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Surface Forces: USN Buys Another Of Them Funny Little Ships
   Next Article → AIR WEAPONS: Longer And Smarter
March 27, 2009: The US Navy has ordered a second LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) from Lockheed Martin. This came after the first ship of this design, the USS Freedom (LCS 1), completed its sea trials, and made its way from Lake Michigan, via a network of narrow locks, to the Atlantic ocean. The trip continued, via the Panama Canal, to San Diego, and gave the Freedom an opportunity to show how well an LCS operates on a long voyage. The ship is now at its home port, San Diego.

A crew of 40 is pretty small for a ship this size (which, in the past, would have about four times as many sailors). But the LCS is highly automated. On the Freedom, the captain decided that officers, including himself, would pitch in with maintenance and housekeeping chores. More so than in larger ships, sailors learn to do other jobs on an LCS, and, as a result, work is lot more interesting and less boring. But it can get intense at times, and there are still questions about whether the smaller crew, and all the "smartship" tech can really handle the kind of damage control emergencies that crop up on military ships

Normally, an LCS would have another 35 crew manning its "mission package". The LCS is designed for a variety of interchangeable modules (e.g., air defense, underwater warfare, special operations, surface attack, etc.), which will allow the ships to be quickly reconfigured for various specialized missions. Crews will also be modularized, so that specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules. Thus about 40 percent of the ship is empty, with a large cargo hold into which the mission package gear is inserted (and then removed, along with the package crew, when it is no longer assigned to that ship.) Thus the LCS has two crews when underway, the "ship" crew and the mission package crew. The captain of the ship crew is in charge, and the officer commanding the mission package is simply the officer in charge of the largest equipment system on board.

Three years ago, when construction began on LCS 1, it was to displace 2,500 tons, with a full load draft of under ten feet (permitting access to very shallow "green" and even "brown" coastal and riverine waters, where most naval operations have taken place in the past generation. Top speed is expected was to be over 80 kilometers with a range of 6,300 kilometers. The 378 foot long ship still has the range and top speed it was designed for. Basic endurance is 21 days. Thus the Freedom had to refuel and resupply several times on its way to San Diego.

Built using "smartship" technologies, which greatly reduce personnel requirements, the basic LCS was expected to require a crew of 40 in basic configuration, but will have billeting for about 75 personnel. The sea trials gave the smartship features a workout, which, so far appears to be successful. The successful sea trials were very important, because the LCS project is over budget, behind schedule and, worst of all, an untried new concept.

There are actually two different LCS designs, a semi-planning monohull from Lockheed-Martin and a trimaran from General Dynamics. LCS 1 was laid down by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, Wisconsin, in June of 2005 and was expected to be commissioned in 2007, after months of sea tests in late 2006. That schedule slipped, with the ship not completed until late 2008, and sea trials not starting until January, 2009.

LCS 2 was laid down by General Dynamics in late 2005. These, and LCS 3 and LCS 4, were to be built by Lockheed and General Dynamics, respectively. These are essentially prototypes, and serial procurement was expected to begin this year, after initial design flaws had been worked out. Ultimately, the Navy hoped to have 55 LCSs by 2014-18, at a cost of $90 million each. Congress has capped the price of LCS ships at $460 million, after years of increases, and threats to cancel the project.

There were a lot of problems with the LCS design. The USS Freedom ended up costing $500 million, about twice what the first ship in the class was supposed to have cost. LCS 2 will not be delivered until later this year, with sea trials completed by the end of the year. Next year, the navy will choose which of the designs will serve as the model for all future LCS class vessels. At that point, the winner will build two more ships of their design, and the loser one. All five of these LCS ships will be used heavily to determine what changes in the basic design are required. Then, mass production will commence, to build another 50 ships.

LCS 1 ended up displacing 2,900 tons, and most observers in 2005 believed that it would end up closer to 3,000 tons. The LCS is armed with a 57mm gun, four 12.7mm machine-guns, and an eleven cell SeaRam system for air and missile defense. The RAM (RIM-116 "Rolling Air Frame") missiles replace Phalanx autocannon. SeaRAM has a longer range (7.5 kilometers) than the Phalanx (two kilometers).

