US Navy’s LCS Class Latest Procurement Casualty

2 November 2007

On November 1, 2007, the Navy announced that it had canceled the fourth Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), one of what was to have been a 55-ship class of new, “brown water” surface combatants for littoral warfare (i.e. support of troops ashore).

As noted previously here in The Nav Log, the Navy has been struggling with reshaping itself to the challenges of coastal warfare after the end of the Cold War and the scrapping of the former-Soviet Union’s vast blue water navy. Since the beginning of the year the Navy has halved its orders for the small, next-generation ships; Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics now are building one LCS sea frame each, based on separate designs. Originally the contractors were to build two apiece for $233M each but cost overruns approaching 75% scrapped the 3rd and have now scuttled the 4th. In fact, the Navy noted cost overruns on LCS-2, now under construction by General Dynamics in Mobile, AL, as the main reason for the cancellation of the second General Dynamics ship, LCS-4. The Navy terminated the contract for Lockheed Martin’s second sea frame, LCS 3, in June.

Against this backdrop the Navy nonetheless claims that LCS “continues to be a critical war-fighting requirement for our Navy to maintain dominance in the littorals and strategic choke points around the world.”

LCS-1 USS Freedom and LCS-2 USS Independence are due to be delivered to the Navy next year. However, because of the uncontrolled cost over-runs, Congress has ordered the Navy to create a new acquisition strategy. This summer the House cut $571 million from the program for 2008. Instead of four new ships as first planned, money and materiel from previous years will be used to build a single LCS.

The LCS is envisioned as a small, swift (55 knot) surface combatant capable of performing a number of missions, including minesweeping, anti-submarine warfare, special operations support, and ISR. The design is to accommodate different mission modules allowing the ships to be quickly reconfigured for each extended mission. Among the ships to have been replaced were the larger and tougher FFG-7 Perry-class frigates which were neutered by the Navy several years ago (in a cost-saving measure) with the removal of their SM-1 missile systems, rendering them basically useless for 21st century warfare purposes. The LCS is sort of a “destroyer lite,” minimally equipped with a 57mm gun, point-defense systems like the Rolling Airframe Missile and the Phalanx Close-in-Weapon System. LCS would also launch and recover a variety of unmanned vehicles now under development and would me manned by a radically smaller crew than existing destroyers.

LCS was to be part of the Surface Combatant "Family of Ships" in addition to the DDG-1000 (formerly Zumwalt-class) next-generation destroyer and the CG(X) next generation cruiser. DDG-1000 was already in trouble with estimated costs exploding to as much as $4 billion per hull while their new technology (turbo-electric drive, rail guns, networked computerized control of most functions) has not yet been demonstrated to work. In a hazy way the Navy has described DDG-1000 and CGX to fulfill not yet identified deep water combat responsibilities.

This is, of course, not the entire fault of the Navy. Government procurement rules require such a long-range schedule from concept to design to building to delivery to the fleet that as much as thirteen years passes before the first hull hits the fleet. During that period, of course, threats may change radically as may funding. On the contractor end, builders complain that the Navy keeps making so many design changes while the ships are being built that they have little chance of delivering on spec on budget on time. There is truth to both these points of view. Further, the nature of asymmetric warfare against religious lunatics without borders and against the ever-changing array of Third World anti-American dictators who play “whack-a-mole” with the U.S. make such long-range planning very difficult. Then, too, there is the fact that the flag officers running the U.S. military today grew-up in the Cold War military and are unavoidably prejudiced towards what worked in the past.

The Navy wanted 55 LCSs. Current problems and events suggest that less than half that number will be built. Over on the air side, the P-8A replacement for the Navy’s P-3C – first planned for 156 and now for 108 – may, when the dust settles (in this reporter’s opinion), number from as many as 60 down to as few as 30. The 50 Broad Area Maritime Surveillance dedicated Navy UCAVs that were to augment the P-8 will almost certainly be a variant of another UAV instead of a dedicated design, and will number perhaps 20 if dedicated BAMS. The quickly advancing remote UCAV technology makes it easier to simply reprogram an existing UAV to other missions. (For its part, the U.S. Air Force is struggling with obtaining enough C-17 and C-5 logistics aircraft while fighting the Army for funding.) While the missions of the P-8 are better understood than what is planned for the LCS, money and politics will again play the trump card.

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