Friday, December 12, 2014

New Frigate - Wrong Again!

The Navy has selected their new “frigate”, according to a Breaking Defense report (1), and in a continuation of a nearly unbroken string of incompetent and incorrect decisions has decided to continue the LCS rather than pursue a foreign design or a new design.  Of course, this is the exact outcome forecast by ComNavOps and nearly every other commentator in the world.

What makes the story noteworthy is the degree to which the Navy has decided to stick with the LCS.  Even ComNavOps did not foresee this.  I assumed that the Navy would choose the LCS but would add VLS and a larger gun (76 mm was my prediction) among other additions.  However, the new LCS is going to add very little.

The new version will not have the Vertical Launch System (VLS) and will, therefore, have no area air defense capability, no ability to launch the forthcoming vertical launch Harpoon replacement (LRASM), no ability to launch Tomahawk, and no ability to launch ASROC ASW torpedoes.  Frankly, I’m stunned.  I had assumed a VLS was a given.  I was wrong.

The new version will, apparently, keep the flawed 57 mm gun it currently has and which the Zumwalt program rejected.  This gun is not even radar guided and has been demonstrated to be unusable at speed due to excessive vibration.  I had assumed that a new, radar guided 76 mm or larger gun was a given.  I was wrong.

The new version will, apparently, retain its high speed engine which has so negatively impacted the rest of the design, consumed so much internal volume, and contributed so much weight.  I had assumed the engine system would be changed to a moderate speed, conventional system.  I was wrong.

So, what will the new version gain?

  • An upgraded version of the existing SeaRAM missile launcher
  • An unspecified number of additional 25 mm guns
  • New decoy launchers
  • A degaussing system
  • A downgraded version of the electronic warfare system, dubbed SEWIP-lite
  • An unspecified over-the-horizon anti-ship missile (hint: remember the recent LCS test launch of the Norwegian Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile?)

That’s it.  That’s the improved LCS.

This is as far from being a capable, modern frigate as you can get without being the original LCS.

By the way, do you remember the post about the weight and stability issues of the LCS (see, "Fat, Drunk, and Stupid Is No Way To Go Through Life")?  We noted that the LCS simply has no weight margins and this is the result.  By sticking with the LCS, there was no weight margin for VLS, bigger guns, etc.  I had assumed that the engine system would be “conventionalized”, thereby freeing up large weight reserves and that the ship would likely be lengthened, also allowing greater weights.  Again, I was wrong.  The new LCS will remain badly weight challenged.  The article states that the Navy is going to have to look very closely at shaving every pound it can just to be able to squeeze in the minor improvements that have been listed.

In addition, all the fundamental flaws that made the LCS such a poor design still remain.  The ship has weight and stability issues, lack of compartmentation, structural weaknesses, excessive vibration at speed, weak flight decks, poor seakeeping by both versions, insufficient stores, inadequate range, poor endurance, sub-standard survivability (though some additional shrapnel protection will be added), etc.

Finally, and note this well, the new version will not be able to function as an MCM vessel, according to the Navy.  MCM is, arguably, the Navy’s number one need and we’ve now dead-ended our MCM program.  The original dozen or so vessels can still be MCM and I assume that they will be dedicated to that function but there has been absolutely no indication that the Navy intends to buy additional MCM modules, assuming they can get them to work.  This may be the most noteworthy and serious development in this whole saga.  The Navy will come to regret this.  A single mine detection can halt a carrier group in its tracks.  We need a robust MCM capability and this confirms that we won’t have it.

The Navy, given the opportunity to select a better way forward for its force structure, has made yet another incredibly bad decision – worse, even, than ComNavOps thought they would do.  When you think the Navy has lowered the bar as low as it will go, they dig a trench and lower it further.

(1)“LCS Lives: Hagel Approves Better Armed Upgrade”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 11-Dec-2014,


  1. As you point out, once again Senior Navy Officials display gross techncial and shibuilding incompetence, complete lack of leadership, and industry ball rolling.

    Who picks this people and why can't we find a Nimitz or King?

  2. The naval strike missile launch was from a box launcher tied to the flight deck and fired from a laptop. They did not even bother to integrate the missile into the combat system.

    This same test could have been done off of a Mississippi grain barge.

    1. You're correct. That they chose to do it off an LCS signals their intentions, I think. Note also, that in the original article I cited, they refer to a missile like the Harpoon, implying that it won't be the Harpoon - hence, the NSM which they tested for a reason (though what that test proved, I have no idea!).

    2. I think the NSM would be a perfect fit for the LCS but that is only from a range, CONOPS, warfighting perspective. How well it can be integrated into the combat system, weight, space and power issues, I have no idea about that.

