Tag Archives: Littoral Combat Ship

LCS: The Distributed Lethality Flotilla Combatant

 

140423-N-VD564-016  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. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith DeVinney/Released)
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. (U.S. Navy photo by Chief Mass Communication Specialist Keith DeVinney/Released)

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is the ideal platform to host a significant amount of offensive firepower in support of the emerging concept of distributive lethality. It is large enough have greater endurance and to support capabilities beyond that of the average missile combatant. Its modular approach to embarked capabilities allows for more potential offensive systems to be employed aboard than in similar ships. Deployed as a dispersed flotilla of networked combatants with other organic means of communication, it has the potential to deliver significant amounts of ordnance against a variety of targets. The dispersal of the LCS flotilla complicates and dissipates enemy counter-targeting abilities. LCS is the ideal combatant to carry forward the concept of distributed lethality into the next decade.

LCS’ Size and Modularity Brings Advantages

Ambassador
Ambassador class missile combatant
MH 60R on LCS
MH60R on USS Fort Worth, 2014

As described by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work in his 2013 history of the LCS program, the ship was always designed as a compromise between smaller, but less capable and globally deployable small combatants, and the larger, and more capable, but more expensive FFG-7 class frigate.1 Compared to smaller designs such as the Ambassador III or dedicated surface warfare corvettes like the Israeli Sa ar V, the LCS’ size and modularity offers advantages above those conventional small combatants. LCS’ has greater endurance then smaller missile combatants like the Ambassador (21 days verses 8) which enables it to remain at sea longer in support of surface warfare missions. The Saar V is more heavily armed then the baseline LCS seaframe, but supports only one rotary wing asset, and lacks the modularity to accommodate future sensors, weapons, and associated systems.
Both LCS seaframes, in contrast support two rotary wing assets (one MH-60R and one Firescout Unmanned Air Vehicle). The MH-60R in particular supports anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare missions, as well as extending the host ship’s sensors, weapons and communications capability far beyond those of a conventional missile combatant like the Ambassador.
The modularity of LCS also supports the embarkation of a more diverse set of capabilities than those hosted by mission-specific platforms like the Ambassador and the Saar V. An LCS might support a number of unmanned surface or subsurface vehicles separate from its Fire Scout UAV. Mines, additional munitions, and additional command and control equipment could also be supported depending on the desired mission. As the Spruance class destroyers later hosted Tomahawk cruise missiles, LCS’ modularity could support an array of heretofore undetermined systems and new capabilities in the future.

Keeping LCS Simple, but Lethal

LCS 1 ASCM
Possible cruise missile arrangement in LCS-1 variant
LCS mission bay
Expansive LCS-2 mission bay

Although not presently suited to the Distributive Lethality mission, the LCS could be modified into a potent surface warfare platform with the addition of cruise missiles such as the Kongsburg/Ratheyon Naval Strike Missile. Both LCS producers (Lockheed Martin Corporation and Austal USA) have also said their respective ships could be outfitted with larger 76mm guns in place of the present 57mm weapons. While cruise missiles are a requirement for the Distributive Lethality mission, further weapons, sensors, armor and armament add little to that mission capability and increase costs which the Navy estimated to be from $60 to $75 million dollars per ship.2 This money might be better spent in additional LCS platforms as the original aim of the LCS program was to increase the size of the U.S. surface combatant fleet.
Application of additional weight for armor and warfare capabilities not related to Distributed Lethality limits the opportunity for mission package improvements in the future and could limit the number of offensive weapons the LCS can support in its current length and displacement. As reported by the GAO, LCS already has relatively tight weight ratios for further additions to the sea frames outside mission module improvements.3 Every warship is a compromise of virtues, where armament, fuel capacity, speed, survivability and other factors must be carefully balanced to achieve desired operational goals for the class. An appropriate balancing of such issues for LCS should be in favor of offensive capability to avoid the need for a costly redesign of the sea frame to support significant additions. The cost of the LCS sea frame has steadily decreased from nearly $700 million to approximately $440 million.4 Three can now be built for the cost of one DDG. This is not the time to increase the cost by redesigning the ship to fit an expanded armament. Such a process defeats the concept for making the LCS the “low” component of a new high/low mix of surface combatants.

