LCS Alternative Weekly
LCS is No Perry
Craig Hooper of Next Navy breaks down the numbers to compare the Littoral Combat Ship with the older Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates from the seventies:
Look closely at those cost estimates. Plug the first FFG-7 cost estimate into an inflation calculator and the result is $230 million–almost exactly the same amount of money the Navy first programmed for the LCS.
Shove that final 1977 FFG-7 cost estimate of $168 million into an inflation calculator, and the end result is $595 million in 2009 dollars. Today, the LCS-3 and 4 cost $548.8 million and $547.7 million respectively. If one of the two LCS designs functions as advertised–and are hiding no major flaws–then we’ve got a pretty interesting higher-end FFG-7-like replacement platform.
Here’s the problem with this analogy–The Perry’s of the seventies could hardly be described as possessing “a patrol boat armament for the price of a destroyer“. The FFG-7s as built were armed for bear, with an area SAM weapon in the SM-1 Standard, the same that was equipping cruisers and destroyers of the era. Also Harpoon cruise missiles which were considered the scourge of the sealanes in the late Cold War. (You have to wonder if the remaining FFG-7s which were mostly disarmed , were neutered so as not to make LCS look bad? I’m just saying.)
The LCS has, well, a 57mm Bofors gun, somewhat smaller than the OTO Melara 76mm equipping most one-third sized corvettes she would have to face in the shallow water haunts. The Perry’s also come with the 76mm. Also, when the USS Stark FFG-31 was struck by two Exocet cruise missiles in the Gulf in the 1980s, she managed to survive, sailing back to port on her own power . The LCS, on the other hand, has serious stability issues.
The final problem is not just with the LCS, but with the frigate type warship itself, now costing as much as a destroyer, when its well armed or not. At 3000 plus tons it is too big for operating in shallow seas facing swarming tactics from small boats, and as we have seen too expensive to be considered a “low end escort”, impossible to build in adequate numbers unless you neglect everything else.
For this reason, Capt. Wayne Hughes, Milan Vego, Commander Henry J. Hendrix, myself, and countless others have called for the purchase of many small patrol boats and corvettes to work alongside frigates, or in the future motherships, to fill out the numbers. They are also more closely connected to the population of the sea in these waters and better able to contend with smaller threats (unless you just want to sink everything in sight from stand-off ranges using helos, which would be nice but not always practical.)
Israel Wants German LCS
Here’s is the story from Defense Update:
Israel is interested in acquiring two corvette size ships to extend its naval operational capabilities. After analyzing the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Israel decided these vessels would be too costly. While each LCS would have cost $480, Israel was prepared to spend up to $300 per ship, which roughly corresponds with what the Malaysian Navy spent on a similar design (MEKO A-100 Kedah class)…
While the CSL model is still in a blueprint phase, MEKO A class corvettes are already operational with several navies worldwide. The joint operation comprising the TKMS Blohm + Voss Nordseewerke group, with Kockums in Sweden and Hellenic Shipyards in Greece has delivered more than 160 naval surface vessels since 1980. More recently South Africa has received four Valour class (MEKO A-200) large corvettes, Malaysia has ordered six Kedah class (MEKO A-100) corvettes and Germany received two of the five Braunschweig class 5 K130 corvettes on order. In addition, Poland plans to acquire up to five MEKO A-100 Gawron class corvettes.
MEKO has not been an obvious choice for the Israelis. The German Mehrzweck-Kombination (MEKO – short for ‘multi-purpose combination’) is 91 meter long vessel – only four meters longer than the existing Saar V class corvettes which are in service with the Israel Navy since the 1990s. The most attractive features of the German design being 25% larger volume (displacement of 1,650 tons) enabling the MEKO A-100 design potential endurance of extended missions at longer range, exceeding 6,000 nautical miles – 50% beyond the range of Saar V. Both vessels have a mission endurance of three weeks at sea.
I think instead of clinging to a failed frigate design, the USN better call MEKO!
I Thought It was “One Ship Replaces Four”?
The headline by Chris Cavas at Defense News says it all–“U.S. Navy Releases LCS Bidding Rules“:
After evaluating the company proposals, the Navy plans to choose one design in late spring or early summer as the basis for up to 41 more LCS ships in future years…
Each company already has delivered one ship and is working on another. The Navy plans to buy 55 of the roughly 2,800-ton, 400-foot-long ships. If those plans hold up, by 2020 one in six ships in the Navy will be an LCS.
Which may mean we will have only 6 LCS in commission at this rate? But someone else is more optimistic than yours truly, in the next post.
55 By ’23
Ron O’Rourke has a hopeful prediction, here from Reuters:
Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service told lawmakers last week the Navy’s reported 30-year shipbuilding plan raised questions about affordability of the LCS program. The ships are subject to a congressional cost cap of $480 million per ship, but the Navy’s reported plan shows a cost of close to $600 million for each ship, O’Rourke said.
He said the plan also showed the Navy buying just two of the new ships a year starting in fiscal-year 2018, after it brings in a second shipyard to build them, which suggested the Navy could eventually settle on just one shipyard after all. Maintaining production of four LCS ships a year would wind up the 55-ship program in fiscal-year 2023, in line with Navy statements about the urgency of getting the LCS ships into the fleet to close gaps in its capabilities.
Don’t hold your breath on this, as Hope isn’t a Shipbuilding Strategy. At the rate of production so far, and declining USN budgets, we may be lucky (unlucky?) to get 30 ships out of this program. I am predicting 15 before Congress wises up and cancels this yet another example of faulty USN ship procurement.
Scoop Deck’s Phil Ewing reports on a new plan to install a towed sonar array on LCS. Its his commentary that caught my attention:
As Scoop Deck waits for Navy officials to respond to requests for comment on this, it’s worth thinking through how an onboard sonar could change the way LCS could operate.
It could mean the ships might get their own torpedoes — as designed, they have no launchers, and an LCS must use its helicopter to drop on an enemy sub.
It could mean that LCS has an on-board backup in case its sub-hunting robot breaks, but it also takes away one of the main selling points for doing missions with remotely operated vehicles: Part of the strategy for LCS is to “take the sailor out of the minefield,” enabling the ship to stand off while its accessories do the work hunting for mines or enemy submarines. But if a ship has its own towed array, it could become a target, especially if it has arrived at its patrol box anywhere close to its 45-knot sprint speed, which seems like a great way to alert every submarine in the hemisphere that you’re there.
Oh well. There will be plenty of DDG-51s out there to protect these destroyer-priced, patrol boat armed warships. Not like they have anything better to do. Right?
LCS Alternative-Hybrid Catamaran Air Cushion Ship (HCAC)
Here is some specs on Textron’s original LCS proposal. Even had it been a failure, it would have been less a blow than being stuck with the over-priced and underarmed Lockheed and General Dynamics ships, without a Plan B:
- Length-295.27 ft
- Beam-98.42 ft
- Draft-6.56 ft (on cushion, 16.4 ft off)
- Displacement-1,640 tonnes full
- Max. Speed-55 kts
- Max. range-5,250 nm
- Aircraft-Hangar for MH-60R/S aircraft
More info here.