LCS Alternative Weekly
The PC Answer to Piracy
The remaining Cyclone class patrol craft of the US Navy have been quietly performing the duties expected of the newer Littoral Combat Ship, without the frills, the advanced hull form, super-high tech engines, cost overruns, mechanical difficulties, funding difficulties, ect…Here is a 2006 article from Navy.mil on the USS Typhoon (PC 5) and her exploits in the Gulf of Aden:
Typhoon’s role in the mission, like [ U.S. Coast Guard Cutter] Wrangell, was to use its size and speed to do what larger Navy vessels could not. “[Typhoon’s] job was to get as close to dhows and merchant vessels as possible and to send a boarding crew to gather intelligence about maritime activity in the area,” said Lt. T.J. Mayott, Typhoon’s weapons officer.
“The mission was also to show our presence to local mariners and let them know coalition forces are here to prevent piracy and terrorism,” said Lt. Cmdr. P.C. Then, Typhoon’s commanding officer. Delta Crew members aboard Typhoon operated the ship while members of Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment 401 performed necessary boardings.
“This mission revealed how versatile a PC crew is,” said Mayott. “Every Sailor is expected to do the jobs of multiple rates. At any moment, a gunner’s mate can be a culinary specialist, help fix an engine or perform the duties of quartermaster of the watch. A PC Sailor is a well-rounded Sailor.”
I imagine with 50-100 PC’s the USN could make short work of the pirates in the region, or at least make their illegal profession much less profitable. Along with the aging Perry class frigates, the remaining Cyclones are the Original LCS Alternative, and probably will be for some time in the future.
Speaking of Cyclones
From the archives is a link to the old Worldwide War Pigs blog by Eric L Palmer, where he chastises the Navy’s procurement process:
The LCS will never be an effective “littoral” combat ship and the Navy knows it. The U.S. Navy needs ships in numbers to do all kinds of worldwide efforts that include showing the flag, police actions and of course sea control of whatever the national command authority deems necessary. Yet we will never get there if we have to pay for dreadnoughts that aren’t needed and projects like the LCS that make the U.S. Navy look like it is catching a bad dose of USAF procurement disease which I will label “AFPD”. The symptoms are where gold plated and faulty defense projects are passed off to the public as solutions and are instead nothing but gold plated lies.
What the average public doesn’t know is that there is already a littoral combat solution in service. It is called the Cyclone Class Patrol Ship…
Speaking in retrospect, we should have reopened this line shortly after 9/11, then the numbers in the fleet would have been more than adequate for contending with the threats we have today, such the anti-piracy and anti-narcotics missions. We are using our giant Burke battleships and excellent but aging British Type 23s for this role today, and they are needed elsewhere, especially the destroyers.
For now, we should actively seek a corvette design, purchased off the shelf, which is more relevant for today’s threat. A 1000 ton+ plus ship would have greater staying power and endurance than a 350 ton PC, without the excessive costs of a frigate. While we still love frigates which can do many wondrous things, with costs and capabilities approaching that of a destroyer, as with the LCS it is no longer feasible to expect them in the numbers we desperately need.
Defending the Indefensible
CDR Salamander has an excellent rebuttal of Cmdr. Don Gabrielson’s spirited defense of the LCS that appeared in the Military Times Scoop Deck blog last month. Please read the both posts which are very enlightening. I’ll sum up Salamander’s specific beefs he, hoping I do them justice:
Size-LCS is too big for a “littoral” ship
Modularity-She isn’t there yet.
Maneuverability and access-See #1.
Crew Size-Too small.
Cost-$700 million. You can’t buy enough of them.
Finally, there is my most favorite quote of all which you likely will hear again “Never before has so much money bought so little capability from so few ships.”
Spotlight on Cyclone class Patrol Coastal Ships
Info via the Navy Fact File:
The primary mission of these ships is coastal patrol and interdiction surveillance, an important aspect of littoral operations outlined in the Navy’s strategy, Forward…From the Sea. The Cyclone-Class PCs are particularly suited for the maritime homeland security mission and have been employed jointly with the U.S. Coast Guard to help protect our nation’s coastline, ports and waterways from terrorist attack; in addition, the ships have been forward deployed to the Gulf Region in support of the war on terrorism.
