Setting aside the question of whether the LCS is a worthwhile program or not, the value of the LCS, as designed, was the ability to swap mission modules. This flexibility at a tactical level would be the core of the LCS’ strength according to the Navy’s vision. Well, it’s time for an assessment of the state of module implementation.
As a frame of reference, 24 LCSs have been procured or scheduled through FY2015. That’s nearly half of the total anticipated build of 55 ships. Therefore, it would be reasonable to expect that module development should be mature and production modules should be plentiful relative to the number of hulls in the water by FY2015. If this were not the case, the LCS’s main design feature, tactical flexibility via swappable modules, would be nullified.
As of Mar-2012, the two MCM modules, 2 ASuW modules, and 1 ASW module have been delivered (1). Note that these modules are partial, developmental modules intended for testing and evaluation.
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ASW Module – LCS was originally designed to be a mothership to an array of off-board sensors carried by various unmanned air, surface, and subsurface vehicles. Thus, the LCS would deploy its sensors and then stand off from the danger area. There is nothing inherently wrong with this concept other than the fact that none of the anticipated unmanned vehicles and sensors have panned out. From the GAO report (2),
“In 2008, the Navy took delivery of one partially capable ASW module at a cost of over $200 million, but subsequently cancelled plans to continue procuring the module and is redesigning it. According to program officials, the new design includes a variable-depth sonar and towed array, unmanned aerial vehicle, helicopter, and torpedo countermeasure.”
So, the original ASW module, termed Increment 1 by the Navy, failed completely and the LCS is now moving towards on-board sensors and weapons in a module termed Increment 2. This approach now dictates that the LCS operate in physical proximity to enemy submarines. Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with this approach other than the fact that the LCS was not designed to stand into combat and is not considered combat survivable by the Navy. Also, this now gets away from the original LCS design concept and makes the LCS a traditional frigate.
I know, you’re asking yourself why we’re retiring the Perry class frigates which already exist and already have towed arrays, torpedo countermeasures, helos, Fire Scout UAVs, and anti-submarine torpedos? Good question!
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In summary, none of the modules exist in finished form and the closest, probably the ASuW, is still four or five years down the road. The MCM and ASW modules are probably looking at 2017 to 2020 for IOC of any useful version, at best. Even when the modules become available, the limited numbers almost totally negate the LCS concept.
(1) Congressional Research Services (CRS), Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs,
(2) Government Accountability Office: Defense Acquisitions[:] Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs, GAO-12-400SP, March 2012, p. 110
(3) CRS, p. 2