USS Coronado Littoral Combat Ship LCS sea trials

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has told the Navy in no uncertain terms that he wants a second opinion on the controversial Littoral Combat Ship. Perhaps that’s why the newly formed “Small Surface Combatant Task Force” won’t be led by a sailor or even a Navy civilian. Instead, the “SSCTF” chairman will be Marine Corps Systems Command director John D. Burrow, according to a memo the Navy released today.

Burrow isn’t as unfamiliar with surface ships it might seem. While he now focuses on Marine Corps ground force equipment in his current job, he spent years working on surface ships at Naval Sea Systems Command. That included a stint as technical director on the DD-21 program, which later evolved into the DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyer. The DD-21/DDG-1000 was at least as controversial in its time as LCS, albeit for opposite reasons. DDG-1000 was deemed too big, complex, and costly, and the Navy stopped production at three ships, while the Littoral Combat Ship is derided as too small and fragile. (Cost overruns were a big issue early on  but the price per LCS is now down to about $400 million, making it less than a quarter of the cost of the Navy’s workhorse DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyer). The problem both programs have in common is that they tried to cram a lot of high-tech innovations into a single revolutionary vessel without necessarily thinking through how it would work, either technically or tactically.

That’s why Hagel ordered the Navy to review alternatives to the Littoral Combat Ship and not to contract for any more LCSs after No. 32. That’s less draconian than it sounds because only 24 are currently in service or on order, so Hagel still gives the Navy at least eight more ships. (That said, the Navy’s plan was to order another 28, for a total of 52). Burrow & co. must report back by the end of July. That way their recommendations can inform the budget request now being built for fiscal year 2016, when the Navy would have to decide to order more Littoral Combat Ships or not.

According to the Navy memo, dated March 13, Burrow will lead a committee of seven Navy captains and one civilian, drawing members from both the requirements side of the service – the OPNAV staff in the Pentagon – and the acquisitions side – NAVSEA. They’ll report to a group of admirals and senior civilians co-chaired by enthusiastic LCS proponent Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden on the OPNAV side, and by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Ships, Allison Stiller, on the acquisition side.

(Our Navy Times colleague Christopher Cavas notes that no one in either group is from Navy Surface Forces Command. Whether it’s some kind of rebuke to SURFOR or a weird coincidence, we don’t know).

The Small Surface Combatant Task Force’s charter is to look at a range of alternatives, from all-new designs to existing ships. Both Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert have repeatedly emphasized the fact that Hagel has by no means taken LCS off the table. To the contrary, both Hagel’s memo and this new one specifically mention the option of “modified LCS design.”

In fact, given the time and cost required to develop an all-new ship, a souped-up LCS may be the only practical option. The only other near-term options seem to be a military variant of the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter or a foreign frigate, which even if license-built in the US would raise all sorts of patriotic hackles on Capitol Hill. Those are the choppy waters Burrow has to navigate.


  • Nicky

    The only option the US navy has is either the buying a foreign design such as Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate or the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate. The other is taking the US Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter design and turn that into a Patrol frigate.

    • Gary Church

      Plenty of options- none of them acceptable to the surface warfare community or the defense ship building lobby. The cavalry and military horse breeders had the same problem over a century ago when Hiram Maxim invented the machine gun. This time it is missiles. Specifically the Chinese innovation of using a ballistic missile as a hypersonic ship killer. The world just changed but like all those guys that died doing bayonet charges in world war one the military is not going to change until a bloodbath convinces them.

  • jaazee

    Hagel is a good boy, doing exactly what the WH expects him to do…cut back on our military. The plan is to sharply reduce the number of these advanced tech ships, and that is what will happen, just as the plan is to cut the army by upwards of 100,000 men. Really helps build the morale of our all volunteer force to know the CIC is going to fire so many of them.

