Surface Forces: LCS Armed With Smart Army Missile


December 9, 2005: The U.S. Navy is going to equip its new LCS (Littoral Combat Ships) with a U.S. Army artillery system to provide fire support to troops near the coast. The army system is NetFires (or NLOS-LS), which is still in development. This weapon is actually two different missiles, identical in weight and size, but different in how they operate. The main one is PAM (Precision Attack Missile). This is a 178mm diameter missile that weighs 120 pounds, and has a range of 40 kilometers. PAM attacks from above, with a 28 pound warhead. This enables it to kill any tank by hitting the thinner top armor. PAMs are vertically-launched from what looks like a 4x6x4 foot (wide x deep x high) cargo container. Actually, it IS a cargo container. The missiles are shipped from the factory in this sealed container. Each one ton container holds 15 missiles and can be carried on the back of a truck, or a ship. Once you plug a PAM container into the wireless battlefield Internet, the missiles are ready to fire. the fire control officer on the LCS send one or more PAMs against any enemy target that shows up on their screen (usually a larger flat screen.) The battlefield Internet is using aircraft, UAVs, satellites and ground sensors to pick up targets for LCS. When the fire control officer sees a target he wants to kill, a point and click will send the coordinates of the target to a PAM container on board, launch a PAM to the approximate location where the missiles own sensor will pick up the target and home in on it. The sensors will, most of the time, pick up the vehicle as destroyed and adjust the fire control officers screen accordingly.

Recognizing that there will be situations, like where there are a lot of woods or jungles, that will prevent sensors from spotting a lot of targets, there's a second NetFires missile, the LAM (Loitering Attack Missile). Same weight and all of the PAM, except it is actually a mini-cruise missile and can fly around an assigned area for 45 minutes looking for a target. If one is not found, it just crashes. If a target is detected with the built in radar (laser radar, or LADAR, actually) and the built in software recognizes the vehicle as an enemy one, the missile attacks from above. Alas, the LAM warhead isn't large enough to take out most tanks, but anything else would likely be toast.

The first LCS is under construction now, and will join the fleet in 2006. The LCS is fast, able to sprint at speeds as high as 90 kilometers an hour. At that speed, the LCS has a range of 2,700 kilometers. Cruising speed is 36 kilometers an hour, which provides a range of 7,700 kilometers. However, the LCS only carries supplies for 21 days, and fuel for, at most, nine days of cruising. However, the LCS can be replenished at sea.

The LCS features a number of major innovations. For one thing, it is highly automated, and has a crew of less than fifty. The LCS has a large cargo hold that can be quickly fitted with gear to turn it into a mine clearing ship, a fire support ship (with NetFires containers), a submarine hunter, or just about anything (anti-aircraft, commando support, or even command and control.) Each LCS also carries a Black Hawk size helicopter (MH-60), and has a hanger for it. There is also a water level dock for launching USV (Unmanned Surface Vehicles).

There are actually two competing designs, one from General Dynamics (GD), and the other from Lockheed Martin (LockMart). The first LCS being built is the LockMart design, which looks rather conventional. The GD design is a three hull (trimaran) design. The second LCS will be one of the GD design, which will enter service in 2008. Two of each design will be built, with the last of them entering service in 2009. A year or two after that, the navy will decide which design to go with. The LockMart design is the safe one, employing the familiar single hull. But the trimaran design shows much promise, and several smaller test ships have been operating for the past few years. The two GD trimaran LCS ships will be the acid test, competing directly against the LockMart ships.




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