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LCS Alternative Weekly

November 18, 2009

The littoral combat ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Independence (LCS 2) pulls away from the pier for her acceptance trials at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala.

Aegis for LCS

Well, looks like critics might get their wish, with Lockheed proposing to replace the patrol boats armament on the littoral combat with something more lethal, according to Defense News:

Lockheed Martin has presented a concept of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) adapted to carry the Aegis combat system to a number of Gulf states, including the United Arab Emirates, George Elghossain, international business development director, said Nov. 17.  Dubbed Surface Combat Ship, the 3,000 ton LCS vessel would be equipped with the Spy 1 radar and Aegis combat system to add greater surveillance capabilities.

An advanced seaborne radar could be relevant to militaries in the Gulf region because of interest in building an integrated ballistic missile defense system. Adding the Spy 1 sensor to the LCS vessel would provide long range search and track, and cueing of missiles to intercept enemy threats, Elghossain said. “There have been discussions with the UAE Navy on this ship,” he said. The UAE is building the Baynuna class of warship, which is smaller than the LCS.

The Baynuna class is also much better armed. Placing the proven Aegis system on the lackluster LCS would be like trying to make a “silk purse out a of a sows ear”. The vessel now even at 3000 tons  has little room to spare, as you will see next, any add-ons can only make cramped conditions worse. The real problem, though, is the drastic elevation in price over the building period, from an estimated $220 million, to $700 million for the LCS-2 Independence. Imagine the vessel with high tech extras loaded, pricing as much as the near-$2 billion Arleigh Burke superdestroyers, though not nearly as capable! Which would you rather have?

Phil Ewing at the Scoop Deck also pondered this:

No word on the price tag for this souped-up “SCS,” but given the cost issues the first two LCSes have had, it could be steep.

*****

LCS Crew to Increase by 20

So they plan to add 20 extra crewmen for the Surface Warfare Module, as the USS Freedom preps for the Gulf? Sounds reasonable to yours truly, but listen to Cmdr. Don Gabrielson, who helped the commission the vessel, now on the Joint Staff we are told (via Navy Times):

“People are going to say, ‘Hey, this is more people than they said they’d need. They’re lying to us!’ ” he said. But just as an LCS will take aboard custom equipment to hunt submarines or mines, so too does it need custom gear — in this case, sailors — for a visit, board, search and seizure team, he said.
“VBSS is a manpower-intensive evolution. I did one deployment to the [northern Persian Gulf] and boarded 400 ships in three months. Sometimes, when you board those ships, you keep them, lock them down for five months at a time, and you need sailors aboard all the time when they’re in that condition.” An LCS can’t spare any of its 75 sailors — 40 multitasking core crew members and 35 sailors from a mission-module and an aviation detachment — so it needs the extra hands.

Methinks he doth protest too much, but we’ll bite since he brought it up, as questions remain. For instance, wasn’t a major selling point for the LCS its automation? Now with all the extra expense and complication put into making this the most high tech frigate ever, they still need extra crew. Why not make allowance for the extra crew in the first place, and reduce the building cost from the beginning? With all the gloss and glitter, high tech and advanced systems adding to the cost, they still need the swabs for the tough jobs.

Raymond Pritchett noticed the touchy CDR as well:

Cmdr. Don Gabrielson gets really defensive here, so much so it stands out as a major section of the news article (fairly or not). The original hype for the Littoral Combat Ship set such high, unrealistic expectations that the blow back from critics has itself matched the hype and intensity of the original supporters. Folks like Cmdr. Don Gabrielson now find themselves in the middle of two extremes and come off as immediately defensive.

The complications further reduces the LCS’ readiness to fight:

Freedom will not take a Fire Scout unmanned helicopter or any of the maritime robots it’s designed to carry, nor will it carry the Non-Line-of-Sight missiles designed to be part of its surface mission package. That weapon, being developed with the Army, is still being tested.

In wartime, we have few luxuries of screwing up with exquisite, hard to build designs. Lets build less-complicated vessels, off the shelf if need be, and get them into the water faster, also more of them. The point being to get as many of the new weapons to sea as possible. But apparently LCS doesn’t need them. Hope their right, for the crews’ sake. CDR Salamander sums things up for us:

So, what do we have here? From the sounds of it – there is no way you could fit a complete Surface Warfare Package in an LCS, as – moment arm concerns aside – I don’t think you could fit the additional people and equipment to support NLOS, Firescout etc. I will give you partial credit though – assume a one for one swap for Seahawk and Firescout – just to make it simple as we go forward on this post. But still …. is this what we mean when we talk “Surface Warfare Mission Module?”

