The first Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom, on its way to Singapore last year.

The first Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom, on its way to Singapore last year.

ARLINGTON: In the race to replace the Navy’s controversial Littoral Combat Ship, the leading contender seems to be…. a better Littoral Combat Ship. That’s the clear implication of what we’ve been hearing from Navy leadership, and it’s clear from  press briefings today that LCS contractor Lockheed Martin feels pretty confident it can do the job. (Lockheed builds the Freedom-class LCS; the Independence variant is by Austal and General Dynamics).

The incumbent’s advantage here is time. Lockheed VP Joe North told reporters at the companys pre-Farnborough Air Show briefing that he expects “every shipyard across Europe” to take a shot. But existing European designs might take years to revise to the US Navy’s requirements and an all-new design would take at least a decade. Of course, LCS is already in production, and while many in the Pentagon and Congress are deeply dissatisfied with the ship, Lockheed argues that its modular design makes it easy to upgrade.

“Whatever they decide they want for upgrades, they will start [putting on ships] as early as FY ’17 [fiscal year 2017],” North said of the Navy. Lockheed can meet that schedule or even beat it by putting upgrades on 2016 ships if desired, he said confidently. “I can easily work these [changes] in,” North said, and keep LCS production going without a pause: “If you do this right, we don’t need to break production. I think that’s huge.”

So what would the LCS-plus look like? “We gave them lots of options,” North said, “them” being the Small Surface Ship Combatant Task Force appointed by Defense Sec. Chuck Hagel to review alternatives to the existing LCS design; the SSCTF will report back to Hagel by August. Lockheed can build its LCS with a bigger main gun (“we’ve always been gun-agonistic,” North said), a more powerful radar, or a less zippy but more fuel-efficient power plant — all diesels instead of the current diesel-turbine combo — if the Navy decides long range is more important than high speed.

Perhaps most important, Lockheed can build an upgunned LCS with Vertical Launch Systems (VLS), the Navy’s plug-and-play launchers for a wide variety of missiles. The ship could accommodate eight VLS cell with a modest redesign to the bow, North told reporters, or up to 32 VLS if you cut the hangar capacity from two helicopters down to one. For comparison, the Navy’s cutting edge DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer, a vastly larger ship, carries 80 VLS cells.

What about survivability, though? The most common criticism of LCS — including by the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E) — is that the hull is simply too fragile to survive in major combat. The Navy’s own rating system puts the LCS at survivability level one, compared to level two for the FFG-7 Perry-class frigates it replaces and level three for the much larger DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyers.

But in fact, “we’re more survivable than the FFGs,” North said bluntly. The Navy’s requirements for the various survivability levels have changed since the frigates were assessed, he asserted, and technology’s improved: “We’re using high-strength, low-weight steel that wasn’t even around.”

Comments

  • NeoIsolationist

    Very solid. Diesels, a 3″ gun, and one 8-cell VLS. Remember that the weapon modules can hold armaments similarly to what a VLS system can hold. ASM and ESSM can be put in there, if it were desired. I don’t think we need a eurofrigate (super-frigate that is a class one warship in its own right). What we need in my opinion is a destroyer escort-type vessel. Lower capability that has synergy with Ticos and Burkes.

    • http://www.usmc.mil @notrizzo

      I bet they take it much further, increasing size to accomodate a 32-cell VLS without sacrificing a helo. The powerplant is a no-brainer and should encorporate increase electrical capacity to power and cool a better radar suite. The question is how specialized the mission module system will be, do they “build-in” the ASW/AAW/SuWA capability (and eliminate the MCM) basically making them small Frigates or do they pick just one capability to build-in the SuWA and AAW capability, but retain the modular capability for ASW/MCM or some combination of the two.
      Keeping the existing production line and logistics/support network in place is going to give this option a HUGE leg up on any other option.

      • Horn

        I say drop the MCM capability and either stick with the Avengers or build a more capable MCM. Dedicated MCM ships go for what, $150M-$250M nowadays. The LCS should stick with the frigate role of ASW and AAW. The MCM capability of the LCS so far has been far from satisfactory.

      • PolicyWonk

        Keeping the existing production line and logistics/support network in place is going to give this option a HUGE leg up on any other option.

        ======================
        Except that the Freedom LCS variant that got sent to Asia performed so poorly, and had such heavy maintenance requirements that GAO inspectors reported that the ship would have to be redesigned to provide living space for the real crew requirement.

