NATIONAL HARBOR, MD: “The LCS is a warship and it is fully capable of going into combat situations,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus insisted to skeptical reporters yesterday. Mabus was attempting to take the edge off last week’s frank acknowledgment by the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, that the Littoral Combat Ship is significantly less survivable than mainline Navy vessels.

“One of the things the CNO said the other day is one of the things the LCS can do is help prevent warfare,” Mabus said – by doing the day-to-day work of maritime policing and partnership building in accordance with the new global strategy, for example. But, he went on, “if there is a war, we aren’t going to have the LCS out there by itself.” Other, more robust vessels can provide cover against enemy warships, cruise missiles, and aircraft while the LCS conducts its specialized shallow-water missions sweeping mines, hunting submarines, or fending off swarms of small boats.

Mabus had just come from a speech to the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space convention that touted bringing down costs on LCS as one of the Navy’s successes. After shocking cost overruns on the first two ships – caused largely by a redesign done mid-way through construction, precisely to make them more survivable in combat – the cost per ship has dropped below $400 million. Today, Mabus boasted in his remarks, “they’re being built under fixed-price contracts.”

The Navy needs to keep LCS costs under control because its plans to buy 55 of them are critical to keeping the size of the fleet around 300, a target Mabus hopes to hit in 2019. Even at the overrun price tag of over $600 million apiece, the Littoral Combat Ships were still far more affordable than the $1.7 billion DDG-51 Aegis destroyers that are currently the fleet’s most numerous surface combatant. And while LCS may not be as battle-worthy as a larger and more expensive destroyer, Mabus said, it can show the flag just as well. “Today we’re using DDG-51s which are multi-billion dollar warships, we’re using amphibs [amphibious warfare ships] which are multi-billion dollar warships to do some of these engagement activities that LCS could do,” Mabus told reporters. “We’re going to use LCS to free up some multi-mission ships.”

The problem with scattering Littoral Combat Ships around the planet is that threats are proliferating globally as well. In 2006, the Lebanese group Hezbollah crippled an Israeli corvette and sank a Cambodian merchant ship with shore-launched cruise missiles of Chinese manufacture, the kind of weapon once exclusively possessed by major nation-states but now increasingly available to non-state “hybrid” adversaries. Since having larger vessels escort Littoral Combat Ships everywhere defeats the point, sometimes the LCS is going to have to fend for itself, and skeptics argue it’s just not capable.

“When you come within 25 miles of an enemy shore nowadays, if there’s even an apartment house there, someone’s likely to shoot a missile out of the garage at you,” said Norman Polmar, a naval analyst and author who’s been an outspoken critic of the LCS. While the ship’s proponents tout its 40-knot speed, Polmar notes it’s hard to outrun a cruise missile, and he finds LCS lacking in other defenses against such a threat like electronic countermeasures and even simple chaff. If it is hit, he said, “this ship cannot take much damage”: Besides having a less robust structure than traditional warships, LCS has a much smaller crew – about 80 personnel counting “mission module” specialists compared to over 200 on the old Perry-class frigates – and “survivability is often dependent on having enough people to do damage control.”

“LCS is a capability that we need very badly,” Mabus insisted to reporters. “Very fast, very shallow draft, able to operate in littorals.” The question is whether it’s tough enough for the dangers lurking in the shallows.


  • Lop_Eared_Galoot

    There are high-end converses to this as well.

    When Stark and Roberts (both frigates in the same OHP class as the LCS will replace) were hit, they were effectively taken out of the fight (radars were up but the ships were either non-maneuvering or maneuvering only at bare seaway) and had to be ferried back home as deck freight. Two AM.39 Exocets certainly don’t come cheap but the Roberts was damaged by a mine that cost $1,500.00. The damage done to it totaled some 89 million dollars worth of repairs which, ‘by inflation’ would be closer to a 120 million today, one sixth of a new LCS purchase price.

    No if’s ands or but-maybes about it, a light surface combatant is ‘knocked out’
    whenever it is hit because even if it retains weapons system
    function, it cannot maneuver with water entering the hull and that means
    it _cannot keep up_ with those it is nominally intended to escort. If the CIC is knocked out (and it is the biggest volume in the middle of the ship) then it may be able to maneuver if it isn’t keel-broke but it will be little more than a manned decoy.

