Sunday, June 3, 2012

LCS Module Concept

I often encounter people who concede that the LCS has problems but that they like the module concept and see it as the wave of the future.

With that in mind, recall that we previously looked at the LCS’s mission module status.  Now, let’s examine the module concept, itself.

Right up front, there is an obvious penalty to having a warship based on a modular approach and it’s that the warship can only have one capability active at a time.  If the tactical circumstances happen to match the installed module then the warship is well positioned to succeed.  On the other hand, if the tactical circumstances don’t match the installed module then the warship is, at best, ill suited to the tactical scenario or, even worse, a liability requiring protection from other ships or aviation assets. 

Yes, but isn’t that the whole point of modules that they can be rapidly switched to match the tactical situation?  That modules provide tactical flexibility?  In theory, yes.  In practice, no.

Let’s consider whether a modular ship can actually achieve tactical flexibility.  As an example, an LCS(ASuW module) receives a report of a sub heading for its area of operation and due to arrive within 24 hours.  If the LCS can't swap its ASuW module for an ASW module in 24 hours, then it's not tactically flexible.  The reality is that module swaps require 2-3 days pierside plus whatever travel time to and from the LCS’s area of operation and the module warehouse location.  In the interim, the enemy is able to do as they wish.  And, of course, the farther the module warehouse location is from the area of interest, the longer the LCS has to abandon the area.  The point being that tactical requirments change in a shorter cycle than module swapping.

Strategic flexibility remains a potentially valid claim.  Swapping an LCS to ASuW for the next several months because you're going to escort ships through waters threatened by small craft is not a problem.  The several days it will take to make the swap are not critical compared to the several month time frame of the operation.  So, I can see that the module concept offers a potential strategic flexibility but not a tactical flexibility.

Still, though, there’s no getting around the inherent desirability of a multi-purpose ship.  The only way the single purpose module makes sense is if the module offers a capability so far beyond the multi-purpose ship’s corresponding capability that the loss of other functions becomes worth it.  If the LCS modules were the transformational, littoral-dominating, generationally advanced examples of technology that the Navy promised then the modular concept might be advantageous.  Unfortunately, there is absolutely no sign of that on the horizon.

Another overlooked aspect of modules is that they become a single point of failure.  Since the modules can't be changed at sea, they must be warehoused at the installation sites.  The problem with that is that it makes for a single point of failure.  Take the Middle East, for instance, if Iran wanted to cripple the LCS effectiveness, all they'd have to do is destroy the Bahrain (the proposed warehouse site for the Mid East) installation site cranes or warehouses and the LCSs can't acquire the needed modules.  I assume Iran has their own equivalent of SEALs or other SOF.  It would be an ideal SOF type mission.

Also, remember that the module consists of equipment and specialized crew.  Without the specialists, the module is useless.  This raises the logistical issue of what to do with the specialists while their particular module is in storage.  Assembling the specialists (assuming we don't warehouse them, too!), when needed, from around the world will be a time consuming exercise.  And, of course, the specialists themselves offer a tempting target. 

I'm not sure the Navy thought all this out very well prior to embarking on the LCS program.

Danish Absalon - A Different Module Concept?

The LCS modularity was clearly patterned after the Danish StanFlex model conceived in the early 1980s.  However, the Danish model differs significantly.  Until recently, the Danish "LCS" operated only in home waters, the modules are swappable at sea in a matter of hours, home ports are close at hand, and the native ship's company operates all the modules (no specialists).  These differences appear to have escaped the Navy's attention.

It seems clear, then, that the very concept of modules is highly suspect, at least for a Navy that operates around the world rather than mostly in home waters.  The loss of flexibility by being able to operate only a single function at a time can only be justified  by having exceptionally technologically superior modules and there is no indication that this will happen anytime in the near to moderate future, or ever for that matter.


  1. What may be lacking in the LCS concept (perhaps rather said CONOPS) is a strong organic self-defense capability. The LCS carries on a regular basis: 1 57MM Gun, 1 RAM and is outfitted for several MG's.

