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Surface Forces: Sorting Out the LCS
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April 19, 2011: Now that the U.S. Navy has decided to put its new "Littoral Combat Ship" (LCS) into mass production, it faces years of uncertainty and experimentation as this radical new combat ship design seeks to find out what works, to what degree, and what doesn't. There is some nervousness about all this. The U.S. Navy has not introduced a radical new design for nearly a century. The last such new design was the aircraft carrier, which required two decades of experimentation, and a major war, to nail down what worked. Even the nuclear submarines of the late 1950s and early 60s were evolutionary compared to what the LCS is trying to do.

In the last five years, two different LCS designs were built, and put into service. Problems were encountered. The much smaller crew required some changes in how a crew ran a ship, and how many sailors and civilians were required back on land to support an LCS at sea. It was found that, so far, the interchangeable mission modules take far longer (2-3 days instead of 2-3 hours) to replace. The LCS has still not seen combat, and the navy wants the first violent encounter to be successful, or at least not disastrous. It is expected that there will be surprises, which is about all that can be guaranteed at this point.

The navy surprised everyone last year 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 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 handling 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. In addition to a second crew, there are more maintenance personnel available back at the LCS home port, to help with needed repairs and upgrades the crew would normally handle. But with the smaller crew, these chores will be taken care of in port, using additional personnel.

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 three years of operations gave the militarized 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. An additional chore is the refueling at sea. The LCS was not built for long voyages, but these have to be undertaken to get the ships overseas, or moved to a different theater once there. Fuel replenishment ships must be available, and the crew has to be ready for a heavy workload.

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. There are 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 modules is still a work in progress, but also shows a need for more people, or more automation.

So far, the heavy workload has not hurt morale. The small crew means that everyone knows everyone, and it's 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.

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.

LCS is currently armed with a 57mm gun, four 12.7mm machine-guns, two 30mm autocannon and a 21 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). Last year, the navy decided to equip LCS with a surface launched version of the Griffin air-to-surface missile. The Griffin is an alternative to the Hellfire II, which weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds) and carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead and has a range of 8,000 meters. In contrast, the Griffin weighs only 16 kg (35 pounds), with a 5.9 kg (13 pound) warhead which is larger, in proportion to its size, than the one carried by the larger Hellfire missile. Griffin has a pop-out wings, allowing it to glide, and thus has a longer range (15 kilometers) than Hellfire. UAVs can carry more of the smaller missiles, typically two of them in place of one Hellfire. The surface-launched Griffin weighs about twice as much as the air launched version, because of the addition of a rocket to get it into the air, after which it can glide to the target.

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 navy believes it has the cost down to under $450 million each as mass production begins.

 

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eldnah       4/19/2011 1:52:36 PM
Last month the Defense Industry Daily reported that only the mine warfare module was anywhere near being ready. The ASW module is being rethought and ASUW module is essentially being resdesigned from scratch as the curent plan puts the ships at a considerable diasadvantage against many of the fast missile patrol boat designs they would likely face in littoral waters. The early modules being "Mine warfare" types may not be a significant problem as the Avenger and Osprey mine warfare ships are being retired and the first LCS's maybe detailed to replace them. Unfortunately we then have a bunch of $600,000,000+ (with modules) 50 knot minsweepers. I suspect the coming defense cuts will find them excessive.
 
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LB    Concept Flawed   4/19/2011 9:52:22 PM
The entire LCS concept is seriously flawed.  $500 million dollar frigates armed with a 57mm and Hellfire missiles to fight small boats is ridiculous.  Being shallow shaft and not having at least a 5inch gun for naval gunfire support is short sighted.  Fast, large, non mine resistant $500 million mine warfare craft are simply ridiculous.  Not being able to do asw, much less shallow water asw, is criminally negligent.
 
Moreover, the entire rationale of swapping the modules means you have to pay for extra modules that sit around where the crew for that module has significant training challenges.  They then become strangers to the LCS crew when swapped.  Leaving aside the not insignificant factor of the mine warfare community having no dedicated ships.
 
Mine warfare and hunting small boats is the mission of small, 500 to 1,000 ton, cost effective vessels.  The expense in carrying around the helicopter facilities, not to mention the helicopters, at 45 knots when doing the slow and deliberate work of mine warfare is simply ridiculous.  Given the budget climate it's a huge waste of scarce dollars.
 
