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LCS Versus the 4th Gen Warrior

February 17, 2010

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) departs Naval Station Mayport for its first operational deployment.

Scoop Deck reminded us yesterday that the USS Freedom departed for its maiden deployment with Southern Command from Mayport Florida. We have no doubt she will be successful in her endeavors, there is little to match her in these waters. With her helos, speed, and passing armament, she should make short work of any smuggler in a speedboat, especially with the Coast Guard there to guide her through the routine. Concerning the USCG, the single LCS, however capable, will do little to relieve the strain of their rusting and over-worked cutters, themselves bracing for yet another budget cut.

Herein is a major problem with the LCS concept, the notion that one ship replaces four, that you can do more with less, disguising the decline of the US Navy, rather than inhibiting this decline. Most organizations start to rot from within. The Freedom with all her gloss and media glamor personifies the rot of ship numbers ongoing at least since the 1960s. The navy’s own number reveals the stark decline from 932 vessels in 1968 to 531 in 1978, ten years later. Today at 280 ships, it is smaller than it has been since the 19th Century, before we were a world power!

Recently Craig Hooper pointed out how the newer vessel was much like the older Perry frigates it was replacing, the FFG-7: The LCS of the Seventies. This is a true statement and should have been a warning sign back then that the type of industrial age warships we were producing have neared the end of their usefulness, when they could no longer be replaced ship-for-ship. The death spiral had begun.

The LCS was to have been a less than 1000 ton corvette called Streetfighter, low observable and still fast, at a price of $100 million. It was not geared to deal with low tech threats specifically, but to combat China in the Taiwan Straits. Though still somewhat over-kill, the small warship would have been more suited for type of mission the Freedom is being deployed for in the Caribbean. Somewhere along the way, the Navy panicked at an over-priced speed boat, and went for a traditional 3000 ton frigate design, no longer low-observable (actually larger than the Perry’s), no longer cheap.

For 55 new LCS, the Navy plans to spend $28 billion, or on average $500 million each. In no way can you build up fleet numbers when your low end vessel cost more than a foreign guided missile frigate. Because they are so expensive, they cannot be armed well enough to deal with even a foreign guided missile corvette, let alone another frigate. The ship should also be built to match the threat, but where most of these ships will be used are in the Caribbean or the Gulf, where the worse threat will be a converted pirate mothership, a skiff smuggling cocaine, or at best an Iranian patrol boat.

In other words, the type of Industrial Age shipbuilding the US Navy continues to engage in is being matched and in some cases surpassed by off the shelf weapons utilized by 4 Generation warriors. We’ve had signs that our 2nd or 3rd Generation type thinking (the kind used to fight World War 2) and spending was getting us bogged down and near bankruptcy as early as Vietnam (when the Perry’s were designed). More recent and despite our immaculately impressive success against the over-hyped armies of Saddam, we are now bogged down in 2 major conflicts, spending trillions with victory still not in our grasp.

I invite you to read the Transformation of War by Martin Van Creveld for an understanding of the type of enemy we are facing. The modern invention of this type warfare can be attributed to Mao in the last century, the Chinese being supreme practitioners of the art of defeating better equipped, even more numerous foes. Interestingly, when the admirals and generals call for more expensive and technically impressive conventional arms, they point to the Chinese threat, despite the fact the children of Mao have no intention of fighting the way we are used to, anymore than do the threadbare warriors of Islam, or the Marxist disciples of Che.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. February 18, 2010 1:19 am


    Scott B said:

    “That puts the bill for the taxpayer somewhere between $1.85 billion and $2.25 billion per unit over the entire lifecycle.”

    Those are very interesting numbers.
    The annualised lifecycle cost of a 65,000 tonne Queen Elizabeth class aircraft carrier is equivalent to the cost of two or three Littoral Combat Ships!


  2. Scott B. permalink
    February 17, 2010 5:08 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “For 55 new LCS, the Navy plans to spend $28 billion, or on average $500 million each.”

    At the risk of repeating myself again :

    1) The Navy itself expects the seaframe alone to cost $636 million per copy, for a service life of 25 years.

    2) One mission package will on average add another $72 million per copy, in which case you get a one-trick poney that costs $708 million per copy.

    And of course, with operating and support costs comprised somewhere between $46.5 million and $61.7 million per ship per year (at least!), what you get is yet another $1,140 million to $1,542 million per ship over their expected service life of 25 years.

    That puts the bill for the taxpayer somewhere between $1.85 billion and $2.25 billion per unit over the entire lifecycle.

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    February 17, 2010 11:51 am

    Marcase, more on those attachments in the weekly post this afternoon!

  4. Marcase permalink
    February 17, 2010 11:50 am

    Hey, this is new.

    Never seen those stern attachments before.

    I’ve been saying that the sterngate to deploy RHIBs on LCS-1 was a bit low in the water, and these hull extensions would improve boat launches at medium sea states.
    Might even improve balance issues as well (having an empty mission bay can tilt the ship during high speed runs, effecting sea keeping).

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