Distribution plus Speed Equals Survival

LCS at speed
Speed equals life

A squadron of LCS employed as part of a Distributive Lethality scheme will rely on their dispersed deployment pattern to reduce susceptibility to opponent targeting. The ships’ high speed, although often derided by critics is also a useful means of escaping enemy detection. An LCS capable of 40 knots can move away from a missile launch point faster than other U.S. combatants and potentially increase the area of uncertainty an opponent must consider in launching weapons down a return bearing.
An enemy would be forced to weigh significant risks in confronting such a force. An opponent might detect and attempt to eliminate one element of a distributive LCS force, but the remaining units might launch a devastating counter-salvo against therm. Such a response could cause significant harm to an unprepared, massed adversary force.
A basic LCS sea frame equipped with a moderate surface to surface missile capability could be a potent addition to the distributive lethality concept. Using means from fleet-wide networks to bring your own networks (BYON’s) created by groups of ships, a distributed LCS squadron operating as an anti-surface warfare (ASUW) formation could be a significant threat to opponent surface formations. The LCS’ larger size and rotary wing capabilities allow them to spend more time at sea, and see further beyond their own sensor horizon than smaller, dedicated missile combatants. LCS’s modularity allows the ships to bring additional weapons and capabilities to the fight beyond those of even heavily-armed corvettes and light frigates. These advantages suggest that LCS squadrons should be in the vanguard of the future distributed fleet.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. 

1. http://awin.aviationweek.com/Portals/AWeek/Ares/work%20white%20paper.PDF, p. 13.

2.  http://www.defenseone.com/technology/2014/12/upgrades-will-let-navys-lcs-operate-more-dangerous-waters/101172/

3. http://www.gao.gov/assets/670/665114.pdf, p. 29.

4.  http://news.usni.org/2015/04/01/navy-awards-2-lcss-to-austal-1-and-advance-procurement-funding-to-lockheed-martin

CIMSEC content is and always will be free; consider a voluntary monthly donation to offset our operational costs. As always, it is your support and patronage that have allowed us to build this community – and we are incredibly grateful.

Select a Donation Option (USD)

Enter Donation Amount (USD)

LCS Versus the Danish Strawman

nils juel 2Many critics have assailed the Littoral Combatant Ship (LCS) program for its high cost in comparison with foreign, supposedly better armed and equipped equivalents. The Danish Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon class frigates are often cited as examples of cheaper, more capable small combatants in comparison with LCS. These claims are not well researched and are based on isolated points of data rather than any systemic analysis. Other nations may be able to build relatively cheap warships, but hidden factors not discussed by critics, rather than U.S. shipbuilding and general acquisition deficiencies make this possible. The Danish Navy, in conjunction with corporate giant A.P. Moeller have produced an outstanding series of warships, but a direct comparison between them with the LCS is one of apples verses oranges. It’s time to stop using this inaccurate strawman argument against LCS.

Donate to CIMSEC!

The direct comparison of the Danish frigates to LCS is highly misleading due to significant differences in Danish shipbuilding practice and financial accounting. The Danish “StanFlex” system of “plug and play” weapons, sensors and equipment (including cranes!) officially separates these components from the advertised cost of the ship. A 2006 RAND report on the rise in warship costs specifically identified such systems as the principal drivers of warship cost inflation. The Danish concept of separating these more costly systems from their hull gives the appearance of a much less expensive warship. The ships were often accepted by the Danish Navy in an incomplete condition. The Danish Nils Juel, for example, was delivered in 2014 with 76mm guns scavenged from decommissioned ships. Danish figures suggest that the Iver Huitfeldt program used $209 million in reused equipment from scrapped vessels. Reuse, however, could not meet all system requirements. The planned 127mm (5 inch) gun system was deemed too expensive at $50 million a copy. The ship’s close-in weapon system mount was actually a dummy, wooden weapon due to a lack of certification. While equipped with a MK 41 vertical launch missile system (VLS), the ship deployed to the fall 2014 U.S. Bold Alligator exercise without the system certified for use or weapons purchased for eventual outfitting. That same reporting indicated that the ship was delivered with its damage control system incomplete and lacking a secondary steering control center. Much of the ship is built to merchant ship standards which are not as robust as those traditionally provided to warships. In addition, the Danish ship was forced to take on nearly 20 extra crew members when the lean 100 person complement was found insufficient for operational needs.

