Friday, June 29, 2012

LCS - ASuW Module

Here’s a statement from the Navy, as reported by Defense Aerospace (1), announcing that the LCS surface warfare (ASuW) module has completed a portion of testing.

“The U.S. Navy completed the first stage of developmental testing for the Littoral Combat Ship surface warfare mission package, June 24.

USS Freedom (LCS 1), the first ship of the class, conducted tests and demonstrations of key mission package components, including the MK 46 gun weapon system, 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats and an MH-60R helicopter outfitted with a Hellfire missile simulator and .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns.

"The capabilities included in the surface warfare mission package will project power and presence in key overseas environments," said Rear Adm. James Murdoch, program executive officer Littoral Combat Ships. "An LCS outfitted with these capabilities, teamed with the ship's inherent speed and maneuverability, will provide a capability in a single platform never before available to the U.S. Navy."
ASuW Module?
There are two interesting points in this note.  The first is the greatly scaled back nature of this version of the ASuW module and what it consists of.  A 30 mm gun, a few machine guns and a helo barely constitutes a self-defense package let alone an offensive swarm-busting mission module.  The helo is the most potent element of the package and we’ve already pointed out the limitations of helos in the littoral combat arena.  Did you note the part about the helo being outfitted with a Hellfire simulator?  It wasn’t even a real armed helo.  Also, a RHIB is part of an ASuW package?  Really?  In case someone attacks in a rowboat?  There’s nothing wrong with a RHIB – it’ll come in handy for boarding and whatnot but to call it an ASuW component is overstating it by a wide margin.  Note that this version doesn’t even include the Griffon missile for the anti-small boat role.  This is a very stripped down module.  Anyone arguing that the LCS is wonderful because magic modules are just around the corner isn’t seeing what’s actually being developed.  And remember, this stripped down module isn’t even ready, yet.  It’s just passed the first stage.  I don’t know how many other stages there are.  And, of course, when the stripped down package is finally approved it will still have to be produced.  The point is that even a stripped down ASuW module is years away, yet.

Let’s be fair, though, other weapons can be added in down the road and that is one of the advantages of the LCS.  This stripped down version can be enhanced over time.  Of course, that doesn’t do anything for the LCSs that are currently in service or will be for the next several years. 

The second interesting point is Adm. Murdoch’s statement that this stripped down package “…will provide a capability in a single platform never before available …”.  Really?  No ship in the Navy has ever had a helo, a RHIB and a few machine guns?  Even the Perry class FFGs had more than this.  There’s nothing wrong with positive spin but there comes a point where you cross the line from spin into outright lies and you lose all credibility. 

(1), “LCS Completes First Stage of Surface Warfare Developmental Testing”, Source: US Navy; issued June 28, 2012


  1. I am curious.

    Based on previous comments here, the SH-60 may not offer very much in the littoral - as it would be at risk of attack from MANPADS deployed within a given swarm.

    If this is truly the case, then the ASuW module is a joke.

    Rather than risk deploying the LCS to the Persian Gulf to confront Iranian swarms armed with MRLs and cannons (not to mention ASMs) or to send the LCS to the South China Sea to confront PLAN Houbei FACMs armed with up to 8 ASMs each (not to mention true FFGs like the Type 54, the USN should plan to deploy the LCS to Key West or Texas where it sends ships it never truly wanted or just weren't sexy enough - like the Pagasus FACMs and the MCM Fleet. Then the LCS will be gone within 10 years. Sad but true.

    Oh and BTW...The US Navy nay want to check with the Royal Navy on their experience operating RHIBs in the Persian Gulf. The RN suffered the embarassment of have a RHIB crew seized by the Iranian Revolutionary forces and then having to negotiate for their release.

  2. Yeah, Tom, "joke" is pretty much the gist of my contention about the current LCS modules. You just summarized it much more succinctly than I have. Until the ASuW module gets a 10 nm range small, cheap missile (Hellfire-ish) suitable for anti-small boat work, the ASuW module will remain a joke.

    Your point about not risking the LCS on deployment ... You'll note that no LCS has been sent on a real deployment yet. The upcoming Singapore deployment will be nothing but a PR stunt.

    Regarding the RHIB that was seized, if you'll recall, the US had an airplane forced down by the Chinese and seized a few years back. RHIBs, and planes for that matter, should not operate unsupported and force should be used to prevent attempts at seizure.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  3. I agree with you completely. Sorry, I was feeling a bit down on the LCS.

    A larger gun - perhaps a 3" Oto Melara Super Rapid or (one can wish) a 5" gun, 2 30MM RWS systems are minimal requirements for the LCS.

    Here is a thought: Perhaps using the spaces intended for the original short range ASMs to introduce a VLS capable of being (perhaps) "Quad Pack'ed" with modified Sea Sparrow-sized short range ASM.

    Combine this with Unmanned Rotary a/c with additional sensors and possibly their own guided 2.75 rockets {APKWS or DAGGER}and longer-ranged ASMs (Sea Skua, Peguin or even an air-launched version of the above mentioned ASM version of the Sea Sparrow).