        LCS (either variant) were also hugely over budget, and all other navies initially interested walked away, saying that the costs were far to high given the benefits. The cost of LCS might seem cheap compared to a Burke – but it was still hugely expensive given the result.

        Too large for the littorals; too weakly armed to protect itself; too small for blue water; and no bargain to the US taxpayer. In short – a corporate welfare program.

        Sad…

        • http://www.usmc.mil @notrizzo

          The maintenance issues don’t necessarily speak to the capability or role the ship will fill, to say the LPD-17 should have been
          scrapped because of the lead ship’s maintenance issues would have been unwise.

          My point is that since they are committed to building a significant number of the existing LCS designs, creating a new logistics and
          maintenance chain to support a new design would have a cost penalty that will be very disadvantageous to the alternatives. The calculus might change given a different power plant/engine setup, but I think the broader point will remain valid.

          • Horn

            People don’t know or remember the problems and cost overruns had with the Perry’s, Spruance’s, and the Enterprise. Good example with the LPD-17. People were calling for the cancellation of that program when they had problems, and look how that turned out.

          • PolicyWonk

            First of all, I was referring specifically to LCS-1 (USS Freedom) – not LPD 17.

            Continuing the current production line as is, would only serve to continue to reward a contractor for historically poor quality work at the expense of the US taxpayer.

            Where ships of a new class always have problems, the multitude of those listed with LCS-1, and improvements made since, according to the reports, still cast considerable doubt on whether a mere modification will resolve the problems. Rather, they seemed to indicate a total redesign would be necessary. In the meantime, LCS-1 will never see battle, and will likely only serve as a “hazing” or training ship – and nothing else.

            The purchase of a foreign/NATO under license is probably a better way to go.

            Cheers.

          • http://www.usmc.mil @notrizzo

            I was referrencing LPD-17 because it was a first in class that had serious mantenance issue, but the class itself was a success. Not to say that the rest of class won’t share the same or similair issues, but we shall see.

        • Horn

          The whole point of the first deployment is to find all those problems in the early part of production. Maintenance requirements usually start out higher than expected. Just look at past ship programs and you’ll see that this is a repeating pattern with warship production. People don’t realize that the first deployment is just like the first flights of a new aircraft. All the unseen problems come up and get fixed over time.

          • PolicyWonk

            I understand first deployments can be problematic – and so do all the other navies on the planet – but thanks for pointing that out.

            LCS is/was unique in that its had so many problems in so many places, and in every inspectors report (including the US navy’s own inspectors, who are supposed to be aware of such things), the LCS has been determined to be severely lacking.

            There isn’t even ONE report that is even vaguely favorable to either LCS variant, which is pretty significant. With the other newer ships, LPD17, USS Ford, USS Zumwalt, everyone realizes there are problems, but these are likely to be worked out as everyone sees the eventual promise of each class.

            The only folks who see the promise in the current versions of LCS are the builders, and the LCS cheerleaders in the navy.

  • HenryJMorton

    Of course, LCS is already in production, and while many in the Pentagon and Congress are deeply dissatisfied with the ship, Lockheed argues that its modular design makes it easy to upgrade. http://0rz.tw/YAAeL

    • PolicyWonk

      The current version of LCS is being scorched (to a large extent) for its lack of survivability. Its sea-frame is rated only at the level-1 navy standard, which is not “upgradable”, without ripping the ship apart and starting over.

  • http://www.usmc.mil @notrizzo

    Still wish they’d give some public release about how the ROLE of the new upgraded LCS will be in comparison to the exisitng LCS. Are they just looking to upgrade the existing modular system or are they looking for something more like a sea control frigate? I’m guessinng they know what they want, but they won’t tell “us” since the answer obviously would telegraph what the outcome of the commission will be.

  • timaahhh

    “We can Improve LCS” THEN DO IT! Stop Lockheed stop complaining about scope creep. Add VLS?? Haha fine whatever, but how about make the littoral combat ship the Navy asked for not a crummy destroyer. The closer in cost you come to Burke the more people are going to ask, why not just buy more capable Burkes instead of a of a few more of these things.

  • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

    In my opinion, cut the MCM crap and stick the LCS in the Corvette role. Just arm them like a Corvette ship and start looking for a Frigate such as the British Type 26 GCS

    • Horn

      The Navy will never go for having both corvettes and frigates. Most high-level combatant corvettes in the world can cost as much as larger frigates. The GCS looks like it will cost close to $550M US dollars. Unfortunately do to time constraints and cost factors, the Navy will probably go with a larger Freedom-class.

      • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

        IMO the LCS is a Piece of CRAP. It’s nothing more than a Glorified US Coast Guard medium Endurance cutter, painted Haze Grey.

        • Horn

          Lol. I’ll admit they are disappointing, but I do see hope for at least the Freedom-class. The Independence-class … less than six months in the water and the hull is disintegrating. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that happening before. Ingalls did submit a variation of the Legend-class cutter for the Small Surface Ship Combatant.

          • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

            It’s why I say cut the LCS to 20 and put them in the PC/MCM fleet. Then work on building a Frigate based on the Legend class Cutter design.

          • Horn

            It’s has terrible MCM capabilities.

          • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

            At least the Legend class Cutters have Sea legs and distance that the LCS can only dream of

          • Horn

            If the LCS only had diesels instead of the hybrid setup used now, you’d see a similar range. LCS was designed for speed, something which the cutter wasn’t designed for.

          • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

            But then again the LCS is a GAS HOG, while the NSC is more economical and have the range that the LCS doesn’t have.

    • ycplum

      People tend to forget that the LCS straddles the corvette and frigate displacements. US tends to push the limits of the classes a corvette is a better fit. I think they can produce a LCS that is a tad more survivable and cheaper. There were a bunch of missteps in the LCS design-procurement process.

  • PolicyWonk

    But in fact, “we’re more survivable than the FFGs,” North said bluntly.

    ====================================
    Then perhaps you’d care to submit the “Freedom” variant of LCS to the shock testing you’ve been putting off?

    Given the wretched performance of USS Freedom on its asian adventure, maybe thats the best hull to use: the performance was so poor and maintenance requirements so over the top that if the sea-frame fails she/it won’t be missed.

    What about the tremendous costs of LCS? While the claims are that the ship is a “bargain” (if compared solely to the cost of a Zumwalt or Burke it appears “cheap”) abounds, every other navy on the planet who was interested in LCS walked away, saying it was way too much money for too little benefit.

    LCS is too big for the littorals, too small for blue water, too weakly armed to do the job it was intended for (even with the “surface warfare” mission package), and appallingly expensive.

    Perhaps the US Navy’s requirements should be investigated independently to see if their requirements are realistic, or if their champagne tastes need to be knocked back to a beer diet level. The days of unobtanium-plated everything are over – and its time they get realistic.

    Lockheed, based on the performance of USS Freedom, failed miserably when it came down to assessing maintenance tasks versus crewing requirements: so much so, that almost a total redesign of the entire ship would be required to create living space for the true crewing levels.

    Could Lockheed eventually figure out how to make a decent warship? Sure. But does that represent a wise way to spend US taxpayer dollars?

    Not according to the evidence.

  • OMEGATALON

    LCS’ biggest issue is that they built the ship to specs given to them by the US Navy as Lockheed didn’t just randomly assemble components as they designed and built the USS Freedom according to specifications set by the US Navy and this is the problem as no one in the US Navy really understands how some of the systems aboard the Freedom works because some represent the leading edge of technology which is not unlike the situation with the F-35 JSF as maintenance for the LCS is taking longer and it was just recently discovered that the LCS requires a bigger crew.

    • Richard

      OMG, there is that name again, LOCKHEED, brings pain to mind from the Craptor, JSF and now LCS.

  • Lazarus

    Warship survivability is now more about preventing hits rather than surviving them in an operational condition. In that regard, LCS’ Sea Ram is a much more effective system against aircraft/ASCM’s than the old MK 92 (even the CORT upgraded) system on the FFG’s. Unlike the FFG, the LCS does not need to provide even a modicum of area AAW (as the old FFG’s were once tasked). In pure self defense capability, it is a much better platform. The whole “survivability” argument comes from people whose understanding of this term dates from the Second World War rather than the present.

    • Curtis Conway

      Have you ever heard of “Independent Steaming”?

      • Lazarus

        LCS (and nearly all of our other warships) are not supposed to fight as independent units. Anyone can get surprised like STARK. Do you think the FF(g) in its current configuration is more “survivable” than LCS?

        • Curtis Conway

          The FFG-7 platform has come a long way since the Stark days, and some steps backward (loss of SAM). Take a peek at the Australian FFG-7 upgrades with VLS.