Builder: Bollinger Shipyards, Inc.
Propulsion: Four Paxman diesels; four shafts; 3,350 shaft horsepower.
Length: 170 feet (51.82 meters).
Beam: 25 feet (7.62 meters).
Displacement: 331 tons (336.31 metric tons) full load.
Speed: 35 knots (40 miles per hour; 65 kilometers/hr).
Crew: Four officers, 24 enlisted personnel.
Armament: One MK 96 and one MK 38 25mm machine guns; Five .50 caliber machine guns; two MK 19 40mm automatic grenade launchers; Two M-60 machine guns.
USS Hurricane (PC 3), USS Typhoon (PC 5), USS Sirocco (PC 6), USS Squall (PC 7), USS Chinook (PC 9), USS Firebolt (PC 10), USS Whirlwind (PC 11), USS Thunderbolt (PC 12), USS Tempest (PC 2), Little Creek, VA, USS Monsoon (PC 4),
Frigates Without Helicopters=Corvettes
Now a frigate is OK for fighting pirates in speed boats, only it is a very expensive waste of resources for such duty. Where we think the designers of USS Freedom LCS-1 and her kin went wrong, among other things, is the decision to place a helicopter hangar within the hull, meant to be cheap and light weight.
Hence another cause for the jump in price, from $220 million to half a billion each and climbing. This puts the LCS’ price range within that of an European Aegis missile battleship, yet with the armament of a coastal patrol boat, and is far from the savings needed to build up fleet numbers we were promised. Something is desperately needed to bridge the gap between the Aegis battleship and the Navy’s requirement for a coastal warship, which will also build up fleet numbers.
Currently, the required specifications we place on modern naval surface combatants are making them more costly, harder to build, and fewer in number. While current classes of cruisers, destroyers, and frigates are individually more capable than ever, there are also decreasing in number even though they are no less vulnerable to modern threats (some would say they are more vulnerable today) than their world war era predecessors, and they are no less needed when they were plentiful.
So have the navies been the same in the War on Piracy in the Gulf. We specifically point to the continued failure of the large multi-mission warship to adequately address this problem, and we see with ongoing attacks on shipping and even bold attacks on these same warships. Recently we learned the Somali pirates have made their longest range attack ever, 1000 miles out to sea. You would think then with so many capable warships in the region, all sporting at least one or two helos, plus the occasional light carrier, this problem could be managed.
While we argue the opposite concerning platforms (warships), less would actually be more when it concerns the essential helicopter. These great assets that can fly farther, faster than a ship can sail enhances the possibility and time a target is detected. It should not then become a substitute for ships still required for boarding, presence, fire support, the list goes on.
Basically a large aviation ship, call them carriers or motherships, supported by small corvettes would increase fleet numbers without the prohibitive costs. Numerous examples of corvettes do sport helos and even their hangars, but arguably this is not a very practical situation for launching air at sea (though smaller UAVs would be suitable).
Instead of a fair number of aviation capable surface combatants, there would be many surface combatants supported by a few aviation motherships. Sizes could vary but we see the 10,000 ton+ mothership, built to mercantile specs, as ideal. The argument might go that if you lose the mothership, then all your air support is gone, but we take an even greater risk with giant Nimitz class carriers, and the leaders seemed to have accepted the cost. We can work around any difficulties for the sake of boosting fleet numbers.
The naval helicopter is often pointed to as the reason the Navy doesn’t need small craft, mainly because of the aircraft’s effectiveness against missile boats in previous conflicts. That is fine except despite having adequate numbers of the same weapons in the War on Piracy, the problem is far from solved. Why have the same weapons which mowed down Iranian missile boats failed against poorly armed buccaneers in makeshift corsairs? Because aviation is an asset to a navy not a substitute for one, which is why we often contend the best answer to the small warship is another small warship.