    Appointing a committee to review an advanced ship program, and have no one from the surface navy on board the panel would be like putting Cass Sunstein on a panel to improve voting with electronic machines made by a company Soros has an investment.

    I wonder if ex-sailor aviator @SenjohnMcCain might say something to protect our services from the Obama “Sexual Assault” on our warriors!

    • Gary Church

      Ridiculous. So little substance you might as well have said, ” I hate Obama” and not wasted our time with the rest. Jeez.

    • jgelt

      You might be surprised to discover that during previous RIFs (reduction in Forces) there were plenty of volunteers to head for the exit early. Not everyone who signs on the dotted line the first time falls in love with the military.

      The U.S. has 75,000 more soldiers than at the time we invaded Iraq. The U.S. is drawing down from it’s two occupations. GWOT is now being fought with drones and SOPS. What do we need the extra troops for?

    • PolicyWonk

      LCS has been scorched by every watchdog agency that has reviewed it, including the Navy’s own inspectors. It doesn’t matter how advanced tech the ship is, if it isn’t even built to the standard of a common fleet oil (a non-combatant).

      The LCS sea-frame is built to the weakest spec (Level 1) that allows it to be called a navy ship, which makes giving it more weapons dubious. Its own cheerleaders, said the objective was that if LCS is hit, the ship should sink slowly enough for the crew to get off.

      These ships cost anywhere from $340-400M, and by the navy’s own reckoning are incapable of performing the duties regional commanders are likely to assign it (not counting the very expensive mission packages). None of this is terribly inspiring, unless of course you are a recipient of either the Austal or Lockheed corporate welfare programs.

      Hence – given the huge cost overruns, weak armament (even with the Surface Warfare mission package), and lack of protect (either of the sailors manning them, or the uber-expensive mission packages), killing this program is WAY late, and should be stopped for all ships excluding the ones on the slip ways.

      Those are the facts. Unlike your criticisms of the POTUS, which are baseless.

      • Ken Adams

        Check your facts, PolicyWonk. Oilers, minesweepers, PCs, and other non-line-of-battle ships were all designed with the guidance of OPNAVINST 9070.1 Level I survivability. The intent was that these ships were not intended to operate in direct combat with the front-line combat ships. They still have to be able to survive a hit, but not fight while hurt.

        Of course, talk of these survivability levels is now moot, because OPNAV revised the instruction into a process guide for how specific survivability requirements are to be developed for future ships. The document is online at

        • PolicyWonk

          Thanks for the link – I’ll have a look.
          BTW – the comments I’ve put in are in some cases quotes from various published naval personnel (Admiral’s Greenert, Perez, et al), the navy inspectors office, and published reports.
          The comments regarding lack of armaments, cost overruns, and lack of protection are well known. The comment regarding the weak construction of LCS were sourced from this site, regarding the upgrade of the original LCS specifications (initially to be built to commercial standards), to the navy’s level-1 standard, while I’ve read several times that fleet oilers are built to the level 2 standard (I’ll see if I can find the reference).
          Cheers, and thanks again for the link.

  • Don Bacon

    Marine official to head study of Navy littoral combat ship which has no Marine functions even though Marines love them the littorals, and often have some responsibilities in those types of environs.
    There will be no other Marines involved in the study, because sailors don’t need Marines in littoral combat?
    Makes no sense to me. Let’s check the DOD Dictionary:
    DOD) The littoral comprises two segments of operational environment:
    1. Seaward: the area from the open ocean to the shore, which must be controlled to support operations ashore.
    2. Landward: the area inland from the shore that can be supported and defended directly from the sea.

    Is this because Navy and Marines don’t talk to each other?
    Or what am I missing here?

    • H. H. GAFFNEY

      The article never said he was a Marine officer — sounds like he’s a civilian with long experience in NavSea.

      • Don Bacon

        Who said anything about a Marine officer?
        Did you actually read my comment?

  • Gary Church

    This is the only surface platform worth spending money on. The day of the surface combatant is over; only submarines can survive the ever more capable anti-ship missile systems.

