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LCS Alternative Weekly

March 10, 2010

A MH-60S Sea Hawk from the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) conducts a vertical replenishment with the U.S. Coast Guard medium endurance cutter USCGC Campbell (WMEC 909)

Reinventing the Wheel on LCS

She was supposed to introduce a new era of war at sea to the Navy. The LCS proposals that began at the dawn of the century envisioned a modular, flexible, speedy, low cost warship to return the fleet to the shallow waters where increasingly the Big Warships were being threatened by mines, stealthy diesel subs, and especially cruise missiles. As the decade proceeded other useful roles were envisioned, as the old frigates and Patrol Craft gained renewed importance in the fight to prevent terrorist arms smuggling on the high seas, drug smuggling, and as the age-old threat of piracy returned to the forefront of the headlines.

Instead, after a decade of spending, planning, and design, we have two examples of the littoral combat ship in the water. Instead of a low cost small warship, we have a bloated frigate, with numerous technical problems, costing three times as much as promised. Though the ship was meant to fight fast attack craft and enemy corvettes, she is less well armed than most vessels 1/3 her size or smaller. Recently it was discovered a primary defense the ship was meant to carry, the N-LOS rocket to break of fast attack boat swarms, failed in several tests. At $466,000 each the N-LOS attack missiles are extraordinarily costly for the low tech mission envisioned, which is typical of the entire LCS concept.

Interestingly it is ironic the LCS becomes at risk from the very same small craft, which were considered and rejected in the original proposals, the presumed vulnerable small warships.

In order to field a fleet of small littoral ships by this new decade, the Navy did not have to reinvent the wheel. Though the desire for unique hull-forms may be understandable, there was no need to go over-board in their consistent quest to prove you can do more work with fewer vessels. There was the Swedish Visby and the Norwegian Skjold stealth corvettes, both of which sported high speed technology on a low observable hull. These were both examined by the Pentagon and well respected for their abilities. At the very least there were the Cyclone patrol craft already in service which might have been a template for an enlarged design, as were the high speed catamaran like Joint Venture, which were motherships before mothership were cool.

Seeking something more familiar though, the Navy chose a different route, adding greatly to the dimensions of LCS. In the late 1990s, there was calls for a 400 ton corvette, but the Navy thought bigger meant more survivable and thought that magic weapons could solve the threat from small boat swarming. The two LCS still look like the smaller Nordic corvettes, except their are now grossly morphed into something not quite a shallow water vessel, but not quite a Blue Water warship.

Still, it is not looks that matter here but results. Likely the LCS will perform adequately since they will only be used in low threat areas, probably not in the high risk zones of which they were originally intended such as the Taiwan Straits or even in the Gulf near Iranian cruise missiles. Where the LCS has already failed though is to bring anything desperately needed to the fleet. It does not build up fleet numbers since they are so costly at $600 million each likely will not be built in anywhere near adequate numbers. The navy wants 55 vessels but this is unlikely to occur under present budgets unless the admirals want to stop one of their high ticket battleship  programs like submarines or carriers, EXTREMELY UNLIKELY in other words.


Sonar Questions

In the print edition of Navy Times we see in this article by Phil Ewing the Navy belatedly wants to add a towed sonar array onto LCS:

First, the Navy began exploring what it would take to equip an LCS with a towed sonar array — which would be the ship’s first onboard underwater sensor — and could usher in a new set of tactics for the fleet to hunt for submarines.

Second, new Pentagon documents cast doubt on the future of the Army’s Non-Line-Of-Sight missile planned for use aboard LCS, raising questions about whether the ships’ tactics for surface combat — predicated upon it wielding a short-range surface-to-surface missile — would also have to change.

Taken together, the Navy’s request for proposals about an LCS sonar and the Army’s internal deliberations about NLOS showed that even as the Navy pre-pares to decide this summer which of the two competing LCS designs it will put into full production, basic assumptions about the whole LCS concept remain in flux.

Monica McCoy, a spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, gave little information about the command’s request for proposals on a variable-depth sonar towed array for LCS, including even the Navy’s basic goals for how it would work or when it might be tested at sea.

Which showcases the continued confusion of roles for the LCS, is she a patrol ship, a frigate, or even (get ready) a mothership?


