Littoral combat ship

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The trimaran USS Independence
USS Freedom on sea trials in February 2013 before her first deployment

The littoral combat ship (LCS) is a class of relatively small surface vessels intended for operations in the littoral zone (close to shore) by the United States Navy.[1] It was "envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats in the littorals."[2]

The Freedom class and the Independence class are the first two variants of LCS by the U.S. Navy. LCS designs are slightly smaller than the U.S. Navy's guided missile frigates, and have been likened to corvettes of other navies. However, the LCS designs add the capabilities of a small assault transport with a flight deck and hangar large enough to base two SH-60B/F or MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopters, the capability to recover and launch small boats from a stern ramp, and enough cargo volume and payload to deliver a small assault force with fighting vehicles to a roll-on/roll-off port facility. The standard armament for the LCS are Mk 110 57 mm guns and Rolling Airframe Missiles. It will also be able to launch autonomous air, surface, and underwater vehicles. Although the LCS designs offer less air defense and surface-to-surface capabilities than comparable destroyers, the LCS concept emphasizes speed, flexible mission module space and a shallow draft.

The first littoral combat ship, USS Freedom, was commissioned on 8 November 2008 in Veteran's Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.[3] The second ship, and first of the trimaran design, the USS Independence, was commissioned on 16 January 2010, in Mobile, Alabama.[4] The third littoral combat ship, USS Fort Worth, of similar design to the USS Freedom, was commissioned 22 September 2012 in Galveston, Texas.

In 2012, CNO Jonathan W. Greenert said some of the LCS would be deployed to Africa in place of destroyers and cruisers.[5] Then in 2013, the LCS requirement was cut from 55 to 52 ships, because U.S. Africa Command reduced the presence requirement.[6] On 6 January 2014, the office of the secretary of defense (OSD) directed the Navy to reduce overall buys of the LCS from 52 to 32, in favor of a "more capable surface combatant."[7] Navy leaders have asserted that budgets and acquisition changes have not been completed yet.[8] By January 17, Navy leaders had managed to postpone a final decision about changing LCS numbers.[9] The final budget called for capping the LCS fleet at 32 ships in favor of a more capable frigate, that could engage in high intensity combat.[10]

Design features[edit]

The concept behind the littoral combat ship, as described by former Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England, is to "create a small, fast, maneuverable and relatively inexpensive member of the DD(X) family of ships." The ship is easy to reconfigure for different roles, including anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, homeland defense, maritime intercept, special operations, and logistics. Due to its modular design, the LCS will be able to replace slower, more specialized ships such as minesweepers and larger assault ships.[11]

The Independence-class has a particularly large flight deck.

Most of the functions of the mission modules will be performed by carried vehicles such as the helicopters or unmanned vehicles such as the Spartan Scout, AN/WLD-1 RMS Remote Minehunting System and MQ-8B Fire Scout. By performing functions such as sonar sweeps for mines or submarines or torpedo launches against hostile submarines at some distance from the ship's hull, the crew is placed at less risk. This is part of the Navy's goal to "unman the front lines."[12] DARPA's Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program aims to build a Medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (MALE UAV) that can operate from LCS-2 and can carry a payload of 600 pounds (270 kg) out to an operational radius of 600–900 nautical miles (1,100–1,700 km).[13] First flight of a TERN demonstrator is expected in 2017.[14]

Also by placing sensors on remote vehicles, the LCS will be able to exploit concepts such as bistatic sonar.[15]

A report by the Pentagon's director of Operational Test and Evaluation found that neither design was expected to "be survivable in a hostile combat environment" and that neither ship could withstand the Navy's full ship shock trials.[16] The Navy has responded that the LCS is being built to a Level 1+ survivability standard and that the ships will rely on warnings from networks and the speed of the ship to avoid being hit, or if hit be able to limp to safety.[17][18] Jonathan Greenert has said that the crew would "conduct an orderly abandon ship" if their ship was struck by enemy fire, an action that might not be necessary on other vessels in the same circumstances. The ships were designed to minimize vulnerability with modern automated damage control systems to continue to perform its mission, then withdraw from the battle area under its own power.[19]

