Going, going… Littoral Combat Ship US Navy’s latest casualty

© gps333@charter.net

13 May 2010

When it was first conceived, the LCS was to be a 55-ship fleet of totally new warships. On paper it was very fast, could be crewed by just 40 officers and men, would employ revolutionary new propulsion using far less oil than the Navy’s other ships, and would be able to embark Marines, special warfare operatives, and a number of Star Trek-like robots for everything from anti-submarine warfare to mine warfare to ballistic missile defense. That plan is now likely dead and the Navy is scrambling to come up with another to meet the needs of today’s asymmetric warfare needs.

As noted repeatedly over the years on this site, the LCS was proven the old warning: “Decide in haste, repent at leisure.”

In the never-ending battle to cut costs, each ship was built on one of two different designs under the plan to accept one or the other for the 55-ship build-out. Since original bids were let in 2004, just two LCS ships have been commissioned. Conceived as a $200M-per-copy go-fast ship, the costs have more than tripled in the two ships now in commission: USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Independence (LCS-2). LCS-3 and LCS-4 are now in doubt. This blog is certain the class is already doomed to just several hulls for a number of reasons:

1. Manning. LCS was envisioned as a hi-tech vessel with such advanced automation that it would carry just 40 officers and men. Each ship would have a blue crew and a gold crew, a la the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines. The ship would be on station except for yard repairs and such and the crews would be rotated onsta. However, the data is now in from the initial cruises, and it is not good. The schedule and complexity of shipboard duties have resulted in exhausted crews that have performed below expectations and perhaps below battle readiness standards.

2. Modules. LCS was designed to carry one of three pre-fab modules for whatever duty was required at that time. They include ASW, Mine Warfare, Special Ops, and ballistic missile defense. Unfortunately, none of the modules are ready nor are they likely to be any time soon. They depend largely on unmanned vehicles, none of which have yet been fielded nor are likely to be at any foreseeable time (similarly, the Navy’s new electromagnetic launch system to be used by the newest aircraft carriers is way behind schedule). As for BMD, the Army’s dumping of its new short range missile leaves LCS with no surface-to-surface or surface-to-air capability.

3. Hulls. One hull type is to be chosen in the future. That decision has not been made yet, either.

4. New Systems. As noted above, the LCS is to embark mission modules that have not been made to work yet. In addition, a new propulsion system and electrical system have continued to be plagued by problems. The LCS is such a departure from legacy Navy ships that it requires its own, unique support system of ship yards and docks. There is no money for either under President Obama’s clear dislike of the US military ("For better or worse, America is still the world's super power.") Worse yet, with the infantry doing almost all of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the outlook more of the same, there is little public or congressional support for any Navy program.

Whether or not the Navy chooses its LCS hull this year, the idea of a 55-ship LCS build-out is dead, even as the Navy denies it. The US Navy is the original get-it-done organization and has performed brilliantly for more than two centuries. But in today's climate -- who knows? It has been reported elsewhere that the Perry-class FF might be thrown into the LCS hole, but since the Navy has removed their SAM-launchers (to save money), it is unclear how they would be able to do the job, especially in BMD. How the Navy chooses to face this is still unknown. But it is clear that it is being treated as a shabby relative by the party now in power.