The LCS program garners much criticism which makes it easy to forget that that the class possesses potentially useful inherent capabilities. We are honored today to have guest author Steven Wills (aka Lazarus) to remind us of one of those capabilities and offer some much needed balance to the LCS discussion. Please enjoy this post and give it your serious consideration. Check out Mr. Will's bio at the end of the post.
Regarding comments, LCS discussions too often degenerate into positive and negative platitudes and this will not be allowed. Comments must be specific and supported with facts and logic. As always, politeness and respect are mandatory.
Forgotten LCS Capabilities
The LCS Air Group
One of the significant capabilities of the littoral combat ship (LCS) that is often overlooked in discussion is the ship’s extensive aviation facilities. Both LCS variants have large flight decks and helicopter hangars. Their modular spaces also support the storage of ordnance and aviation maintenance gear in support of extended rotary wing operations. The three ship deployed LCS squadron can theoretically support six MH 60R helicopters and Firescout unmanned rotary-wing vehicles (1), or a combination of those assets. The LCS air group can perform a number of warfare and surveillance roles in support of a naval component commander’s campaign effort.
Both LCS variants boast the most expansive helicopter operating limits in terms of wind speeds due to their expansive flight decks. At 7300 square feet in size (2), the LCS-2 (
) variant has the largest flight deck of any surface
combatant in the fleet. The LCS-1 (Freedom)
variant has a smaller flight deck at 5200 square feet, but can land a
helicopter in the face of 45
knot relative winds (3). The LCS sea frames also carry more aviation fuel
(JP-5) (75-80 metric tons
(4)) than the preceding Oliver Hazard
Perry class frigates (64
metric tons (5)). While neither LCS variant has the traditional RAST (Recovery,
Assist, Secure, Traverse (6)) system to aid in landing and deck movement,
helicopter operations are supported by the British-made MacTaggart
Scott Trigon (7) cable recovery and traversing system. The Trigon system
has not been used in past Independence ship classes, but has been a staple of Commonwealth
navies (8) for the last 40 years. It was pioneered by the British Royal
Navy for use with small flight decks and smaller deck crews than larger ships.
It uses a system of deck-mounted cables to secure a helicopter to a ship’s
flight deck and move it
to/from the vessel’s helicopter hangar (9). U.S.
|USS Freedom and FireScout UAV|
The MH-60R helicopter (10) is capable of a wide range of missions to include reconnaissance, antisubmarine warfare and surface warfare. It can mount up to 3 MK54 lightweight antisubmarine (ASW) torpedoes or 4 AGM 114 Hellfire air to surface missiles. The MQ-8B Firescout unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) (11) also carries the Hellfire missile as well as the small (1 kg) GBU 144 Viper Strike laser guided bomb (LGB). The MK54 is the standard U.S. ASW torpedo while the Hellfire has an air to surface range of 4.5 nautical miles. The AGM 119 Penguin antiship missile with a range of 18 nautical miles might also be carried on LCS-based MH-60R’s.
|Trigon Helo Handling System|
An LCS air wing of multiple assets operating in conjunction with other weapons and capabilities based on the LCS sea frames such as the Harpoon and Naval Strike missiles constitutes a significant surface warfare capability. Operating in a distributive configuration but linked using air and surface equipment, an LCS squadron might launch coordinated strikes from air and surface assets. The high speed of the LCS sea frames allows them to rapidly re-position away from aircraft launch and recovery sites (12), thus increasing an opponent’s area of uncertainty in planning a counter-strike. The distributive employment of LCS at maximum distance forces an opponent to contemplate a much wider battle space in locating and striking at LCS sea frames. Unlike one or two conventional frigates that might support 12-16 antiship cruise missiles, the loss of one LCS only degrades the formation’s strike capacity rather than halving or entirely losing it.
The LCS’ sea frame capabilities are available today and do not need an associative mission module to contribute to the surface and subsurface battle. Potential LCS aviation assets provide the maritime component commander with a medium surface strike capability. Utilization of the emerging distributive lethality concept allows for an integrated strike capability from both sea frames and aircraft while maximizing their survivability through dispersion. The LCS air group is not waiting on a certification from the Department of Defense Director of Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), or funding stalled in Congress, but is ready whenever and wherever the sea frames can be assembled.
(1)Defense Industry Daily website, “LCS: The USA’s Littoral Combat Ships”,
(2)National Defense website, “Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All The Stops”, Grace V. Jean, March 2010,
(3)Navy.mil website, COMLCSRON ONE Newsletter, “USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) Commissioned In Galveston”, MC2 (SW/AW) Garcia, SURFPAC Public Affairs, October 2012, Volume 2, Issue 4,
(4)GAO, “Littoral Combat Ship - Additional Testing and Improved Weight Management Needed Prior to Further Investments”, July 2014, GAO-14-749,
(5)“The Continuation of a Damage Control Stability Module for the FFG-7”, Charles Arthur Bush, B.S.N.A., United States Naval Academy, Submitted to the Department of Ocean Engineering in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements of the Degrees of Ocean Engineer and Master of Science in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, June 1984
(6)Curtiss-Wright website, products/naval systems/helicopter securing & traversing/RAST,
(8)MacTaggart Scott website, defense products/surface ship systems/helicopter handling,
(9)YouTube, “MacTaggart Trigon helicopter recovery and handling system”, jimbarc, published
(10)Lockheed Martin website, products/naval systems/mh 60 seahawk helicopters,
(11)Naval Air Systems Command website, aircraft and weapons/uas/firescout,
(12)Aviation Week website, “Seahawk Helicopters Provide Punch For LCS Operations”, Michael Babey,
Steve Wills is a retired surface warfare officer who spent most of his sea going career in small combatants including two frigates, a mine countermeasures ship (MCM) and a patrol coastal (PC). He is currently a PhD Candidate in Military History at Ohio University. His areas of expertise are Cold War naval history and the history of British sea power from 1889-1941. He posts on a number of sites under the pen name of "Lazarus."