LCS – Playing with Modularity

LCS: Trade-Offs and Tribulations
                                                           LCS: Trade-Offs and Tribulations


The U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship is now at an interesting but dangerous point of development. At least that’s one impression from reading Chris Cavas’s article in DefenseNews. The controversies surrounding LCS are not surprising taking into account the words of Sir Julian Corbett:

The truth is, that the classes of ships which constitute a fleet are, or ought to be, the expression in material of the strategical and tactical ideas that prevail at any given time, and consequently they have varied not only with the ideas, but also with the material in vogue.

LCS represents perhaps too radical a detachment from the dominating views in the Navy. So what is the right way to proceed? From the article in DefenseNews three options emerge:

1. Stop LCS orders at 25 ships. This would mean that the original need for an affordable littoral combatant, operated in packs, remains unfulfilled. This is an acceptable course if the need is no longer important, but is that the case? Some form of affordable and smaller combatant is still desired, I believe.

2. Turn LCS into “micro-Aegis”. This would mean attempting to make LCS into something it was never intended to be. Sooner or later it would lead to more balanced, but more expensive, frigate design. This would be like having an answer for a question never posed. To illustrate the problem and sharpen opinions — what attribute of the ship is more important for the Navy? One with a frigate’s capabilities, or an affordable one? Designing an affordable frigate is a very challenging task for naval architects and the history of modern Royal Navy is worth studying to understand this.

3. Fine-tune LCS’ design and concepts, aiming to minimize identified deficiencies while preserving affordability. The most criticized features seem to be weak armament, excessive modularity, and the inefficiency of having two different designs. Choosing this option would mean improving the answer for the known need. It is also an attempt to converge the concept of the littoral corvette with the “prevailing strategical and tactical ideas” within the Navy.

The proposal below is the result of admittedly amateurish play with module-like LEGO bricks and intends to achieve the desired effect by changing the base configuration as well as assigning missions in pairs to two different platforms. It means that instead of multi-mission or reconfigurable-but-single-mission ships, there would be “1.5 – 2 mission” ships, with one mission permanent and one modular. Which module should be assigned to which platform is a question of not only effectiveness but also safety. The following statement comes from an analysis of the U.S. Navy’s experimental twin-hull Sea Fighter (FSF-1):

The RHIB is launched and recovered at ship speeds not exceeding 5 kts. At speeds less than 15 kts Sea Fighter’s ride quality is reduced. Ship motions at 5 kts sometimes causes the end of the stern ramp to emerge from the water, which makes recovering the boat a challenge at best and dangerous at worst. A missed approach (to the ramp) could result in the boat being trapped under the water-jet guards.

If that is an inherent feature of multi-hull ships, then launch and recovery of Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) or Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) should be the domain of the classic monohull design, in spite of the larger bay in the trimaran. Based on such an assumption, Independence would perform two roles – Maritime Security Operations in low-level threat environments and ASW corvette in wartime, while Freedom’s envisioned role would be anti-surface warfare (ASuW) and mine warfare. Both versions could operate together in pairs. I propose extending the base configuration of the trimaran including SeaRAM along with 30mm guns and a mine reconnaissance UUV like Bluefin 21. Replacing the Griffin launcher with vertically launched RAM Block 2 in the extensible launching system (ExLS) offers improved self defense against multi-axis attacks while retaining flexibility in mixing RAM with Griffin, which is possible to fire from modified Mk 49 launcher.

For Freedom, I propose replacing the 30mm guns with Harpoon missiles, an action already put forward by both Chris Cavas and Bryan McGrath in Information Dissemination. Such configuration is intended to be fixed, while ASW and MIW remain in module form. This way we get a classic ASW corvette and much bigger Visby-like littoral combatant. Applying 8- or 16-cell vertical launchers is welcome, but its cost should be checked against affordability criteria. In fact such a move means extending modularity into the ammunition area rather then limiting it. This is a case for developing a VLS Harpoon and Bryan McGrath makes a good point about it in Information Dissemination. It makes sense however only if there is a large number of smaller combatants to carry such weapon.