The combat abilities of the LCS were said to be "very modest" even before the cancellation of the XM501 Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System.[20] The Independence variant is said to have better helicopter facilities and more internal space while the Freedom variant is said to be better able to launch and recover boats in high seas. Admiral Gary Roughead has said that a mix of both types would be "operationally advantageous".[21]

The monohull USS Freedom's large flight deck

Some of the LCS will rotate through Singapore.[22] These two or four ships will not be based in Singapore and their crews will live aboard ship during their rotational deployments.[23] The ships will be managed from, rather than based in, Singapore for a six to ten-month deployment that includes port calls to other countries in the area.[24]

In April 2012, Chief of Naval Operations Greenert said "You won't send it into an anti-access area."[25] But Navy Secretary Ray Mabus clarified that the ship could operate in combat areas, as long as it remained under the protection of real warships.[26]

The ships are planned to have a 3:2:1 manning concept. That is three ship crews, and two hulls for each ship that is on station at any time. The other ship and other two crews who are not on deployment will either be preparing for deployment or in rotation in or out of theater. The result is a 50% reduction in ships and a 25% reduction in crews (and smaller crew sizes) than traditional deployment practices.[27]

The ships were predicted to fall short in manning.[28] And the Navy has deployed the ships with berthing modules in the mission bays in order to carry the crew required for operations.[29][30][31] However the ships are designed with sufficient headroom to change from 2-high bunking to 3-high bunking, which would allow crew sizes of 100 if needed.[32]

The ships will be unable to defend themselves effectively against anti-ship cruise missiles, which are commonly employed in the littorals.[33]

The LCS is the first USN surface combatant class in a generation to not use the Aegis Combat System, though Aegis-equipped variants of the LCS hulls have been offered to foreign customers.[34] The LCS classes have suffered from problems in their communications and radars and will require refits in these areas.[35]

Mission modules[edit]

The LCS is reconfigured for various roles by changing mission packages. Each mission package includes mission module equipment (weapon systems, sensors, etc.), carried craft and mission crews.[36] Projected modules include Anti-submarine warfare (ASW), mine hunter (MCM), surface warfare (SUW), and special warfare missions.[37] The MCM and SUW modules are planned to reach initial operating capability in Fiscal year 2014, and the ASW module in FY2016.[38]

Mission module changes[edit]

Independence trimaran form.

Module changes were envisioned to allow a single LCS to change roles in a matter of hours at any commercial port allowing a group of LCS' to optimize their effectiveness against a developing threat very rapidly. A report from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) based on the results of a January 2012 sustainment wargame is reported to state that, possibly for logistics reasons, the mission module changes may take as long as weeks, and that in the future the navy plans to use LCS ships with a single module, with module changes being a rare occurrence.[33]

Surface warfare[edit]

The surface warfare mission module is intended to deal only with small boats and is called "best swarm killer in the surface fleet".[39] It includes two 30mm gun mission modules manufactured by Teledyne Brown Engineering, Inc.[40]

In January 2011, the U.S. Navy recommended that Raytheon's Griffin missile system be selected as the replacement for the NLOS-LS missile.[37][41] This would lower the missile range of the LCS from 25 miles to 3.5 miles. The packages were to be deployed in sets of three, with 15 per set for a total of 45 missiles. Initial deployment was set for 2015, with a longer ranged version to have entered service around 2017. However, this was canceled as the Griffin was judged to be "too lightweight".[42][43] The longer range missile will be chosen in a competition for a "beyond the horizon" system.[44] An enhanced Griffin and the Sea Spear variant of the Brimstone were considered likely competitors for the increment 2 missile.[45] The Navy's proposed budget for FY 2015 includes funding for the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module (SSMM) for the first time.[46] The Navy is integrating the AGM-114L Hellfire missile onto the LCS to increase its standoff firepower. The Longbow version uses millimeter wave radar to autonomously track targets rather than using laser designation. Testing was conducted in fall 2013 where three targets were destroyed and the missile will be test-fired from an LCS in 2014; vertical launch tubes will need to be acquired and integrated onto the ships. Navy use of the Hellfire gives them access to the existing U.S. Army stockpile of 10,000 missiles. The Hellfire has a range of 8,000 m (5.0 mi), and the Navy is interested in developing a longer-range follow-on version.[47] The selection of the Hellfire is an interim decision to increase lethality, with a longer-range missile to be developed in the future.[48] A ship of both LCS classes can carry 24 Hellfire missiles in its Surface-to-surface Missile Module (SSMM), launching them vertically from existing M299 launchers mounted within a gas containment system; the SSMM design does not facilitate at-sea reloading.[49]