    Keep in mind during the fighting in the Persian Gulf in the late 1980's, one of the USN vessels actually fired a Standard missile at an Iranian warship intentionally.

    As a result - and I AM keeping in mind the warhead on the Sea Sparrow is not large (actually listed as Annular blast fragmentation warhead, 90 pounds), the target vessel in a swarm is going to be generally smaller in size. 90lbs of HE should disable the craft or enable re-engagement by another weapon system.

    The key limitation with the use of a modified ESSM system is the need to illuminate the target all the way to impact but I wonder if a AMRAAM style guidance package could be 'shoe-horned' into the ESSM seeker head. Just a thought.

    The point here is (perhaps) simply being creative in leveraging existing systems and enhancing or altering their intended uses to meet a new or evolving threat.

    Just some thoughts to keep people thinking about what is possible with the LCS.

  4. So after 10+ years of development -- we end up with less firepower than a modern corvette?

    By the time the modules catches up with what was originally projected in the LCS concept, the seaframes will be nearing the end of their service lives.

  5. My hope is that the Navy will come to their senses when the current run of 24 seaframes is complete and stop this disaster of a program.

  6. But could the basic LCS frame evolve - while deleting the speed requirement - to increase their organic capabilities? For example, could the International LCS versions offered by each manufacturer be the basis for an evolved version of the LCS?

    From Tom

  7. Hi Tom! Could the basic LCS evolve? Yes and No. Yes, certainly, the basic hull could be gutted and other equipment installed. The manufacturer is suggesting exactly this approach in its foreign market version. But, and this is the big but, the basic hull construction appears to be flawed. The LCS is designed to Level 1 (or less) survivability which is the same as non-combatants. This is due to a variety of things such as lack of compartmentation which are inherent in the basic seaframe design. Of course, one could literally gut the entire hull, leaving nothing but the external shell, and totally rebuild the ship from the keel up but at that point you're building a brand new ship and, if that's the case, I would think it would be far more preferable to actually design and build a new ship without being constrained by the existing hull. There's a reason why the foreign versions, for all their extra weapons, have attracted no serious interest - the basic seaframe is flawed. So many people want to simply add more weapons without realizing that the ship design is flawed far beyond the number of weapons that it does or does not have. So, there's your yes and no answer. Did that help?

  8. Just a quick follow up... The Level 1 (or less) survivability is essentially saying that the ship is designed to sink in the event of damage. Designed to sink! Think about it. That's never before been an attribute of a US Navy warship.

  9. This ship is intended to work like a fast-ferry bringing smaller unmanned vehicles to a combat area, deploying them quickly and then exiting just as fast as it arrived. Also using its helicopter for missions such as anti-submarine or even surface vessels.

    Its biggest problem would be an unexpected attack from a missile or an aircraft. In my mind it needs more passive as well as active defenses from a surprise air threats. Same for small vessels that might slip unnoticed.

    But other than that it seems like it will be likely able to perform those functions well as long as the unmanned vehicles are eventually developed as advertised.

    For surface combat I would imagine the helicopters would be its main weapon. Same for ASW. Why not?

    It is unfair to compare it to patrol boats, corvettes or any other vessel designed to operate close to home ports on their own littoral waters. This one is designed to operate far away from its home port on someone else's littoral waters.

    Criticism of its main gun is somewhat unfair too since in almost all instances it will be facing smaller patrol boats and the gun is adequate for that. I can't imagine using this vessel for fire support... it would be too risky.

    1. Anon, your understanding of both the concept and the execution of that concept is significantly out of date. The original concept Powerpoint slides did, indeed, call for the LCS as a mothership for a horde of off-board, remote sensors and weapons. That failed totally. The current concept is quite different. The MCM concept failed miserably and is being reworked but the limited range and endurance of the remote vehicles requires the LCS to remain nearby. The ASW module was abandoned and the Navy is now trying to adapt an on-board ASW capability rather than off-board and remote. The ASuW module is, essentially, non-existent.

      The LCS aviation capabilities are very limited. While the flight deck is large, it is structurally weak and is only rated for a single Seahawk type helo - a helo which has been found to be unable to conduct the desired MCM functions. A single helo for ASuW is a non-starter. Given that a small boat attack will likely occur with little or no warning and that the LCS has only a single helo (if you have one helo, you have none - maintenance truism) the odds on having a properly armed (the ASW helo can't conduct ASuW) helo up and in the right area are non-existent.

      I can go on but, instead, I'll suggest that you read and absorb the information in the many blog posts and comments that deal with the LCS.

      You do make a good point about comparing the LCS to other country's patrol boats operating in their home waters. Unfortunately, even that observation reveals a weakness in the LCS concept. For a vessel intended to operate far from home ports, it has no inherent support or self-maintenance capability and no mothership.

      Thanks for stopping by and enjoy the other posts!