Operating two different variants may be a “glaring inefficiency”, but only from an economical point of view. Tactically, having a variety of features could be advantageous. The interesting side effect of above LEGO bricks play is turning LCS into a model littoral corvette, which could become of some interest for other navies considering procurement options.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland.  His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country

An Unlikely Alliance: Ukraine and NATO in the Battle Against Maritime Piracy

The Atlantic Council of Canada’s Aaron Willschick examines the unlikely partnership between Ukraine and NATO on maritime piracy, but warns that the former Soviet state has a long way to go if it wishes to be accepted into the West.

When it comes to maritime security, piracy has become one of the most prevalent issues for NATO to deal with. In considering which nations are most involved in combating maritime piracy, Ukraine is probably not the first name that comes to mind. As it turns out, this non-NATO, non-EU Eastern European nation is heavily involved in the fight against piracy at sea. Ukraine has even become a valuable ally to NATO in anti-piracy campaigns, something not exactly expected from a nation so closely aligned with Russia on the geopolitical map.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen signs an exchange of letters with Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen signs an exchange of letters with Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev

Impact of Piracy on Ukraine

At the end of last month, NATO announced that Ukraine would actively take part in NATO’s anti-piracy operation in the Indian Ocean. Kiev has agreed to offer a frigate and a helicopter in the second half of 2013 for Operation Ocean Shield, the mission designed to deter and disrupt pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa. While it is not readily apparent, the impact of piracy on Ukraine is very real and a significant security concern for the former Soviet nation. From 2008 to mid-2012, over 140 Ukrainian sailors were victims of piracy, many of whom suffered brutal torture and abuse at the hands of their captors. Of today’s global security challenges, piracy may have the most disproportionately large impact on Ukraine. Even though Ukraine’s merchant fleet is relatively small at 1.8% of the world total, the country has somewhere between 80, 000 and 100, 000 merchant sailors at sea, or 8-10% of the world’s total. It also supports over twenty higher education establishments that train seafarers, and Ukraine is the third largest contributor of commercial crews in the world, second to Russia and the Philippines.

When taking into account demographics, Ukraine arguably has the world’s greatest concentration of merchant sailors in its workforce and thus, the greatest exposure as a country to the human cost of piracy. In addition, the Ukrainian economy also bears substantial costs. With 2, 782 km of coastline, one of the world’s best navigable river systems and considerable maritime trade, Ukraine’s economy is very dependent on its waterways. Piracy directly affects a large amount of the country’s maritime exports, which transit through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. With such a large share of its goods exposed to piracy, Ukraine bears a disproportionate share of the estimated $7-12 billion annual cost of piracy to the world economy. With such high risks, insurance costs and protective measures add over $300, 000 to the cost of each trip. For ships that reroute around Africa, the cost is $1-$10 million per trip, not to mention additional travel time. These costs are made up for with increased transportation fees that cuts into profits for Ukraine exporters, shippers and producers and raises prices for purchasers, ultimately lowering the demand for Ukrainian products.

Counteracting the Costs of Piracy

Because of its lack of international presence, the only way that Ukraine can effectively combat the costs of piracy on its citizens and economy is through multinational cooperation. This is why Ukraine has become increasingly involved in a partnership with NATO. The first cooperation on maritime piracy occurred in October 2005 when Ukraine called to requests NATO’s assistance in responding to the capture by Somali pirates of the Ukrainian-owned vessel MV Panagia. Since then, the partnership has grown to the point that Ukraine’s Navy has deployed ships for extended operations with NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean on five separate occasions. Last summer Kiev and Brussels announced that Ukraine would join Operation Ocean Shield with the direct contribution of a ship-based helicopter and a group of naval Special Forces.

Further illustrating its commitment to counter-piracy, Ukraine co-hosted Sea Breeze 2011, the Black Sea’s largest annual multinational naval exercise, with the United States in Odessa. In response to common threats facing the world today, the exercise was dedicated to counter-piracy training operations, evacuation procedures and search and seizure training. Sea Breeze 2011 was also designed to improve regional stability in the Black Sea and strengthen maritime partnerships. Exercises such as these have helped to heighten Ukraine’s international profile and increase its credibility with western nations.

A Step to the West?