    This relatively poor organic armaments results in the perception that the LCS can not defend itself effectively - ignoring the fact that the LCS would be operating as part of a larger contingent of USN warhsips with additional ASuW, ASW and AAW capabilities.

    This said...The strengths of the Absalon class are its' strong organic capabilities, including: 5" gun, 2 30MM CIWS, Harpoons and SAM (either Standards or Sea Sparrows). These capabilities are combined with 2 EH-101s (larger Helos than US MH-60s), 2 CB-90 boats and a 900 square meter flex deck. The above capabilities could be combined with a minesweeping "module" on the flex deck (perhaps towed by the EH-101) or surveillance "module" of UAV's (possibly launched from the large landing deck) or sub-surface UVVs lauched via the CB-90 lauch position.

    Core capabilities combined with powerful "modules" are the path to success for the LCS.

  2. You imply an outstanding point (at least, I think you were doing so - correct me if I'm putting words in your mouth that you did not intend!) which is that the LCS lacks an operating doctrine (CONOPS). It's hard (unfair, actually) to evaluate a ship when there's no stated operating doctrine to compare it against. You then go on to point out that the LCS will be operating with a larger group of more capable warships. Let's assume that's the case although I've seen no operating doctrine to support that. But if that's how the LCS will operate, it's legitimate to wonder what the point of the LCS is. If it can only operate in the presence of (and under the protection of) other, more capable warships, what is the LCS bringing to the table that the other, more powerful warships don't already have?

    One could argue that the mine countermeasures module would be a useful capability that other "more capable" warships wouldn't have. While true, we could, alternatively, build several dedicated (Avenger class, for instance) MCM ships for the cost of a single LCS. Why not, if they're going to operate under the protection of other warships?

    One could argue that the ASW module could come in handy when operating with other warships except that the current ASW module is essentially the same equipment that's already on Burkes.

    Your final statement is that "core capabilities" plus "powerful modules" are the key to success. The core capabilities aren't going to change so that half of the path is a dead end. That leaves the possibility of powerful modules which I agree completely with. If "powerful" modules can be developed, LCS will be useful. If not, it won't. Unfortunately, there are no signs that a powerful module is anywhere near the horizon. Building 25 (or 55) LCSs with no reasonable prospect of powerful modules is a highly questionable decision.

    Thanks for checking in!

    1. The only references to how the LCS will operate have been verbal comments by USN ldrs like the CNO and Dr Work. These reference the LCS as part of a larger USN fleet - hence my comments regarding operating with a larger contingent of ships.

      Building dedicated MCM ships has been off the table for 10+ years. Unfortunately, the USN ldrs have made this decision. On top of which, the current fiscal challenges preclude the USN re-visiting this option.

      In regards to the ASW module being equivalent to the Burkes, there has been some dicsussion of the Burkes receiving towed arrays. See:

      In regards to the baseline LCS capabilities, I am not certain this is a deadend. I would look to the proposed International Versions of both designs for potential enhancements to the baseline performance of each design. See:

      From LM -

      From General Dynamics Multi-Mission Combatant

      Each proposed International design has greater capabilities than the current USN version. I am not certain if these enhanced baseline capabilities come at the expense of available modules but this would be worthy of discussion with each vendor.

      Finally, I agree with you; that, powerful modules are key but remain in doubt. I believe the Sec of Defense should focus on these - in a manner similar to what was done to focus the DOD on the F-35 program with regular updates and visible leadership focusing the USN & vendors on delivering a 1st round of functional modules to permit the LCS Teams (USN & Vendors) to experiment with the modules to permit future 'spirals' to grow in capabilities and deliver on the promise of the modules - and ultimately the LCS program!

