The Time Has Come For A Rethink On LCS

uss-freedom

The last few weeks and months have been anything but kind for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.  In the past, I’ve been a patient observer. Throughout that time, I’ve waited for LCS to live up to the promise this program initially showed. Unfortunately, I now find myself wondering if that is a realistic hope.

Much has changed over time. Gone is the promise of a quick change of mission modules. What was planned to be a one day turnaround now looks like weeks in port. Since we are on the topic of mission modules, lets look a bit closer at a larger problem with the overall concept as it will be executed. Fifty five hulls are expected to be procured over the course of the LCS program. For a program sold on flexibility and mission focus interchangeability, why then are we only slated to procure a total of sixty four mission modules total? If you assume LCS deploys with a module aboard each time she leaves port, you run into the problem of a lack of excess modules available for interchange. Thats a problem. If you assume that LCS will deploy without a module, then this begs the question of why LCS is meant to operate with interchangeable crews in an increased operational tempo environment. The logic of all of this fails to pass the smell test, on a very basic level of logic.

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USS Independence

 

The surface warfare module is one I’ve never been impressed with. For the purpose of discussion, I’m going to focus on the anti-submarine warfare module, and the mine warfare module. These two modules are ones I’ve pondered over for years. ASW and mine clearing are not missions for the uninitiated. Instead, these missions are more like an art. Both of these missions require dedicated hardware, training, and focus. These are not rolls where a plug-in-play solution is workable, or even safe.

Mission effectiveness and availability are large concerns. Also of concern is total cost. When the program was first pitched, LCS was sold as a platform that could fight in the littoral environment, at a cost of roughly $220 million per hull. Recent estimates, using a 55 hull purchase, are now in the area of $680 per hull, to include mission module. As is common, costs ballooned. In an age of tightening budgets, it must be asked if this is a wise use of precious procurement dollars.

The planned procurement of 55 LCS hulls is the Navy’s attempt to maintain fleet size near the 300 hull mark. While I support that, I can’t get behind the idea of maintaining hull numbers like this. Another solution is needed. The Navy needs not only hulls, but hulls that can perform certain missions, and support current and future needs. In no way am I proposing an outright termination of the LCS program, but instead a dramatic restructuring.

swrnn-uss-freedom

 

USS Freedom

 

As it currently stands, the Navy is procuring two separate hulls. Instead of a traditional down-select, the Navy put both entries into production. That never made any sense in my eyes. This is problematic from the standpoint of training, maintenance, and logistics. Section of both hulls shows this program is a numbers game, in the quest to remain at or near the magic 300 hull mark. The Navy needs to get serious, and select a single hull.

In my opinion, the Navy would be best served with selection of the Independence Class. As I’ve mentioned in another post, Independence offers certain advantages for operations in the Pacific. Cancel Freedom, but instead of shifting total procurement to Independence, amend the total number of hulls planned for purchase. Cap LCS to a total buy of between 25-30 hulls. This would allow for a 1-1 replacement of Avenger Class mine countermeasure ships, while providing the necessary hulls for littoral patrol, anti-piracy operations, etc.

Going this route free’s up valuable hull procurement dollars. In an article I read earlier, a very interesting idea was put forward. The Danish Navy has a platform that would be perfect for the US Navy. The Iver Huitfeldt Class frigate represents a solution to all things the LCS is not. As a bonus, the Iver Huitfeldt has a procurement cost of $332 million, minus weapons. Assuming weaponry doubles the cost per hull procured, you are still within the original planned outlay for LCS. This would allow for the purchase of 25-30 hulls, satisfying the hull number/fleet size requirement.

Iver_Huitfeldt_6671

 

 

LCS is far from fearsome combat vessel. In contrast, the Iver Huitfeldt Class is a beast by comparison. What does it come equipped with? 16 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, two larger caliber, and longer ranged deck guns, CIWS, and the ability to interchange one of the deck guns for a larger caliber weapon. Unlike LCS, Iver Huitfeldt makes use of the MK41 VLS launcher, with the SM-2 missile. Backing up the SM-2 are 24 RIM 162 B Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles. This gives Iver Huitfeldt an anti-air range more than twenty times that of LCS. These are not module based solutions like the LCS method. No, these are permanent fixtures.

Another permanent fixture is Iver Huitfeldt’s ASW capability. Unlike LCS, Iver Huitfeldt comes equipped with a bow mounted sonar. Obviously, I would like to see LCS’s Variable Depth Sonar (VDS) added. The MH-60 could also operate from Iver Huitfeldt, as it does from LCS. These are permanent capabilities, without reliance on a mission module. Iver Huitfeldt trumps LCS in terms of range, and crew berthing. LCS trumps Huitfeldt in terms of draft, and top speed. I’m not sold on the LCS sprint speed being terribly relevant.

LCS, by the Navy’s own admission, cannot perform three core missions originally envisioned for the program. These core missions are forward presence, sea control, and power projection. The Iver Huitfeldt  Class can perform multi-aspect warfare operations, ranging from area air defense, to long range strike. The only mission LCS performs that Iver Huitfeldt cannot is mine warfare.

In short, the Navy needs a frigate. Halving the LCS total buy would allow for purchase of a very capable, and off the shelf platform already available. A common sense approach is needed, and this might be it. To avoid ballooning procurement costs, it would be sensible to build these overseas, but that will start the howling cries of outrage in the US. Tough times call for tough thinking.

 

 

 

 

 

~ by arcturus415 on August 9, 2013.

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