The Absalon class is more akin to a heavily armed, limited load amphibious ship rather than a surface combatant. It combines a number of warfare and expeditionary capabilities on a single hull, but excels at none of them. It is also significantly slower (at 24 knots maximum speed) than most other surface combatants. Both Absalon and her sister Esbern Snare were also delivered without their full installation of weapons and sensors. In the case of Absalon, this process took over three years. The Danish Navy has been open in regards to these conditions. U.S. advocates of adopting the Absalon or Iver Huitfeldt classes almost always overlook them.

The LCS, by contrast is delivered with significant systems such as its 57mm gun and point defense missile system incorporated into the overall cost. Scavenging of weapons from previous U.S. ships is extremely difficult due to a constant process of upgrades over time. Weapon systems, like ships also have service lives and U.S. ships being decommissioned often have equally aged weapons and supporting electrical, hydraulic and mechanical systems that make a re-installation not cost effective. Unlike the Absalon class which is not equipped to master any one warfare area in any of its configurations, the LCS can be exclusively equipped to master one such discipline. It is purposely designed to operate in tailored flotillas designed to mitigate the risks incurred by one ship like Absalon. Critics often fail to note that both Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon are nearly twice the size of LCS.  Neither has the speed requirements that drove initial LCS design considerations. The size difference alone may explain the Danish ships’ much longer endurance. These differences in Danish and U.S. practices make comparisons difficult at best.

Finally, the Danish Navy contracted the building of both the Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon classes to a single firm, the A.P. Moeller Corporation. This multinational giant derives the vast bulk of its earnings from the more stable commercial market and its warship business is not dependent on government orders, which causes instability and cost overruns in its production process. By contrast, U.S. LCS shipbuilders Lockheed Martin and Austal serve government interests much more than private ones and are more dependent on government contracts to maintain stability in their operations. The 2006 RAND report also identified this process of divided warship construction as another factor in the increased cost of surface combatants.

The LCS program has been beset with a number of technological and systemic problems since its inception that have slowed the program’s progress and likely contributed to some cost overruns. On the surface, the Iver Huitfeldt and Absalon class frigates would appear to be cost effective alternatives to the LCS. Deeper investigation, however, reveals how the Danes achieved these substantially lower figures by separating higher cost equipment from that of the platform, scavenging weapons from decommissioned ships, accepting incomplete warships for service, and purchasing these vessels from a single, robust commercial shipbuilder not dependent on or affected by unstable government ship acquisition processes. In summary, these classes meet Denmark’s needs, but are an unsuitable substitute for U.S. Navy small combatants. LCS critics, however, should not use the Danish ships as strawman LCS substitutes. It is a most unequal comparison.

Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer and a PhD student in military history at Ohio University. His focus areas are modern U.S. naval and military reorganization efforts and British naval strategy and policy from 1889-1941. 

Donate to CIMSEC!

Deconstructing ‘Survivability’

In a recent CIMSEC NextWar article, “The LCS Survivability Debate,” Chuck Hill admirably contributes some much-needed nuance to (and sparked a flurry of articles about) the debate surrounding the Littoral Combat Ship. At the center of this conversation is the question of just how we define the survivability of small surface combatants. Under any traditional rubric, such ships would appear to be sitting ducks, without the durability or defensive capabilities of even slightly larger cousins. Yet, as Hill illustrates, this traditional perspective lacks important insight into the more qualitative assessments of resiliency. His piece provides well-argued documentation demonstrating a key factor: that small surface combatants make bad targets. These ships sale under the radar, so to speak. To demonstrate his point, Hill concludes with some anecdotal evidence:

“As part of Operation Overlord, the Normandy Invasion, 60 US Coast Guard 83 foot patrol boats were assigned to rescue those unlucky enough to find themselves in the water or sinking. 30 went to the American beachheads and 30 went to the British and Canadian beachheads. Being wooden hulled and gasoline powered, they certainly would not have been considered ‘survivable.’

“Apparently they were in the thick of it, because they rescued 1438 men from the water and sinking craft. In spite of all the fire from shore, not a single boat was sunk and not a single crewmen was killed. Apparently the German gunners were too busy with the landing craft hitting the beach and the warships that were shelling them. They simply were not a priority target.”

This argument resonated with me. I manage research for the intelligence and security services firm Security Management International (SMI) and a large portion of what we do is target analysis and vulnerability assessments. We employ an approach known as CARVER – criticality, accessibility, recoverability, vulnerability, effect, and recognizability – which blends qualitative and quantitative assessments of risk, much in the same spirit as Hill, and provides an interesting lens through which to deconstruct what we mean by survivability.

