LCS Alternative Weekly
Exporting Russia’s Littoral Ships
Here is a thought. After recent news that Russia’s Navy is on the downslide, headed for what some have called a fleet with only corvettes and French designed amphibious ships, perhaps there is room for concern. What if Moscow does start constructing numerous new corvettes, which unlike the old FACs they use to export can well handle any aerial defenses sent against them, like helicopters on Western frigates? Also, there might even be a place for the Mistral clone which, while not as effective as a supercarriers, would provide a regional power with considerable amphibious expeditionary capability (this is why Russia wants her, a fact which has her neighbors up in arms).
In contrast, America has few warships which are export-ready. Though many appreciate the qualities of the older ships we discard, few have the funds for say a Freedom class LCS, which prices as much as a European guided missile destroyers, but is greatly underarmed for this role. In a future combat at sea, instead of facing rogue navies in speed boats, the LCS could realistically contend with enemy corvettes which are better armed and more numerous. This, according to Strategypage, might be her future foe:
There is one Stereguschyy class corvette in service, with three more building. These are small ships (2,100 tons displacement), costing about $125 million each. These “Project 20380” ships have impressive armament (two 30mm anti-missile cannon, one 100mm cannon, eight anti-ship missiles, six anti-submarine missiles, two eight cell anti-missile missile launchers). There is a helicopter platform, but the ship is not designed to carry one regularly. Crew size, of one hundred officers and sailors, is achieved by a large degree of automation. The ship also carries air search and navigation radars. It can cruise 6,500 kilometers on one load of fuel. Normally, the ship would stay out 7-10 days at a time, unless it received replenishment at sea.
Maritime Strategy Out, Bigger Fleet In
Seems that one of the architects of the 2008 “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower”, the Navy’s new Maritime Strategy, Bryan McGrath has had a change of heart. Now instead of a cooperative Navy, he says we need a bigger one:
When I speak of the Strategy, I can only reveal what was in MY mind in its writing–I cannot speak for Navy leadership. And what I considered essential to this requirement was a ship that could be built in numbers–not 55, but more like 155, which we could send out around the world to the very edges of the empire to work the issues of global system protection. Essential to this vision was that we would not and could not accept a diminishing of our power projection combat punch–and the only way we could do both (protect our combat punch and create the globally disbursed force) would be for the Navy to grow.
Hmmm…Where have we heard the same ideas somewhere else? Like on New Wars EVERYDAY!
This comes to us via Twitter, and Simon Staniland @Naval Warfare:
HMS Monmouth protecting Iraq oil fields, is a Type 23 really the best ship to do this? Should the UK be looking for a Littoral Combat ship.
Emphasis on “a” and not “the” littoral combat ship, we hope! Many off the shelf alternatives out there, without the gold plate and adding to the RN’s colossal financial burdens. One of these could be its own River class OPV, which we earlier put forth as a “Future Surface Combatant Alternative“, to operate alongside the highly capable Type 45 destroyers. The idea should then be that all of your warships needn’t be of the “exquisite” variety, or even most of them.
Gold Plate at a “Bargain” Price
Well, if you like paying top-dollar for a ship less well armed than the one it is replacing, I suppose this is good news. From Chris Cavas at Defense News we learn “New LCS Costs Exceed Target, Yet Lower Than Earlier Ships“:
The contract for LCS 3, awarded March 23 to Lockheed Martin, is for $470,854,144, according to a Naval Sea Systems press release issued Dec. 3. The ship reuses certain materials from an earlier LCS 3 canceled in April 2007. Those materials, valued at $78 million, bring the contract value to $548,854,144.
For LCS 4, awarded May 1 to General Dynamics, the contract price is $433,686,769. Taken together with $114 million of materials from an earlier LCS 4 canceled in November 2007, the contract value is $547,686,769.
Here, though, is the gist of the matter:
Those numbers contrast with the original $220 million-per ship cost forecast by the Navy in 2004, and a congressionally imposed cost cap of $480 million per ship to take effect with the fiscal 2011 budget.
A Mothership or a Corvette?
The LCS may be alright if it only expects to fight pirates in speed boats, the old “fighting the last war” syndrome. But as we pointed out earlier, foreign navies have learned the lessons of the past, and are uparming their old missile boats to corvette status. In nearly all cases, corvettes of 1000 tons or more (or even smaller) are better armed than the 3 times as large LCS. The Navy and its supporters see its LCS frigate/corvette as a mothership, except with lightly armed motherships you require escorts. A corvette and especially a squadron of corvettes can take care of themselves against peer threats. As we see with the RFA Wave Knight incident, heavy underarmed warships just can’t manage the fight against light and lethal pirates in speedboats. Likewise, the better armed missile destroyers are needed elsewhere, and are too large for service in the shallow seas.
So the Navy must have corvettes and motherships, not “either, or” and certainly not motherships alone. Sadly, the under-armed LCS is adding another escort-required burden to an already stretched-thin fleet. Those poor over-worked Burke DDGs have found yet another mission.