Tag Archives: LCS

Reviewing the U.S. Navy’s LCS Deployments to the Indo-Asia-Pacific Region

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By Swee Lean Collin Koh

The littoral combat ship USS Coronado, upon recent completion of its 14-month Indo-Asia-Pacific stint, marks the conclusion of the U.S. Navy’s third LCS rotational deployment to the region. Thus far, the LCS has not operated without problems, including criticisms about its lack of a potent offensive strike capability.

Designed in two separate variants – the monohulled Freedom, and the trimaran-hulled Independence classes – the LCS forms part of broader plans to forward-deploy the bulk of the U.S. Navy to the region. Following the retirement of the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates which used to be the U.S. Navy’s general-purpose workhorse, the LCS represents an alternative platform spanning between a huge, heavily-armed Aegis surface combatant and a small, under-armed Cyclone-class coastal patrol craft which had once engaged the Southeast Asian brownwater navies. The LCS also banks on its modular mission concept, enjoying up to 60-percent of reconfigurable below-decks internal space compared to less than 10-percent on board the Aegis surface combatants.

Of especially significant value is the LCS’s shallow draft, less than four meters compared to over 10 meters of the Aegis destroyer or cruiser, allowing entry into areas that other ships could not in the Indo-Asia-Pacific littorals characterized by archipelagos, congested sea lanes, shallow water, and small ports. “In that arc between the Philippines and Sri Lanka, nearly 50 ports are accessible to larger ships,” Rear Admiral Don Gabrielson, Commander, Task Force 73 described in January 2017 but the LCS, he pointed out, “can dock in well over a thousand ports in the same range of locations.”

Trial and Error: Early LCS Deployments

 The LCS has come a long way since the first vessel, the USS Freedom (LCS-1), debuted in the type’s maiden rotational deployment. But this ship was unfortunately bogged down by systems breakdown, which was attributed to it being “a research and development platform,” even though the ship remained available for 70 percent of the time – on par with most other forward-deployed vessels. Despite its problems, the LCS even managed to render humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to the Philippines in the aftermath of Super Typhoon Haiyan in November 2013. The U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin have since made design changes in follow-on Freedom-class ships, such as improved diesel-electric generators, main reduction gear coolers, and other software modifications.

Following the Freedom, her sister ship of the same class, USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), became the second LCS to be rotated through Southeast Asia. It was also the first LCS to deploy for 16 months under a “3-2-1” manning concept, that is, having three rotational crews to support two LCS and one ship deployed at any time. This envisages fully-trained crews to be swapped roughly every four months, thus allowing it to deploy six months longer than the Freedom which swapped crews only once every 10 months, thus extending LCS forward presence and reducing crew fatigue. The Fort Worth deployment served as a U.S. Navy test-bed for how the LCS can be employed for sustained periods taking into consideration that the small crew size, rotational crew concept, contractor-reliant maintenance structure, and swappable combat systems modules are all relatively unique compared to the rest of the fleet.

Crewing remained a challenge, considering that the Fort Worth was manned by around 100 sailors, compared to 180 on board the Perry-class frigates. Then in January 2016, a machinery problem sullied the LCS’ otherwise noteworthy performance, resulting in the ship being side-lined for extended periods. After a prolonged period of rectification work, the Fort Worth managed to join the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in July. Overall, the Fort Worth fared reasonably well – underway for 185 out of 298 days for its entire deployment – totaling over 18 months with the 7th Fleet. It managed to complete numerous bilateral and multilateral engagements, and assisted in the search-and-rescue operations for AirAsia flight QZ8501 in late 2014.

New Milestones with the USS Coronado

The USS Coronado (LCS-4) arrived in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility in early October 2016 – becoming the first Independence variant to deploy to Southeast Asia. Compared to the Freedom variants, the Coronado possesses more fuel capacity thereby providing increased operational capabilities. It is also equipped with the Surface Warfare mission package, comprising two 11-meter rigid-hulled inflatable boats, two teams for visit, board, search and seizure operations, and two 30mm chain guns. Most significantly, this variant boasts a bigger flight deck allowing for expanded aviation operations including two MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial systems (UAS), and for the first time on board an LCS to Southeast Asia, an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter.

