LCS Alternative Weekly
LCS as Sitting Ducks
I have mentioned a few times offhand that the new USS Freedom and USS Independence littoral combat ships aren’t as well armed as corvettes one-third their size. I wasn’t trying to be facetious or overly critical, this is an obvious fact. I talked with the guys from Warboats.org on this subject, veteran small boat sailors sailors and ship procurers who understand shallow sea operations and shipbuilding. Lee Wahler, Retired LCDR SWO and former PBR Patrol Officer, has consented for me to quote him here:
IMHO all the ” gas ” has to be taken out of the hype about the LCS being a good littoral platform. When an LCS enters those dangerous waters, it will be targeted and attacked and we can all form our own opinions as to whether an LCS will survive a serious attack, be it by gun, missile or air or boat. Smaller ships can fight successfully (or die) in green waters! LCS is just asking for the latter.
LCS was not originally intended to be a serious anti-surface ship (strike) platform, but from what I have been hearing the brass really believe LCS can handle blue water escort and TG protection roles, in which case all comments about offensive missiles may well hold true. The bottom line is we have to watch closely what the “next-gen” LCS RFP will require for weapons and sensors. As a ship procurer, I would hope they specify those and rethink completely the performance parameters from the first four LCS. I am NOT holding my breath but that would be the logical systems acquisition approach.
Some have explained away the littoral ships lack of armament for the need to act as motherships for unmanned vehicles, RHIBs, ect. Here is Lee on the failure of LCS as motherships:
Now as to the LCSs suitability as motherships, I know a lot of folks think they are just great in that role and certainly they can be force enablers for helos and boats, BUT they do NOT have significant POL tankage or M&R spaces for those assets so it looks like they are not adaptable enough? HSV as dynamically supported hulls simply do not have the disposable load need for logistics support. Note again NO cargo gear for alongside ops even skin-to-skin. Oh, did I not mention they can only handle one boat at a time and only lift about three total boats of the 11 mtr RHIB and RCB size? Well there goes that support mission!
Gunnery expert Robert Stoner, Lee’s partner at at Warboats has also detailed to me some specific vulnerabilities facing the 3000 ton LCS, including:
- LCS-1 and LCS-2 are deficient in their strike capability and defense against missiles and aircraft. As far as this goes, the vessels are targets for most anti-ship missiles or attack aircraft.
- Compared to the smaller, less expensive Visby and Skjold classes of corvettes, LCS stealth features are not good enough to passively defend themselves from such targeting. Both present a good radar target and a good thermal image for targeting systems.
- The 57mm/L70 Mk 110 gun has neither the range nor the punch to do the missions expected of it well, such as shore bombardment, anti-boat, anti-aircraft, and anti-missile defense. What they should have used was the OTO Melara 76mm/L62 Mk 75 gun (like the Perry-class frigates) in its super-rapid, lightweight version. Most corvettes, one-third smaller and even smaller fast attack craft (FAC) mount OTO Melara along with MM39/40 Exocet batteries.
- They are totally deficient in striking power, with no provisions for mounting the RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile system.
Bob sums up here:
I would not want to sail either LCS into a littoral combat zone where real people were shooting real ammunition. As currently configured, both platforms are sitting ducks for even the smallest Fast Attack Craft. Of the two designs, I think that LCS-2 is more survivable than LCS-1, but that’s a guess.
This is what I don’t get — the USN says it wants to have a green water presence — yet the kinds of ships it intends to put into those areas are so deficient that they have to be sheltered under the defensive umbrella of the task group’s heavy warships and aircraft. That’s hardly a sterling recommendation for a design.
I will give Lee the final word :
They are expected to work in the dangerous littoral waters, but are not armed for it. They are the size of a WW2 destroyer, but armed like a cutter. Their survivability is VERY VERY questionable. The blue water types are already saying LCS will be used as TF escorts which was NOT in the original concept. The current CNO has said: this is the program of record and no officer will complain about it.
Stealth Corvette Revealed!
What the LCS might have been, Sweden introduces its first 2 Visby class corvettes into full service, after extensive trials and much fanfare. Here’s Strategypage:
After a decade of development, testing and extended sea trials, Sweden has finally put two of its Visby class “stealth” corvettes (HMS Helsingborg and HMS Härnösand) into service. This finally happened on December 16th.
With a hull made of carbon fiber material, and topside surfaces shaped to deflect radar, the Visby is hard to spot electronically. Traveling at less than 22 kilometers an hour (13 in rough seas), the Visby is practically invisible to radar.
