Thursday, November 15, 2012

LCS - Mass or Disperse?

In his book, Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat (1), Capt. Hughes discusses the concept of dispersion/massing as applied to surface ships and, particularly, to smaller ships.  He notes,

“When dispersion is an important means of defense, small ships and distributed firepower are an important advantage.  Much of the modern debate over the size of warships concerns the comparative merits of dispersal in small ships (to complicate enemy targeting) and of concentration of force in large ships (to fight off the enemy).    Today if a commander’s fleet comprises large ships with strong defenses he masses and fights the enemy off.  If he has small ships or weak defenses he must disperse.  In either case he is buying time to carry out his mission, which is not to steam around waiting to be sunk.  If the defense cannot buy time for the offense to perform, then the fleet ought to be somewhere else.”
Hughes brings up two good points in this short paragraph which are highly relevant to the Navy’s LCS.  Remember, the LCS was built before a coherent concept of operations was developed (we’ll set aside the lunacy of that sequence, for the moment) and they are now trying to develop one.  Let’s see what Capt. Hughes has to offer in the way of guidance for the LCS.

Hughes’ first point is that the purpose of a ship/fleet/Navy is to conduct offensive operations.  While a Navy may occasionally be forced into defensive operations (protecting a base or defending sea lanes, for example) they would still, ultimately, be linked to offensive operations - for instance, defending a base from which future offensive operations may be launched.  So, offense is the purpose of a Navy.  Herein lies the initial problem for the LCS.  Currently, it has no offensive capability.  The Navy is working to develop modules which will give it some offensive capability but that appears to be a long ways down the road.  Nonetheless, let’s assume that the LCS acquires offensive anti-submarine, anti-surface, or land strike (either direct via munitions or indirect via Marine/SOF land forces) capability.

LCS Operations - Mass or Disperse?

The small size of the LCS precludes applying a significant strike capability from a single ship.  Thus, multiple LCSs will need to mass to apply a significant strike of whatever form.  This leads directly to Hughes’ second point concerning the balance between massing and dispersion.  Massing creates an efficient target for the enemy.  As Hughes points out, if massing creates a defense strong enough to compensate for the easy target the mass makes, then massing is desirable.  If not, dispersion is the better tactic. 

The LCS was not designed to be able to provide area anti-air defense nor to have a significant anti-surface defense.  Thus, massing provides no enhancement in defense.  One LCS cannot “cover” another so LCSs derive no defensive benefit from being grouped.  This leads to the conclusion that the LCS should operate dispersed to maximize the chance of surviving long enough to carry out offensive operations.

But wait …  If the LCS should operate dispersed and no single LCS can generate a significant strike, how then can the LCS be effective?  Well, we may well have uncovered a flaw in the LCS concept.  However, bear in mind that massing for a strike does not necessarily mean that the massing must occur at the point of origin of the strike.  Massing can be at the destination of the strike.  In other words, ten ships, each with a single missile, don’t have to be near each other at launch time in order to conduct a massed strike of ten missiles – they can be dispersed and simply time their individual missiles to arrive at the target together to achieve the massed strike.  So, it is possible for LCSs to operate dispersed and still provide massed strike, under the right conditions.

The preceding discussion has enormous implications for the development of the LCS.  As the Navy attempts to develop a concept of operations for the LCS and continues to develop modules, the concept of physical dispersion for defense and massing for offense should be the guiding light.  The LCS needs weapons and offensive capabilities that are capable of destination point massing.  This implies a level of range and targeting capability that the LCS not only doesn’t have currently but is not even being discussed, as far as I know.  The dispersion aspect also suggests that a certain amount of attrition of individual units will occur which should dictate that the ships be small, cheap, and expendable.  Unfortunately, that ship has already sailed.  The LCS is neither small nor cheap nor expendable (given its cost).  Since the desired characteristics of a dispersed unit are not achievable, additional emphasis should be placed on self-defense, meaning a better anti-air (more CIWS/RAM) and anti-surface (bigger/more guns) fit.

Griffon - The Right Weapons Development Path?

If the Navy would think this through, direct the module development along these lines, and consider modifying the core capabilities to increase self-defense, we might be able to someday have a moderately useful LCS.  Of course, it’s equally possible that a rational analysis of the above might lead to the conclusion that the LCS was incorrectly designed, can’t be sufficiently modified, and should be terminated.  Either approach would be better than the floundering that’s occurring now with the Navy desperately searching for a mission for the LCS.  This is why a concept of operations should come before construction, not after!

(1) Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, 2nd Ed., Capt. Wayne Hughes, Naval Institute Press, 2000, ISBN-13: 978-1-55750-392-3, p.191


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  2. Replies
    1. With what everything else is to heavy.

    2. Th LM version had a weight problem, not the GD version.

    3. Of course, the GD has a volume problem, at least as regards the forward gun mounting. Reports suggest that there is insufficient internal volume for a gun larger than the Mk110.

    4. Leave the 110. Check my UpGun link above for a simple solution.

    5. If you need a bigger gun, swap the gun for the Netfire bay and put the missiles forward of it in a rectangle instead of a square.