We should probably call this something else – as what they are putting onboard isn’t going to be doing much Surface Warfare. Call this the Maritime Law Enforcement package …. which is a Coast Guard Mission … which makes LCS ….. wait for it …. a very fast, very expensive Patrol Gun Boat with extra space.

*****

Fractured LCS Acronyms

Here’s one for today! More brainstorming out there, please:

LCSLavishly Crewed Speedboat

Thanks Heretic!

*****

Goodbye to the Fighting Frigates

USS Freedom is currently visiting Mayport, where eventually she will call home, taking the place of the aged frigates on station there. From Jacksonville.com:

Mayport is slated to get eight of the new ships between 2015 and 2019, with additional ones possible in years after that, although that schedule is widely seen as overly optimistic. Those vessels would serve to replace the 13 frigates now home-ported at the naval station, ships that will be phased out over the next five years.

The LCS program has been criticized over the five years it has been in the works, with opponents knocking the escalating cost and some of the strategic assumptions behind the design. The Freedom came in closer to $640 million, rather than the $220 million originally projected.

The Navy is committed to building up the fleet to 313 vessels, yet these are just so many words when you see only 8 ships replacing 13. Then there are the doubts raised whether the actual number is possible, considering that Congress is extremely dubious about the class, only reluctantly going ahead for lack of anything better.

*****

Not Ready for the Marines

Other than mine-sweeper and pirate buster, another mission for the LCS is letting the Marines utilize the shallow water vessel for fast transport (we reported on this a while back). Slow down says the “program manager for the LCS Mission Module Program Office” Capt. Mike Good! Story from Defense Daily (sorry, sub. only):

“The only thing that I caution my Marine Corps friends is, today, NLOS (the Non-Line-Of-Sight launch system), its design and its requirements for the Army and the Navy, don’t include fire-support to the long ranges that the Marine Corps desires.”
   “So, if the Marine Corps is more interested in that, we’d happy to continue the dialogue as a partnership between the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Army to look at what the future potential (is),” Good said. “It would require an upgrade to get longer legs on the precision-attack missile.”

But the Marines are still interested in the ship for quick interventions:

When (Marine Commandant Gen. James) Conway recently visited LCS-2, General Dynamics’ [GD] Independence, he talked about the potential for putting vehicles such as Humvees and troops in the littoral vessel’s mission bay.   “You’ve got a lot of room to work with and that’s a unique feature of these ships, and the ability to move things rapidly within theater,” Good said.

Here’s a further suggestion, since the $500 million LCS can’t do Marine fire support anyway, for 1/3 the price and much greater cargo space, how about the Joint High Speed Vessel for ferrying around an amphibious assault force? We reported on that a while back too!

21 Comments leave one →
  1. Al L. permalink
    November 21, 2009 11:45 am

    My point was that the U.S. is conducting a land war in a land locked country but yet has had difficulty gaining access to enough air bases on land to fully support the war with land based aircraft. Its prudent to assume the same lack of land bases could apply to a war at sea, which would hinder the ability to support a corvette force with land based aircraft. That would then necessitate more sea based aircraft. Since you want small corvettes, which would be aircraft limited, the result would be the need for more large expensive air capable ships to provide the aircraft for the corvettes. This would concentrate critical assets(aircraft) on a few large platforms.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 21, 2009 6:07 am

    Al L, your #2 point concerning landlocked Afghanistan makes no sense when discussing corvettes, what the heck would you need a small ship for service near a land-locked country? Now this would make more sense if we were in the Weekly Carrier post.

    An American corvette fleet wouldn’t necessarily have to control the entire airspace of region to adequately perform its mission, just a reasonable modicum of control in its surrounding area. Also, wouldn’t there also be instances where it operates in regions with little of no air threat? This is more common than the opposite, especially off the many Third World nations we advocate using small warships rather than expensive Aegis ships.

    Other than that I think we pretty much understand each other. Also you said “A smaller ship doesn’t necessarily equal a cheaper solution”. which is true, but since we have tried it the other way, trying to make our giant warships cost-effective, then skewing the entire definition of cost-effectiveness in the lifetime of the ship over its initial price. Time to try something different and historically most small warships are cheaper, since if you spend less for an exquisite hull, there would be more attention placed on what a warship does best, which is to fight. No more LCS battleships with patrol boat armament.

  3. Al L. permalink
    November 21, 2009 2:17 am

    Mike B.,

    You said “If you mean because one has the helicopter and the other doesn’t,……” etc.

