Sunday, February 16, 2014

Why Is The Navy Still Building The LCS?

The recent back and forth about whether the Navy’s 52 ship buy of the LCS will be terminated early raises the question, why is the Navy so determined to keep building the LCS?

By now, even the most ardent and blind supporter of the LCS acknowledges that the LCS did not turn out the way it was hoped.  The magic modules never panned out and even a bare minimum module is still years away.  The ship is acknowledged by the Navy to require the protection of an Aegis ship to have any hope of survival in a combat zone.  The vessel has no credible offensive capability, little defensive capability, and is not survivable in the event of a hit.  I won’t go on with a litany of problems because they’re well known and that’s not the point of this post.

The question is, against the backdrop of all that evidence of a failed program, if not concept, why is the Navy still adamant about continuing to build these failures?  Common sense would suggest that the Navy would use the recent “termination” memo as cover, acquiesce grudgingly (to demonstrate that they were right all along but are being forced into termination by circumstances outside their control – a PR move to save face), and eagerly move forward with the next generation of “new and improved” LCS utilizing the lessons learned.  And yet, they’re not.  Is this just stupidity on an almost unimaginable scale?  Is it hubris beyond belief?  Is it incompetence of monumental proportions?

Or, is it something else?

I have no inside information so what follows is pure speculation. 

I think the answer to the previous questions is, yes, to all.  Navy leadership is stupid, arrogant, and incompetent.  However, I think under that layer is an actual perceived need for the LCS in two of its roles:  MCM and ASW.  I think the Navy recognizes that the ASuW role is pointless barring the development of some seriously improved weaponry.

ASW, on the other hand, is an existing weakness.  The LCS could be a competent, though not great, ASW platform with suitable modifications.  We’ve talked about some of the needs to be successful in this role:  a short-tailed array, variable depth sonar, on-board torpedo launcher, ASROC, rapid response depth charge (Hedgehog-ish type or Russian RBU), dipping sonar, etc.  The ship has some shortcomings that either can’t be overcome or would require extensive redesign:  inability to carry hull-mounted sonar due to self-noise and lack of quieting being the main culprits.  Still, the ship could be a competent ASW platform and the equipment required to achieve that level of performance are the least risky of the various pieces of equipment being developed for any of the modules.

MCM is an even more pressing need and here lies, probably, the main rationale for continued production.  The Navy bet all-in on the LCS as the MCM platform of the future, allowing the existing MCM ships to degrade and retire.  The only other option at this point is to start over on a new MCM platform.  On the plus side, the LCS is fairly well suited for MCM, assuming the various off-board, remote vehicles eventually pan out.  The ship itself is fairly well designed to launch and recover vehicles although the actual launch/recovery equipment seems to have been designed as a pre-school class project.  That, however, is a fairly easy fix.  The LCS also offers the possibility of being able to provide at least a small amount of self-defense during the MCM activity which is a key requirement.  MCM work is going to take place in contested waters and a minimum level of self-defense will come in very handy. 

I think even the Navy realizes that all the other lofty claims for the LCS are dead but the MCM, and to a lesser degree, the ASW versions offer a valid, if less than optimal, use for the LCS.  Of course, if this is the case, we should see an accompanying shift in the planned module procurement quantities to emphasize the MCM and ASW modules and eliminate or de-emphasize the ASuW.  Further, it would make more sense to stop building the LCS as modular and shift to dedicated vessels with a single function, either the MCM or ASW, and allow the ships to be optimized to the degree possible.

Also troubling is the realization that, regardless of the rationale, the LCS is someday going to make up a third of the combat fleet if the full 52 vessel buy is pursued to completion.  When a third of the battle fleet is MCM and ASW vessels, you’ve got a problem. 

As I said, the preceding was pure (though quite logical) speculation on my part.  At least this line of thought offers some valid rationale for the Navy’s continued pursuit of the LCS.  Is this what the Navy is actually thinking?  I don’t know but the alternative is incompetence beyond belief.


  1. I think the best way to salvage the LCS is cut them to 24 and split them between the MCM and PC fleet. That means LCS-1 goes to the PC fleet as their Corvette and LCS-2 goes to MCM as their Mine countermeasure support ship. I would make them both capable of supporting a special forces team with all their gear and support equipment. I would even make them capable of supporting a Marine platoon on Anti Piracy operations and assisting special operations.