Finally the entire notion of spending this much on a vessel to carry around 100+ knot helicopters at 45+ knots is absurd.  High speed might be justifiable in a smaller vessel that primarily relies on it's own systems.  Certainly it will occasionally be useful to sprint after the helicopters at 45 knots and extend their range but at $500 million for a ship that brings little else to the table it's not remotely cost effective.
 
The original LCS concept was for a 500 ton ship.  A 3,000 ton fast frigate armed with very short range weapons, beyond it's helicopters, makes little sense.  At $500 million it's simply ridiculous.  Only the USN could come up with something this expensive and so ill equipped for brown water operations in a blue water sized vessel.
 

 

 

 
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gf0012-aust       4/19/2011 10:56:37 PM
blue water = deep blue and outside of EEZ
green water = regular port to EEZ
brown water has always been river and estuarine
 
the first 2 have had their definitions evolve - esp as blue water was originally a capacity to fight without support in the 7 seas
green was twixt brown and blue
 
LCS was never envisaged for river/estuarine (the proper definition of brown water fighting, stemming from the Vietnam exp and the establishment of a brown water "navy"), its basically green to blue, no different from the USCG Cutters that are gunned up and escort within STNAVFORLANT constructs and are doing so now - except faster and better armed.
 
USG large cutters and LCS are actually overlapping in their tasks when you consider what they both are or will be doing.
 
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LB       4/20/2011 3:07:14 AM
The point is that the original Streetfighter concept had the LCS at 500 tons to operate in the littorals which includes brown water.  They grew the ship to 3,000 tons, kept the speed, and added two helicopters.  They created a lightly armed fast frigate.
 
A few different USN officers have commented to me directly or in publication that part of LCS's role is to operate in brown water utilizing it's shallow draft, including operating up river where appropriate.  This in fact would have been a very good idea for naval gunfire support if the ship had been given a 5 or 6 inch gun.  The modest level of short range missiles it will carry are no substitute for NGS and sending a $500 million ship to deliver Hellfire's is fairly ridiculous.
 
LCS is seriously out ranged by just about every missile carrying patrol boat in the world equipped with anti ship missiles.  It's far too expensive, large, and non mine resistant to do mine hunting and totally non cost effective.  It doesn't do NGS nor asw well anytime soon.  In every mission area it's either too expensive and lacking in cost effectiveness and/or lacking kit.
 
The only thing it does well is carry around two helicopters at 45 knots.  That's ridiculous for various missions and total overkill for others.  The actual Streetfighter concept died because the USN didn't want a bunch of patrol boats so it made fast frigates instead, a far more sexier command.  If they won't use it for brown water then they still require a ship/boat to do that which they are not excited about pursuing.
 
The mine warfare community losing all it's dedicated assets and having to do the mission part time on LCS is not good for the community nor realistic of the threat given mines have sunk or damaged more USN ships in combat than anything else since WWII.
 
LCS doesn't do surface warfare well against anything but speed boats.  It doesn't do asw well.  It can't do radar picket duty very well.  It has limited point defense and ability to protect other ships.  It's not cost effective nor well structured for mine warfare.  It doesn't replace our actual frigates, requiring a DDG or nothing now, it replaces cost effective mine warfare vessels with a ship costing around four times as much, doesn't do NGS, and in fact doesn't do anything very well.  It's an entirely flawed concept.
 
The USN requires a robust mine warfare community with sufficient numbers of cost effective vessels.  It requires an inexpensive survivable naval gunfire support ship which in an ideal universe would have a double mine resistant hull with one or two 6inch guns, and very little else, that could operate near or inshore.  It actually does require some frigates for various missions where a more expensive DDG would be overkill; moreover, it certainly requires a frigate optimized for shallow water asw.  On top of this the actual Streetfighter concept of significant numbers of 500 ton boats was both useful and cost effective for littoral operations mostly doing surface warfare.  LCS either does none of this, doesn't do it very well, or does it at too high a cost.
 
