    Tarl said-derived from the Falklands War, in which the poorly handled Argentine Air Force and Navy were roughly handled by the superbly trained British armed forces.

    Don’t forget the British were also greatly outnumbered in the air, where the US had total dominance in the air, land, and sea. Don’t recall any major threat to the Coalition ships except for mines. Most of the Excocets fired hit oil tankers, save for the dramatic attack on USS Stark.

    Send a helicopter against vessel with adequate SAM protection like a corvette and see how long it lasts. Helos are easily countered on land or sea, just ask the Viet Cong or the Mujahideen.

  15. Byron permalink
    October 14, 2009 11:25 am

    Your information is incorrect: Firescout was used on McInerney as a test bed (they just deployed to Central and South America on counter-drug deployment). After this cruise, all Firescout equipment will be removed from the Mac and the Mac sold to the Turks.

    Sad freakin’ days.

    And I think I’m the one that came up with “little crappy ship” at Salamanders, you’d have to ask him.

  16. Tarl permalink
    October 14, 2009 9:58 am

    Mr Pritchett bases his statement here on the lessons of the Gulf Wars, when the poorly handled navies of Iran and Iraq were roughly handled by the superbly trained and equipped Western fleets. The wrong place to establish doctrine, especially considering the corvettes of today are much better armed than the fast attack craft of yesterday.

    This amuses me in light of your constant advocacy of a “doctrine” derived from the Falklands War, in which the poorly handled Argentine Air Force and Navy were roughly handled by the superbly trained British armed forces. If the thrashing of incompetents in 1991 is no basis for a doctrine, why is the thrashing of incompetents in 1982 the basis for a doctrine?

    Corvettes fighting corvettes makes plenty sense when you consider that tanks are best for fighting tanks, jets versus jets, submarines as a counter for enemy submarines. It is rational then that “the best weapon to counter enemy small surface combatants is a force of small surface combatants“

    What? You have rightly pointed out the effectiveness of asymmetric approaches – e.g. submarines and anti-ship cruise missiles as a counter to surface ships. Now you want us to accept that symmetric approaches are the way to go, and always make plenty sense?

    By this logic you should argue that China needs aircraft carriers to counter our aircraft carriers. What are they thinking, building all those submarines and developing anti-ship ballistic missiles? They must be completely irrational!

    naval craft can loiter much longer in its own environment than an aircraft can in the air. Certainly the helicopter enhances the surface vessel’s abilities, but can in no way replace it in terms of persistence. But sink the helo’s mothership and you’ve effectively countered the air threat.

    Persistence is one factor. Range and response time are others. The helos greatly extend the range of surface ships, and helos can get from point A to point B much faster than a ship. A ship with a helo can send out the helo to sink a ship without a helo before the ship without the helo gets within missile range. Therefore it is the helo-less ships that will get sunk, not the helo mothership.

    Ultimately one could imagine land-based UAVs as a counter to small surface combatants. Such UAVs could loiter for much longer than a helo, and either cue a helo-launched missile attack or launch anti-ship missiles themselves.

  17. Matt permalink
    October 14, 2009 9:25 am

    You forgot:

    LCS – Low Capability Ship
    LCS – Laughably inCapable Ship
    LCS – Lack of Common Sense

  18. Jed permalink
    October 14, 2009 9:13 am

    Mike I am certainly not defending the gold plated LCS, but must call you out on this one:

    “Yet, every mission the ships are currently involved in is toward a low tech, asymmetric enemy. So we need more ships for this purpose and the $600-$700 million LCS isn’t it.”

    Littoral ASW might be asymmetric but its not low tech ! Plenty of interesting, and quiet small submarine designs out there that will sink you pretty quickly. Also mine warfare is very high tech ! Both the mines and the mine countermeasures equipment (I know, I have a campaign medal for mine sweeping / hunting during the Iran / Iraq war).

    Strangely enough these requirements are supposed to be handled by the mission modules for LCS which are…… still being built / developed ??

    Chasing pirates is low tech yes, but I still think Helo’s (sorry not Airships) are better for this (plus a couple of Combat Boat 90’s from an ex-amphib “mother ship”)

  19. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 14, 2009 8:33 am

    You have a point there, but I refuse to let the Navy off that easy. Gold Plate is Gold Plate and still means a shrinking fleet. Enough is enough, especially when this over-sized patrol boat costs as much as a European Aegis frigate! We need to buy good escort ships and to rebuild the flotilla. But everything we have now is geared toward the battle fleet, or like the LCS, costing a battleship price. Yet, every mission the ships are currently involved in is toward a low tech, asymmetric enemy. So we need more ships for this purpose and the $600-$700 million LCS isn’t it.

  20. William permalink
    October 14, 2009 8:13 am

    “William, you wouldn’t have me print something dishonest? LOL!”

    Mike, It depends what you’re comparing it to. Compared to a $13.9+ billion Ford class CVN, the LCS is a Low Cost Ship.

  21. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 14, 2009 8:02 am

    Ooops! Sorry Campbell. Heavier-than-air craft then.

  22. October 14, 2009 7:44 am

    “especially considering the naval craft can loiter much longer in its own environment than an aircraft can in the air.” (Mike Burleson)

    Sir, could you not please, please substitute the words “airplanes and helicopters” for the word “aircraft” in the above statement? Pretty please? After all, (ahem), AIR SHIPS, can outlast those two other forms of aircraft, and can, if constructed properly, match marine craft for loiter time.

    “Certainly the helicopter enhances the surface vessel’s abilities, but can in no way replace it in terms of persistence. But sink the helo’s mothership and you’ve effectively countered the air threat.” (Mike Burlson)

    Exactly. However, an AIR SHIP continues the air threat, without need of a mothership. Just sayin.

    (bearing in mind, that when I use the word “AIR SHIP”, it does not mean “blimp”
    or dirigible-like craft)

    and this, from my last post on another blog:
    (NOTE: While Turtle Airships is eager to see properly designed, constructed, and operated airships in use by the Navy; and are eager to demonstrate and validate our own airship designs and capabilities; we DO NOT SEEK, AND WILL REFUSE, all direct for-profit business with the U.S. Military.
    /s/ Darrell L. Campbell)

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    October 14, 2009 7:38 am

    William, you wouldn’t have me print something dishonest? LOL!

  24. William permalink
    October 14, 2009 7:32 am

    Mike,
    Re: Fractured LCS Acronyms.
    You forgot:

    Low Cost Ship.

    LOL.

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