Tag Archives: LCS

Black Swan: An Option for the Navy’s Future Surface Combatant

Future Surface Combatant Topic Week

By B. A. Friedman

As the Navy examines its options for the Future Surface Combatant (FSC) family of ships, the large surface combatant will most likely get the most attention and effort. However, the center of gravity will more than likely be the small surface combatant. The smaller craft will be of more importance because the Navy has let its small surface combatant fleet dwindle in recent decades, and the craft chosen will be the ship to restore the fleet’s balance. Despite a rich history with small combatants, the Navy will have to dredge up a lot of moldy institutional knowledge and begin applying it to the future operating environment.

There are a number of assessments of the future operating environment, including Joint Operating Environment 2035, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, and the recent Marine Corps Operating Concept. All of these documents correctly identify an operating environment characterized by pervasive surveillance and threat detection in the visual and electromagnetic spectrums, leading to a trend of small, dispersed, distributed combat units that depend on speed and stealth to survive and operate on the battlefield. The trends identified in these documents apply at sea as well as on land.

Fortunately, our allies have already been examining the use of small combatants in current and future fights. The most compelling concept is the Black Swan Concept, proposed by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense in 2012. It’s a modernized idea that traces its roots back to the Royal Navy and Royal Indian Navy Black Swan ships that served as convoy escorts in World War II. It’s built around a hypothetical Black Swan-class sloop of war ship, displacing 3,150 tons (larger than an Independence-class LCS, but smaller than a Freedom-class LCS).

The main difference between the Black Swan and the LCS, however, is its berthing spaces and its stern ramp. This would allow the Black Swan to embark a squad-to-platoon size unit of Royal Marines while still boasting a flight deck, a directed energy weapon system, a 30mm cannon, a side access port for boats, and storage space. The Black Swan was planned to be crewed by eight sailors, leaving room for 32-60 embarked personnel depending on configuration. Individually, each Black Swan ship would be extremely flexible and useful but, importantly, flotillas of multiple Black Swan vessels could be scaled to mission, with each individual ship configured for its specific purpose whether it acted as an unmanned system “mothership,” weapon system platform, or expeditionary platform. While budget restraints prevented the UK from investing in the program, the idea itself remains sound. Now that the U.S. Navy is looking at small combatant craft, what would an American version of Black Swan look like?

A Multi-Role Small Surface Combatant

The center of gravity of the Black Swan concept is the inherent flexibility of the platforms themselves. By marrying a ramp, flight deck, weapon platform, and embarked Marines in one vessel, the small combatant craft can accomplish a dizzying array of mission sets. Moreover, small combatant craft are more difficult to detect (both through visual and electromagnetic methods) and can be purchased in greater numbers, inherently complicating adversary targeting systems and processes.

Firstly, an American Black Swan would greatly contribute to increasing the Navy’s offensive capability through distributed lethality. Whether the weapon system married to the ship is a directed energy weapon like the Laser Weapon System (LaWS), a Vertical Launch System (VLS), the Phalanx Close-In Weapon System (CIWS), or an anti-aircraft system, these ships would provide fleet commanders with more options for offense and defense against a wide range of threats.

An American Black Swan would also enhance and expand options for amphibious operations. Future amphibious assaults will in no way resemble those of previous generations; small combatant craft will be useful for disembarking Marine squads and platoons at dispersed points, depending on speed and stealth to avoid detection and land where the enemy has no presence. Commanders tasked with one of the other four types of amphibious operation – raids, demonstrations, withdrawals, and amphibious support to other operations – will also find such a vessel useful. The ship could meet up with amphibious warships at sea, allowing the larger amphibious ships to stay out of the range of shore-based missiles until Marine raids – launched via the small combatant craft – are able to address the threat. In essence, an American Black Swan would allow the Marine Corps to match the Navy’s distributed lethality with distributed maneuver at sea. Perhaps most importantly, by putting more Marines at sea, a small combatant craft like the Black Swan will allow Navy commanders to better leverage Marine Corps capabilities to gain, assert, and assure sea control.

Additionally, there is no question that unmanned systems – air, land, sea, and undersea – are becoming more important. For now, only the Navy’s biggest ships boast significant unmanned capabilities. Increasingly, the Navy will need smaller platforms able to launch a wide range of unmanned systems, from counter-mine systems to hydrographic survey drones, to the already ubiquitous intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance unmanned aerial systems. An American Black Swan would provide far more bang for the buck, able to deploy a wide variety of unmanned systems in situations where employing a large surface combatant or capital ship would be too risky or overly expensive.  

