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.,