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Surface Forces: LCS Competition Ends In A Tie
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November 8, 2010: The U.S. Navy has made a decision on which of two competing designs for its "Littoral Combat Ship" (LCS) will enter mass production. The navy surprised everyone by choosing both designs, and requesting that the fifty or so LCS ships be split between the two very different looking ships.

It was only recently, after over a decade of development, construction and delays, that both versions of the LCS entered service. Both were worked hard, to determine which model should become the standard design. Both ships delivered impressive performance. But the navy also believes that having two suppliers, even with different designs, will provide the kind of competition that will keep costs down and quality high. If one of the builders began to screw up, they would lose some, or all, of their orders. Such an incentive program has worked in the past. Current plans are to place an initial order for to 20 LCSs, to be built between 2011-15.

While both ships look quite different (one is a traditional monohull, while the other is a broader trimaran), they both share many common elements. One of the most important of these is the highly automated design, and smaller crew. Both ships have accommodations for only 75 personnel. Normally, a ship of this size would have a crew of about 200. The basic LCS crew is 40, with the other 35 berths occupied by operators of special equipment. But that is already being exceeded on one LCS, which has a detail of 15 sailors for handing special equipment and another 23 to take care of a helicopter. Another shortage encountered is time. Although sailors work a typical six hours on/twelve hours off routine, there are plenty of miscellaneous jobs that cut into off duty hours (taking on supplies and fuel while underway, standing fire/safety alert during aircraft or small boat operations and so on). At times, some sailors were only getting 5-6 hours sleep a day. Fortunately, the LCS uses a two crew system, with each crew being on the ship (at sea or in port) for 40 days, and then the other crew takes over.

Built using "smartship" technologies, that actually do greatly reduce personnel requirements, the LCS was expected to get by with a crew of about 40-50 in basic configuration. The sea trials and two years of operations gave the smartship features a workout. These sea trials were very important, because the LCS is over budget, behind schedule and, worst of all, an untried new concept. Many of the operations in the last two years have been of the sort LCS will encounter during its 30 year career. But the strain on the crew makes it clear that heavy combat operations might be more than current crew size can handle.

The LCS was designed for a variety of interchangeable modules (e.g., air defense, underwater warfare, special operations, surface attack, etc.), which 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. The design and crew requirements for these module is still a work in progress, but also shows a need for more people, or automation.

The two different LCS designs are from Lockheed-Martin (monohull) and General Dynamics (trimaran). The first LCS, the monohull USS Freedom, completed its sea trials and acceptance inspections two years ago. The ship did very well, with far fewer (about 90 percent fewer) problems (or "material deficiencies") than is usual with the first warship in a class. USS Independence (LCS-2) was laid down by General Dynamics in late 2005 and commissioned in January 2010.

Both LCS designs were supposed to be for ships displacing 2,500 tons, with a full load draft of under 3.3 meters/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 was expected was to be over 80 kilometers with a range of 2,700 kilometers. Basic endurance is 21 days, and final displacement was closer to 3,000 tons. Ultimately, the navy hoped to have between 50 and 60 LCSs by 2014-18, at a cost of $460 million (after the first five.) The USS Freedom ended up costing nearly $600 million, about twice what the first ship in the class was supposed to have cost.

The LCS is armed with a 57mm gun, four 12.7mm machine-guns, and an eleven cell SeaRam system for aircraft 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).

The LCS  crews are also 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.

So far, the heavy workload has not hurt morale. The small crew means that everyone knows everyone, and its standard for people to handle a number of different jobs. Even officers pitch in for any task that needs to be done. This kind of overworked enthusiasm is actually typical of smaller naval craft. These included World War II era PT boats, with crews of up to 17, and current minesweepers (with crews similar to an LCS) and larger patrol boats. There's also the "new" factor. In addition to being new ships, there is a new design and lots of new tech. This gets people pumped. But the experience of using the LCS has to be used to develop changes that will make these ships viable for the long haul.

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JFKY    One Tiny Problem   11/8/2010 9:53:57 AM
As I understand it, the Mission Modules have NOT been produced!  Without them, the ASuW Mod, and most especially the Anti-Mine Mod, the LCS is a Coast Guard Cutter.
 
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doggtag    Mission Modules   11/8/2010 10:27:36 AM
Actually,
just recently it was announced that NG would be starting MM production:
 
 
 
My expectation, however, is that just like the vessels themselves, these mission modules will also run into unexpected technical hurdles, changing requirements,
and whatever other procurement ho-hum that further delays their entry into service,
further increases their costs,
may even reduce the number of various modules purchased,
and in the end will probably be harder than they initially planned for when it comes time to swap out one set of mission modules on a given ship for another.
 