The vessels weigh 650 tons and can carry a helo. The USN probably should have bought rights to reproduce these unique and affordable vessels early in the decade, instead of the flawed LCS designs, which is simply too big for the shallow waters and vulnerable to swarming tactics because of its small numbers.
Victory over Piracy Remains Elusive
Things are worse since the warships came, according to the AP and Katherine Houreld:
Pirate attacks nearly doubled in 2009 over a year earlier, despite the deployment in December 2008 of the European Union Naval Force – the first international force specifically to counter Somali pirates.
Somali pirates currently hold at least 10 vessels and more than 200 crew members for ransom…
Somali pirates tried to board at least 209 vessels this year through mid-December, seizing 43 of them, the International Maritime Bureau says. That compares to 42 successful attacks out of 111 attempts in 2008, before the EU Naval Force deployed.
Sadly, the Navy’s heart is just not in this fight:
“It’s not going to be solved by racing around the Indian Ocean with warships, capturing pirates,” Rear Adm. Peter Hudson, the commander of the EU Naval Force’s counter-piracy efforts, said in Nairobi recently. “The long-term solution, of course, is ashore in Somalia.”
Way to promote the other Service, Admiral! We’ll remember that in the next budget. But this response is typical and historical. The Navy would much rather fight a peer foe, see the launch and retrieving of carrier aircraft, the firing of long range missiles, or the conducting of grandiose amphibious exercise, than perform sundry patrol duties against an elusive but effective threat. This is where the pre-Surge Army was you may recall, until they learned to adapt to the enemies’ way. Trying to place such a foe in our preconceived strategies is a sure road to failure.
Also from a separate posting by journalist/blogger David Axe:
One of the Gulf of Aden captures took place “just minutes after sunset,” according to Galrahn. That marks one of the first nighttime hijackings by Somali pirates. The shift to night operations, and the increasing range of pirate attacks, are worrying. A year ago, analyst Martin Murphy told me pirates were getting “oceanographically smarter, learning to strike at night and use captured trawlers as “motherships” to extend their range deep into the Indian Ocean.
How Many Littoral Ships?
You have to admire the patience of the pirates. They are quietly awaiting without complaint our belated attempts to deploy littoral ships, ongoing since the late 1990s. I was curious just how long it would take to build an adequate number of our new LCS “pirate busters”. From reading this article via Defense Daily (subs. Only), I’m still not sure when that will be:
Under a new acquisition plan unveiled in September, the Navy is going to hold a competition between teams led by General Dynamics [GD] and Lockheed Martin [LMT] with the winner building a total of 10 ships. The plan is to award two ships with an option for eight more between FY ’11 and FY ’14.
The service could award an LCS contract by mid 2010. A second competition would be held in 2012 to determine a second builder for LCS. The new acquisition strategy would prohibit the winning prime contractor and shipyard from competing in FY ’12 (Defense Daily, Sept. 18).
The winner of the second competition will get a contract to build one ship in FY ’12 and options for four additional ships between FY ’13 and FY ’14, for a total of five LCS. This will result in an ongoing competition between the two shipbuilders, beginning in FY ’15.
I predicted earlier we may have 15 LCS in service by 2020, but now I’m and not so sure. According to this, there will be 10 ships ordered by the mid-decade, which would mean only 12 likely in full service by the then. Then, if you notice the sentence I highlighted, it appears only 4-5 by the mid-decade ordered.
Anyway, it is apparent the bulk of the Perry class frigates and the Cyclone patrol craft will be our only littoral ships, real pirate busters for some time to come. Concerning the Perry’s, they will by 2020 be approaching 40 years old. In 2003 I spoke to a Polish sailor in Charleston whose navy was receiving one of our retired frigates. I mentioned to him how much I admired the class, and his response was “She is so old“. That was almost 7 years ago.
LCS Alternative-Swedish Visby Corvette
The most striking feature for these Scandinavian warships are their stealthy construction. The gun can be folded down into the hull if needed. The hull itself has a PVC core with a carbon fiber/vinyl laminate.
There is a landing pad to support a helicopter but no hanger. As we reported last week, the Visby’s have been receiving warm water gear for which some have speculated is to send them to the Gulf and Pirate Bustin’! Ships built or building include:
K31 HMS Visby
K32 HMS Helsingborg
K33 HMS Härnösand
K34 HMS Nyköping
K35 HMS Karlstad