In response to criticisms about the LCS’ lack of long-range offensive strike capabilities, the Coronado was outfitted with four RGM-84 Harpoon Block-1C anti-ship cruise missiles. This is roughly equivalent to the four YJ-83 missiles typically fitted on board the Chinese Type 056 Jiangdao corvette. The Harpoon is a venerable but aging design despite numerous upgrades. Until new ASCMs such as the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) arrive, the LCS will have to make do with the Harpoon. This armament, hitherto not seen in the Freedom and Fort Worth deployments, represents a step, albeit an interim one, toward bolstering the LCS’ combat capabilities.

The Coronado became a test-bed for surface strike concepts integrating both the newfound missile capability and its organic aviation capacity. The LCS captured the first inverse synthetic aperture radar pictures of surrounding surface contacts with the Fire Scout, marking a critical step toward providing a recognized maritime picture for the LCS, and for over-the-horizon (OTH) Harpoon missile targeting. The first OTH test-fire failed to hit its target in July 2016 during RIMPAC, but following rectification work, in August the following year the Coronado successfully fired a live Harpoon ASCM off Guam in OTH mode using both Fire Scout and MH-60S to provide targeting support.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Aug. 22, 2017) A Harpoon missile launches from the missile deck of the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) off the coast of Guam. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kaleb R. Staples/Released)

Compared to the previous LCS deployments, the Coronado also attained several new breakthroughs for the LCS Program. Amongst various skillsets including small-boat defense, the Coronado demonstrated a first for the LCS in integrating special operations forces during RIMPAC 2016. Moreover, the ship was able to complete in just seven days extensive “D” Phase maintenance, the most intrusive period of organizational-level maintenance which normally takes as long as 2.5 weeks for the MH-60S helicopter while deployed – another achievement.  

The Coronado also advanced the 15-4 maintenance concept of shaving the average repair time for maintenance casualties while deployed from 15 to just four days, thus increasing ship availability and readiness, according to Lieutenant Commander Arlo Abrahamson, spokesman for the U.S. Navy’s Task Force 73. Furthermore, in June 2017, the LCS conducted an expeditionary preventive maintenance availability in Cam Ranh International Port, Vietnam – marking the first demonstration of such capabilities for the Independence variant to be conducted outside the normal maintenance hub in Singapore – and a similar feat was accomplished in Lumut, Malaysia.

Adding Value to Southeast Asian Maritime Security

Southeast Asian maritime forces may have invested in larger surface combatants such as frigates, but they continue to operate numerous coastal and patrol combatants which mainly operate well within the shallow 12-nautical mile territorial sea limits. With its shallow draft, the LCS gains more opportunities to engage these often obscure Southeast Asian “brownwater” counterparts, availing the crew to the latter’s diverse range of useful experiences and intimate familiarity with the local littoral operating environment. “The LCS is a comparable sized platform to ships of navies across South and Southeast Asia, which provides an opportunity to conduct a variety of operations and missions with partner nations… and our LCS sailors learn just as much from operating with the partner navies of the region – so the learning goes both ways,” Gabrielson wrote.

Such engagements would not have been possible if Southeast Asian brownwater naval elements are unable to venture beyond those littoral confines to train with the U.S. Navy’s large surface combatants. This is also a matter of managing perceptions – a gigantic Aegis destroyer might not make good contrasting optics with the puny Southeast Asian vessels; it could appear too overpowering yet at the same time, excessive for the limited nature and scope of engagements with these much simpler and capability-constrained counterparts.

In all, throughout the entire 14-month deployment to Southeast Asia, the Coronado continued and built on the work done by its predecessors. In its 15 port visits across the Indo-Asia-Pacific, the Coronado called on Cam Ranh and Lumut in July and September 2017 respectively – the first for the LCS. In the Sulu Sea, where kidnap-for-ransom attacks by militants were reported, it conducted coordinated counter-piracy operations with the Philippine Navy. The Coronado implemented ship-rider programs by embarking regional naval officers on board the vessel. It also rehearsed the Code on Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES) procedures during Naval Engagement Activity Vietnam – another continuation from its predecessors, such as the Fort Worth which practised the mechanism with Chinese warships during its May 2015 South China Sea routine patrol.

Notably, however, the Coronado adds to Southeast Asian maritime security capacity-building – leveraging upon its capabilities hitherto not found on board its predecessors to enhance interoperability especially in conventional warfighting. Building on the Cooperation Afloat and Readiness Training (CARAT) exercises in August 2015, when several Southeast Asian navies conducted deck landing practice with their helicopters on board the Fort Worth for the first time, the Coronado’s UAS capability brought new value to the interoperability training – in particular OTH targeting.