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gf0012-aust       4/20/2011 5:02:45 AM

The point is that the original Streetfighter concept had the LCS at 500 tons to operate in the littorals which includes brown water.  They grew the ship to 3,000 tons, kept the speed, and added two helicopters.  They created a lightly armed fast frigate.

unless the conops for streetfighter and LCS are the same, then the vessels sourced have been built for a different purprose

 
A few different USN officers have commented to me directly or in publication that part of LCS's role is to operate in brown water utilizing it's shallow draft, including operating up river where appropriate.  This in fact would have been a very good idea for naval gunfire support if the ship had been given a 5 or 6 inch gun.  The modest level of short range missiles it will carry are no substitute for NGS and sending a $500 million ship to deliver Hellfire's is fairly ridiculous.

you have to immediately ask, if the expectation is for these assets top operate  in an estuarine environment where in the conops does it state this? what scenarios and vignettes were defined by navy which determined this as an operational construct.  I cannot for the life of me understand where the USN would need to develop a 3000 tonne brownwater skimmer when a cyclone type asset would be the ideal size.  you cannot turn 3000 tonne ships around in estuarine conditions  even if they had bow and stern thrusters,  if you include thrusters then kiss good bye to a hull designed for speed.  so whats the conops intent?  if the USN has a brownwater requirement, I would be more than curious to see the comops anmd the vignettes that led to the design intent.  more importantly the vignettes would identify likely threat scenarios.  I cannot see the USN doing an amythest under any realistic scenario as its too easy for red team to own the conflict space - and win

LCS is seriously out ranged by just about every missile carrying patrol boat in the world equipped with anti ship missiles.  It's far too expensive, large, and non mine resistant to do mine hunting and totally non cost effective.  It doesn't do NGS nor asw well anytime soon.  In every mission area it's either too expensive and lacking in cost effectiveness and/or lacking kit.

seriously, I have to question the hysteria mentioned about whether these platforms can do minewarfare - esp when we know what the minewarfare technology imperative is - its not the dardanelles.  USNI has done a number of articles where they talk about the actual mine threats, mine damage and cost to shipping to clear the lanes - you don't need the ship to do that anymore.  every major maritime conference I've attended in the last 5 years has looked at minewarfare solutions which don't require the skimmer to go in close.  mine killing technology is more about dismounts and standoff management - the argument about hull criticality or ship size is fundamentally disingenuine when we know what the tech sets do and how they operate - its why dedicated hulls are becoming an obsolete tech set
 
The only thing it does well is carry around two helicopters at 45 knots.  That's ridiculous for various missions and total overkill for others.  The actual Streetfighter concept died because the USN didn't want a bunch of patrol boats so it made fast frigates instead, a far more sexier command.  If they won't use it for brown water then they still require a ship/boat to do that which they are not excited about pursuing.

I think thats a disingenuine complaint - we use rotarys as part of the dismount hunting pair solution - ie an air dismount and a ROV.  having air is an enabler for mine warfare.  having seen what RAMICs can do (and the original 20mm solution, the the beltway generated cost sucking 30mm version), then sending out the ROV/USV and killing it with either the ROV/USV or RAMICs in combination means that you could use the carrier for minewarfare if needed. minewarfare technology changed a few years ago, and the need to have dedicated minewarfare assets only applies to those navies who can't shift their warfigjting construct in time - the USN has already shown how to do it.  Its no longer hull dependant

The mine warfare community losing all it's dedicated assets and having to do the mission part time on LCS is not good for the community nor realistic of the threat given mines have sunk or da
 
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Cazadore61    the procurement system is broken   4/20/2011 3:25:09 PM
The US Navy can't buy a ship. Every program is a disaster. The LCS is garbage. Who thought
up the brilliant idea to give it swappable modules? Keep It Simple STUPID!!!! Small crew? no one
left to do damage control if (God help us) the LCS ever goes into combat. The thing costs WAY
too much money. Look what Israel, Denmark or South Korea builds for a lot less. But those
countries don't have BROKEN PROCUREMENT SYSTEMS!
 
USS Zumwalt DDG-1000: a nightmare. It costs as much as an aircraft carrier, and it can't
do what it's designed to do.They can't even get the hull number right. Hint: Zumwalt himself
was a disaster. He almost wrecked the Navy. Try building a Monitor, if you want a survivable
shore bombardment asset. see HMS Terror 1915 if you need an example.
 
LPD-17 class amphibious ship USS San Antonio: garbage. New Ship. Don't work. Massive cost
overruns. Must be repaired at great cost WHEN BRAND NEW.
 