    They should start retiring all the surface combatants. All of them. Starting with the carriers. Convert the Navy into a merchant marine navy reserve with 1000 foot hulls that can be loaded with missiles, helicopters, etc. in time of war and make money in peacetime.

    • Guest

      Really? The solution to the threat of ASBMs and ASCMs is to just make a bunch of defenseless cargo ships? Guess we’ll never have to go up against an air threat again.

      • Gary Church

        I did not say there was a solution (there is none). You guess wrong. They could carry a few offensive missiles. Maybe more than a few. Maybe quite a few. Yathink? Maybe they would be big enough and enough of them that they would do what we wanted when we need them.

  • Curtis Conway

    The LCS seaframe is not Arctic Qualified. We need a small combatant that can go anywhere and do most anything. A multi-warfare frigate is needed, not a souped up LCS. This small multi-warfare combatant must be able to handle anything she
    runs into, and should be able to operate for extended periods using less fuel
    while on-station (Hybrid Electric Drive) in this shrinking operational budget
    environment. The National Security Cutter can be modified with electric
    motors for the diesels, and de-rated LM2500+G4 Prime Movers for each shaft.
    More power at better specific fuel consumption is realized when needing
    to move fast, and the electric motors can move this hull through the water at
    about 15+ knots on HED power at much lower cost. If the Coast Guard can
    get the NSC underway for 90 days any ocean, then the US Navy can make a 30 day
    any ocean vessel out of it with a much lower operational cost overall in the
    long term. When on HED the LM-2500+G4s will be turned off and not racking
    up maintenance hours saving more maintenance cost.

    • Gary Church

      We should just build a whole new merchant marine fleet manned with navy reservists Curtis. With a couple hundred of these we can load them with whatever the mission demands, even build them with a moon pool to service submarines at sea. Definitely operate helicopters off them. There is also the option of bringing the big airships back if you want to maintain a presence and patrol the oceans of the world. The problem with the old navy airships was they could not get above the weather. They can be pressurized and fly higher than jets now- or hover right above the surface.

  • Gary Church

    The only navy combatant that matters is the attack submarine. The surface warfare guys need to look for another job.

    The only surface vessels worth spending money on are large hulls that can be loaded with those “modules” of sensors and weapons everyone talks about for the LCS- as a merchant marine/naval reserve force.

    • PolicyWonk

      Gary –
      I seem to notice a pattern in your postings…

      • Gary Church

        Yes Wonk. I have my plan to conquer the world just like all the other armchair admirals posting here. I am not embarrassed to admit it :)

  • James Freeborn

    I like it.

    I read not too long ago about the Marines requesting an ISR plane in Iraq. With 40mm guns. God bless’em, only the USMC would call ISR something with 40mm guns.

    If you want to uparm the LCS. Put a Marine in charge of it.

    • Don Bacon

      You mean the LCS needs a bigger gun? Really?

      And check out the two gunners in their deck chairs behind the TWG (teeny-weeny gun).

      • Rob C.

        The 57mm gun is big in terms of big for people scale. Its range and umph when you compare to ships roughly the LCS size and ranges of missions. A smaller FAC is typically armed with a 76mm (aka 3 inch Gun) and sometimes armed with 8 anti-ship missiles. What Independence currently packing? Currently, 57mm and couple of 30mm and perhaps Griffin missiles eventually. Did i mention their all horizon/visual range? The LCS are Combat Support vessels, doing secondary work and not meant for frontline missions like a traditional frigate. Thats difference, should remember why “originally” they were built the way they were.

    • PolicyWonk

      It isn’t worth up-arming – the sea-frames are too weak – not even built to the standard of a common fleet oiler.
      That makes up-gunning, etc, dubious.

    • Gary Church

      Oh yes, the marines have done so well with their own programs like the V-22 and new amtrak. I love our Marines but their officer corps is just as screwed up as the navy.