Norwegian company Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace is proposing equipping both classes of LCS with their Naval Strike Missile. The company has presented scale models of the Freedom-class with 12 NSMs and the Independence-class with 18 NSMs. The Naval Strike Missile is a fifth-generation long-range precision strike missile already in service with the Royal Norwegian Navy and Polish Navy coastal artillery units.[50] In late July 2014, the Navy confirmed that it would test-launch the NSM from the USS Coronado (LCS-4) in September. The test is not in response to a specific requirement, but to evaluate the missile's feasibility to increase the LCS' anti-surface warfare role; the NSM will not be integrated onto the ship, but must be shown to fit aboard it. The NSM can hit a ship 100 mi (87 nmi; 160 km) away, but LCS ships are not fitted with long-range fire control systems to organically detect a target that far away, so the demonstration will show if smaller and shorter-range missiles like the Hellfire would be better suited as armament. Launching the NSM from the Coronado will be the first time an LCS will fire a surface-to-surface missile.[51]

Anti-submarine module[edit]

The anti-submarine module will have its focus changed from stationary systems to en-stride systems (while the ship is moving) that are useful in the open ocean as well as in coastal areas.[37] One of the items to be added is a "torpedo detection capability" so that the ship can know when it is under attack.[52] Thales has sold one CAPTAS 4 low-frequency active sonar to the U.S. Navy to be towed behind the LCS, with a potential order of 25 units.[53] The USN will test a combination of this unit, derived from the Sonar 2087 on British Type 23 frigates, with the TB-37 multifunction towed array found on US warships.[54] As of September 2013, deployment of the ASW module is planned for 2016, but the 2013 sequestration cuts could push this back to 2017.[55]

The Thales 2087-towed sonar will give the LCS an ability to detect diesel and electric submarines while on the move, even better than destroyers and cruisers; because submarines can hide based on how sound is refracted through the temperature salinity and pressure profile, the variable depth sonar can pierce that layer better than a hull-mounted sonar. The sonar is paired with a torpedo decoy under development. To destroy submarines, an MH-60S helicopter will deploy the Mark 54 MAKO Lightweight Torpedo.[56]

A wargame held by the Naval War College demonstrated the possibility of using the LCS in open water operations to assist carrier battle groups and guided missile destroyers. The LCS was found to be more useful in open water operations than previously considered. The wargame found that an LCS operating the ASW package could perform the mission, which freed up a destroyer that would normally perform the mission to contribute to the lethality of the strike group. Submarine hunting ability is increased by the combination of a destroyer's towed array and hull-mounted sonar and an LCS' variable depth sonar.[57]

Mine countermeasures module[edit]

The Mine Counter-Measure (MCM) module is designed to provide minesweeping, where mines are detected remotely and bypassed, as well as minehunting, where mines are detected and then disabled. Presently the MCM module is envisioned to perform "influence" minehunting, which employs acoustic and magnetic signatures, but not contact, or mechanical minehunting. The MCM module includes the Airborne Laser Mine Detection system, the Airborne mine neutralization system, the AN/AQS-20A underwater towed sonar, the remote minehunting system that will tow the AN/AQS-20A, the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis system, the unmanned surface vehicle with unmanned surface sweep system, and the Knifefish, the Surface mine counter-measure unmanned undersea vehicle. Additionally before they were canceled, the MCM module was also to include the Organic Airborne and Surface Influence Sweep System, and the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System. The full "threshold" performance MCM module is scheduled to be completed by 2019. The AN/AQS-20A, and the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System have been found to be unable to meet performance requirements in a single pass, requiring them to use multiple passes, degrading performance. The Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle's mean time before failure is 7.9 hours compared to the required 75 hours. The Airborne Mine Neutralization System cannot track mines because of software problems, and there are problems with the loading and unloading system.[58] While the Navy plans to release the final increment IV MCM module in 2019, this planned system will not have contact minehunting capability, or an EOD team, which the Avenger Mine Countermeasure ship had to deal with contact mines, and give valuable intelligence data the EOD teams are trained to collect. It will also not have an in-stride capability, the ability to neutralize mines as they're found, the neutralization phase is preceded by post-mission analysis with the proposed system. As of September 2013, fielding of the first increment of the MCM module is planned for 2015, and the second in 2019.[55]