    Your assumptions are:
    1. Small ships don’t need robust aviation capacity because:
    2. U.S. or “Western” Navies will have adequate access to land bases for maritime air activities.
    3. If they dont have #2 they will have adequate large ship based aviation to make up for #2.
    4. # 2 or # 3 will always be within an efficient range in order to provide effective replacement for organic aviation assets.

    By extension your reasoning leads to the following:

    1. You don’t consider or care what the cost of the land based or large ship based air assets vs. organic assets so long as small low cost ships are added to the fleet.
    2.you don’t consider or care about the recent history regarding the difficulty of obtaining unrestricted basing for aircraft. Look at Afghanistan as an example. It’s a LANDLOCKED country. The U.S. is supporting the fight partly from CVNs largely due to basing issues. AND the trend is toward more restricted basing options (unless we invade to obtain them).
    3.By default your reasoning leads to the conclusion that either
    a) big blue CVN/battleship Navy will always control Navy ship aquisition if only due to the ratios of flat decks needed to provide adequate air cover to your air dependent small ships, and/or protection to the motherships on which they depend.
    OR
    b)The Navy will cede strategic control of the seas to the air services.

    “My point in advocating such vessels is to reduce the price of individual ships which would have to effect of causing numbers to rise.”

    This is a simple formula that ignores the the differences between initial cost, operating cost, life time cost, alternative cost and cost of risk.

    A smaller ship doesn’t necessarily equal a cheaper solution. If the small corvettes must always be supplemented by long range and/or carrier aviation then ALL the costs other than initial cost rise very fast.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 20, 2009 5:50 am

    Graham-Thats OK. I don’t mind politics when it has some relevancy toward the defense issues we discuss. All politicians must cater to the constituency to an extent, but some I think are hurting shipbuilding by advocating only a handful of large ships at mind-boggling prices.

    Al L-said ““The Baynuna class is also much better armed.” This is debatable.”

    If you mean because one has the helicopter and the other doesn’t, I assume you also mean the smaller ship would be outside its own land based air, or not in conjugation with other helo-capable warships. This is something which a well-equipped Western navy would be smart to avoid, and it hardly seems likely since they possess plenty of aircraft-capable ships of all sorts. My point in advocating such vessels is to reduce the price of individual ships which would have to effect of causing numbers to rise.

    The scenario you offer is how a navy like Iran and formerly Iraq have acted in times past. Some like Galrahn who use this to minimize the potential of small ships overlook the fact that Western Navies do not operate without adequate air defenses. You wouldn’t place a lone frigate in a position to be attacked by land based jets. Why put your small ships at risk from helos without proper preparation?

  5. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 20, 2009 2:30 am

    Listless Crunchy Ship?

  6. Graham Strouse permalink
    November 20, 2009 12:50 am

    Mike,

    I know you hate bringing politics into your forum & trust me, I’m not going into a left/right tirade, but I can’t not rage about the cost over-runs we pay for as a consequence of Congressional back-door politics. Collins & Snowe are the Senators from BAW. Lott is owned, too. This isn’t an angry lefty raging at conservatives. Well, maybe a little, but not on this issue. Hey, I’m from PA. We have Jack Murtha (D-Asshole) in the House. Loyal Marine. No questions regarding his military service. Many questions regarding military contractors.

    Part of the reason our military hardware costs so much, takes too long to build & is of such dubious quality is ’cause it’s not being built for national self-interest & protection. Our stuff gets built to please local constituents whose interests do not always coincide with the greater good. Congress wheels & deals & we end up with $122 million dollar F-22s which might not have been so expensive if they weren’t parted out to 46 DIFFERENT STATES!

    Think about it. How much less would the Raptor have cost if the construction had been centralized ? The US has inefficient transportation infrastructure. Moving those parts around costs serious money.

    Stupid.

    Why are we even building the DDG-1000? The hull-form is absurd. The French & Russians abandoned the wave-piercing bow on shorter, broader ships in the early 20th century ’cause they tended to swamp. It doesn’t take a genius to look at this abortion & see a huge, skinny WWII submarine that isn’t able to sink without, well, sinking.

    And they cost almost as much as a CVN!!!!!

    For two 6″ guns! And Burke-level TLAM. And no real air defense. Who cares about the initially low radar cross-section? Once they start firing in green/brown water the enemy can track back. Google Earth might be sufficient to locate these abortions.