  3. From conversations with a few people associated with the manufacturer's LCS program, my understanding is that the international version of the LCS requires that the speed be greatly reduced (rework of the engines and removal of much of the associated equipment) in order to free up weight and volume reserves. Also, the modular capability would be lost. It sounds like few, if any, of the international capabilities could be incorporated into the U.S. LCS and still have it remain a high speed, modular ship. I like the idea of beefing up the core capability but I'm not sure it could be done.

    You probably know this but the early Burkes had the SQR-19 TACTAS towed array which was then deleted from some or all of the FltIIa's and is now being retrofitted back in. The Navy sure makes some odd decisions!

  4. Speed? This has been at the crux of many of the issues the LCS's have encountered. Speed has compromised the core capabilities of the LCS since inception. I wonder if ADM Cebrowski saw this coming. Shame we can not call on his insight.

    Speed need not be inherent in the platform but perhaps in the capabilities the platform brings to bear.

    For example, an LCS equipped with MALE UAV could provide OTH persistent surveillance. Combine this with a 2-3 VTOL UAV equipped with APKWS (plus a MH-60 likewise equipped plus Hellfire) and 2 CB-90's (or other small SEAL support vessel launched from the LCS) and you can now defeat any swarm at a safe stand-off distance.

    Again, a question of CONOPS. The challenge/opportunity for the LCS crews will be to develop and refine the CONOPS for the USN. They may identify capabilities which the USN has not even thought of to date for the LCS.

    Please note: The originally conceived Street Fighter concept - which led to the creation of the requirements for the LCS program - is FAR removed from the current LCS iteration. See:

    I think the current FSF-1 Sea Fighter is the closest the USN is coming to the original Street Fighter. See:

    I hope the USN is properly using the FSF to drive new concepts for technology, weapons, surveillance systems and (ultimately) CONOPS for the whole of the USN.

    P.S. Glad to see the USN is adding back the ASW capabilities to the DDG-51's BUT the risk is for a single asset (the DDG) to become over-saturated with missions and be unable to fulfill them all.

  5. For a good brief on how the LCS concept was created see:

    For a brief on the CONOPs. Use Notes Pages view to get more interesting discussion of whats going on with the slides.

  6. I can't see your link on my PC but I think I've found the one you're referencing on an IPad. If I've got the right one, I've seen it before. There's no date but it appears to be from a pre-construction timeframe. I would suggest that it's less of a CONOPS than a fantasy wish list. It basically states that there is nothing the LCS can't do. A useful CONOPS would link actual capabilities (even if they're in the developmental stage) to tactical applications. These slides mention not a single actual capability and make no link to real tactics. Saying that the LCS will sail in and wipe the littorals clean of all threats is not a CONOPS - it's a fantasy.

    There was one slide, in particular, titled LCS Development Issues, that lists around 8 key issues that, presumably, were identified as critical and necessary for the LCS to succeed. To date, essentially none of the 8 have been achieved.

    If this was intended as a sales pitch, fine. If it was intended as a serious attempt at a CONOPS, the Navy is staffed by idiots. Basically, none of what was discussed was technically achievable. They may as well have included lasers, anti-gravity, invisibility, and submersibility just to make the presentation even more impressive.

    You're quite right that it is interesting to see where the LCS concept came from. It's also tragically disappointing that it got beyond the PPT stage.

  7. You'll get NO disagreement from me on the fantasy aspect to the PowerPoint presentation! :-) Hence my comments previously regarding the actual organic capabilities of the LCS design - or lack thereof.

    Sorry you could not reach both of the presentations - both were VERY similar in content.

  8. Can we now cancel the LCS crap and go with a Multi Mission Frigate. I'd say kill the LCS program and look at either building a modified Patrol frigate out of the US Coast Guard's National Security cutter or look to Europe and buy the rights to a European frigate design such as the Formidable class frigate, Álvaro de Bazán class frigate or the Fridtjof Nansen class frigate. As for the remaining LCS, either give them to the US Coast Guard to replace their 210's and 270 WMEC or decommission them and sell them to countries that need them such as the Philippines or Taiwan.