Thank God they didn't quit building the one surface ship that's a success, the Arleigh Burke class DDG
 
The Coast Guard "Integrated Deepwater System" program to replace every ship and aircraft
the Coast Guard has: an unmitigated disaster. They ended up ruining eight 110 foot cutters
they modified. The ships are now useless. They are buying a glorified corvette called the
"National Security Cutter" which is another massively overpriced piece of garbage.
"significant C4ISR problems will continue" according to Wikidedia.
 
The F-22 is so grossly overpriced not even the Air Force or the Secretary of Defense wants it.
The F-35 is headed toward being another gold-plated, overweight, under-performing, overpriced nightmare.
 
The MV-22 Osprey: the WORST scandal in US military procurement history.  Some one ought to be
keel-hauled over this turkey. hint: it's not a plane, it's not a helicopter, and it's not any good at trying to be either.
It's destroyed the USMC aviation by starving it of the money that would have bought actually useful helicopters.
 
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LB    LCS Mine Hunter   4/20/2011 5:29:52 PM
If one were to assume specialized hulls are not required for mine hunting this does not mean replacing $50 to $100 million mine warfare vessels with yearly operating costs of around $5 to $10 million with a $500 million ship is cost effective.
 
When one observes, correctly, that the USN is seriously deficient in mine warfare vessels the answer is not to retire all these dedicated assets training for the role full time with even less LCS modules where the module crew will be often separated from the LCS and will have training challenges.
 
It does sound great that mine hunting can be done remotely at a stand off distance without the need for a hull mounted mine hunting sonar nor a reinforced ship.  This does not mean a $500 ship is a proper asset for this role.  Moreover, pressure mines are a bit of a pain.  It's one thing to assume one doesn't require a specialized mine resistant hull and quite another to add risk by using a 3,000 ton hull.  In any case saving dollars in building less expensive platforms, lacking mine resistance, is one thing, but morphing this into a $500 million mine hunter is a tad absurd.
 
If any platform can do mine hunting the proper response is to purchase the most cost effective.  The notion the USN can afford $500 million mine hunters is simply false.
 
Mine Warfare Command has gone from a dedicated base, 26 mine hunters, and a command ship able to operate the MH-53's to eventually losing all it's ships being replaced by a modest number of mine warfare modules on LCS.  The community's lack of both assets and status not only means less personal training for the mission but challenges getting the community properly involved in exercises.
 
Mine hunting is a slow deliberate process.  A $500 million 45 knot mine hunter is an oxymoron.  It's simply not cost effective.  This of course ignores the cost of the mine warfare module which is extra.  So while we certainly can put it on a $500 million ship traditionally we do this with small ships costing an order of magnitude less. 

 
 
 

 
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gf0012-aust       4/20/2011 8:49:41 PM

If one were to assume specialized hulls are not required for mine hunting this does not mean replacing $50 to $100 million mine warfare vessels with yearly operating costs of around $5 to $10 million with a $500 million ship is cost effective.

your LCS is not just a minehunter, assigning operating and through life costs for the asset against one task is being spare with the truth. :) so what are the TLS for ASW, for ISR, for fire support, etc how are the percentiles of those discretioinary operational loads determined, because ASW is sure going to add some holes into the TLS equations..... if you don't capability balance against the assets then the reality is that you better go out and buy 50 blue water capable minewarfare assets, 50 modern day Leahy's, 50 shore support assets and then add in the TLS for all those discrete requirements together. In the absence of having a money tree the USN like everyone else has to shovel as much capability as they can onto less platforms.

When one observes, correctly, that the USN is seriously deficient in mine warfare vessels the answer is not to retire all these dedicated assets training for the role full time with even less LCS modules where the module crew will be often separated from the LCS and will have training challenges.

everyone observed it correctly becaus in Iraq and SIdra it fell to navies in region that either had minewarfare assets in theatre (RN and France) or clearance teams to do brownwater/greenwater mine management (RN and RAN). Even thiough the USN then had 26 assets available to do the job, they were unable to get them there in time as none of those ships were either able to traverse in time, or were not pre-positioned to do the job - the egg on the face was less about capability and more about the fact that some genius planners never appreciared that if you make noise about intending to assault a countries harbours and ports, then they will mine and sabotage those ports to delay or damage your forces in response. if the USN had minewarfare assets available in GW1 then this would not have been such a visible sore in the post analysis briefs. If she had dismount technology avaailable in that period, then she could have had an autonomy of response. bad planning solutions don't mean going out and building a response set which has nor advanced with developments. thats just throwing good money after bad. more to the point, someone should have asked the mission planners some very serious questions about why the obvious solutions were not included or even "thought about" until it was the "O F@#$" moment