Some have interpreted Ukraine’s efforts against maritime piracy as an indication that the former Soviet state is serious about joining the West’s security framework. Not only has it become a close maritime partner of NATO, but Ukraine has also been active in the European Union’s anti-piracy campaign, Operation Atalanta. Ukraine’s work against maritime piracy is admirable and should be applauded. It also could act as a good starting point for the country to join NATO in the future and ultimately distancing itself from Russia. However, it is important to keep in mind that Ukraine is a nation that still faces many obstacles in its quest to join Western institutions. While recently praising the country for its work against piracy, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Ukraine that it must further commit to respecting democracy and the rule of law. Counteracting piracy is one thing; building and respecting democracy is another. Despite some progress, Ukraine still has a long way to go beyond maritime operations if it wishes to be taken more seriously by the West and gain acceptance into Western institutions.

Aaron Willschick is a Maritime Security Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada and a recent graduate from the MA program in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. His research interests include the European Union, European security and defense policy, NATO enlargement to Eastern Europe and democratization

Evaluating China’s Anti-Ship Drone Swarms

The Project 2049 Institute recently released a report on People’s Republic of China (PRC) UAV advances, with a focus on how those capabilities could be used to threaten U.S. Navy carrier strike groups.  China’s expanding land- and sea-based UAV inventory runs the range from small tactical systems to medium-ranged Predator-class to unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) still under development.  This anti-access/area denial capability, or A2/AD in naval parlance, represents just one of several layers of offensive systems the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is developing to exercise naval hegemony in the Western Pacific. 
The report argues that “UAV systems may emerge as the critical enabler for PLA long range precision strike missions within a 3000 kilometer radius of Chinese shores.”  This 3000 km radius represents an area well into the so-called Second Island Chain, control of which is commonly recognized as a long-term strategic goal for the PLA.

China's ASN-229A ISR and Strike UAV, just one of many friendly drones you'll find in the Project 2049 report.
China’s ASN-229A ISR and Strike UAV, just one of many friendly drones you’ll find in the Project 2049 report.

The report details Chinese strategists’ plans to use drones of swarms in a variety of ways to defeat opposing naval forces.  Decoy UAVs would draw fire and reduce the inventories of anti-aircraft missiles.  Electronic warfare (EW) UAVs would jam shipboard radars and anti-radition drones would attack them.  Reconnaissance drones could then cue anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) and armed UAVs in an attempt to overwhelm strike group defenses.

Defense against these swarms could take a number of forms.  First, dispersal of naval forces – over tens, hundreds, and thousands of kilometers – would prevent a drone swarm from doing too much harm to concentrated ship formations, also causing the PLA to prioritize its targets or disperse the swarm, limiting its effectiveness.  In an exchange against large numbers of low-cost drones, the engagement ratio, in both cost and number of weapons, is not favorable to air defense missiles such as those used by Japanese and U.S. Aegis ships.  A return to anti-aircraft cannon may be one option to reverse this asymmetry, though the introduction of directed energy weapons in the place of limited defensive missile inventories might be a better way to handle large numbers of incoming drones.  Interestingly, the U.S. Navy has announced it will deploy a prototype laser system, a previous version of which has been tested against UAVs, on USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf later this year.

It should also be noted that these systems would be susceptible to the same vulnerabilities cited by many observers of U.S. UAV operation: they can be jammed or spoofed, and the satellite or other communications links that control the drones can also be disrupted by various means. Finally, in the spirit of “it takes a network to defeat a network,” China would not have a monopoly on UAV development.  In time, PLA drone swarms would face large numbers of UAVs operated by other navies in the South China Sea.  Expect to see drones develop with air-to-air capabilities, defensive counter-measures, and programming to “sacrifice” themselves to protect surface fleets.

See more on China’s maritime UAV developments here.

This article was re-posted by permission from, and appeared in its original form at

April Analysis

BallotWe here at CIMSEC like on occasion to offer our members and readers a topic to focus on for a week or so as a challenge to tease out nuances and new insights. In the past we’ve delved into such subjects as 3D printing and sea-based nations. In April we’ll do so again, and these are your nominees. Please vote only once across all online platforms – voting ends Thursday, 3/28.

Note: unless otherwise specified these topics do not pertain solely to the U.S. Navy:

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.