That'll be the fail point of the whole program: when it's proven that a ship has to be set up in port/docks for a week or better to swap out modules and verify all the electrical, data, and whatever other connections are secure, before setting back out to sea.
 
I was under the understanding that, at its inception, the idea was the LCS could module-swap and be ready to go again in 48 hours (look for LCS articles from over 5 years ago....), which was what the Scandanavian StanFlex boats were demonstrating, which was a key design sell-point of the LCS to begin with...
 
I seriously bet that somewhere in all the changing requirements, that turn-around time has been considerably modified.
I can't wait to see just how long it does take them, if ever, to swap modules,
or if they'll, in the long run, just capitulate and allot certain ships to be module-specific for their lifespan, and not swap the modules out after all.
 
 
 
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Newton       11/8/2010 10:41:08 AM
The Navy continues to try and make itself relevant in anti-terrorist terms by spending billions of taxpayer dollars on glorified patrol boats, that can operate in shallow water - gaasp !!
 
The LCS designs are armed like patrol boats but sized like a corvette, presumably to give them the required endurance to patrol where the bad guys live, I guess I just don't get the design concept.  All this money to put a 57mm gun and a RAM launcher off the coast of Somalia.  If you need to deliver SEALS, use a sub.
 
At a time when we are in the hole financially as a nation, do we really need to be spending countless millions on a fleet of expensive and lightly armed warships to fight guys who live in caves and put bombs on planes?
 
It just seems so ridiculous.
 
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YelliChink       11/8/2010 12:15:14 PM

It just seems so ridiculous.

Actually, this is not ridiculous. The bulk of any large navy are ships of that size, which conduct most dirty jobs on the sea. Burkes and Ticos are awesome, but the operational cost and implication of the presence of larege warships have unintended consequences. What matters is not the weapons system comes with it. For a ship of that size without specific mission, it's better to have as less pre-installed weapons system as possible, and focusing on combat management system, connectivity, ESM and ECM etc. You don't see a lot of those but they are more important than phallus-look-alikes.
 
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wcollins       11/8/2010 12:41:41 PM
The LCS was initially priced at $220 million a ship, the first two ships built LCS 1 and LCS 2, cost nearly three times that number.  Now the Navy thinks they can build the ships at $460 million a piece.  The LCS is poorly armed, it cannot fire the ESSM, Harpoon, or ASROC missiles.  Missiles commonly found on other ships of their size.  This is a waste of money given their size and limited armament.  Even the mission modules are limited in their capabilities. 
 
As a thought experiment, how many LCS ships would it take to defeat a Burke-class destroyer?  A dozen or more?  If the LCS cannot sink a ship its own size, it shouldn't be built at all.
 
My suggestion is to scrap the LCS program and built a replacement for the Perry-class frigates and a smaller 2,000-ton well armed corvette.  The new frigates can support the carrier and amphibious groups and take some of the load off of the Burke and Ticonderoga ships.  The new corvettes would operate in the littorals and could be grouped together with a frigate as a lead ship.
 
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LB       11/8/2010 1:11:03 PM
Firstly the political compromise to build two separate classes of ship costs more.  It's a good idea for a number of reasons but in terms of financial realities it's simply throwing a significant amount of money away.

The mission modules are huge problem.  The anti surface missiles does not work and is shorter ranged than almost any potential anti ship missile the ship might encounter.  So it's a ship designed to fight small boats and not other ships.  The asw module doesn't do anything.  The GAO report stated that the USN analysis found that module added no "significant capability" to the ship in asw; moreover, other than the ships helicopters the ship itself has no asw capability.  It has no hull mounted sonar and no weapons.

Operating the mine warfare module on LCS is simply ridiculous.  You don't spend $500 million on a 60mph 3,400 ton frigate to do mine warfare which is a slow process done by much smaller ships.  A fast mine hunter is an oxymoron.  A large one is very dangerous.  The main reason to have mine hunters is pressure mines that can not be swept and that can be set off by large ships.  This of course leaves aside the whole notion of the mine warfare community losing dedicated full time assets and often times training without the ship and her crew and having to advocate for itself for space in exercises and planning with lower status.  

