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Fixing the LCS Program

January 18, 2010

Charles W. Robinson, writing the following commentary in Defense News, is president of M Ship Co., builders of the radical Stiletto boat. Just wanted to clear that up as I post Mr Robinson’s proposal here to fix the troubled littoral combat ship program which, because of various setbacks, is giving us too few examples of what is probably the wrong ship for our needs. First is the examination how the LCS went from a true shallow water combat vessel called “Streetfighter” to a blue water hybrid frigate:

The Navy assumed responsibility for developing the LCS with active defense industry involvement. Unfortunately, the Navy expanded the core capabilities of the LCS to focus primarily on “blue-water” naval missions. It is difficult for the Navy to move far from the large-displacement vessels that have proved successful in blue-water conflicts over the past two centuries. The net result of this joint Navy/industry effort, the LCS, is a costly, reduced-size frigate with amazing new technological systems – an important advance for conflicts in the blue water.

However, to achieve this, the original mission capabilities for brown-water conflicts have been sacrificed.

In other words, it has become the worst of both worlds, not really suited for the littorals because of its 3000 tons and deep draft, and too underarmed for a true frigate. Obviously the Navy feared to take a chance on something radical and instead opted for something technically “transformational”, almost ensuring setbacks if history is a guide (the V-22 Osprey, the F-35 JSF, the Bradley fighting vehicles).

We simply cannot afford to send the LCS out to chase down small drug boats or piracy craft. For these missions and for coastal mine clearance and defense against irregular terrorist boat attacks near shore, we should revisit the original Street Fighter concept.

This called for many small, fast craft capable of sustainable speeds of well over 40 knots with reasonable fuel costs. This requires a planing hull. The Street Fighter should be truly shallow-draft (under 5 feet) to operate in the shoaled water used by fast drug boats. It also requires a low superstructure to be radar-stealthy, so as not to alert enemy craft and to avoid shore-based enemy fire control.

Is he proposing his company’s Stiletto boat? Sure sounds like it, as does this idea for a mothership to service the low endurance craft:

The brown-water Street Fighter cannot also be designed for effective performance in blue water, nor can it be sustained independently for extended periods in the target area. To counter these limitations, we urge testing of a littoral mission unit (LMU) by activating a military transport, the Cape Mendocino, which, with minor modifications, could transport four or more Street Fighters to areas of threat.

This vessel would also serve as their mother ship.

However the original Streetfighter was a small craft of at least 300 tons, which would still entail mothership support. Stiletto weighs in at only 60 tons though that is just the part on the water. There is much more than meets the eye, according to the M Ship website:

The Stiletto is a radical new hull platform that was developed for high-speed military missions in the shallow water areas of the littoral, near-shore waters in support of USN (ret) Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski’s vision of a “brown-water navy” for expeditionary combat in the 21st century. No other hull compares to its speed, ride quality, payload capability and unmanned vehicle support. 

The Stiletto, a twin M-hull vessel, is 88 ft in length with a 40 ft beam, providing a rectangular deck area equivalent to a conventional displacement craft 160 ft in length. The vessel’s draft fully loaded is 3 feet and is designed for a speed of 50-60 knots.

160 ft is about the size of the USCG Sentinel class cutter of 353 tons. Obviously the M80 was conceived from the lessons of Streetfighter, but I believe more of the intent here was to fix a problem that needs addressing. The USS Freedom and USS Independence were well-meaning but ultimately flawed answers to an ongoing problem of fighting low tech threats in the littoral regions, a rising and still unaddressed menace to free maritime commerce, plus anti-smuggling efforts.

The LCS is flawed because the vessel has mostly blue water attributes kin to frigates, without the latter’s increased armament (like the $700 million Norwegian Nansen). It is from a Navy who has shown little interest in such matters of shallow water warfare even with the end of the blue water Soviet threat. From the quotes which I have been posting lately from the USN leadership however, it does sound like they are starting to pay closer attention to new maritime problems.