      Also i have read great things about the Italian 76mm/L62 gun. I have seen that gun mounted on 500 ton patrol craft and when radar guided the accuracy and damage it puts out is more enough to destroy small craft in a single hit and to actually cause some respectable damage to a larger warship. Remember a 57mm gun was considered too small to damage 35 ton tanks by 1943.

    3. From my perspective as a Marine, we need to give up all plans of working with or on this ship. Just like we never considered plans for using an Avenger class for anything we need to give plans on using the LCS. Depending on a single MH-60 or even a pair of MH-60s to support Marines on the ground is a terrible idea.

  3. There will be 24 LCS's capable of MCM so there is a net increase in MCM with the overall program. Furthermore, you don't need VLS to be able to launch torpedoes. Arleigh Burkes and Ticonderoga's more than prove that point. The addition of the 25 mm's would cover the weakness against swarm craft, the LCS's were never designed to fight corvettes although the new missiles would give them that capability. I agree with you that I wished they would add a larger main gun (I had the pipe dream of a 5") but you fail to note that they say the overall ships will be lighter than the originals providing some relief to the fuel issues. These ships aren't meant to be frigates as the rest of the world describes frigates. To everybody else a frigate is basically a modern version of a WWII destroyer while our cruisers and destroyers are modern versions of WWII cruisers. For much of what our Navy sends destroyers to do; these ships will suffice and for joint training exercises these ships will be easier to integrate with most of the world's navies.

    1. Actually, the Navy has previously indicated that only the LCS-2 version is suitable for MCM. If that holds, then only 12 ships are MCM candidates of the original 24 purchased. Also, there has been no indication about adjusted module buys which are, of course, the key.

      The fundamental problem with the LCS isn't what it's called. It's what it can do and how it fits into the Navy's overall force structure. For a Navy that is globally committed, forward deployed, and Pacific Pivoted, this is a woefully underarmed and short ranged vessel by any name. That the LCS will make up a third of the future fleet is absolutely horrifying.

    2. Considering most of the MCM package involves a helicopter and UUV the Freedom variants only have to be able to launch those which should be something they can do by now. And the module buys are unchanged for the first 24. Furthermore, while I wish the fleet were closer to 400 ships, the fact of the matter remains the we need a low-end ship and now we have it. It would be nice if we could afford a ship in the range between the LCS and Arleigh Burkes but now we can push the LCS's forward and use the Arleigh Burke's in a more permissive environment.

      It's not a perfect ship or program. That doesn't mean it is incapable doing it's bare minimum requirements of hunting mines and subs. Additionally, the navy has learned what it has with the LCS's and now knows what it got so, especially with the extra scrutiny, the follow ships should be better.

      If nothing else we can quit sending larger ships to interdict drug trafficking from South America.

    3. Hey, if you don't like the MCM being limited to the Independence version, argue with the Navy, not me! I don't know of a reason why the Freedom class can't do it but the Navy doesn't seem so inclined. Perhaps they'll change their minds.

      You may be missing the key point related to the LCS. It's going to make up a third of our COMBAT fleet and, numerically, will be replacing Ticos, Perrys, and eventually, probably, some Burkes. Am I OK with a notional LCS performing very low end duties? Yes. Am I OK with a notional LCS making up a third of the combat fleet? No way.

      As far as MCM and ASW, if we want to build 52 MCM/ASW vessels IN ADDITION to our current combat fleet, that would be fine but to replace a third of our combat fleet with MCM/ASW LCS's is a horrible mistake.

    4. "Additionally, the navy has learned what it has with the LCS's and now knows what it got so, especially with the extra scrutiny, the follow ships should be better."

      If the Navy actually learned what it has in the LCS, it wouldn't have decided to continue the disaster with this slightly upgraded version. Clearly, the Navy has learned nothing.

  4. But their not adding torpedo launchers either. I'd really like to know where their getting these weight savings, plus don't you think the new systems added will weigh something.

    1. Not presently but my point was that VLS wasn't required and a helicopter could be fitted for torpedoes. As to the weight savings, I would like to know that as well, but considering they haven't even tested the design yet, we can't call them liars.

    2. Isn't the issue that an LCS+Mission Module has weight challenges?

      If this is the real problem, then an LCS without a mission module should have significant allowances for extra kit.

      The modules were spec'd to be 180-200 tons or so, IIRC.

    3. B.Smitty, as I understand it, the LCS has weight issues separate from the module. You're correct that the module has a weight allowance although the seaframe's weight issues eats into that allowance. The cited article suggests that "modules" of some sort will still be fielded though not in the same sense as now.

      The added equipment doesn't seem to be very heavy and can, with careful weight management, probably be accomodated.