Then of course we have the issues of getting each module to work and new individual cost problems.  How many extra modules are going to be procured and where does the crew sit around and train waiting to be shipped out to meet a strange ship and crew?  If only a few extra modules are being procured don't we in fact then have three sub classes of ships where one does surface warfare (poorly), another asw (very poorly), and the most expensive mine warfare ship in the history of warfare?

What the USN in fact does need is a robust mine warfare community with dedicated cost effective assets because mines have been the biggest actual threat since WWII.  For fighting small craft it requires something much more like Streetfighter when LCS was actually projected as being a 500 ton ship.  For naval gunfire support it needs a survivable shallow water capable ship with a 5inch or 155mm.  It could also do with some actual frigates.
 
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YelliChink       11/8/2010 1:38:13 PM

 A fast mine hunter is an oxymoron.  A large one is very dangerous.

The problem is that an oxymoron indeed existed:
 
 

The Robert H. Smith class of destroyer minelayers was built by the United States during World War II.

These vessels were all originally laid down as Allen M. Sumner class destroyers and converted during construction throughout 1944. In that time the United States produced 12 Robert H. Smith class destroyer minelayers. None of the Robert H. Smith class vessels ever laid a mine in wartime, though they were frequently employed in minesweeping. Minelayers did not carry torpedo tubes. Otherwise they were used interchangeably with other destroyer types.

 
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doggtag       11/8/2010 2:10:56 PM
My suggestion is to scrap the LCS program and built a replacement for the Perry-class frigates and a smaller 2,000-ton well armed corvette.  The new frigates can support the carrier and amphibious groups and take some of the load off of the Burke and Ticonderoga ships.  The new corvettes would operate in the littorals and could be grouped together with a frigate as a lead ship.


One possible concept that would be a more ideal Perry frigate replacement than the LCS was discussed over @ SecretProjects' Naval Forums:   Northrop Grumman International Frigate (FF4920)

Not really a bad all-around design for its size: the gun is capable of being a 76mm, and the Italians have been developing a guided subcaliber precision round for it (Davide/Strales/DART , also @ Defence-Observer.Info ).
 
Some years back, in previous LCS discussions here on SP,
one of the Perry replacements (if that's where LCS was heading) that I suggested was the Spanish F100 A'd'Bazan class.
A fine balance in a ship that size (<6000 tons), Aegis and all.
But, seeing where the LCS has, so far (WITHOUT a set of Mission Modules installed, even!), ended up cost-wise, one does wonder if we shoulda/woulda/coulda/mighta just been better off license-producing the Spanish ship.
 
...Then again, had we done so, US defense contractors probably would've made them expensive as a Burke destroyer, re-designing them inside out to suit US ideas of what They (Navy Brass) think it should be.
Of course, the F100s weren't designed as brown water navy craft (shallow draft), but still probably are one of the finer naval examples of squeezing a quart of capability into a pint-sized container (and without many of the sorrowful manufacturer quality control issues that the latest US ships have been suffering from....).
 
 
 
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LB       11/8/2010 4:07:13 PM
Many large ships have been designed to lay mines and using destroyers and cruisers in WWII was common.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with mine hunting and mine sweeping. 
 
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USN-MID       11/8/2010 5:05:08 PM
The F100 is a great class of ship. The problem is the mission. While the F100 would be a more than adequate SUW replacement, it doesn't offer much in the littoral ASW or MIW mission.
The US Navy really doesn't need MORE AEGIS ships. It certainly doesn't really need littoral AEGIS ships, or we would either be buying more DDG-1000s, or buying F100 like ships.
 
It DOES need the ability to sweep the littorals to support our expeditionary warfare mission set.
 
 Is LCS the best way to do it? Maybe, maybe not. 
However, traditional MIW is not always the best option...the MCMs/MHCs simply do not have the speed to be everywhere. There definitely is a need for a specialized MIW craft that is actually capable of supporting the ESGs.
Same goes for littoral ASW. DDGs and CGs are not made to go hunting subs in shallow water. 
 
The ASW mission module does not seem to be fully fleshed out, but the advertised mix seems to be UUVs with a towed array and helo det. Which works out to a valid kill chain. 

The criticisms of a lack of SVTTs or HMS are certainly valid, but a bit overstated. If you got close enough to the sub undetected where you can engage with a SVTT, you are already dead. HMS is useful in deeper waters, but in littoral water will find its utility terribly limited.
 
From a survivability standpoint, with a good detection system (ie UUV+towed array), the 40+ kt sprint capability means the sub will essentially have to be right below you to get a valid kill shot.
 
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