Criticality measures a target’s significance as a component of a larger system or network. Accessibility represents a target’s ease of access. Recoverability is the time it would take the system to respond to an incident and restore a component’s utility. Vulnerability is an account of a target’s susceptibility to attack based on adversary capabilities. Effect is the degree of devastation or impact such an attack on a given target would have on the overall system. And recognizability is the likelihood an adversary would recognize a component’s criticality. What do we learn if we apply this technique to the LCS debate?

Traditional arguments critiquing the LCS’ survivability can be seen as highlighting the more quantitative elements of CARVER (accessibility, recoverability, and vulnerability). As a craft designed to operate close to shore, the Littoral Combat Ship certainly fits the bill for accessibility. While a fast ship, the short range between shore-based batteries and the vessel place it at greater risk than ships operating farther out. Hill covers the topic of recoverability, which highlights similar concerns. He relays part of a U.S. Naval Institute piece on the topic (also a commendably nuanced read), noting that “small warships are historically unsurvivable in combat. They have a shorter floodable length, reduced reserve buoyancy and are more likely to be affected by fire and smoke damage than larger combatants.” A direct hit would likely leave an LCS reeling to a more devastating degree than an equivalent hit to a larger combatant. Even non-state asymmetric actors may pose a degree of risk to the craft given its intended area of operation in congested littorals, which pose the threat of terrorist incidents similar to the USS Cole bombing.

Yet, as the CARVER methodology would suggest, there are additional elements to threat and vulnerability assessment. These are the more qualitative components to which Hill’s article seems to allude. They include criticality, effect, and recognizability. Here the LCS performs significantly better. As a small surface combatant, the Littoral Combat Ship can be seen as far less critical than a capital ship. Therefore, the loss of an LCS presents less of an overall effect on the fleet. Neither of these points is meant to trivialize the potential for loss of life. Rather, the psychological component of how an adversary (especially a symmetric adversary) might perceive an LCS suggests it would present itself as less of an attractive target because of its less significant role compared to an aircraft carrier or nuclear submarine. This all comes together in the final point, reconizability. If an adversary fails to recognize the LCS as a high-value target, which its criticality and the effect of its loss would suggest, this should be reflected in the overall assessment of its survivability.

None of this unequivocally resolves the enduring conversation about how and where the LCS should operate, and against what type of adversary. Thus, the debate around its survivability will linger. Yet, as we can see, and as Chuck Hill rightly identifies, there is a greater degree of complexity in what makes something resilient other than the thickness of its armor. If sixty wooden-hulled Coast Guard patrol boats could survive the invasion of Normandy, surely our depiction of the LCS’ durability deserves greater nuance.

About the Author

Since 2011 Joshua has served as the manager for research and analysis at Security Management International (SMI), an intelligence services provider in Washington, DC. Josh has co-authored several articles in the Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security International with SMI associates. Since 2013 Joshua has also been a frequent contributor to spaceflightinsider.com, a member of The Spaceflight Group’s community of aerospace news websites. He is a PhD candidate at the University of St. Andrews’ Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, where he researches maritime security. Joshua is a Summa Cum Laude graduate of The George Washington University where he received a BA in Middle East Studies from the Elliott School of International Affairs.

 

LCS Survivability Debate: By the Numbers

Both Doyle Hodges and Chuck Hill have recently commented on Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) survivability in light of World War II damage reports, responding to Steven Wills’ opinion piece at USNI News (which he followed up yesterday).  The genesis of their response appears to be Wills’ claim:

“Small warships are historically unsurvivable in combat. They have a shorter floodable length, reduced reserve buoyancy and more likely to be affected by fire and smoke damage than larger combatants.”

Unfortunately, both authors have interpreted the data differently, and some clarification is in order.

In analysis of survivability, it is important to look at three facets as defined by the US Navy:

  • susceptibility, the capability of the ship to avoid and/or defeat an attack;
  • vulnerability, the capability of the ship to withstand initial damage effects and to continue to perform assigned primary missions;
  • recoverability,  the capability of the ship, after initial damage effects, to take emergency action to contain and control damage, prevent loss of a damaged ship, and restore primary mission capabilities.

