The LCS buy has been truncated at 32 vessels. It’s even possible that Congress will not fund that many. The current budget markup has reduced the requested LCS buy for 2015 by one. Regardless, the Navy has not yet addressed the impact of the truncated buy on the future roles of the surviving LCS’s and, in particular, the impact on the existing module procurement plan. Presumably, the planned 60 odd modules will be reduced to around 32-35. The next logical question is what mission sets will the reduced modules be? How many ASW? How many ASuW? How many MCM?
At least one of the questions is easily answered. There will be few, if any, ASuW modules purchased. The ASuW module borders on useless. The main weapon of the module will be either the tiny and very short ranged Griffon or the now out of production Hellfire. I can’t see the Navy spending money on a failed module for a truncated class.
The ASW mission is needed but the module is struggling and has reverted to existing, off-the-shelf technology. There’s no need to procure modules that simply duplicate existing capabilities with no improvement. On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with a competent ASW capability that simply duplicates existing technology. The problem is that the hull, itself, is not optimized for ASW and that’s likely to make the LCS a better target than hunter. Still, the Navy may see a need for an ASW LCS.
The MCM mission, on the other hand, is desperately needed. The Navy, entirely through their own fault, has allowed the Avenger class MCM and other MCM assets to literally rot away in anticipation of the LCS taking over the role. Ignoring the self-inflicted origins of the MCM crisis, the Navy must have MCM vessels and, at least in the Navy’s mind, there is no other option than the LCS. ComNavOps knows there are other, better options but that’s a topic for another time. I’m sure the Navy sees a need for at least 24 MCM vessels, if not more – that was baked into the original LCS class and module procurement plan. Thus, at least 24 of the 32 surviving LCS’s will be MCM variants.
At that point, with only 8 additional vessels, does it make sense to even bother with ASW and ASuW modules? The ASuW module certainly makes no sense. A weak case could be made for 8 ASW LCS’s, I suppose. The logical course would be to convert all 32 vessels to MCM. This would greatly simplify logisics, training, and maintenance. Trying to maintain a logistics support system and training pipeline for only 8 ASW modules makes no sense.
Another plausible scenario is that the 32 LCS’s could be split along version lines with the 16 LCS-1 class dedicated to ASW and the 16 LCS-2 class dedicated to MCM. This makes less conceptual sense and leaves the Navy’s MCM capability at a paltry 16 vessels but it may appeal to the Navy if the particular characteristics of the two classes dictate it.
We see, then, that the most reasonable use of the surviving LCS’s is as MCM vessels. Of course, given the Navy’s demonstrated indifference towards mine warfare (truly baffling given the proliferation of mines in the inventories of potential enemies and the historical impact of mines) it is quite likely that the Navy will come up with some other course of action.