  • Mike

    Gary’s got it right……While we are at it, we might paint a huge bullseye on the stern of that aluminum floating beer can with the markings, “shoot here”… Why waste a torpedo, just surface behind it and fire a few rounds in the butt, then submerge and listen to it sink… Or you could waste an expensive shore to ship missile and guide that puppy in close to the surface and fix it on the stern from a long way out… Geeezzz!… :(

  • PolicyWonk

    “while the Littoral Combat Ship is derided as too small and fragile….”
    Too small? Seriously? LCS was too big by a 1000 tons, and woefully under protected.
    The original idea was to building something that would handle the swarms of speedboats in the littorals that the blue-water ships aren’t really equipped to handle, amongst other problems.
    Contrast that to a Cyclone, which was armed to the teeth for its size when compared to an LCS. Start there, improve it, make it larger (1500-2000 tons), so that we end up with something that IS effective in the littorals, and at least pretends to pay attention to the hard-won lessons of littoral warfare we learned the hard way.
    And – use the current LCS’s as minesweepers, and/or classify them as simple patrol ships.

  • JerryD14


    • ted

      HELL YAH!! Let us put that 20yr.Gunny Sargent in charge of the whole damm mess.Then maybe we will see something. HOORAW for you JerryD14..Where do i sign up?. WAIT I’m old school with emphasis on OLD. OH well maybe in the next life if we have one. Let these damn hard headed kid’s find out the hard way like we did. Some may survive to become men. P.S. Give our service people credit for having gut’s and brain’s I think they know what the country need;s. It’s just going to take a reality check like another pearl harbor unfortunately.

  • ycplum

    Too often, they pick top-of-the-line systems to slap onto a platform without thinking out how they are to work together, much like the US Olympic Deam Team II. They were individuall the best basket ball players in that Olympics, but got washed out early because the Dream Team wasn’t a team. They were either unable or unwilling to work togetehr.

  • Olrik

    How come its got got such an itty-bitty gun?

    • ted

      itty-bitty with alot of punch that’s why.

      • Graham Strouse

        Actually it’s a pretty crappy little gun. No range, unreliable, no punching poiwer.

  • Paul

    I think a great many people are still missing the point that the LCS is not a frigate and is not a replacement for the FF, FFG, DE and DEG of old, those types of ship have been progressively replaced by much larger and more capable DDGs over the last couple of decades. Look at the remaining FFG-7, their Mk13 GMLS have been replaced by a 25mm cannon, they have effectively been re-rolled as long range patrol vessels and low threat ASW and anti surface platforms, their traditional place in the fleet taken by destroyers.
    What the LCS is replacing is a multitude of single role, virtually defenceless totally lacking in combat capability mine countermeasure vessels, patrol vessels, special forces and marine support vessels. They are also reintroducing confined water ASW and surface warfare. They are intended to be used in ways you would never risk a DDG while surviving in environments that you could never in good conscience deploy a mine hunter or patrol boat.
    By all means argue about numbers and the mix of capabilities but please do not assume the LCS is something it is not.

    • jm2112

      LCS is noting more that an expensive target.

  • Zzz

    So can someone tell me what is wrong with the type 26/27 global combat ship? It’s well armed, great senors, good speed, and great survivabilty and cheaper than the lcs. I think it’s time to embrace that “special relationship” US has with the UK.

  • ted

    Just curious? Has anyone on this site have first hand experience like serving on a Littoral Combat Ship?OR maybe helped build on it? I wonder.

    • Gary Church

      The cowboy hat still scares me but I wonder why anyone on this site needs to have credentials to give a negative opinion. I wonder.

  • Jon

    I’ve never been in the Navy or even been on the ocean. I know nothing about ships. However, this LCS sure looks cool!

    • Gary Church

      I don’t even think it looks cool. But the Zumwalt… looks extremely COOL;