The benefits to the Navy and the Marine Corps are one thing, but the Special Operations Community also has an interest in an American Black Swan capability. The ships would especially shine during support to special operations missions ashore, providing a secure platform, fire support, staged Quick Reaction Forces (QRF), insertion/ extraction, or logistics depending on mission requirements.

Lastly, small combatant craft designed to put the Marine Corps’ small units and their enablers at sea will bring junior Marine Corps officers and the Navy officers assigned as crew into more contact at early points in their careers, enhancing the integration of both services. The ship would also increase the opportunities for junior officers to get important and independent commands earlier in their careers, leading eventually to senior officers with more experience.

Conclusion

The small combatant is just one aspect of the Future Surface Combatant effort but, given that the Navy is already well-equipped with large combatants, it may be the most important. Warfare trends at sea, just like those on land, point towards greater dispersion of small-units that concentrate when necessary. Modern concept documents reflect this. Even so, the Black Swan concept does not clash with older concepts; it would increase Navy/Marine Corps capabilities for Operational Maneuver From the Sea and Ship-to-Objective Maneuver. The small combatant craft component should be focused on acquiring a vessel that is flexible, self-deployed, tailorable to the mission, and able to be combined into a task-organized flotilla for any situation. The UK’s Black Swan concept is exactly that. The Navy- and the Marine Corps- should take a cue from our friends across the pond to acquire a vessel able to execute it.

Brett A. Friedman is an officer in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. He’s the editor of 21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy and On Tactics: A Theory of Victory in Battle (forthcoming May 2017) from the Naval Institute Press. Brett holds a B.A. in History from The Ohio State University and an M.A. in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College. He is a Founding Member of the Military Writers Guild. Follow Brett on Twitter @BA_Friedman.

Featured Image: HMS Black Swan (Royal Navy official photographer – photograph FL 2274 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums, collection no. 8308-29)

Don’t Give Up on the Littoral Combat Ship

By LT Kaitlin Smith

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has been subjected to heavy scrutiny, and much of it is justified. What is getting lost in the discourse is the real capability that LCS provides to the fleet. From my perspective as an active duty service member who may be stationed on an LCS in the future, I’m more interested in exploring how we can employ LCS to utilize its strengths, even as we seek to improve them. Regardless of the program’s setbacks, LCS is in the Fleet today, getting underway, and deploying overseas. Under the operational concept of distributed lethality, LCS both fills a void and serves as an asset to a distributed and lethal surface force in terms of capacity and capability.

Capacity, Flexibility, Lethality

The original Concept of Operations written by Naval Warfare Development Command in February 2003 described LCS as a forward-deployed, theater-based component of a distributed force that can execute missions in anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, and mine warfare in the littorals. This concept still reflects the Navy’s needs today. We urgently need small surface combatants to replace the aging Avenger-class mine countermeasure ships and Cyclone-class patrol craft, as well as the decommissioned Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. Capacity matters, and “sometimes, capacity is a capability” in its own right. We need gray hulls to fulfill the missions of the old frigates, minesweepers and patrol craft, and until a plan is introduced for the next small surface combatant, LCS will fill these widening gaps.

LCS was also envisioned as a platform for “mobility” related missions like support for Special Operations Forces, maritime interception operations, force protection, humanitarian assistance, logistics, medical support, and non-combatant evacuation operations. Assigning these missions to LCS frees up multimission destroyers and cruisers for high-end combat operations. We’ve already seen how LCS can support fleet objectives during the deployments of USS FREEDOM (LCS 1) and USS FORT WORTH (LCS 3). Both ships supported theater security operations and international partnerships with Pacific nations through participation in the Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise series. USS FREEDOM conducted humanitarian and disaster response operations following the typhoon in the Philippines, and USS FORT WORTH conducted search and rescue operations for AirAsia flight QZ8501. The forward deployment of the ships to Singapore allowed for rapid response to real-world events, while allowing large surface combatants in the region to remain on station for their own tasking. With an 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat onboard, LCS is well-suited to conduct visit, board, search, and seizure missions in Southeast Asia to combat piracy and protect sea lanes.

The presence of more ships on station doesn’t just allow us to fulfill more mission objectives; capacity also enables us to execute distributed lethality for offensive sea control. One of the goals of distributed lethality is to distribute offensive capability geographically. When there are physically more targets to worry about, that complicates an enemy’s ability to target our force. It also allows us to hold the enemy’s assets at risk from more attack angles.

The other goals of distributed lethality are to increase offensive lethality and enhance defensive capability. The Fleet can make the LCS a greater offensive threat by adding an over-the-horizon missile that can use targeting data transmitted to the ship from other combatants or unmanned systems. In terms of defensive capability, LCS wasn’t designed to stand and fight through a protracted battle. Instead, the Navy can increase the survivability of LCS by reducing its vulnerability through enhancements to its electronic warfare suite and countermeasure systems.

