In his book, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (1), Capt. Hughes discusses the concept of dispersion/massing as applied to surface ships and, particularly, to smaller ships. He notes,
“When dispersion is an important means of defense, small ships and distributed firepower are an important advantage. Much of the modern debate over the size of warships concerns the comparative merits of dispersal in small ships (to complicate enemy targeting) and of concentration of force in large ships (to fight off the enemy). … Today if a commander’s fleet comprises large ships with strong defenses he masses and fights the enemy off. If he has small ships or weak defenses he must disperse. In either case he is buying time to carry out his mission, which is not to steam around waiting to be sunk. If the defense cannot buy time for the offense to perform, then the fleet ought to be somewhere else.”
Hughes brings up two good points in this short paragraph which are highly relevant to the Navy’s LCS. Remember, the LCS was built before a coherent concept of operations was developed (we’ll set aside the lunacy of that sequence, for the moment) and they are now trying to develop one. Let’s see what Capt. Hughes has to offer in the way of guidance for the LCS.
Hughes’ first point is that the purpose of a ship/fleet/Navy is to conduct offensive operations. While a Navy may occasionally be forced into defensive operations (protecting a base or defending sea lanes, for example) they would still, ultimately, be linked to offensive operations - for instance, defending a base from which future offensive operations may be launched. So, offense is the purpose of a Navy. Herein lies the initial problem for the LCS. Currently, it has no offensive capability. The Navy is working to develop modules which will give it some offensive capability but that appears to be a long ways down the road. Nonetheless, let’s assume that the LCS acquires offensive anti-submarine, anti-surface, or land strike (either direct via munitions or indirect via Marine/SOF land forces) capability.
|LCS Operations - Mass or Disperse?|
The small size of the LCS precludes applying a significant strike capability from a single ship. Thus, multiple LCSs will need to mass to apply a significant strike of whatever form. This leads directly to Hughes’ second point concerning the balance between massing and dispersion. Massing creates an efficient target for the enemy. As Hughes points out, if massing creates a defense strong enough to compensate for the easy target the mass makes, then massing is desirable. If not, dispersion is the better tactic.
The LCS was not designed to be able to provide area anti-air defense nor to have a significant anti-surface defense. Thus, massing provides no enhancement in defense. One LCS cannot “cover” another so LCSs derive no defensive benefit from being grouped. This leads to the conclusion that the LCS should operate dispersed to maximize the chance of surviving long enough to carry out offensive operations.
But wait … If the LCS should operate dispersed and no single LCS can generate a significant strike, how then can the LCS be effective? Well, we may well have uncovered a flaw in the LCS concept. However, bear in mind that massing for a strike does not necessarily mean that the massing must occur at the point of origin of the strike. Massing can be at the destination of the strike. In other words, ten ships, each with a single missile, don’t have to be near each other at launch time in order to conduct a massed strike of ten missiles – they can be dispersed and simply time their individual missiles to arrive at the target together to achieve the massed strike. So, it is possible for LCSs to operate dispersed and still provide massed strike, under the right conditions.
The preceding discussion has enormous implications for the development of the LCS. As the Navy attempts to develop a concept of operations for the LCS and continues to develop modules, the concept of physical dispersion for defense and massing for offense should be the guiding light. The LCS needs weapons and offensive capabilities that are capable of destination point massing. This implies a level of range and targeting capability that the LCS not only doesn’t have currently but is not even being discussed, as far as I know. The dispersion aspect also suggests that a certain amount of attrition of individual units will occur which should dictate that the ships be small, cheap, and expendable. Unfortunately, that ship has already sailed. The LCS is neither small nor cheap nor expendable (given its cost). Since the desired characteristics of a dispersed unit are not achievable, additional emphasis should be placed on self-defense, meaning a better anti-air (more CIWS/RAM) and anti-surface (bigger/more guns) fit.
|Griffon - The Right Weapons Development Path?|
If the Navy would think this through, direct the module development along these lines, and consider modifying the core capabilities to increase self-defense, we might be able to someday have a moderately useful LCS. Of course, it’s equally possible that a rational analysis of the above might lead to the conclusion that the LCS was incorrectly designed, can’t be sufficiently modified, and should be terminated. Either approach would be better than the floundering that’s occurring now with the Navy desperately searching for a mission for the LCS. This is why a concept of operations should come before construction, not after!
(1) Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd Ed., Capt. Wayne Hughes, Naval Institute Press, 2000, ISBN-13: 978-1-55750-392-3, p.191