This capability is especially relevant given the interest lately evinced in Southeast Asia in shipboard UAS capabilities, which constitute a cost-effective force multiplier for budget-conscious regional navies, such as Singapore which retrofitted the ScanEagle UAS on board the modernized Victory-class missile corvettes. In this context, UAS-enabled OTH missile targeting constitutes one of the key focus areas of contemporary Southeast Asian naval warfighting capacity-building. The Republic Singapore Navy refined OTH targeting of Harpoon ASCMs during the inaugural bilateral Exercise Pacific Griffin off Guam in September 2017, and the Coronado participated in the effort.

The significant utility of LCS rotational deployments to the region mean that plans are afoot to ramp up the ship’s presence. In February 2015, the U.S. Navy announced plans to operate four LCS out of Singapore – one at a time – by 2018. The LCS was viewed as “a pillar of future U.S. maritime presence in Southeast Asia,” Abrahamson remarked, adding, “We expect the next LCS to deploy to Southeast Asia in mid-2018 with multiple LCS operating from the region in the near future.”

Inherent Limitations

But given the need to balance between fulfilling an ever-growing list of operational demands in the Indo-Asia-Pacific and enhancing operational safety, especially in the wake of the recent ship collisions, capacity constraints may pose potential challenges. Despite extensive automation on board the LCS which meant less sailors required for daily tasks, thereby allowing a rotational crew concept and keeping ships deployed longer than other platforms, a smaller crew also has less time for maintenance. This was addressed by the U.S. Navy’s implementation of a contractor-reliant LCS maintenance structure. During its deployment, the Fort Worth docked in Singapore once every few weeks to be serviced by the maintenance personnel. To boost LCS availability, the Navy also purchased an expeditionary maintenance capability, which consists of two large shipping containers – one acting as a workstation and the other containing spare parts for the LCS, which can be shipped to most ports worldwide.

However, the small crew size on board the LCS still poses the issue of getting sufficiently qualified crews to man the LCS, in order to keep up with the high operational tempo that characterizes forward deployments to the Indo-Asia-Pacific. For instance, the delay in getting a new crew qualified to replace them after a change in training standards led to the open-ended deployment of the Coronado’s Crew 204. Crew 203, which was supposed to replace Crew 204, required a ship to get underway to qualify under the new standards. Unfortunately at that time, all available Independence  ships were either in overhaul or undergoing repairs – an unintended consequence of a complete reorganization of the LCS Program’s manning system triggered by the earlier spate of LCS engineering woes, such as the breakdowns which afflicted the Freedom and Fort Worth.

Considering that demands for security cooperation missions which typically characterize engagements with Southeast Asian maritime forces will probably increase, and given that the LCS is also required for crew qualifications besides rotational deployments, fleet availability would hinge heavily on the U.S. Navy’s overall scheme for small surface combatants (SSCs) that are tailored for such low-end tasks.

The current LCS Program envisages a total of 40 ships though the U.S. Navy has maintained a requirement for at least 52 to conduct security cooperation exercises with allies and the low-end missions the ship was originally designed for. A total of 29 LCS had been procured through FY2017 and for FY2018, the Navy would procure the 30th and 31st ships. The December 2015 program restructuring saw the reduction of planned annual procurement rate from about three ships to just one or two. As part of its FY2018 budget submission, the Navy decided to shift from procuring LCS to the FFG(X) separately from the LCS Program, starting in FY2020. But the FFG(X) design may or may not be based on one of the existing two LCS designs. This generates uncertainty overall for the SSC scheme.

Conclusion

That said, notwithstanding problems faced by the LCS throughout the three iterations of its rotational deployment, the presence of this type of warship not only fulfilled its intended missions but also opened new vistas for engagement with Indo-Asia-Pacific littoral navies, especially in helping build Southeast Asian maritime security capacity. As pertinently, in such times of troubled peace given the persistent maritime flashpoints and ensuing angst amongst many of the regional governments, the LCS does symbolize Washington’s deepening security commitment to the Indo-Asia-Pacific.

Swee Lean Collin Koh is research fellow at the Maritime Security Programme, Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, a constituent unit of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies based in Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.

Featured Image: The USS Coronado at Changi Naval Base in Singapore on Oct. 16. (Photographer: Roslan Rahman/AFP via Getty Images)

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)