The first increment of the MCM module will enter service in 2015 and will include four systems: the helicopter-deployed airborne laser mine detection system (ALMDS); the airborne mine neutralization system (AMNS); the remote minehunting system (RMS) composed of the remote multi-mission vehicle (RMMV); and the AQS-20A sonar. The ALMDS will detect mines near the top of the water, and the RMS, which is the RMMV paired with the AQS-20A, will detect them below the waterline. To destroy mines, the AMNS is lowered by the helicopter and guided by an operator on board to neutralize it. Increment two will be the coastal battlefield reconnaissance and analysis system (COBRA) mounted on the MQ-8B to search beaches and surf zones. Increment three will involve an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) with unmanned surface sweep system (USSS), which is a cable towed behind the USV. It will mimic the acoustic and magnetic signature of a ship to fool magnetic and influence mines into detonating; introduction is expected in 2017. The final increment will be the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle to find and detect buried mines in 2019.[56]

Irregular warfare and amphibious modules[edit]

The Navy has included an irregular warfare package in its 2012 budget request to Congress.[59] The Spearhead-class Joint High Speed Vessels have also been weighed as possible platforms for Special operations support.[60]

Under Secretary of the Navy Robert O. Work has said that Marines will deploy from littoral combat ships.[61] Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA), himself a Marine Corps Reserve field artillery officer with combat experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, has written that the 55 LCS buy was made at the cost of 10 fewer amphibious vessels needed to support the USMC.[62] Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Joseph Dunford has said that the LCS is one of the platforms under consideration to help close the gap in amphibious shipping.[63] The Navy is currently working on the requirements for a module to support these sorts of operations.[64]

Developmental history[edit]

USS Freedom at her commissioning. Freedom was the first United States Navy littoral combat ship to be commissioned.

Proposal[edit]

The United States Navy launched its first experimental littoral combat ship, Sea Fighter, in 2003. Sea Fighter used a SWATH-type hull and was designated as fast sea frame or FSF-1.[65] The ship was put into service in 2005 and serves as an experimental test bed ship using mission modules.[66] Given that the Oliver Hazard Perry, Osprey, and the Avenger classes are all reaching end of life, the U.S. Navy released a requirement for the LCS class ships. In 2004, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon submitted designs to the Navy of their proposed littoral combat ships. It was decided to produce two vessels each (Flight 0) of the Lockheed Martin design (LCS-1 and LCS-3) and of the General Dynamics design (LCS-2 and LCS-4). After these are brought into service, and experience has been gathered on the usability and efficiency of the designs, the future design for the class were to be chosen (Flight I). The ultimate decision was to fund both designs as two variants of the class. The Navy currently plans to build 32 of these ships.

On 9 May 2005, Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England announced that the first LCS would be named USS Freedom. Her keel was laid down on 2 June 2005 at Marinette Marine, Marinette, Wisconsin.[67] The contract to build the ship was managed by Lockheed's Maritime Systems and Sensors (MS2) division, directed by Fred Moosally.[37] On 23 September 2006, LCS-1 was christened and launched at the Marinette Marine shipyard.[68] On 19 January 2006, the keel for the General Dynamics trimaran, USS Independence, was laid at the Austal USA shipyards in Mobile, Alabama. LCS-2 was launched 30 April 2008.

Budget overruns and deployments[edit]

The U.S. Navy canceled contracts to build LCS-3 of Lockheed Martin and LCS-4 of General Dynamics and Austal USA in April and November 2007, respectively, citing failure to control cost overruns of both designs.[69] Subsequently, the Navy announced a new bidding process for the next three ships, with the winner building two ships and the loser building one.[70] In the 26 September 2008 U.S. Presidential debate, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) used the LCS procuring process as an example of botched contracting procedures that drove up the costs unnecessarily.[71]

