Surface Forces: February 20, 2004

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The U.S. Navy plans to order the first LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) next year. The design is still not set, with three firms (Lockheed-Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon) all preparing designs for consideration. Basically, the LCS is a frigate (2,000 tons or so displacement) optimized for work close to shore. The specification gives design objectives, which include 10 foot draft (for shallow water work), top speed of 80 kilometers an hour, ability to travel 2,700 kilometers at top speed (using onboard fuel), or 7,700 kilometers at cruising speed of 36 kilometers an hour. Also desired is space on board for 21 days of provisions and a core crew (just to run the ship) of 15 sailors (with accommodations for 60 more people to run weapons and special equipment.)

The original specification also called for the capability to handle one helicopter, but this has now been changed to two UAV (unmanned aerial vehicles.) The UAVs will probably be helicopter types, not fixed wing. There have been some successful helicopter UAVs, but they are more expensive than fixed wing UAVs and really only make sense for shipboard use. Another navy proposal is for as many as ten "UXVs." That is; UAVs, USVs (unmanned surface vehicles) and UUVs (unmanned underwater vehicles.) All three types of remotely controlled vehicles have been built and used. The navy apparently wants to take advantage of the fact that the technology for this sort of thing has matured to the point where you could have one ship using a lot of these vehicles. 

The LCS will currently have a maximum crew of about 75 sailors, many of whom will be joystick jockeys for running all the UXVs. This fits in with the navys plans for 21st century ships possessing the ability to obtain "information dominance" in the combat zone. With all these UXVs prowling about, this seems like a likely outcome. Needless to say, the LCS will be the first 21st century ship design for the navy. This is ironic, because a century ago, the modern "destroyer" was developed as the 20th century dawned. Destroyers have since evolved into very large and expensive warships. So there's a need for a new "little guy" to do all the dirty work. Looks like the LCS is it.

 


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