    Composites? Look, I used to write a car column for IGN about 10 years ago. I did some pieces on Corvette comparos against Euro-hot rods. Corvettes kicked but dollar for donuts. Then GM started using composites to extract marginal performance benefits at huge consumer cost. Corvettes went from $45k or so to $70k plus. They shaved a couple hundred pounds and were marginally better.

    The DDG-1000 is like that on steroids. Composite hull materials are almost as dumb as aluminum hulls (which are highly flammable0. Composites cost a ton, they’re much harder to repair in combat (especially with a reduced crew) & they’re fragile. Screw the reduced radar cross-section. I’ll take 18″ of steel & 18 2700 pound projectiles a minute with box-launced TLAMs & a flurry of 5″/38s, thank you very much.

    Sorry, I had to get that out of my system.

  7. Joe permalink
    November 19, 2009 10:13 am

    A couple of ideas for “LCS”

    Literal Cash Sin

    Littoral Cash Shocker

  8. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 19, 2009 5:30 am

    Sander, thats perfect! Thank you!

  9. Sander van der Werf permalink
    November 19, 2009 3:30 am

    My LCS Acronyms: Lousy Concept Ship

  10. Al L. permalink
    November 19, 2009 2:19 am

    Duh,
    Must repost my last comment. A 2 ltter typo changed the meaning of the whole comment.

    Mike B. said:
    “The Baynuna class is also much better armed.” This is debatable. Lets say you are a missile boat closing in on a ship. You reach a point 17 miles from the ship. Under which condition would you be more in danger: if the ship was a fully armed Baynunah or if the ship was a fully armed SUW equipped LCS?

    Let me give the answer without giving all the background. If the ship is a Baynuna the missile boat has an excellent chance of establishing a radar fix, launching missiles and retreating. If the ship is an LCS(or any other ship with robust aviation capacity) the missile boat was probably shot up at least 10 minutes ago.

    A ship cannot employ its arms against that which it cannot see.

  11. Hudson permalink
    November 19, 2009 1:45 am

    Joe,

    The S. Koreans, recently eclipsed by China as Asia’s largest ship builder, have a new frigate design FFX with prototype pegged at little more than $100 million, and designed for export. I don’t know what that figure leaves out. The Danish Absalon C&C ship, which could function as a frigate, comes in at app. $250 million. I don’t know about the MEKO class. The French Gowind corvette class is expensive, $300 – 400 mill, but quite advanced. I think the Perrys were built for something like $50 mill per copy in the ’70s. A large frigate with all the trimmings approaches, maybe even tops, $1 B.

  12. Al L. permalink
    November 19, 2009 1:18 am

    Mike B. said:
    “The Baynuna class is also much better armed.” This is debatable. Lets say you are a missile boat closing in on a ship. You reach a point 17 miles from the ship. Under which condition would you be more in danger: if the ship was a fully armed Baynunah or if the ship was a fully armed ASW equipped LCS?

    Let me give the answer without giving all the background. If the ship is a Baynuna the missile boat has an excellent chance of establishing a radar fix, launching missiles and retreating. If the ship is an LCS(or any other ship with robust aviation capacity) the missile boat was probably shot up at least 10 minutes ago.

    A ship cannot employ its arms against that which it cannot see.

  13. Joe permalink
    November 19, 2009 12:00 am

    @ Hudson…

    I agree with what you say about the LCS. About all that is missing is 22″ spinner rims and a low-rider package option. At this point probably the cheapest option would be to buy foreign.

    I wonder what a modern OHP-2 style frigate might cost if kept to reasonable specs. Any thoughts?

  14. Hudson permalink
    November 18, 2009 3:46 pm

    Joe said: “Sadly, merely building what would be the Oliver Hazard Perry II-class style ship is beyond the conceptual grasp of our military brass.”

    True. But more and more relevant people will begin to notice that these tack-ons-as-you-go to LCS 1 & 2 will not make a Perry II either, certainly not one at a competitive price. These latest moves might not kill LCS outright, but I predict that they will severely limit the number of ships built, way less than the planned 55. Maybe a few of the Gulf states, with oil money to burn, will purchase a few enhanced LCS 1s or 2s, or they might do what the Israelis have done, cancel LCS orders and go for MEKO ships instead.

    Faced with a dearth of new frigates in the pipeline, the USN will have to choose between buying attractive foreign designs off the shelf or starting from scratch with a new American design. Unless Congress tells it otherwise, I think the Navy will grit its teeth and build more Burkes, something it knows how to do.

  15. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 18, 2009 3:04 pm

    m.ridgard-Don’t misunderstand me concerning helicopters. I think we need them and they are good at what they do. I just don’t think we need to build every warship around supporting and deploying them, a few specialized ships are plenty.