  3. The other thing about small versus large platforms is endurance and seaworthiness. A small vessel, like PT109 or an Osa class missile boat, will not be able to stay out at sea for very long before fuel and supplies run low. And how well will small vessels perform in rough seas?

    Before WW1 many believed torpedo boats would end the battleship's reign But the C2 issues of so many boats and their limited endurance led to them being used in niche roles: German E-boats in the Channel and US PT boats around South Pacific island chains.

    China may believe that for them small is best. Their distances from home ports to trouble spots like the Spratleys will be much shorter, and their industry can produce small ships faster.

    As long as the USN has enormous distances to cover then we will need big ships.

    1. Your point is well taken. Don't get me wrong, though, I'm not suggesting that small ships in general, or the LCS in particular, are the way to go for the US Navy - I'm only saying that the LCS is here and that if the Navy wants to use them as warships (they're going to make up 1/4 to 1/3 of the fleet if the Navy goes all the way with the 55 ship buy) there's a right way to use them and a wrong way.

      It may well turn out that lack of effective weaponry will relegate the LCS to peripheral duties in which case this post is moot. We'll have to wait and see.

    2. I think the Navy won't buy anymore LCS seaframes beyond what they have on order (22?). In fact I would hope they cancel some of the current order, whatever the financial penalties.

      These ships might replace the Cyclone and MCM class, but I would be very surprised if they can ever do a frigate's job without major reconstruction.

      It's beginning to look as if some in the Navy are questioning how LCS will fit in to a task force. I predict the next few years are going to be brutal for the program.

  4. My General take on the LCS is that it is too little warship for too much money. About the only thing it has going for it is the 45~50 knots top speed, but almost any aviation capable platform will more than make up for that with a helo or two. If it’s up to me, I’ll end the LCS program at about 12~14 ships (that which is already ordered). Their primary use will be to carry the mine hunting module and serve as replacement for the Avenger Class on a 1-for-one basis.

    What the Navy needs is a bunch of real multi-role frigates – about 40 of them. These Frigates need to be able to operate on their own in low to medium intensity environments and be useful in high intensity environments under the air cover and AEGIS protection of a CVSG. I envision a 5000~6000 ton ship built with no new technology to avoid schedule delays and cost overruns. The ship should have around 24 Mk57 VLS cells packing 8 VLA, 8 LRASM-A and 32 ESSM as the typical armament. With all the research and development already sunk in the DDG_1000, I’ll try to use as much technology from that program as possible including the tumblehome hull, half it’s IPS propulsion, one 57mm stealth mounting, the AN.SQQ-90 sonar suite and the SPY-3 radar (without the VSR component). It wouldn’t be a super frigate. In fact, it wouldn’t even have the volume search range or long range AAW armament of European Frigates and Destroyers. But it’ll be LO, much more capable than the LCS and a great fit for the USN (which doesn’t really need to rely on Frigates for Area Air Defense).

  5. " Herein lies the initial problem for the LCS. Currently, it has no offensive capability. "

    Please just JUNK this program. It will never, ever prove to be an effective platform. This program just keeps going and going...nowhere. All the while chewing up increasingly valuable ship building dollars. In my opinion, it's only real value at this point is to serve as great discussion material for all the blogosphere.

    I should note; that with some minor re-fitting, I believe the LCS will make a damn fine shrimper.

  6. @dwight looi - "About the only thing it has going for it is the 45~50 knots top speed" - handy if they ever allow engines in the Americas Cup! That sounds like a very sensible frigate spec you've come up with there, perhaps minus the tumbledown hull form. Any ideas on propulsion?

  7. This is largely an academic exercise. LCS is never going to be put into situation where it might face actual threats. It will be a glorified gunboat... largely used to show the flag and impress the natives.

    1. You're probably correct. The post is an attempt to say to the Navy that if they insist on going ahead with the LCS, they should do it the best way possible.

      Unfortunately, ComNavOps can lead the Navy to water but he can't make them drink.

    2. I appreciate your intentions... but really I think the navy needs to own up to the very real limitations of these ships.

      LCS can be of limited utility in low-end missions, but should be kept out of theatres (PACOM) where there is threat of fleet engagement.

      In my mind, its a gunboat which can be used for counterpiracy and presence in SOUTHCOM, CENTCOM and AFRICOM. That's about it.

  8. The LSC is a massive failure and a glass half-full. The US Navy should have gone to Europe and learn how to build a multi-role Frigate with Littoral capability. What we have is nothing more and a glorified coast guard cutter painted grey.

    As I have said many times, the US Coast Guard's NSC upgraded to Light frigate standards would be well suited to replace the LCS. You can build upon the NSC design to Naval frigate standards, with room for Danish STANFLEX system. All you would do is take the US Coast Guard NSC design with modifications and you would have a patrol frigate with littoral capabilities and sea legs. You just keep the engines and add standard Naval Frigate weapons & Systems. Even upgrade the Radar to Frigate standard as well.

    Here's more on the NSC Patrol Frigate


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