Monday, May 26, 2014

The Future of the Surviving LCS's

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.

22 comments:

  1. That's why I believe the LCS will split between the PC and MCM fleet, where LCS-1 will stay in the PC fleet supporting special operations and coastal patrol while LCS-2 will go with the MCM fleet supporting Amphibious Assault operations. The LCS will never sail with the Big Navy unless their is a Multi Role Frigate or a Burke protecting them.

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    1. Do you believe that a maximum of 16 LCS-2 configured as MCM is sufficient MCM assets or do you think that the Navy needs more MCM assets. If more, where will they come from and what form will they take?

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    2. I would think the 32 LCS were getting is enough to be split evenly between the MCM and PC fleet. Though if we need to make it even, I would CAP the LCS at 40 to evenly split into 20 to the PC fleet supporting special operations and 20 into the MCM and supporting Amphibious operations. That way you have 20 LSC-1 going to the PC fleet supporting Special operations command. While the other 20 LCS-2 would go straight into the MCM fleet with a supporting role in Amphibious operations for Marine Force Recon units and Marine landing teams.

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  2. Here's a question for you, what would you think if the US Navy replaced the LCS with a Multi Role Frigate such as the South African Navy's Valour Class frigate. If you look at the Valour class frigate, some if it's roles and Missions are something the US Navy has been looking for in the LCS. Here's the Specs on the Valour class Frigate http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valour-class_frigate
    Even the Builder Blohm+Voss has specs on the A-200 as well. https://www.thyssenkrupp-marinesystems.com/en/blohmvoss-mekor-a-200-class-frigate.html

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    1. I'm not intimately familiar with the MEKO family but on paper the A-200 appears like a capable frigate. The real question, of course, is what role, if any, a frigate can play in the USN. For instance, I see a much greater need for dedicated MCM and ASW vessels than I do for a frigate.

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    2. If you look at some of the Roles and Missions that the Valour class Frigate dose such as Routine tasks will include;
      Regular patrols for the protection of marine resources against poaching and pollution in the country's Economic Exclusion Zone
      Law enforcement at sea with respect to piracy and the smuggling of drugs, weapons and other contraband

      Peace and civil support missions could include;
      Search and rescue (SAR) missions as far south as the Prince Edward island group
      Evacuating of civilians from coastal areas in times of emergency or crisis
      Providing gunfire and other support for land forces, as well as the transport of limited equipment and personnel in support of land action, especially during peacekeeping missions.

      Typical wartime duties could include;
      Patrols
      Defensive sea surveillance
      Combat Search and Rescue
      Special operations
      Mine-laying and other sea-denial missions

      Those Missions can be done with a Multi Role frigate. Even for the US Navy, escort of Merchant Marine fleet, Naval Fleet Auxiliary force and even Escort/Protection of the Marine Amphibious assault force. Even Presence and showing the flag can be suited for a Frigate as well.

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    3. Nicky, you're listing typical frigate roles and tasks. When I look at the Navy's needs, a frigate isn't anywhere near the top of the list. Off the top of my head, the Navy desperately needs

      -dedicated MCM vessels
      -a small dedicated ASW vessel
      -offensive mine deliver platforms
      -a carrier tanker
      -a fixed wing ASW aircraft
      -a long range air superiority fighter
      -larger air wings
      -an intermediate range ballistic missile for land and surface attack
      -a Harpoon replacement

      So, a frigate is not a top ten need - maybe not even a top twenty or thirty need. Frigates would be nice to have, for sure, but only after the rest of the items have been obtained.

      Do you see a USN frigate as a pressing need compared to other needs?

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    4. You know I think you might?
      What have you got that is “cheap and expendable” do you really have anything you can stick in harm’s way?
      A Burke is a very expensive and critical asset to be sending sub hunting?
      I’m not sure you have any escorts (you know for escorting), no picket ships.
      Something you can send to support low intensity operations on all front and hence keep your ever decreasing critical assets for best.
      And I think the entire US knows you’re down on numbers.

      I think you did a piece a while back on “jack of all trades master of non” you could literally pull the ASW kit of Burkes and provide them to a ASW frigate.
      8 Harpoon
      ESSM
      1 Phalanx
      Basic Area Defence, and pump them off by the truck load.