Next Article → AIR WEAPONS: Longer And Smarter
  

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sjdoc    Built in a Democrat district   3/27/2009 9:13:58 AM
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Marinette Marine Corporation (Marinette County, Wisconsin) - which built USS Freedom and will build LCS 3 - is, after all, in a solid Democrat congressional district.
 
Gotta keep those "good paying union jobs in our area," don't we?
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VelocityVector       3/27/2009 11:53:08 AM

Exerts pressure on Deep South yard employees, who have let quality slip during recent years and who threaten strikes.  I don't have a problem with that.

v^2

 
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jastayme3       3/27/2009 4:28:17 PM
Isn't an autocannon more needed for literol work then missiles? Missiles are to big and to few to be useful for landing support and pirate hunting.
 
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benellim4       3/27/2009 6:53:23 PM
Another poorly worded article.
 
LCS-1 has a standard RAM launcher. Only LCS-2, the GD version, has SeaRAM. Not to be confused with the Army's C-RAM. 

It's a damned shame we spent money on it, but I have to believe the materials that required a long lead time were already bought and paid for years ago.
 
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VelocityVector    LCS Self-Defense   3/27/2009 8:44:51 PM

LCS-1 has a standard RAM launcher. Only LCS-2, the GD version, has SeaRAM. Not to be confused with the Army's C-RAM.  

RAM lacks an integral autodirector and SeaRAM has one; SeaRAM loads roughly half the ready rounds of RAM.  Consider a multiaxial attack by dozens of speedboats at night; also consider an a/c armed with low-IR sig missiles pops up from behind a small island you forgot about while fighting surface targets.  Main gun in both scenarios is out.  Which do you prefer, RAM or SeaRAM, and why, in these or whatever test scenarios you might devise for LCS very near shore battles?  Curious.

v^2

 
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sjdoc       3/28/2009 1:26:21 AM
The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class of surface combatant was proposed for the purpose of engaging in operations at "knife-fight ranges in coastal waters."
 
Now it appears that these ships - efficiently crewed and using "smartship" technology to automate their functions - may be insufficiently robust, inadequately armed, and intrinsically undermanned for getting into these "knife-fight" situations. 
 
I don't think that this is what the late Admiral Arthur Cebrowski had in mind when he proposed the "Streetfighter" concept in 2001.  The LCS - like Topsy - seems to have "just growed" to the point at which it's too large and too fragile and above all too expensive to employ in the sorts of close-in combat that littoral operations would necessarily entail.
 
What's wanted for these kinds of work should be something displacing a bit more than the Israeli Sa'ar 4.5 class missile boats, with the same turn of speed, better radar and sonar profiles, and toting firepower - autocannon of respectable size and range, beaucoup machine cannon for close-in volume of fire, offensive and defensive missile batteries - as well as the crew required to man these weapons and train on them consistently.
 
This is not what either type of LCS has turned out to be.
 
So what will be the roles played by the LCS classes when they go into service?  Glorified minesweepers? Mother ships for SEAL teams? Expedient ASW platforms?  And will the "host" crew get enough training in each type of operations to become capable of efficiently working with the "mission package" people to be embarked aboard at any particular time?
 
They're very pretty.  But, then, so was the Love Boat.
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SAE       3/28/2009 10:09:32 PM
So what will be the roles played by the LCS classes when they go into service?
 
How about the role of a frigate, since that is the size of the ship and we have decommission all our Knox class frigates.
 
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sjdoc    The role of the LCS classes   3/29/2009 7:37:44 AM
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On this subject, SAE writes:
 
"How about the role of a frigate, since that is the size of the ship and we have decommissioned all our Knox class frigates."
 
Sounds about right. So why go through all the expense of multiple mission modules?  Frigates are primarily ASW platforms, secondarily air defense assets, all for the purpose of fleet and convoy escort work. 
 
There's little or nothing "littoral" about that kind of tasking, and such escort work requires that the entire ship's crew - "host" and "mission package" - train and operate together with great familiarity and consistency.  The notion of a "mission package" crew being temporarily assigned to an LCS (whether it's working as a frigate or a minesweeper or a SEAL mother ship) would seem not even close to making as much sense as the way an aircraft carrier's Air Group is temporarily assigned to a particular CV.
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