In March 2009, then-Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter announced that LCS-3 would be named Fort Worth after Fort Worth, Texas,[72] and the fourth ship would be named Coronado after Coronado, California,[73][74] signalling the restart of LCS program. The LCS-3 Fort Worth contract was renewed in March 2009,[75] and the LCS-4 Coronado was renewed in April 2009.[76] The Navy also announced its revised LCS procurement plan in April 2009 that a total of three ships would be awarded in FY 2010 budget. Senior Navy officials also hinted that the Navy may not down-select to one design for further orders, pointing out complementary features of the two designs.[77]

The Navy pressed forward with its Littoral Combat Ship acquisition process, despite calls from former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman to adapt a fixed-price contracts.[78] Pressure also mounted in the Congress for the Navy to control the cost of LCS: in June 2009, during a hearing of the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor, D-Miss, said that other contractors would jump at the chance to build LCS as the subcommittee added language that would require the Navy to open bidding on the project if either lead contractor walked away from the $460 million fixed price contracts that would be offered.[79] In response, the Naval Sea Systems Command conducted a study on whether a reduction of the top speed requirement from 40 knots to 30 could help keep the ships under the price cap.[80]

The Congress also asked the Navy to study improvement programs on existing ships in place of the LCS program. But in June 2009, Vice Admiral Barry McCullough, USN testified in a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting that the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates and minesweepers were too worn out to continue in service to cover the gap if the LCS development process suffered further delays.[81] Retired Admiral James Lyons, USN called for a $220 million common design with the U.S. Coast Guard's National Security Cutter (NSC) program to save costs and meet "limited warfare requirements.[82] A Huntington-Ingalls study found that the NSC would be a better match for the listed mission set, except that it did not have the mission modules that the LCS carried to perform many of these missions.[83]

In support of the LCS program, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, the contractor of unmanned aerial vehicle UAV that would be carried on Littoral Combat Ships, released a study that showed seven LCS can more efficiently perform anti-piracy patrols in the Western Indian Ocean than a fleet of 20 conventional ships for a quarter of the cost.[84]

To help reduce cost of each ships, Navy Acquisition Chief Sean Stackley and Vice Admiral Barry McCullough in September 2009 indicate that only one of the contractors would be offered a fixed price contract in 2010 for up to ten ships,[85] followed by an offer to build five additional ships of the same design as the first contract to the secondary builder.[86] The Congress agreed with the Navy on this plan.[87]

FY2010 budget documents revealed that the total costs of the two lead ships had risen to $637 million for Freedom and $704 million for Independence.[88]

On 16 January 2010, the Independence was commissioned in Mobile, Alabama.[4]

On 4 March 2010, Austal USA split from Bath Iron Works and announced that it would bid on future LCS contacts by itself. Austal could, for example, win the 2010 contract and Bath could win the following contract in 2012.[89]

On 23 August 2010, the US Navy announced a delay in awarding the contract for 10 ships until sometime near the end of the year.[90] A meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board scheduled for 29 October 2010 has been delayed and the Navy has indicated that no decision on the contract can be made until this meeting is held.[37]

The GAO found that deploying the first two ships will delay the overall program because these two ships were not available for testing and development so changes may have to be made in the second pair of ships during their construction instead of being planned for before construction started.[91] The U.S. Navy responded that "Early deployment brought LCS operational issues to the forefront much sooner than under the original schedule, some of which would not have been learnt until two years on."[92]

In 2013, Work explained that part of the cost overruns were due to the shipbuilders bidding to American Bureau of Shipping commercial standards, but the Navy changing this to Level I survivability standards to give the crew a better chance of survival, even though the ships were not expected to continue operating after being hit.[93] The Navy acknowledged that their failure to communicate clearly that the experimental and developmental nature of the first two ships caused a perception that the overall LCS program was in worse shape.[94]

Building both designs[edit]

USS Coronado is rolled out in 2011.