LCS may not be as survivable as a guided missile destroyer in terms of its ability to take a missile hit and keep fighting, but it has more defensive capability than the platforms it is designed to replace. With a maximum speed of over 40 knots, LCS is more maneuverable than the mine countermeasure ships (max speed 14 kts), patrol craft (max speed 35 kts), and the frigates (30 kts) it is replacing in the fleet, as well as more protective firepower with the installation of Rolling Airframe Missile for surface-to-air point defense. Until a plan has been established for future surface combatants, we need to continue building LCS as “the original warfighting role envisioned for the LCS remains both valid and vital.

New Possibilities

LCS already has the capability to serve as a launch platform for MH-60R helicopters and MQ-8B FireScout drones to add air assets to the fight for antisubmarine warfare and surface warfare operations. LCS even exceeds the capability of some DDGs in this regard, since the original LCS design was modified to accommodate a permanent air detachment and Flight I DDGs can only launch and recover air assets.

USS Freedom (Lockheed Martin photo)

We have a few more years to wait before the rest of the undersea warfare capabilities of LCS will be operational, but the potential for surface ship antisubmarine warfare is substantial. A sonar suite comprised of a multifunction towed array and variable depth sonar will greatly expand the ability of the surface force to strategically employ sensors in a way that exploits the acoustic environment of the undersea domain. LCS ships with the surface module installed will soon have the capability to launch Longbow Hellfire surface-to-surface missiles. The mine warfare module, when complete, will provide LCS with full spectrum mine warfare capabilities so that they can replace the Avenger class MCMs, which are approaching the end of their service life. Through LCS, we will be adding a depth to our surface ship antisubmarine warfare capability, adding offensive surface weapons to enable sea control, and enhancing our minehunting and minesweeping suite. In 2019, construction will begin on the modified-LCS frigates, which will have even more robust changes to the original LCS design to make the platform more lethal and survivable.

The light weight and small size of LCS also has tactical application in specific geographic regions that limit the presence of foreign warships by tonnage. Where Arleigh Burke-class destroyers weigh 8,230 to 9,700 tons, the variants of LCS weigh in from 3,200 to 3,450 tons. This gives us a lot more flexibility to project power in areas like the Black Sea, where aggregate tonnage for warships from foreign countries is limited to 30,000 tons. True to its name, LCS can operate much more easily in the littorals with a draft of about 14-15 feet, compared to roughly 31 feet for DDGs. These characteristics will also aid LCS’s performance in the Arabian Gulf and in the Pacific.

Of course, any LCS critic might say that all this capability and potential can only be realized if the ships’ engineering plants are sound. My objective here is not to deny the engineering issues—they get plenty of press attention on their own—but to highlight why we’ll lose more as a Navy in cutting the program than by taking action to resolve program issues. It’s worth mentioning that the spotlight on LCS is particularly bright. LCS is not the only ship class that experiences engineering casualties, but LCS casualties are much more heavily reported in the news than casualties that occur on more established ship classes.

Conclusion

LCS was designed as one part of a dispersed, netted, and operationally agile fleet,” and that’s exactly what we need in the fleet today to build operational distributed lethality to enable sea control. Certainly, we need to address the current engineering concerns with LCS in order to project these capabilities. To fully realize the potential of the LCS program, Congress must continue to fund LCS, and Navy leaders must continue to support the program with appropriate manning, training and equipment.

LT Nicole Uchida contributed to this article. 

LT Kaitlin Smith is a Surface Warfare Officer stationed on the OPNAV Staff. The opinions and views expressed in this post are hers alone and are presented in her personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of the Navy or the Department of Defense.

Featured Image: PEARL HARBOR (July 12, 2016) – The littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) transits the waters of Pearl Harbor during RIMPAC 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 Ryan J. Batchelder/Released)

Sea Control 124 – In Defense of the Littoral Combat Ship

By Sally DeBoer

Few platforms have introduced the degree of controversy that has resulted from the introduction of and growing pains associated with the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). From online message boards to the less-than-enthusiastic 72 page Government Accountability Office report on the program, one doesn’t need to search far to find exasperated and at times vitriolic criticism of the program. Though LCS, like any program, is not without its flaws and growing pains, this episode of Sea Control explores the positive aspects of the program and possible applications to tomorrow’s conflicts against the United States’ proto-peer competitors.

Host and CIMSEC President Sally DeBoer discusses LCS with two military historians, Mike, and retired Navy Commander and Ph.D. candidate Mr. Steve Wills. CDR Wills is a retired Surface Warfare Officer who has written extensively on LCS and other naval issues for CIMSEC and other outlets.