It does sound great that mine hunting can be done remotely at a stand off distance without the need for a hull mounted mine hunting sonar nor a reinforced ship. This does not mean a $500 ship is a proper asset for this role. Moreover, pressure mines are a bit of a pain. It's one thing to assume one doesn't require a specialized mine resistant hull and quite another to add risk by using a 3,000 ton hull. In any case saving dollars in building less expensive platforms, lacking mine resistance, is one thing, but morphing this into a $500 million mine hunter is a tad absurd.

its not an assumption about needing the hulls, why do you trhink other modern navies are retiring their minewarfare hullls? in one navy instance the hull is less than 4 years old and is regarded as the best technology available on any hull anywhere today - its because the requirement can be addressed far more cheaply and effectively with less risk than a ship full of crew than in the past. its been demonstrated time and time again with dismounts and rotors acting in unison that they can effect a kill with less risk to all and sundry. if the cavitators can't kill the mine because its just too far down from "nn" preferred engagement depth, then the USV's can do the job anyway. Be it seabed mounted, captive, contact or pressure. The issue again is not the cost of the actual hull acting as the dismounts truck, but the fact that the companion systems can go on a greater diversity of assets, and can be recovered by anyone else in the fleet - in addition to which the capacity to deploy muptiple teams provides an arrayed solution. single hulls hunting and collecting are inefficient., and there is just no cost efective need to go down that path. one gives you an embedded flxibility of response and mission set, a single dedicated hull does not, thats why a number of navies are abandoning them

If any platform can do mine hunting the proper response is to purchase the most cost effective. The notion the USN can afford $500 million mine hunters is simply false.

how can a single purpose built hull be effective? the USN
 
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JFKY    LB   4/20/2011 9:35:16 PM
You're losing the Mine Warfare argument, give it up....there are problems with LCS, ASuW and with ASW, and questions about Damage Control and crew endurance, but the Mine Warfare argument is a Loser for you.
 
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LB       4/20/2011 9:45:19 PM
The problem with this analysis is the USN plans to have 1.2 modules per ship.  Most LCS with the mine warfare module will be doing that job full time or hauling around the module anyway.
 
Assuming the module costs around $45 million and you don't want to put in a specialized MCM ($50 to $100) then put in a large fishing trawler or any other cheap vessel one could purchase or lease in large numbers and pre position where you'd like and then fly out the modules where needed.  Anything at all makes sense than tying a $500 million ship to mine warfare.
 
Pointing out 26 mine warfare vessels was not enough is accurate.  There are various answers to this that do not require $500 million ships.  Today the USN has 8 of 14 MCM's home based in Bahrain and Japan.  If more are required buy them.  For one LCS one could have 5 to 10 MCM's.  If the requirement is an ocean going 20 knot sustained MCM build one. 
 
LCS does not include the price for GFE nor modules.  It's simply too expensive.  Moreover, forget about mine resistance hulls these ships have so little normal shock resistant structure they will not be shocked due to expected damage.  They're not exactly sturdy.  The expense and design compromises required in a 45 knot frigate are not cost effective for most missions- leaving aside the small problem of LCS not actually at this time having either an asw nor surface warfare module and the projected surface warfare module simply being Hellfire missiles.
 
How much for a 500 ton 45 knot patrol boat with a 57mm and Hellfire missiles?  The one we have costs $500 million.  It's a ridiculous notion as is hauling around two helicopters at 45 knots given the expense.
 
The Perry's could do area anti air, anti surface with Harpoon, asw with a hull and towed sonar, could be used as a radar picket, used for convoy escort, etc.  We're replacing a general purpose frigate with a big expensive speed boat.  There's so many things LCS doesn't do the only future choice is sending a DDG.  Moreover, the USN is still left requiring ships for NGS and still requires actual patrol boats.
 

 
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