      I know it’s a bit 2 tier navy. But it will be the “exciting” part of the fleet to be serving in!
      Or not ?

      i guess it fits the small dedicated ASW hole ?
      LCS should proberbly all convert to MCM ( with a secondary patrol role )
      then thats your top two filled :)

      Beno

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  3. Some times.....

    CNO, did you read what DefSec Hagel's ordered the Navy to do with the LCS, Not what you wanted he to say, but media tell us he ordered.

    1) increase LCS offensive power.

    2) increase the survivability of the LCS

    3) limit purchases of the Current LCS to 32 units.

    4) provide an ALTERNAVIVE study for future LCS or an suitable replacement.

    Item one means he ordering the Navy to increase the anti surface firepower. not do way with it. Hopeful this will mean the Navy will get on the ball and buy some sort of long range AShM that can be mounted on the LCS. This should not be hard as there a many foreign designs available off the shelf.

    Item two does not mean turn the LCS into a micro-BURKE or some sort of armored battleship. Yes adding more Kevlar would be nice, but it not the main need. What the Navy need is to first improve LCS's ECM system and next improve their SSDS. As I sais before this is not only needed by the LCS class, but by all USN combat support ships which will be exposed to enemy fire.

    Item three and four while hopefully put the LCS program back on it the rail. The Flight 0 design was originally not intended to be the only LCS design built, they were intended as a starting point for further development. Other designs would also be evaluated, as the program needed and requirement were better defined. As usually it seem, the bean counters have tried to save a few buck by skipping the latter part of process.

    And remember that for most of the missions the LCS is intended to preform, a standard naval frigate is either expensive over kill or useless.

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    1. GLof, I think your'e making an overall point but I'm missing it. Try again?

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    2. In your article you wrote:

      "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."

      Basically your argument boils down to that because there is no effective anti-ship missile available, there will be few ASiW modules purchased. But I note there are such missiles available if the USN would buy them. And that now Sec. Hagel has ordered the Navy to increase the offensive firepower of the LCS, which will require the USN to add AShM to them, therefore the navy will be forced to by those AsHM missiles.

      My comment about item 2) is intended for those who believe that only a frigate will meet the protection requirements stated by Sec. Hagel. Clearly, the lack of frigates proposed to the SSC shows that this was not true.

      And in your article you repeated the belief there will be only 32 LCS total, That not what the Sec Hagel said, he only a limit on the current two designs. I expect that Sec. Hagal intended to use the funds freed by this limit to order the "alternative" he expects the USN to find.

      I hope these better explain what I was writing about in my reply.

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    3. GLof, OK, now I understand your points! Thanks.

      As far as the ASuW module, I'm not saying they won't be purchased because there are no effective missiles available, I'm saying they won't be purchased because the Navy has not incorporated any effective missile into them. Why they have opted not to expand their search for a missile a bit, I don't know. The module was also supposed to have a land attack capability and that requirement appears to have been abandoned.

      You are quite correct that a frigate is not the only answer to Hagel's directive. I've stated in previous posts that I'm quite certain that the LCS will be the new "frigate" to come out of this selection process. Unfortunately, without massive redesign, it will be the same badly flawed design but with a few more weapons.

      As I recall, you're an LCS supporter, at least to some degree. Setting aside the module issues, the LCS has serious structural problems (weakly built hull frames and plating, low rated flight decks, lack of compartmentation, inherently poor survivability characteristics, use of aluminum, excessive vibration, cracking due to the structural weakness, lack of shock hardening, excessive self-noise, poor weight margins, very poor stability, etc.). With these in mind, do you see an up-weaponed LCS as a viable and desirable small combatant to meet Hagel's directive? If so, how would you suggest the structural weaknesses be addressed?

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    4. Yes, I support the LCS PROGRAM, I look at it as the process required to create the next generation of warships, of all navies, not just the USN The conventional "International" frigate have a basic fault of being short lived because they are costly to upgrade. And when technology keeps advancing at such a high rate, We have seen example of this now with cruisers and destroyers being retire early and not being upgraded because of money.

      The important aspect of LCS is the separation of design from function. No longer is it required to wait for mission requirements to be fixed before we can begin design of a ship. Nor is will it be required to get resources to build new ships to deal with new situations.