          “Not supposed to fight as independent units.” Have you ever served aboard a US Navy combatant. When the order comes, and they will . . . to go where ever, and do what ever . . . you go! When you get there one hopes you are not at the mercy of what you find. Let us not put our sailors in that position. Politicians will do that to you every time. Look at what politicians are doing to Central and South American youth on our southern border at present. More REAL HISTORY (reality) exist to support the supposition that you should be ready for any eventuality (plan for the worse, hope for the best), than all the theoretical that the current force planners trying to meet a budget can come up with.

          • Lazarus

            I’m not talking about the current era of violent peace. I was CSO on an FFG. Try finding parts that are no longer made! LCS with RAM is light years ahead of the FF(g).

          • Curtis Conway

            I thank you for your service, and I’m sure you know of what I speak when “they send”, you go, and find whatever, regardless if you can handle it or not. Previous HiStory would have placed you in good standing it you spoke over Ch16 about consequences of attacking a US Navy warship. Today ? . . . they will probably open up before you get your finger off the mike, because they know the track record of current administration. US Navy forces are not on current patrol stations. Not deemed to be necessary while Chinese fighters fly with 100′ of USAF Rivet Joint aircraft, and similar JASDF aircraft in international airspace that the Chinese have unilaterally declared an Air Defense Intercept Zone out to 1,000 miles, a move that has no precedent in HiStory. . . or the Chinese reclaiming ocean sand and reef material building an artificial island within the 200 mile economic zone of the Philippines Western islands, or the Chinese drilling for oil within the Vietnamese territorial waters. And . . . the Chinese REFUSE to go to international arbitration while we stand by and watch.

  • Mike

    New slogan for Lockheed Martin:” Yep, it is expensive, way over budget and a piece of crap, but trust us, we will make the next one better”…. Geeezzz… :( How about finding better military contractors….. What ever happened to General Dynamics?

  • Curtis Conway

    Improving the LCS survivability for future construction will not make it any more suitable for Combat Operations in a US Navy formation. Every US Navy Combatant must be able to protect itself, steam in any ocean into harm’s way, and be an asset
    to the formation to which it is attached. Otherwise, it has no reason to exist. The LCSs should be given Mine Hunting / Mine Sweeping roles to which its large flight
    deck is very capable of supporting, and its extremely expensive mission modules
    have been designed to address.

    Our new little frigate will be required to Steam Independently (FFG-7s can do that) and project power as required in the circumstances in which it finds itself in this
    rapidly changing world. This reality necessitates multi-warfare capability. In addition this platform must be able to stretch its fuel (Hybrid Electric Drive), and remain on station for 30 days even in the arctic which is beginning to heat up.

    Donation missiles (SM-6s) will become more of an issue in recently discussed saturation attacks, and some thought to MH-60R upgrades with the Lockheed Martin Vigilance radar system should be considered providing greater Over The Horizon (OTH) detection and potential targeting of Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs). Let us not wait until shipboard organic detection takes place and we get one shot (Supersonic ASCM) with a Rolling Airframe Missile followed with tungsten 20mm.

    At present LCS crews are running from one preventative maintenance check to the next, forget about corrective maintenance, and this is within the context of our first LCS deployment not being able to steam from one place to the next, or participate in an exercise, without breaking down, and this is peacetime. The crew is too small to fight the ship and perform damage control, forget about peace time transit operations, as proven by the previous underway demonstrations. The LCS in the Arctic is an invitation to disaster for the hull was not designed and stressed for that eventuality like a National Security Cutter. And . . . I would like to see the LCS shock test results as well.

  • ycplum

    With respect to survivability:
    LCS 3,000 tons SL 1
    FF-7 4,100 tons SL 2
    DDG-51 10,000 tons SL 3
    Bigger is usually more survivable. With that said, I think they can tweek the LCS to level 2. I just don’t think we should commit to buying a couple of dozen ships till they actually upgrade the ships.

  • The_Usual_Suspect61

    But in fact, “we’re more survivable than the FFGs,” North said bluntly.
    The Navy’s requirements for the various survivability levels have
    changed since the frigates were assessed, he asserted, and technology’s
    improved: “We’re using high-strength, low-weight steel that wasn’t even
    around.”

    Show me the shock test results Mr. North. Talk is cheap. The best way to fix LCS is to put two fish in the keel.