We’ve already looked at the littoral battle zone and found that very concept of littoral is suspect. That being the case, it logically follows that there is nothing necessary or unique about the LCS. With that said, let’s do a change in direction. Let’s say, for sake of further discussion, that there is a need for a littoral combat vessel. Further, let’s say that the requirements are much as the Navy has laid out: shallow water anti-submarine warfare (ASW), mine countermeasures (MCM), small craft surface warfare (ASuW), near shore strike support for ground forces, and special operations support. These were the core functions that the LCS was supposed to fill.
How was the LCS supposed to have accomplished these functions? Two key characteristics were to have been the foundation of the LCS’s capabilities:
- Modular mission packages tailored to a single function.
- Acting as a mothership to a host of remote controlled, off-board sensors, vehicles, and weapons.
There are a couple of key points that go hand in hand with the above two characteristics and that need to be recognized.
First, the mission packages provided a single function because the LCS had neither the size nor the crew to accommodate multiple functions. It’s not that the Navy thought a single function was superior to a multi-function platform; it was simply a ship and crew size limitation. The LCS was too small to handle multiple functions. The Navy probably would have liked to build a bigger ship but one of the main constraints was cost. Remember? This was supposed to be a cheap $200M vessel.
Second, the mothership concept meant that the LCS would normally stand off from the battle zone after deploying the off-board devices. Thus, the LCS did not need to be heavily armed or survivable because it wouldn’t be involved in actual combat. We all criticize the LCS for being non-survivable in a combat zone but, to be fair to the Navy, it was never intended to be in one!
|Austin Class LPD - A Better LCS?|
Clearly, the LCS doesn’t meet the requirements of the ideal vessel. Is there any vessel that is large enough to perform multiple functions, has a large flight deck, has a large well deck, is survivable, and is cheap? Hmmm … Let me think … Wait a minute! It just hit me. What about an amphibious ship (gator)? Specifically, one of the many older gators that are being retired. They are plenty big enough to perform all the functions simultaneously, they have enormous flight decks and hangars, they have entire well decks, they’re built to warfighting survivability standards, and they already exist. We could convert retired/retiring gators to accept mission packages, handle and control remote devices, and launch unmanned vehicles.
Yeah, but one of the main features of the LCS is shallow draft and a gator doesn’t have that. True, but remember that the operational concept of the LCS was that it was a standoff mothership. Standoff means that it doesn’t have to go into extremely shallow water. That was always one of the contradictions inherent in the LCS concept that puzzled me. Besides, what is there in 15 ft of water that is of sufficient interest that would require the LCS to be there? Subs? No, even diesel subs don’t operate in water that shallow. Mines? Yes, but that’s what the off-board unmanned vehicles are for. So, I see no tactical requirement for extreme shallow draft.
OK, but the LCS is designed and shaped to be stealthy. No way a gator is stealthy! Again, true, but remember that the LCS was intended to be a standoff mothership. If the ship is standing off it doesn’t need to be stealthy. Besides, the main point of the stealth requirement was to try and protect a non-survivable vessel. Well, the gator is quite survivable and has sufficient size to accommodate as much protective weaponry as needed.
All right, I’m running out of objections but what about speed? The LCS is blazingly fast and no gator can match that. Correct and irrelevant. The LCS is fast but no one has yet come up with a scenario in which the speed is tactically useful.
Let’s look at the functions that the LCS was supposed to have performed.
ASW was envisioned as being performed by helos and off-board, unmanned sensing vehicles. Well, is there any better platform for hosting helos and launching unmanned vehicles than a gator with its huge flight deck, hangar, and well deck?
MCM, like ASW, was envisioned as being performed by helos and off-board, unmanned sensing and mine neutralization vehicles. Again, is there any better platform for hosting helos and launching unmanned vehicles than a gator?
ASuW was envisioned as a combination of armed helos, onboard guns, and moderate ranged missiles (the now-cancelled NLOS). A gator can host many helos and has the size to accept multiple gun and missile systems.
Strike support for ground forces was going to be limited to the NLOS system. A gator has the size to accept 5” (or, potentially even larger) guns, missiles, and attack helos such as the Sea Cobra. That represents far better support than the original LCS concept.
SOF support was going to be limited by necessity. The LCS could operate RHIBs and one or two helos but had limited size for hosting SOF forces and no room for the extensive command, control, and communications that would, ideally, be needed. A gator has all those things in abundance.
|Well Deck, Flight Deck - What Could Be Better?|
C’mon, Navy. This one’s a no-brainer. Drop the LCS and convert the retired gators!