LCS Alternative Weekly
Considering our sailors
A lot of the arguments I get against the deployment of corvettes as a force multiplier for the US Navy concerns the small warships’ perceived lack of endurance or seakeeping abilities. This is amazing to me since such small craft of 1000+ tons were considered high end units in the fight against the U-boats, as compared to a Flower class corvette or motor torpedo boats or most sub-chasers of the day. The Flowers were especially poor seaboats, but often forced into the Blue Water struggle versus Hitler’s subs for lack of anything better in the early stages of the Battle of the Atlantic. Later during the Cod Wars between Britain and Iceland, larger British frigates were roughly handled by smaller Icelandic corvettes and gunboats, prompting the RN to construct a succession of light ships of the Island, Castle , and River classes to better contend with the threat from small but high-performance vessels.
I wonder if the bias against the corvette over its endurance is a matter of being incapable, or just less capable that a 3000 ton frigate like the LCS. If the criticism are a matter of “not as good” , as opposed to good enough, this seems a poor excuse to neglect adding a new capability to the fleet that will build up numbers at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer. But if we expect nothing less than a Luxury Combat Ship for our future fleet plans, we might also resign ourselves to fewer numbers of ships, that are harder to build, harder to afford, and over-worked crews on high-maintenance platforms. It is hard to see where this gets better than lots of affordable corvettes in adequate numbers, available when you need them. Or maybe I missed that memo!
It is obvious the greatest consideration we can give as far as crew comfort, is to give them less time away from home, on stretched thin operating forces, that are more vulnerable because they give potential enemies less targets to choose from, on greatly visible large warships, especially in the heavily trafficked shallow seas.
Little Crappy Ships Forever!
This is scary. The fallout from the all-high tech military, coupled with failing defense budgets, mean old designs will be with us for a while, including those less than perfect. Here is Roxana Tiron reporting in the Hill:
In shipbuilding, the effect of recent decisions may be to allow fairly long and relatively large production runs of DDG-51 destroyers, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS); of new ships based on the LPD-17 amphibious ship; and of Virginia-class submarines, according to Daggett.
Normally, we think long runs of good weapons is a good thing, if it works properly. No one knows for sure what the LCS will do, since it is taking forever to procure them. Just on the surface though, it is clear we have a turkey on our hands for some time.
“Opinions Should Be Valued”
Along with CDR Salamander, and ID’s Galrahn, New Wars and its industrious readers was mentioned in a post by Benjamin Walthrop at the Pressures of Time blog:
The Futuristic POV: Mike Burleson weighs in with his vision of future “small” surface combatants. I am pretty sure that I do not agree with many of Mike’s proposals, but he continues to further the debate and his opinions (and those of his commenters) and experience and intuition should be valued. I am of the opinion that Mike’s primary concern is cost (and this is a legitimate concern), but his focus on decreasing the displacement of ships IOT reduce cost might work but also might not.
Fractured LCS Acronyms
Lousy Concept Ship
Literal Cash Sin
Littoral Cash Shocker
Listless Crunchy Ship
Thanks to Sander, Joe, and Graham. If I left anyone out, please repost and I’ll get it right next week!
Depending on your Definition of ‘Affordable’
Alongside news reports concerning successful sea-trials of the LCS-2, Nathan Hodge at Danger Room reminds us that the Navy’s ‘Affordable’ Shoreline Ship: $477 Million Overbudget:
Once upon a time, the Navy wanted to build a large LCS fleet. The new vessels were originally supposed to be affordable — costing a relatively cheap quarter of a billion dollars a pop — and they would feature “plug-n-play” mission modules that could be swapped out, including the Non-Line of Sight Launch System (or “rockets in a box”). But the program experienced phenomenal cost growth, placing a question mark on future procurement.
Christopher Cavas of Defense News has the polite version of the story:
Construction of the Independence began in November 2005. The ship, like the Freedom from LCS competitor Lockheed Martin, was originally programmed to take two years to build at a cost of $223 million. But a series of miscalculations by the Navy and its contractors, design adjustments and other technical issues doubled the construction time, and the cost for the first-of-class ship has gone over the $700 million mark.
In a hearing earlier this year, Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi slammed the Navy’s management of the program, in which design and construction of the first four hulls was split between two shipyards.
Note this the number above is the overrun, with actual cost estimates for LCS-2 now at $704 million each, and the LCS-1 USS Freedom at the ‘bargain’ rate of only $637 million.
From Eric L Palmer:
With the LCS, we have a frigate sized ship that has a destroyer price tag and the firepower of a corvette.
Hmmm…where have we heard that before?
Piracy by the Numbers
Arguments against many smaller new warships seem to grow weaker by the year. Here are some interesting facts from the New York Times:
About 20,000 commercial ships pass through the Gulf of Aden each year. The International Maritime Bureau, which monitors pirate raids, reported 359 attacks or attempts this year, with 195 attributed to Somali pirates. Eleven ships and 262 crew members are believed to be detained by pirates right now.
The bureau reported 293 total attacks last year…
Last week, pirates attacked the MV Nele Maersk, a container ship flying under the Danish flag about 1,100 miles east of Mogadishu, Somalia. It was the farthest recorded attack off the Somali coast…
Facing this is a combined fleet of 3 major Coalitions of Ships, from the world’s great sea-faring nations:
Three flotillas help patrol the area: one from the European Union, one from NATO and one led by the United States, Combined Task Force 151, which falls under the Combined Maritime Forces based in Bahrain. Twenty to 30 naval vessels monitor the waters, protecting merchant vessels and have sometimes coming to the aid of fishing boats and yachts…
The international forces are backed by satellites, information from merchant vessels, reconnaissance planes and remote-controlled aircraft operated by United States forces. Other nations, including Japan, China, Russia and Malaysia, have also sent vessels.
Yet, still it is not enough. Just as technology alone failed to solve the Iraq Insurgency, we insist the same lessons apply to the sea. We don’t see technology then as a force multiplier so much as a force enabler, to enhance the presence of ships already available. The more forces you possess the greater capability. But technology rarely is a substitute for manpower, and in this case, sailor power.
We leave you with this thought -provoking littoral combat ship idea which seems to possess some merit (I Know! I’m shocked too). Rear Admiral Ben Wachendorf writing at Proceedings Magazine reveals a low cost-alternative to the expensive Burke ballistic missile defense upgrade:
The answer to the question of how many BMD ships the Navy needs should consider alternative BMD-capable ships. The Littoral Combat Ship, with a displacement of about 3,000 tons, does not appear to have the space and displacement necessary to support Aegis radar as well as SM-3 launchers…
If the much-delayed Space-Based Infrared System and X-Band radars, combined with near real-time command and control data links, could be used for not only launch detection, but also interceptor guidance, perhaps smaller ships such as the LCS could be considered as BMD launch platforms. However, that is not a near-term option for sea-based BMD, which currently requires upgraded Aegis radar.
This might actually work, given time, and also similar to our own idea of using missile barges (arsenal ships) in the same role, though we estimated the price of the AS platform at the same price of a Freedom class LCS, but with likely 10 times the firepower. Also, there is the question of what vessel would fight the pirates if the LCS is off shooting missiles? I suppose it would be back to the Burkes then.
Anyway, keep thinking outside the box Navy!