      As for your list of problems with the LCS prototypes, that what prototype are for, determining shortcomings and develop solutions. For some reason many people believe that engineers can build perfect thing with out effort. This is not the case. Design and development, especial of with as many new features as the LCS, requires a great deal of trial and error to find an acceptable design.

      And one more , the LCS does not suffer from a lack of weapons, it suffers from a lack of reserves displacement 180 tons was not enough reserves to properly equipped the LCS. I blame this lack of reserve on the NLWM, who came mostly for the aviation community, a thought 180 ton as a huge amount, which it is on aircraft, but hardly anything on ships. Fortunately we have example in the past, the treaty destroyers hade even less reserves available than the LCS, but by the end of WWII destroyers had triple their payload by simple making them larger, which will be the solution for that LCS payload problems, making the LCS larger.

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    5. GLof, you make a very good point about the lack of weapons versus lack of weight reserves.

      While you are correct that a ship design can be modified to incorporate lessons learned from the prototype, there is a point beyond which a design cannot be "tweaked" without necessitating a complete redesign. I believe the LCS is in that category. The flaws are so numerous and so fundamental that simple engineering tweaks can't compensate. A truly useful LCS would have to be completely redesigned and rebuilt. Of course, it would no longer be the LCS at that point - perhaps a good thing!

      Please note that while modules separate design from function, the separation carries with it a significant penalty. A separated function (for combat, at least) can never be as effective as a dedicated, purpose built equivalent. For example, adding an ASW module to a ship will not produce anywhere near as effective an ASW ship as a purpose built ASW ship. When it comes to combat, I want the very best, not a half-measure module version. I have a very dim view of modules, at least for combat. Module development has been driven by accounting not by combat requirements.

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  4. Just a heads up the Navy changed the designations and acronyms.

    Surface Warfair = SuW
    Under Sea Warfair = USW
    Aerial Warfare = AW

    The Navy is no longer anti-anything.

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    1. They are clearly anti-intelligent!

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  5. Okay, maybe I'm off base, but my understanding of the modern use of Frigates in the USN prior to the fall of the Soviet Union was largely like DE's from WWII. They were mainly ASW platforms used for open ocean escort. The Knox's, Perry's, etc. all were mainly ASW platforms. Yes, they had some surface warfare kit, and anti-air kit, but its main purpose was ASW work. The Perry's were a bit more, with Harpoons and Standards available, but still just limited to protectimg themselves and maybe a ship near by.

    That, I guess, is what I see as 'the Frigate role' in its relationship to the Navy.

    Sure, if threat level is low, and we need a ship off the coast of Somalia with a Helo, the Frigate is a great choice. But primarily it should be defending other ships from bad guy subs. That is what they are built for, and what they train for.

    So, as I see it, it falls into #2 (small ASW platform) of your list.

    All this stuff of Frigates doing other stuff is a recent development for our Navy, or the representation of a bigger need for another Navy (freeing up larger surface assets for 'presence' missions, acting with a SPY radar as a major anti-air combatant, etc).

    Am I incorrect?

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    1. Jim, you're correct. The recent worldwide trend towards highly capable frigates is driven mainly by countries that can't afford Burkes/Ticos and want a ship that at least comes somewhat close. For them, that's their capital ship. That they call it a frigate as opposed to a destroyer is immaterial. The US doesn't need a highly capable frigate since we already have highly capable Burkes. What we need is an affordable, expendable ASW vessel - the DE in your historical analogy.

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  6. One more comment.... does the MCM mission module work on the LCS' yet? Last I heard it didn't because the Helo couldn't pull the slet?

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    1. The MCM module is not yet operational. The helo towing issue is only one aspect. Almost all of the individual components are failing to meet their specs. The Navy went "all in" betting on the LCS as an MCM platform and now has nothing. If we went to war today and needed MCM we would be in a world of hurt. It remains to be seen whether the MCM module can be developed to a sufficient degree to provide even a basic capability.

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  7. Why do you need Mine Counter Measures when your never going to send any ship closer than 100 miles from a hostile shore? If you're staying far enough away to avoid shore launched missiles, you're surely far away from any mines!

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