    Concerning the thinking behind LCS, it began life in the late 1990s as a response to new threats against the shrinking US Fleet, as Global Security details:

    The President of the Naval War College, Admiral Art Cebrowski, and others such as Capt. Wayne P. Hughes, have advocated the deployment of larger numbers of smaller ships to operate in “harm’s way” in littoral waters. Cebrowski and Hughes talk of “tactical instability,” where a navy is unwilling to risk its ships because the fleet is constituted principally of small numbers of expensive ships. They propose “re-balancing the fleet” by supplementing the currently planned large surface combatants with the procurement of smaller ships.

    At some point the naval Establishment grasped hold of the idea in the post-911 era, and transformed it from a cost-efficient though potent corvette into the under-armed overpriced, over-weight littoral combat ship. The folly of this decision can be proved by nearly a decade later and only a single vessel, not even in full service.

  16. leesea permalink
    November 18, 2009 12:26 pm

    Man mike you got to stop believing those LM press releases – LOL ~~
    What country would take and expensive lightly armed midsizedd warship and put a more expensive radar/weapons system on it – oh that would be the USN!!

    One must ask why any Gulf country would a) need an high speed ship to cover limited water areas, and b) want a realtively big ship and less armored ship to fight in dangerous waters? Oh maybe its their oil money?

    The Marines should be told to shut up, they already have exquisite ships with space and weight to install more weapons systems and maybe even an AEGIS. Hell what a few more million on billion plus platform? The amphibs are in the area and should be the NSFS ship of choice.

    The JHSV is being planned for Marine transport already but to austere and benign ports.

  17. m.ridgard permalink
    November 18, 2009 12:21 pm

    Mike,
    Once again I disagree, the use of helicopters is something that the U.S. brought to the fore in Vietnam and they have since been in the forefront of helicopter warefare.
    The Royal Marines use helicopters as one of their first options for fast attack and infiltration as I am sure do the U.S. special forces.
    I am still not sure that the U.S. has thought this through to the future which will not always be based on counter terrorism.
    You are shortly going to come up against the Chinese Navy,don’t laugh as these guys have a very long term agenda and are technologicly no fools.
    You have and you need a large blue water navy and promulgating an inshore fleet is disconcerting to your allies to say the least.

  18. Joe permalink
    November 18, 2009 12:13 pm

    m.ridgard,

    Sadly, merely building what would be the Oliver Hazard Perry II-class style ship is beyond the conceptual grasp of our military brass.

  19. November 18, 2009 11:14 am

    “As an after thought,the RN during the Falklands war found out to its cost that to put a warship too close to land is a risky business as one of our country class destroyers was damaged by an exocet missile that had been hastily converted to fit on the back of a truck.”

    Nelson said never set a ship against a fort.

    The Argentines learned the same lesson on South Georgia thanks to the RM.

    If you follow the argument through it brings into question the whole concept of helicopter warfare too (well the movement of troops tactically using that platform.) Large fragile targets.

  20. m.ridgard permalink
    November 18, 2009 9:48 am

    mike,
    I am now going to show my ignorance on the LCS programme.
    I understand the concept of LCS but I am completely bemused as to why the USN is pursuing this form of warship.
    Whilst the burgeoning economies of the Asian Pacific and further afield are desperately vying to build blue water navy’s what is the thinking in the U.S.A. of buying large quantities of what seem to be inshore vessels,and at a seemingly ever increasing price.
    I can understand it from an export point of view for countrys with a limited budget who wish to protect their coastline,I do not understand it from the worlds most powerfull navy (that hurts me to say).
    Surely the idea is to keep your ships away from any enemys coast and attack them from a distance with missiles,aircraft etc.
    Obviously the powers that be in the U.S.A. have thought long and hard and come to this decision,but to an outsider it seems a rather strange one.
    As an after thought,the RN during the Falklands war found out to its cost that to put a warship too close to land is a risky business as one of our country class destroyers was damaged by an exocet missile that had been hastily converted to fit on the back of a truck.
    This missile managed to target said destroyer as it strayed into it’s zone of fire and caused some considerable damage.
    Is the thinking,the cost and the end result worth it,surely something of the ‘Oliver Hazard Perry’ class in a modified form built in numbers would suit you better.

  21. B.Smitty permalink
    November 18, 2009 7:00 am

    Actually Mike, LCS-2 has lots of room to spare (mission module space). It even has weight to spare. However it won’t be able to carry a mission module, as defined today, with AEGIS installed.

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