      Remember, the crew size has already been increased and with these additions will probably grow further. Each additional crew member requires more berthing, heads, food stores, water, etc. - significant weight increases.

    4. "... my point was that VLS wasn't required ..."

      Where did that come from? VLS apparently can't be accomodated from a space/weight/cost perspective but who said a VLS wasn't required? It sounds more like it was a requirement that just couldn't be met.

    5. "... considering they haven't even tested the design yet, we can't call them liars."

      True, but we can reasonably assume they're incompetent given that they're gotten everything else wrong about this program!

    6. re: Launching Torpedoes from LCS

      A VLS isn't required to launch a torpedo, and there is even some discussion of allowing the VLA mission to sundown on the DDG/CG platforms as the VLA ages out, but the LCS has no SVTT capability and has always been limited to using the embarked helo for torpedo engagements. You don't really want to be launching torpedoes at targets with the SVTT (that's way too close) but now you're limited to the availability of the MH-60R for your engagements. A VLA (or a VLA-like) capability would certainly be useful...

      - interestedparty

  5. I can see their reasoning, a bit. Yes the LCS has many flaws, but any new design will take 8-10 years to get into service.

    Adding an area air defense capability would entail a significant radar/combat system upgrade and would probably necessitate a stretch. If the mentioned set of upgrades adds $5-70 million per ship, a robust AAW upgrade would likely add $2-500 million and take years to design and put into service. And fewer could be bought.

    Adding NSM or another OTH missile would enhance the offensive firepower of the ship.

    But, yes, this feels like a short-term band aid rather than a long term rethinking.

    1. Do you really think the additions will cost the $50M-$70M or so the Navy has suggested given that the Navy's cost estimates are uniformly off by a mile?

      Do you have any confidence that the weight management will work given that the original LCS failed to meet its weight requirements by a significant margin?

    2. Well.. Minor mods should be easier to estimate than major program developments. But who knows.

      Which LCS variant are they talking about here? LCS-1? -2? Both?

      Obviously making changes to both means x2 the integration costs.

      The OTH missile and SEWIP-lite would appear to be the biggest unknowns.

      Do they have to go through a formal competition for a new missile? LRASM or an anti-ship Tomahawk would appear to be off the table due to size and weight. Will we see a Harpoon III vs NSM vs JSOW-ER vs who knows what? Or can they justify just picking a weapon?

      Losers in the competition will invariably sue. So, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see something stupid like NSM on one LCS variant and Harpoon III on the another.

    3. The original article stated that the split purchase of both versions would continue. Yet, another stupid decision. They could have chosen one version which would be the intelligent thing to do or they could have created two different dedicated versions (one ASuW and one ASW, for instance, or maybe a combined ASuW/ASW and a MCM) but instead they opted to continue the insanity. So, yes, 2x the integration costs, dual support lines, etc.

      I think the NSM test they recently did indicates the future ASM pretty clearly.

      "So, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see something stupid like NSM on one LCS variant and Harpoon III on the another."

      Now that's just priceless. I laughed and cried at the same time reading that because, you're right, that is exactly what the Navy would do. Outstanding!

  6. Part of the upgrade is "improved armor"? That's a new one.....

  7. The only way to get what the Navy really needs is with a different hull. NSC appeared to be a potential since it is in production, uses a lot of Navy GFE and is US built, but I'm sure the costs of the upgrades were too much to handle with all the other bills coming due. This decision was 100% based on cost.

  8. Two things struck me:

    A) Hagel wanted this. Not the Navy. Hagels gone, Work is still Dep SecDef. Given that alot of this stuff is hand waving vaporware, it may just not happen. 'Oh, we couldn't find a good OTH missile to fit. So we put boosters on the Griffens to get them to 8 miles....' 'Oh, the Armor put too much weight up top. So we hung 2 kevlar curtains behind the bridge bulkhead... Look! Improved! And backwards compatable with old LCS's!'

    B) (Sarcasm on). Greenert wants to emasculate the surface fleet with the LCS, and bankrupt it with the F35C, to ensure job security for the submarines... (/Sarcasm off)

    I don't understand the Navy right now. When I first started getting interested in the Navy they were upgrading the engines on the tomcats; building the avengers, looking at upgrading the A6's. Had ASW frigates, aircraft, etc. and had an AShM that was competitive.

    Now we are looking at scrambling to get an AShM, haveing 1/3 of the fleet be toothless wonders, and have severely compromised ASW, MW, and strike capability.


  9. My concerns about this up gunned LCS are as follows: lack of acoustic signature of this high speed ship for sub hunting, lack of a missile like ESSM,
    , not very good sea legs and better armor protection.

  10. Upgrade the main gun to a 5"/54. No? Then at least the Oto-Melara (72mm). The Pegasus hydrofoil class has more armament.