My conclusions on Mr Robinson’s commentary? Not sure if he is promoting his company’s product here or not. Even so, this is a welcome answer to solve an ongoing problem which is the need to get some type of littoral warship to the fleet, lots of them, and soon. It is also refreshing to hear someone from Industry praising the sensible Streetfighter solution for the Fleet’s current shipbuilding woes and presence deficit, something the Naval Blogosphere has been doing virtually alone for the past 10 years.

This is something we have postponed for 2 decades, and the threats to commerce, and our decreasing ability to control the sealanes is getting worse. We might excuse the 1990’s, a time of radical change after the Cold War. We might even grudgingly concede the Navy has been distracted by the War on Terror in the first decade of the 2000s. Now all excuses are past, as funds shrink and all eyes turn to the Navy to keep the peace in a new decade. Will they choose decline and irrelevance, or do they take the challenge head-on?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 20, 2010 11:37 am

    Thanks Lee. I just like to keep an open mind, but you are probably right.

  2. leesea permalink
    January 20, 2010 11:12 am

    SWL and Mike, why would anyone want to use a 40 yr old design vessel with limited cargo capacity and range snf which requires a huge ship and has high M&R for a new mission? They are NOT still in production only being repaired and SLEP’d at huge expense. The LCAC are NOT warships and even bigger targets than the LCS. The only advantage the LCAC has is its an amphibious hovercraft.

    Besides true brownwater ops (as opposed to littoral greenwater) needs smaller vessel. There are lots of examples CB90, PASCAT, L-cat, Griffon, AP1-88 hovercraft and many many other brownwater boats in use in commercial service.

    We have to stop thinking soley about USN design solutions.

  3. ShockwaveLover permalink
    January 20, 2010 7:40 am

    I think it’d be perfectly suited to the African environment. There are a number of ships in the US Navy with well-decks; anchor them off the coast, set up a few refuelling/repair sites and you’re on. I don’t know many pirates that can pull 60+ knots. A book I recently picked up stated that conventional ships can only access about 17% of coastal waters, while the LCAC could enter over 70%.

    The Navy/Marines have about 90 of them already, even if the production doesn’t continue, there’s your 50-60 Littoral fighters right there. A true all rounder.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 20, 2010 5:30 am

    SSL-I have never considered the possibility of the LCAC as anything but transport but I suppose there are other functions it can perform as an amphibious vehicle, especially on rivers and deltas. Something to consider!

  5. ShockwaveLover permalink
    January 20, 2010 3:46 am

    Just had an idea. What if we replace/complement the LCS with the LCAC? ( It can carry a huge amount of cargo, with over 200 miles range, has amazing mobility (it can land easily on beaches etc) and has a speed comparable (and perhaps superior) to that of the LCS. Plus, it’s an active production line, and they can be put back to their original assault use if need be. You could put the NLOS system in the cargo area, attach some guns and presto, instant pirate buster.

    They can also be easily converted for disaster relief if need be, as well as humanitarian role, carrying supplies up and down the coasts with ease or transporting loads of people. In short, it’s a lot more flexible than the LCS in the Littorals (sadly) and since the LHD/As can carry and service them, they have an instant mothership. Also, since you can bring them ashore (unlike an LCS) you can service them there. They’re bound to be cheaper than the LCS (which should be redesigned as the frigate it seems to want to be) and you’ll get more of them for your buck.

    Any thoughts?

  6. Bill permalink
    January 19, 2010 10:40 am

    Elaborating a bit on my last..and to emphasize why the frequency of the accelerations (a function of what ‘kind’ of vehicle, how fast its traveling, and in what conditions) si incredibly importan..acutally as much or more so thn simply the magnitude of the accelerations;

    Lets take the stupid “0.2gRMS” limit that I see thrown about so often, even by classifcation societies as our case in point”

    0.2 gRMS occuring with a center frequency of 0.1 Hz (10 second priod) will make even the most seasoned mariners quickly sea sick. Witness the charactersitic motions of WPCs, JHSV, etc, etc.

    0.2 gRMS occurring with a center frequency around 2-4 Hz causes the crew to fatigue very quickly, much moer quickly than even a truncated watch period will accomodate. Witness smaller planing monohull craft, smaller surface-effect ships,,,Stilleto..etc.