Instead of declaring a winner out of the two competing designs, the U.S. Navy in November 2010 asked the Congress to allow for the order of ten of each design.[95][96][97] US Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) said that the change was made because both bids were under the Congressional price cap.[98] Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that unlike the possibility of splitting orders for projects like KC-X or the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136, the Pentagon had already paid the development cost for both designs so there were no further development costs required to build both designs and have them compete for future orders.[99]

The Government Accountability Office identified some problems with the designs other than shipbuilding. These included, in GAO's views, extremely long crew training time, unrealistic maintenance plans, and the lack of comprehensive risk assessment.[100]

On 13 December 2010, both production teams extended their contract offers until 30 December in order to give more time for the Navy to push through the plan. The Navy would be forced to award the contract to only one team if it failed to secure Congressional approval. The Navy budgeted $490 million for each ship while the Congressional Budget Office projected a cost of $591 million for each ship.[101][102] Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley testified to a Senate panel that the actual price range was $440 to $460 million.[103]

One day before the contract offers were set to expire, both Lockheed Martin and Austal USA received contracts from the Navy to build an additional ten ships of their designs. Two ships of each design would be built on every year between 2011 and 2015. LCS-5 of the Lockheed Martin design had the contractual price of $437 million. Austal USA's contractual price for LCS-6 was $432 million. Department of Navy Undersecretary Sean Stackley noted in a conversation with reporters on 29 December 2010, that the LCS program was now well within the Congressional cost cap of $480 million per ship. The average per-ship target price for Lockheed ships is $362 million, Stackley said, with a goal of $352 million for each Austal USA ships. Government-furnished equipment (GFE), such as weapons, add about $25 million to each ship. Another $20 million is figured in for change orders, and "management reserve" is also included. All told, Stackley said, the average cost to buy an LCS should be between $430 million and $440 million.[104]

In the fiscal year 2011, the unit cost $1.8 billion and the program cost $3.7 billion.[105]

Work has said that the two different designs may each be best suited for a different theater, in that the LCS-1 design would be better suited for the enclosed waters of the Middle East, while the LCS-2 design would be better suited for the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. However, in order to increase commonality between the two designs, the Navy will force both types to use the same electronics for their combat systems.[106]

On 10 February 2012, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus broke with the previously established naming convention for the LCS class and named LCS-10, the USS Gabrielle Giffords, in honor of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) in recognition of her survival of an assassination attempt.[107]

The handoff from General Dynamics to Austal of management for the Independence class lead to a 13-month schedule slip as the company struggled with building the JHSV ships at the same facilities.[108]

In May 2013, the GAO called for a pause in the ship constructions until issues with the sea frames and modules were resolved.[109] However the USN already plans to reduce the procurement rate in 2016.[110]

Operational issues[edit]

A 2012 report by Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, USN, found that the ships lacked the manpower and firepower to complete the missions required by the regional combatant commanders. The report found that the Littoral Combat Ship is “ill-suited for combat operations against anything but” small, fast boats not armed with anti-ship missiles. It also found that the excessive beam of the trimaran Independence class ships may pose a "navigational challenge in narrow waterways and tight harbors".[111] The report also found that the contractor-based maintenance scheme for the ships has performed poorly, with the poorly supervised and unaccountable contractors leaving problems for the crews. In addition these contract workers must by law be Americans, which will then need to be flown out to the foreign ports the LCS must return to for supplies and maintenance.[112] A special panel was appointed to investigate "challenges identified" by the report.[113]

In 2013, Captain Kenneth Coleman, the U.S. Navy's requirements officer for the program, identified tactical aircraft, such as strike fighters and maritime patrol aircraft equipped with standoff anti-ship missiles, as a system the LCS would be especially vulnerable to.[114] Vice Admiral Thomas H. Copeman III is reported to be considering an upsized "Super" LCS,[115] that would have space to install needed firepower, because he noted that the 57mm main gun was more suitable to a patrol boat than a frigate.[116][117] Austal’s vice president for sales, Craig Hooper, suggested that the ships should instead be used for UAV operations.[118] Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has called the lack of suitable missions for the LCS "one of its greatest strengths".[119]

The various modules all use the same Internet Protocol formats, and the ships are reportedly vulnerable to Cyber-Attacks.[120][121] In 2013 Congressional auditors found that the ships lacked robust communications systems and a USN review "uncovered classified deficiencies" in the ship's cyberdefenses.[122]

At a hearing on 25 July 2013, the House Armed Services Committee's seapower subcommittee argued with Vice Admiral Richard Hunt on how the LCS would be employed if tensions with North Korea or China led to a confrontation in the Western Pacific. Hunt said the ships are designed in accordance with the Navy's survivability standards, and that the LCS would be used during the initial phase in the theatre and sense the environment before hostilities occur. Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter countered saying the LCS was not survivable enough for long-range threats that China possesses. LCS class ships are built to the Navy's survivability category Level I+, higher than Level I patrol craft and mine warfare ships, but lower than the Level II Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate they are replacing. The Navy has said the LCS was designed to pull out of combat upon sustaining damage.[123]