    As for LCS-1, I would convert them to a conventional Corvette and instead of Modules, I would arm them in a similar fashion to the Sa'ar 5-class corvette, Braunschweig-class corvette, MILGEM project and the Victory-class corvette. They would be similar to what is sailed around Asia and Europe. They would have the capability to support Special operations. I would upgrade the gun to a OTO Melara 76 mm with Super Rapido with Strales System and DART ammunition.

    As for LCS-2, I would buy the STANFLEX system from the Royal Danish Navy and have them Installed on LCS-2. I would convert them in a pure MCM ship for the Mine countermeasure force. They would also be a support platform for special forces and a marine platoon on anti Piracy operations.

    The worse case option is what Chuck hill has talked about, is the US Coast Guard Taking LCS-1 as their Off shore patrol cutter. Here's the link

  2. “When a third of the battle fleet is MCM and ASW vessels, you’ve got a problem."

    Quite the opposite is true. A battle force which consists of one-third “low-end” ASW escorts appears to be an absolute minimum for the US Navy. At least if we expect to fight a war at sea:

    US NAVY IN LATE COLD WAR (1979-92)

    During this timeframe, the Navy maintained an “average” battle line of 2 BBs, 34 CGs, 71 DDGs and 93 FFGs. That works out to about 46% frigates. The battle fleet composition fluctuated quite a bit, but the percentage of FFGs never dropped below 34%... and in certain years was over 50%.

    US NAVY IN POST-COLD WAR (1993-99)

    During this timeframe, the Navy maintained an “average” battle line of 33 CGs, 47 DDGs and 45 FFGs. That works out to about 36% frigates.

    600-SHIP NAVY

    The 600-ship Navy had an objective of 241 surface combatants (BBs, CGs, DDGs and FFGs). 101 of those 241 ships would’ve been FFGs. That works out to about 40% frigates.


    I think LCS will make a good replacement for the FFG in ASW role. The Variable Depth Sonar and Multi-Function Towed Array are apparently pretty good sensors. MH-60R is a very capable pouncer – and already has a dipping sonar by the way.

    But the real ‘selling point’ for LCS isn’t capability. It is cost and numbers. History shows we will need large numbers of ASW escorts. And we’ll need them from day one of the fight. LCS isn’t perfect, but I just don’t see a viable means to get ASW escort numbers up and keep them up without this ship.

    Assuming we ultimately procure 30-40 LCS seaframes, I’d equip six as dedicated MIW and the remainder as ASW patrol escorts. I’d forgo further investments in LCS-SUW altogether. There are plenty of smarter ways to kill small-boats than with a surface ship.

    Please note that I don't think LCS is the ultimate answer. In the long-term, a replacement frigate (FFX) is what we need. We should start the analysis now. But even if we started design today, it wouldn’t hit the fleet until around 2030.

    I also think there are larger ‘systemic’ issues that need to be addressed in the ASW portfolio which are probably more important than LCS. Like fixing the lightweight torpedo and figuring out what system (or system-of-systems) will replace the MH-60R.


  3. Fully agree. Now ask why are they still building F-35 too?

    1. Anon, your question is excellent but, I apologize, I can't offer an answer. There are too many non-naval aspects to the issue that I'm not well enough informed about. Political issues, jobs, Air Force requirements, foreign relations, etc. all impact the answer and they're largely outside my area. Sorry. Maybe you have a thought on it that you'd care to share?

  4. What do they have in the development pipeline to replace them?

    And considering how long it now takes to get any military procurement program to delivery date they probably won’t have anything in the next few years.

    And of course they first have to figure out what the new plan will be.

    As has been pointed out here, there is not deep well of ship design in the USN anymore, no class after class of improved ships building on each other. They have the Burkes which everyone knows is too big and expensive for many duties, they have DDG1000 which is even bigger. They might buy a foreign designs but they will have to convert it over to US standards and parts and that will take time. But first they will have to declare the old plan is dead, and determine the new plan and get that past the Administration and Congress