    0.2gRM at around 1 Hz?…tolerable, lying within the zone of the human walking frequency and a sweet-spot for tolerance levels. Larger Surface effect ships (> 60 meter LOA)..highly stabilized monohulls and catamarans..etc.

    My point is simply that the biodynamics of HPMV are actually well-characterized and understood. That willfull ignorance prevails today in their design and evaluation is another matter…

  7. Bill permalink
    January 19, 2010 9:41 am

    “vibration and movement of the ship was very rough on the crew. After constant battery, the body gets tired. And once a person gets tired or exhausted, you begin to break into and cut down on endurance – and then it is a down-ward spiral”

    A well-known (decades ago anyway..not so much now) phenomenon that was codified long ago in the long-since-forgotten MIL-STD 1472 where the acceleration exposure (FDP) limts for crew ‘fatigue-decreased-proficiency’ are provided as a function of acceleration frequency.

    Decades ago, those limits were carefully considered and applied during the design of HPMV. Measurements on board compared directly with those criteria in hand. Today?..not so much. Lofty prose suffices instead.

  8. Distiller permalink
    January 18, 2010 10:56 pm

    LCS-2 has more value than LCS-1 for the Navy, at last they try something big an combat coded as multihull. Still think that with 500/750ts more LCS-2 could be a decent frigate. Things that are not so nice is the aluminum hull and the question of ice capabilities of a multihull.

  9. leesea permalink
    January 18, 2010 8:42 pm

    First off Mr Robinson does NOT seem to know the difference between Brownwater (like riverine) ops and Greenwater aka Littoral ops. So given that he does not know that he probably doesn’t know what his ship or any other will do in them?

  10. elgatoso permalink
    January 18, 2010 7:52 pm

    And a interesting game from Eric Palmer.

  11. elgatoso permalink
    January 18, 2010 7:17 pm

    Another stupid idea.Get a mothership (could be Cape Mendocino, or whatever) and put some unmanned Stiletto.No more sea sickness .

  12. Scott B. permalink
    January 18, 2010 5:33 pm

    Charles Robinson said : “No other hull compares to its speed, ride quality, payload capability and unmanned vehicle support.”

    At the risk of repeating myself again, I’d like to remind the distinguished audience that Stiletto was found to have poor seakeeping qualities during her OPEVAL.

    Below are some quotes from the OPEVAL report :


    * During the beginning of the deployment, the sea state was too rough for the quick transit that Stiletto had expected. Another person explained why the rough sea state impacted the crew: “in that environment [Stiletto] can’t go fast without wearing on combat effectiveness.”

    * Crew sustainability, due to the rough sea state, was limited. One person explained that, “when Stiletto is at high speed (40+ kts), it is not cutting through the water, it is hitting the water very hard. This is tough on the crew and fatigue was a real killer.” Another person explained the impact constant vibration had on the crew: “vibration and movement of the ship was very rough on the crew. After constant battery, the body gets tired. And once a person gets tired or exhausted, you begin to break into and cut down on endurance – and then it is a down-ward spiral.”

    * The crew had an “abnormally high rate” of sea sickness. While some sea sickness is to be expected, the crew members were all maritime veterans and most of them experienced sea sickness during this deployment. One person suggested that employing a simulated horizon device in the galleys may be effective at combating sea sickness in those passengers riding below the bridge.


  13. Scott B. permalink
    January 18, 2010 5:30 pm

    Bill said : “With THAT piece of marketing fluff, I must vigorously take issue. It is simply not true.”

    +1 here.

    I too strongly object to the fallacious claim made by Robinson.

  14. Bill permalink
    January 18, 2010 4:49 pm

    “No other hull compares to its speed, ride quality, payload capability and unmanned vehicle support.”

    With THAT piece of marketing fluff, I must vigorously take issue. It is simply not true.

  15. Chuck Hill permalink
    January 18, 2010 4:38 pm

    Sure looks like they could use the ship he proposed as a mother ship, SS Cape Mendocino, a “barge carrier,” in Haiti now.


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