Barren Motherships

I can understand the need for some vessels with multi-mission capability, and New Wars looked at some types recently in the post “Meet the Sloop“. Even so, we can’t see a ship needed in large numbers to build up the fleet and combat shallow water foes as a complicated, expensive, and hard to build warship. The two requirements are incompatible. So, here is yet another role fostered off on the apparently “Low Cost Ship”. Commander Greg Parker ponders “Boxes as the U.S. Navy’s New Vision?”

What is clear is that the Navy is using the multimission mantra to address two existential issues. The first is relevance. Overshadowed by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Navy continues to argue the importance of the world’s littoral regions and maritime strategy in general, especially in the context of a rising, resource-hungry China.

The second issue is one of capacity. Hampered both by the 1990s draw-down in defense funds and a striking inability to control shipbuilding costs in the last decade, the Navy operates with an inventory of approximately 285 ships, well below the 600-ship target of the 1980s and a mere shadow of the 6,700 ships it had when World War II ended.

Indeed, the LCS itself is as notorious for its cost overruns – from a planned $220 million per ship to approximately $600 million at last count – as it is famous for its new design. That’s a big problem: Quantity, after all, has a quality all its own.

But if a multifunction ship mitigates the concern about quantity, the broader vision of how these boxes might work together in a new and distinct fashion has not been laid out.

Here is the problem with this line of thinking: The modular boxes on the LCS is not the end, but a means to an end. In other words, just as everyone of your vessels can’t be an all-purpose battleship like the DDG Arleigh Burkes (give the Navy credit for trying, though!), neither should every vessel in your fleet be a mothership to the exclusion of other roles. If so, the question cones to mind, mother to what? The current fleet plans as described here might then be likened to a bow without an arrow of an aircraft carrier without planes. Will we depend on untried robots alone to make up for our lack of hulls? How is that working out with the failure of N-LOS?

The LCS wants to be a mothership, fine. But it also must be our patrol, mine warfare ship, sub-chaser and whatever future mission the Navy sticks her with. Except for these functions you will require something more like a sloop than an over-priced Patrol boat like LCS Freedom.

All the talk here is about mission boxes, except boxes cannot sail on their own, and be in more than one place at a time. They must have hulls in the water to deploy. The multimission warship concept fails to take into account the admitted presence deficit of the Navy worldwide, nor is it an answer to the over-deployment of crews and continued out of control costs in warship design. Then there is the grave risk such singular vessels can be swarmed without any defense (as we noted above). Bring on the motherships, by all means, but you can’t build a Navy or deploy effectively with motherships alone.

I still say the best counter for a small warship is another small warship, because they can do presence.  Boxes don’t do presence.


Fracture LCS Acronyms

Here we go again!

  • Ludacris Crafted Ship
  • Lacking a Clear Strategy
  • Lacking Capability Speedboat
  • Least Capable Showboat
  • Least Capable Ship

Keep sending them in! Thanks to Graham, D.E. and yours truly.


More LCS Cost Issues

Sean Reilly at the Alabama Press-Register reports on a hearing at the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee. that focused on continued rises in LCS cost:

Although the Navy’s ability to meet a cost target for two planned littoral combat ship purchases is an issue, Mississippi Rep. Gene Taylor suggested Wednesday that the long-term trend for the troubled program matters more.

“The real question is, what’s the chances that the third ship (will be) substantially cheaper than the second, that the fourth will be cheaper than the third?” Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, said during a break in a hearing on the Navy’s shipbuilding plans for the 2011 fiscal year, which begins in October.

The hearing was held by the House Armed Services Seapower subcommittee, which Taylor chairs. For 2011, the Navy is seeking about $1.2 billion for the proposed two-ship LCS purchase, which amounts to about $600 million for each vessel. As a recent Congressional Research Service report notes, that figure appears to be well above a $480 million cost cap imposed by Congress last year.


Let the Competition Begin!

As predicted earlier, the team of General Dynamics and Austal are parting ways on the LCS and are now competitors in the final design. Here is Chris Cavas at Defense News:

The move – first reported in January to be in the works – is a direct response to a new acquisition strategy announced by Navy officials last September.

Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley, in a bid to increase competitive elements in the LCS program, declared the Navy would choose between a steel-hull design offered by Lockheed Martin and an aluminum trimaran from the GD/Austal USA team. An initial award to one shipyard of two ships with options for eight more is to be followed in two years by a five-ship award to a second-source shipyard. The new hitch: The second shipyard could have no affiliation with the first.

That set the stage for the GD/Austal split, since GD all along has wanted to build LCS ships in its Bath, Maine, shipyard. Recently, the company has been considering LCS construction at its National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. (NASSCO) yard in San Diego, which needs orders for new ships. But the Navy’s new rules would prohibit GD’s yards from building LCS ships should the service choose the trimaran design and the partnership continue.

The split positions either Bath Iron Works or NASSCO to bid on the five-ship offering in 2012.

Got that? I think I get it. From cooperation on the initial design, now they will see who gets to actually build follow on vessels.

BTW-GD and Austal are the team which gave us the pointy Independence design.


19 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2014 6:37 pm

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  2. leesea permalink
    March 15, 2010 11:26 am

    CBD excellent comments! or as the former Russian CNO said: “better is the enemy of good enough”

    Mike you have to stop mixing missions when discussing small combatants FACs vice OPV/cutters, or support motherships.

    Are you talking about vessels for attack or patrol or support or and/all of the above? Each basic mission drives one to a different set of ship particulars.

    The M80 is nothing more than a big go-fast boat period. As opposed to a CB-90 which has real capabilities and accepted peformance like 300 plus sold! M-Compnay is still searching for customers for any of its designs

  3. CBD permalink
    March 11, 2010 5:04 pm

    The LCS IS too complicated. A commercial tug with an E/O ball (IR, Video, rangefinder and designator) and an adapted Longbow radar on a mast could operate these missiles. Strap a ScanEagle launcher on and you have the ability to target at range. The missiles are easily re-done, replaced or upgraded…a giant frigate less so.

    The missiles are worth the complication. This ship need not be. It’s managed to not be stealthy, not have range, not have adequate basic armament and, to date, not have any functional modules. They reached really far to figure out technologies that could work…and they’ve fallen flat on their faces.

    We’re in an era where low-tech core platforms can be given ‘smart’ control systems and weapons. Look at the continued viability of A-4s, Kfirs, Mirages and even MiG-21s with the latest missile tech, helmet-mounted displays and modern avionics…the limit of these craft are not ability but age (the airframes literally being warn out).

    Modern technology that would benefit these ships in the littorals (expertly employed in the Hamina, Visby, Skjold and re-born Stockholm class ships) were ignored. Program managers were too afraid to tell anyone that you could only pick so many characteristics for one ship (Hard to be big, reconfigurable, fast, stealthy, blue water, green water, efficient in many missions and minimally crewed).

    I know it’s a joke, but each of the selling points for the ships fails as we come to it. It reminds me of all of the nations that signed onto the JSF when the pricetag said “$40 million” (and no test flights had been completed) believing that it was better to wait 10 years to get the super jet (with low/no maintenance cost!) rather than buy a Gripen NG, F/A-18E or Block 60 F-16 for $50-80M! The same problem of marketing standing in for design is crippling us!

  4. D. E. Reddick permalink
    March 11, 2010 1:11 pm


    You wrote:

    “D.E., as for LCS in Southern Command, the world’s most expensive patrol boat, unless you count the supercarrier as the world’s most costly gunboat (now that last is a description I hate!)”

    Shouldn’t that have been addressed to Scott B., as I haven’t previously posted to this thread.

  5. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 11, 2010 5:46 am

    Marcase said ” I absolutely hate the term ’sloop’ because that’s a tiny recreational motorboat over here”

    Ha ha! Sorry Marcase, but the Navy term predates the motorboat by a wide margin!

    D.E., as for LCS in Southern Command, the world’s most expensive patrol boat, unless you count the supercarrier as the world’s most costly gunboat (now that last is a description I hate!)

  6. March 11, 2010 4:43 am

    All the talk of LCS being too complicated etc. but when it comes to weapons it’s missiles, missiles, missiles!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :)

  7. xbradtc permalink
    March 10, 2010 11:39 pm

    Spike ER would be a good replacement for NLOS.