The deployment of USS Freedom is seen by the Navy as an opportunity to test the ship and its operational concepts real-world environments. Congressman Hunter replied that all that the Freedom had done so far was dock in harbors that other ships couldn't (demonstrating its shallow draft) and do "donuts" (move in fast circles in the water). Admiral Hunt told Hunter that the Navy was about to conclude a war game at the Naval War College to examine ways of exploiting LCS capabilities in a Western Pacific scenario, among others. Hunt added that the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission package would play an important role in protecting aircraft carriers and amphibious ships. The mine countermeasures (MCMs) mission package would also provide necessary port security and waterway patrol capability in a region following major combat operations. The MCM mission package is expected to reach initial operational capability (IOC) in 2014, and the ASW mission package is expected to reach IOC in 2016.[123]

A Government Accountability Office report in April 2014 found that several U.S. 7th Fleet officials thought the LCS was more useful in the Persian Gulf, but not suitable in the Pacific theater. The report found that the ships lack the speed, range, and electronic warfare capabilities to operate in the sheer geographic expanse of the Pacific. The first two vessels from each maker were found to be overweight and not meeting performance requirements for endurance or sprinting over 40 knots. Navy leaders contend that the LCS' shallow draft is well suited for Pacific operations because of the many shallow-water ports in parts of Asia that are difficult for larger destroyers and cruisers to access. The GAO report recommended the Navy consider buying fewer ships of the type if its limitations prevent effective use in the Pacific operations theater.[124][125]

Small Surface Combatant[edit]

PCU Coronado (LCS 4) passes USS Rushmore (LSD-47).

On 24 February 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed the Navy to submit alternative proposals for a new surface combatant comparable to a frigate that can operate in all regions under any conflict conditions. In response to Pentagon direction to halt buys of the LCS at 32 ships, the Navy is re-examining the role of the vessels and working on alternate proposals for review. The Navy requires the class' roles of counter-mine, anti-submarine, and surface warfare provided by modules, but engineers and shipbuilders are conducting research and creating design proposals that may better fulfill those needs than the LCS. Proposals may include a modified LCS or an entirely new platform and are due in early 2015. There will be an examination of whether the LCS has enough protection and firepower to operate and survive against advanced adversaries. Supporters of the LCS in the Navy point out that the ships were never designed to function like destroyers or similar warships but to perform littoral tasks like high-speed patrols and counter-piracy missions. The ships can move at 40 knots and their ability to operate in shallow water lets them go into areas where other ships cannot.[126]

Secretary Hagel's underlying concern with the plan to buy 52 Littoral Combat Ships was that they would make up one-sixth of the Navy's 300-ship force. Given fiscal constraints and the ships' inability to operate in the face of emerging threats, LCS buys were capped at 32 and the Navy was directed to submit proposals of more capable and lethal small surface combatants. The 2013 Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) report on the two LCS ships questioned their survivability because their design requirements did not include features to conduct sustained combat operations in major conflict zones as the Navy’s other surface combatants had. A new ship class would need built-in anti-submarine and surface warfare mission features, unlike current LCS ships with mission modules that must be swapped out depending on the mission; a counter-mine capability for the ship is currently unknown. The search for a new LCS design runs along with early work to start construction on replacements for the Navy's cruisers and destroyers beginning in 2028.[127]

Marine Corps Systems Command executive director John Burrow will lead the search for the new design, which will compare the existing LCS designs against the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates.[128]

On 27 March 2014, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus defended the LCS' survivability in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. They defended the need for 52 small surface combatants and elaborated on the elements of ship survivability. There are three elements of survivability: susceptibility, the ability for a ship to defend itself; vulnerability, the effects of an initial casualty on a ship; and recoverability, the ability for a ship to conduct damage control. Greenert explained that the LCS meets or exceeds survivability and recoverability standards, was as survivable as a frigate, and was more survivable than mine countermeasures and patrol craft; susceptibility has to be improved upon. Although the Admiral was supportive of the LCS' speed, volume, and capacity and reiterated the need for 52 ships, he was open to modifications to increase survivability and flexibility.[129]

