The current issue of the Proceedings has an article about the origins of the LCS (1). The article is nothing less than fascinating and incredibly damning for the Navy. I urge you to find a copy of the magazine and read the article in its entirety.
The author claims that the LCS concept was conceived as a result of a series of war games in the mid-1990s and that he was involved in, and conducted, the games and has intimate knowledge of the results as they pertain to the LCS. I have no way of verifying these claims but neither do I have any reason to doubt them. I also have no idea what agenda, if any, the author is pursuing. I say this because there must be other, contrary viewpoints and perspectives about the early development of the LCS. If not, it paints a picture of a Navy that is stupid beyond belief. With that said, I'll take the article at face value and will comment accordingly.
|A Good Concept Gone Bad?|
- A mine hunter/eliminator ship was needed that could operate in a moderate threat environment and protect itself while conducting mine countermeasures (MCM).
- LCS was envisioned as a multi-role vessel capable of surviving in a low to moderate threat environment on its own and in a high threat environment when operating under the Aegis umbrella.
- Speed was seen as desirable but not at the expense of a comprehensive combat suite.
- Helos were recognized as important and possibly constituted the main battery of the ship.
- Gun armament was needed in the 57 mm – 76 mm range along with a medium range (unspecified) air defense missile and medium range (again, unspecified) anti-ship missile.
- The LCS was seen as providing a counter-battery fire capability, particularly as regards shore launched anti-ship missiles. The ability to destroy the shore based launching platform before it could reload/refire or move was seen as a primary function.
- The modular concept was considered but recognized to have severe problems that would preclude successful implementation. Specifically, the infrastructure required to support modularity was seen as complex, expensive, and highly susceptible to enemy attack (in war games, attacks occurred at, or prior to, the outbreak of hostilities). Module swap times were optimistically estimated at a few days (we now see that the required change-out time is on the order of a few weeks) but even this was seen as unacceptable to the local commanders. In addition, single purpose, modularized ships were found to have no efficient mix of capabilities that would satisfy the ever changing, and rapidly changing, mission requirements.
- It was noted that the LCS would have to operate in pairs in a high threat environment, even though under the Aegis umbrella.
- Aluminum should not be used in construction.
- Crew size should not be reduced to the point that maintenance, watchstanding, damage control, and other functions would be compromised.
The article summarizes the LCS preferences derived from the war games with the following statement.
“The operational commander preferred a single, multi-warfare-capable LCS, smaller than a modern destroyer or frigate, that had ASW, surface-warfare, and counterbattery capabilities as well as a forceful self-defense capability that made it reasonably survivable in moderate to high threat situations. The area in which a highly specialized LCS seemed most justifiable was in mine countermeasures …”
I’m most struck by the concept of a littoral vessel providing suppression and counterbattery fire against shore based anti-ship missiles. What a useful capability that would be in the Mid East!
The above descriptions of the conceptually desirable LCS have little in common with the vessel that actually was built. The concept’s multi-function, survivable, shore-dueling, expendable ship would have made for a very effective and useful platform. Instead, the Navy built a single purpose, non-survivable, minimally manned, underarmed vessel that, currently, has been deemed by the Navy’s Perez report to be unable to fulfill any of its core missions.
How did the Navy move from a pretty good concept to the useless vessel it now has? Who made the decision(s) to ignore the conclusions of the war games? Unfortunately, the article does not discuss that portion of the LCS program history. I’d love to know how the program veered so far off course and what the thought process was along the way.
(1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Birth of the Littoral Combat Ship”, Captain Robert Powers (Ret), Sep 2012, p.42