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LCS Alternative Weekly

November 25, 2009

Museum Ship HMCS Sackville, the last survivor of 267 Flower Class Corvettes built in World War 2.

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.


Outstanding Quote

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!


12 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 28, 2009 1:37 pm

    Tarl said “What people will put up with in wartime for a limited period is different from what people will put up with for a long period of peacetime.”

    Or could it be that our building plans are often seriously skewed by peacetime sailing, disguising from us what is really important. Usually this involves an over-obsession with what exquisite new supership the other side will produce.

  2. Tarl permalink
    November 27, 2009 7:47 pm

    This is amazing to me since such small craft of 1000+ tons were considered high end units in the fight against the U-boats,

    What people will put up with in wartime for a limited period is different from what people will put up with for a long period of peacetime. If the duty really sucks, you are going to have a serious retention problem in an all-volunteer force. Last but not least, frankly people are softer today than they were in the 1940s. Yesterday’s youth was stoic, tough, and hardened by Depression; today’s youth is coddled, whiny, and softened by video games. They’re just not the same people, so you can’t expect them to put up with the same hardships.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 26, 2009 7:13 am

    An oldie but goodie! Love to see this historic vessel close up! The last one.

  4. November 26, 2009 6:38 am

    Nice pic’ of the Flower Class.

  5. Al L. permalink
    November 26, 2009 2:29 am

    Mike B said:
    “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.”
    For my part the “bias” is that the corvette as envisioned by Mike B. is not just less capable than a 3000 ton ship but less capable by a great magnitude. It’s lack of endurance is compounded by it’s lack of ability to support aviation assets. Because it cannot depend on those assets to perform reconaissence, the corvette must flit about on the ocean with it’s crew working, and it’s engines burning to look for the enemy. It must approach every contact as a threat, because it cannot cull them effectively with eyes from above, at distance, with few sailors at risk.
    How much less capable is a ship that carries less fuel, less supplies, beats its crew up more in rough seas,requires a higher tempo of operations to maintain vigilence, places the crew at more risk more often all while having a much smaller radius of influence due to it’s shorter sensor range,(as little as 1/10th) and while being much more dependant on off board assets which are commanded several levels above the ships CO?

    Doesn’t sound like an effective way to operate to me.

  6. leesea permalink
    November 25, 2009 6:32 pm

    While piracy cannot be won on the sea, it can be fought from the sea. Bring back naval raiding parties to take out the pirates in their ports.
    Especially true IF the USMC is busy in other (sandy) places. We are not thinking that attacking pirate homes will take a MEF!
    The amphibs just happen to be the available platforms right now (but that is a temporary situation).

    It will take some guts in the WH to allow direct action.

  7. Byron permalink
    November 25, 2009 2:13 pm

    Everyone is citing Naval history in the fight against pirates; what they fail to mention, is that all succesful anti-pirate operations required destruction of the pirates land base to finish the campaign.

  8. B.Smitty permalink
    November 25, 2009 1:41 pm

    IMHO, we are acting like it’s really not a big problem for us but we want to contribute and look like good international citizens, thus the token effort (two USN ships?).

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 25, 2009 12:49 pm

    “our national interest” Can be used to justify military operations or argue against them. Politics is beyond the scope of this blog, but we have been acting like it is in America’s interest since we are trying to contain the menace, not very successfully, and encouraging the merchant fleets to fight back. So our dog is already in this fight, the question is how much leash are we gong to give it, and does it have any teeth?

  10. B.Smitty permalink
    November 25, 2009 12:05 pm

    We fought piracy when it was in our national interest. Does the piracy off the coast of Somalia really qualify? Qualify enough to do more than provide the token presence we have already committed?

  11. Mike Burleson permalink*
    November 25, 2009 10:15 am

    “Or we just realize that piracy isn’t that big of a problem”

    Where in history has an outbreak of brigandage at sea not been handled by the Navy, which is how our Navy won its spurs for the larger conflicts later on? But we have learned better, apparently.

    This is a perfect opportunity for sailors to learn essential seafighting skills vital in wartime, but I suppose our Big Scary battleships built not to fight have no need of such experience.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    November 25, 2009 9:46 am

    Mike said, “Also, there is the question of what vessel would fight the pirates if the LCS is off shooting missiles?

    Or we just realize that piracy isn’t that big of a problem and let existing assets and armed security teams handle it.

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