Italian defense company Finmeccanica is proposing their OTO Melara 76 mm gun be added to the improved LCS to replace its current 57 mm cannon. The gun is used on current Navy frigate, so it would upgrade its firepower to meet requirements that the new or upgraded LCS be modeled after a frigate. The OTO Melara 76 mm has a range of 22 nmi (25 mi; 41 km), compared to the 57 mm gun's range of 8–10 nmi (9.2–11.5 mi; 15–19 km). It also has a water cooling system to enable the cannon to fire during sustained engagements and uses proximity fused ammunition.[130]

On 30 April 2014, the Navy issued two Requests for Information (RFI) to industry to give the LCS task force follow-on designs to current Flight 0 ship models. One RFI is for design concepts and information on cost and lethality, and the other is for specific systems and technologies including “weapon systems, sensors, command and control systems, communication systems, network and data links, mission module concepts and designs, off-board vehicles, and innovative power and cooling systems.” Responses were due by May 22, after which Secretary Hagel will issue a report to the Navy leadership on "capability concepts" that break down ship and system options into different combinations of capability. Mission areas consisting of anti-air, surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine countermeasure missions will offer a range of mission and capability options based on the threat environment that will drive design work and costs. Current options for the proposed small surface combatant are a modified version of the LCS, an existing alternate ship design, or an entirely new design.[131]

On the proposals due date, ship designs were submitted by Lockheed Martin, Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls, and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, and separate combat systems proposals were submitted by Lockheed, Raytheon, and General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems (GD AIS); RFI responses are normally hundreds of pages long, but the ship and combat systems responses were limited to 25 and 15 pages respectively to reflect the task force's goals. Lockheed's response was a modified version of their Freedom-class LCS, which they had the benefit of proposing to foreign customers for years. Different prices for upgrades were tied to different lengths from the current Freedom's 118 m (387 ft) length to a 140 m (460 ft) length, with an advised increase in length to 125 m (410 ft). Proposals include incorporating vertical launch systems to house Standard Missile 2 missiles, with the extended length versions able to carry the Standard Missile 6. They can add the SPY-1F Aegis radar or a derivative of the Air Missile Defense Radar. Austal USA kept their Independence-class ship's length, but added permanently-installed systems like a towed array sonar, torpedoes, vertical launch anti-submarine rockets, and aviation capability to support the MH-60 helicopter in place of mission modules. Like Lockheed's submission, it also has a VLS for Standard missiles, a 76 mm gun in place of the 57 mm gun, and can take on an Aegis or ADMR radar. Huntington Ingalls put in a bid of a larger and more heavily-armed National Security Cutter, also previously directed at foreign markets. General Dynamics submitted a response, but declined to provide details; the shipbuilder has focused on larger Arleigh Burke and Zumwalt destroyers, but did previously submit a design for the Offshore Patrol Cutter.[132]

Foreign sales[edit]

Saudi Arabia and Israel have both expressed an interest in a modified version of the Freedom variant, the LCS-I,[133] but Defense News has reported that Israel has dropped out of this project in favor of a new frigate design to be built in Israel.

The Republic of China Navy (Taiwan) has also shown interest in procuring U.S. littoral combat ships, to replace aging Knox-class frigates.[134]

The Royal Malaysian Navy intends to purchase much smaller ships that they call littoral combat ships, but their use of the term has been disputed.[135]

The Indonesian Navy was reportedly interested in either purchase or construction of littoral combat ships to protect Indonesia's wide ocean territory. Early images indicate a trimaran design much like the Independence variant ships (LCS-2).

Japan will design its own version of the Independence class.[136]

List of LCS ships[edit]

Freedom variant Independence variant
USS Freedom (LCS-1) USS Independence (LCS-2)
USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) USS Coronado (LCS-4)
USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) USS Jackson (LCS-6)
USS Detroit (LCS-7) USS Montgomery (LCS-8)
USS Little Rock (LCS-9) USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10)
USS Sioux City (LCS-11) USS Omaha (LCS-12)
USS Wichita (LCS-13) USS Manchester (LCS-14)
USS Billings (LCS-15) USS Tulsa (LCS-16)
USS Indianapolis (LCS-17)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]