DOWNLOAD: Sea Control 124 – “In Defense of LCS”

Sally DeBoer is the President of CIMSEC for 2016-2017. The views of the guests are their’s alone and do not represent the stance of any U.S. government department or agency. 

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (April 23, 2014) The littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), left, and USS Coronado (LCS 4) are underway in the Pacific Ocean (Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith DeVinney/US Navy)

December Member Round-Up

Welcome to the December 2015 Member Round-Up and happy holidays! CIMSEC members have examined an array of international maritime security issues, including the future of China’s aircraft carrier program, budgetary cuts to the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) acquisition process, Russian naval capabilities in the post-Cold War period and the decline of British sea power.

Beginning the Round Up at The National Interest, Harry Kazianis discusses the primary features driving the development of China’s aircraft carrier program and the operational capacities the program will yield for the PLA-N. Mr. Kazianis explains that the continued expansion of the program and the inclusion of carriers in China’s maritime defense policy have reflected Beijing’s grand strategic vision of Chinese seapower expanding into the Asia-Pacific and eventually attaining global power-projection capabilities. Also at The National Interest, Mr. Kazianis discusses China’s expanding anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM) programs and the implications the DF-26’s nuclear and conventional attack capabilities have on regional influence and nuclear deterrence. Further to this, he explains how the multi-use DF-26 ASBM has been upgraded with anti-identification, anti-interception and integrated technologies to enhance the missile’s ability to conduct successful offensive and defensive operations.

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Ankit Panda, for The Diplomat, identifies the costs and benefits of an accidental freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the South China Sea where a U.S. B-52 unintentionally flew within 12 nautical miles of the Chinese claimed Spratly Islands. Mr. Panda explains that although the flyby slightly increased tensions in the region, the incident reduced some ambiguity concerning how China would respond both politically and militarily to a U.S. FONOP or U.S. military provocation near disputed Chinese maritime territory. In a separate article also at The Diplomat, Mr. Panda discusses the deployment of Japanese ground forces to the East China Sea near the disputed Senkaku/ Diaoyu Islands largely to promote jurisdictional control over the Islands. The increased ground force presence will enhance Japanese intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities near the Senkaku/ Diaoyu Island chain while reducing Chinese operational capacity in the region.

Michal Thim, for Thinking Taiwan, discusses the strategic importance for the Taiwanese Navy to procure an improved submarine force capable of protecting the country’s maritime interests in the Taiwan Strait and resist an increasingly powerful PLA-N. Mr. Thim notes that a lack of domestic shipbuilding experience concerning the construction and design of submarines challenges the possibility of Taiwan’s future undersea operations being capable of surviving an environment with increased Chinese ASW capabilities. The article highlights the effectiveness of Argentinian submarines against the powerful British Navy in the 1982 Falkland’s War to demonstrate how Taiwan can use a capable submarine force as an asymmetrical weapon system to balance naval power in the region.

James Goldrick, at The Interpreter, analyzes components of China’s maritime strategy in an attempt to identify whether Beijing will use its maritime forces to secure and promote global sea lines of communication systems as opposed to developing a strategy focused on securing resources and denying foreign powers influence in the region. Mr. Goldrick suggests that China’s dependence on international maritime trade flow requires the U.S. to acknowledge the usefulness and logical increase in the PLA-N’s size and capabilities while China must use these capabilities as a means to endorse maritime security in support of the global system.

Concluding the Round-Up’s discussion on Chinese maritime developments in the Asia-Pacific, Kyle Mizokami for Popular Mechanics discusses China’s acquisition of the Russian Zubr class hovercraft and explains the procurement of these amphibious systems as a result of the several island-based territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea. Mr. Mizokami outlines the technicalities of the Zubr hovercraft such as the carrying capacity of the ship, onboard weapon systems and maneuverability to highlight the increased amphibious capabilities the PLA-N has acquired.

Patrick Truffer, at Offiziere, concludes the December Round-Up with a comprehensive analysis on the development of Russian naval capabilities after the collapse of the Soviet Union and explains how the Russian Federation Navy (RFN) has shifted its focus from the quality and quantity of its conventional forces to the long-term capacity of its strategic forces. Mr. Truffer explains that the RFN has sufficiently maintained the maritime component of the military’s nuclear triad with substantial upgrade investments in the nuclear-powered Borei-class submarine allowing for the older Delta- and Typhoon-class submarines to be replaced.

Members at CIMSEC were also active elsewhere during the month of December:

At CIMSEC we encourage members to continue writing, either here on the NextWar site or through other means. You can assist us by emailing your works to dmp@cimsec.org.

Sam Cohen is currently studying Honors Specialization Political Science at Western University in Canada. His interests are in the fields of strategic studies and defense policy and management.

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