    The reason the USN -does not want- to bring DDG-51 into inshore waters is because the relative costs as risk:benefit precludes repairing a bunch of broken AEGIS hulls. The same threats which took out the above two ships in 1988 as well as the later Princeton during 1991 would also cripple a Burke. And the U.S.S Cole cost 250 million to bring back after the speed boat attack _in harbor_.

    Where the LCS in fact falls short of the above ships lies in the simple fact that it cannot layer it’s outer/mid/inner zone defenses to keep from -being hit-, to begin with.

    ‘Back in they day’ (dinosaurs ruled the earth), even the OHPs had a Standard SM-1MR launcher with some 40 shots which gave you a theoretical ability to both engage surface combatants to the horizon and a 40nm (90 with lofting in the SM-2) capability to tackle even supersonic AShM with multiple intercept opportunities.

    Though at two shots per salvo’d try, the Mk.13 launcher was often a limiting factor in getting enough rounds airborne, it was a competent element in the overall AEGIS system of fleet air defense because the SPY-1 and Mk.99 illuminators could ‘take over’ magazine interchangeable SM-2 launched from any ship and give them them AEGIS class guidance control, _vastly_ improving the total shot count vs. inbound ‘near peer’ AShM threats to the battle group as a whole.

    The three keys to successful, leak proof, missile defense of any kind: being time as engagement opportunities, geometry as downrange/crossrange and fuzing conditions. And shot counts to try-try again.

    On the OHP, once the last window for Standard was done, you then degraded to the Oto Melara 76mm which was all but useless in the AAW mission (though it wouldn’t be with 3P rounds today) from about 5,000m and the Mk.15 CIWS from about 2,000m.

    Then you had the Slick-32 EW (some with active jamming, most without) and the SRBOC launchers as your last line of terminal defense. If there was time, you could also deploy various beacon decoy with the ASW helo.

    OTOH, the LCS starts at around 5nm with the SeaRAM and while this mount can actually designate targets on it’s own (unlike the original system which needs shipborne fire control as target designation) it only carries 11 shots and then the ship snap degrades to the 57mm Bofors mount which has limited coverage to about 5,000m and very poor fire control from the SeaFLIR.

    Certainly not enough to engage fast moving AShM, even with 3P.

    Next up are the 30mm Mk.44 mounts which may or may not be SUW mission package installed. And which are entirely _manually_ target engaged and thus ill suited to anything a Navy ship is likely to face in the way of HAS targets, let alone missiles.

    The SRBOC are still present but the AIEWS system was cancelled, last I heard, so the ship essentially has limited radar warning from whatever standalone system the LCS teams purchased COTS cheapest.

    Question: COULD THEY DO BETTER?!

    Ans: Certainly.

    The RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile, while still crippled by SARH homing in comparison with MICA and Aster, offers a genuine 15-20nm engagement range against ‘threats in the spray’ and is a Mach 4 weapon with extensive aerodynamic as motor modifications from the old NATO Sea Sparrow which was all but a joke against AShM.

    Able to be quadpacked into the same launch cell as a Standard, it has also got an SSM mode which means that, while expensive (800,000 dollars per shot) it lets you handle saturation attacks from the horizon inwards rather than wait for ‘guns range’ targeting because the Army backed out of Netfires and the Navy didn’t step up to defend their sole guided option for SUW.

    Let me add here that the Mk.56 is a light weight variation of the Mk.48 VLS and can be built in modular cell clusters to various dimensional requirements. It is the truest definition of ‘multi role capability’ in our bigger combatant classes and thus any hull which pretends to accomplish any any kind of swing-mission capability without it is fully deserving of the horse laughter it receives.

    RIM-162 ESSM and Mk..48 or Mk.56 should be part of EVERY LCS’ basic DWT listing. If the ships cannot handle these systems (especially with the passing of the RORO Netfires ‘module’) due to topweight or gross weight issues, then LCS is most assuredly _not_ ‘A Real Warship’.

    Because it isn’t able to contribute to the survivability of the overall battlegroup as it’s own in a manner equivalent to what it’s 1970s predecessor was able to.

    Viable (NATO standardized = widespread choices in radar) AAW and at least nominal SUW, extended range, engagement capability is a crash stop conditional (go/nogo) program cancellation limiter in my opinion.