    For close in, hell, just put a squad of Marines on the fantail with a dozen Javelin’s.

  8. Scott B. permalink
    March 10, 2010 6:49 pm


    A very interesting nugget from Chris Cavas @ Defense News

    “He also said the LCS is optimized for operations in Southern Command, which overseas Central and Latin America. Those missions include counterdrug operations and maritime cooperation work, similar to the deployment now being carried out by USS Freedom, the first LCS.”

    And for all this this time I thought LCS was optimized for littoral warfare, – SUW, ASW and MIW -,…

  9. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 10, 2010 5:09 pm

    They could always use the Hellfire which is already used on the Combat Boat 90.

  10. March 10, 2010 3:28 pm

    My reading suggests that RWS wouldn’t be the optimum solution for these swarm attacks as they degrade situational awareness. Best for the guncrew to be on the mount behind a good shield.

    I don’t see the need for all this hitech weaponary either. A 40mm Bofors with a proxi fuse should do. Or a mini-gun in .50cal.

  11. Byron permalink
    March 10, 2010 3:17 pm

    Only problem is the ship is vastly top heavy. Putting more crap on the top of the house will only make it worse. Scott, take a wild guess where the metacenter is.

  12. Bill permalink
    March 10, 2010 2:57 pm

    What about this system? Cheap, and effective. With a 10-lb warhead its no slouch ..but may still be a bit small for a frigate like LCS.

  13. CBD permalink
    March 10, 2010 12:52 pm

    Nice point. The Spike NLOS could also be readily positioned somewhere on the superstructure. If the Mk 38 Mod 2 remote weapons stations are used, they could borrow some tech from their Typhoon cousins and place either 2 Spike-ER or (perhaps) 2 Spike-NLOS missiles on the side of the same mount.

  14. Heretic permalink
    March 10, 2010 11:45 am

    AMOS or NEMO paired with LAHAT and an ISR+Designator UAV would be a particularly potent self-defense combo for a small ship. Said UAV need not carry any offensive weaponry of its own since it would be acting as a forward observer for mortar shots and Bomb Damage Assessment allowing indirect over the horizon fires (assuming your ship isn’t too tall).

  15. Marcase permalink
    March 10, 2010 11:35 am

    Okay, just have to say I absolutely hate the term ‘sloop’ because that’s a tiny recreational motorboat over here, of generally 5 meters – I owned one once.

    The traditional nomenclature suits best, starting at FAC (fast attack craft, PT boats), Osa class), corvette, frigate, destroyer, cruiser, battleship/aircraft carrier, Death Star.
    Depending on outfitted role LCS-1/-2 is a corvette or light frigate, period.

    Re- AMOS, the Swedes tested it aboard one of their Ubercool CB-90H. These superfast assault boats can also mount HELLFIRE/RBS-17 missiles, which are fired from a tripod missile launcher. So AMOS has already been tested in a naval, nay littoral, environment.

  16. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 10, 2010 9:55 am

    Sounds plausible, Jed. Much better than the untried wonder-weapon route.

    I fear though it is a military-wide presumption that technology can replace numbers, that has consistently failed against reality in low tech conflicts.

  17. Jed permalink
    March 10, 2010 9:20 am

    Just a thought, for alternative to sophisticated, expensive, and apparently not-working NLOS-N missiles, how about automatic 120mm smooth bore mortars in fully stablized turrets, I offer the Patria AMOS (twin barreled) and NEMO (sinlge barreled as examples). See the Wikipedia entry here:

    Now you don’t get the range of the NLOS I admit, but there are plenty of extended range mortar rounds already in development in the US, and laser guided rounds too, and possibly even more useful against small boat ‘swarms’ there is a ‘cargo round’ which dispenses sub-munitions.

    If survivors make it into direct visual range, the mortar tubes can be used to launch the IAI LAHAT laser guided missile:

    A low tech (relatively) cheap, usable, reliable and very flexible alternative to expensive, exquisite and apparently very unreliable hi-tech. :-)


  1. The Scoop Deck – Mayport, LCS and the mantle of the frigates
  2. links for 2010-03-11 « Budget Insight

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