The data from World War II damage reports, along with an understanding of the US Navy inventory at the time, allows us to calculate a value for overall susceptibility of the various ship types during the war.  The damage reports also allow us to measure the combined vulnerability and recoverability of those ships that reported significant damage.

Hill calculated an overall measure of survivability based on the number of each ship type existing at the beginning of the war, which Hodges correctly notes is an insufficient baseline due to additional production during the war.  By using data from Table I of the damage summary, he overstates the overall risk of loss in each type of ship.  I offer the following so that an accurate baseline can be used to inform future discussions of survivability.

In the area of susceptibility, the damage summary, combined with the available construction data, shows significant variability by ship type and year.   In the table below, total inventory of DD and larger combatants is shown for each year, in aggregate and by class, as well as the total of newly commissioned ships for that year.  The susceptibility is the number of damage reports (including lost) divided by the total number of ships available in that year.  This still overstates susceptibility a bit, since not all new ships were available for the entire year, but it still serves a useful purpose.

Note that the total of damage and loss reports, not ships damaged, is used below.  Thus the CV susceptibility of 125% is not really a mistake, but an artifact of the method.  In 1942, Enterprise filed three war damage reports, Saratoga two, and Yorktown one in addition to the losses of Lexington, Yorktown, Wasp and Hornet.

Year and Type Starting Inventory Newly Commissioned Total
Reports
Susceptibility
1942 167 102 91 33.8%
BB 17 0 12 70.6%
CA 18 0 16 88.9%
CL 19 9 9 32.1%
CV 7 1 10 125.0%
CVE 5 14 0 0.0%
CVL 0 0 0 0.0%
DD 101 78 44 24.6%
1943 231 186 45 10.8%
BB 15 2 0 0.0%
CA 13 4 2 11.8%
CL 26 7 9 27.3%
CV 4 6 1 10.0%
CVE 19 25 1 2.3%
CVL 0 9 1 11.1%
DD 154 133 31 10.8%
1944 403 133 110 20.5%
BB 17 2 10 52.6%
CA 16 1 3 17.6%
CL 32 11 12 27.9%
CV 10 10 11 55.0%
CVE 43 33 12 15.8%
CVL 9 0 3 0%
DD 276 76 59 22.7%

The outcome of each damaging event recorded in the summary gives us an estimate of the vulnerability and recoverability for each ship type.  Here we see a clear relationship between size and ability to take punishment.  I’ve separated the traditional surface combatants from the carriers for clarity.

Type Damage Reports Loss Reports Total Probability of Loss | Given Damage
BB 20 2 22 9.1%
CA 15 6 21 28.6%
CL 27 3 30 10.0%
DD 87 47 134 35.1%
DE 9 7 16 43.8%
CV 18 4 22 18.2%
CVL 3 1 4 25.0%
CVE 9 4 13 30.8%

At the surface, there appears to be a disparity between CA and CL loss rates.   However, this is most likely a function of displacement rather than ship type, as all six of the CAs lost through 1944 were Treaty Cruisers of less than 10,000 tons.

In reviewing these data as it relates to LCS survivability, I think we have to be somewhat cautious.  The general trend, showing that smaller ships are generally more vulnerable to (or less recoverable from) significant damage, confirms Wills in part.  While smaller warships are indeed, less survivable, they are not unsurvivable.  Because of their large numbers and lesser value as a target, the small destroyers were damaged less frequently than the larger surface combatants.  They relied more heavily than their capital ship brothers on the susceptibility leg of the survivability triangle.  Damaging events that were survivable by bigger ships were often fatal to the destroyers, because the bigger ships were more resilient and possessed a deeper capability for damage control.

The same will be true in the US Navy fleet of the 2020s, where Arleigh Burke destroyers will be much more capable of taking a hit than Littoral Combat Ships.  No modern ship, and especially no small ship, will survive as an effective combatant in the event of a major damaging event, like a torpedo, mine, or cruise missile attack.  Even though the ship might not be a total loss, it will be out of action for significant period of time after that event.  Look no further than USS Chancellorsville if you believe otherwise.

Ken Adams is a former US Navy Surface Warfare Officer with experience in amphibious ships and staffs, a battleship tour in USS Iowa, and as a tactics instructor for the Royal Saudi Navy. He is currently an operations analyst for a large defense contractor, for whom he is not authorized to speak.