We previously discussed the conceptual origins of the LCS as presented in a Proceedings article (1). Read the post, here. The Proceedings article is one of the best naval writings I’ve read in recent years. I urge you to find a copy of the magazine and read the article in its entirety. One of the aspects of the original LCS concept that we mentioned but did not dwell on was the ability to conduct counterbattery fire. I’d like to examine that concept in more detail.
The article listed several capabilities that a littoral vessel should have and one of them was the ability to conduct counterbattery fire. The article had this to say about the conceptual vessel,
“It should have some kind of counterbattery capability to respond in real time to
a shore-based missile attack.”
a shore-based missile attack.”
The original LCS concept, as we see, was to include the ability to stand in littoral waters and fight back against shore-based attacks on ships. The key phrase is in the quote is “… respond in real time …”. Thus, the littoral vessel would identify an attack, backtrack its point of origin, and conduct counterbattery fire before the launch site or platform could relocate.
Think about this capability for a moment. What is the Navy’s biggest fear (well, one of them at any rate) in conducting amphibious operations? Why, it’s the land-launched anti-ship missile. That’s the reason the Navy is now doctrinally refusing to close with shorelines and why the Marines are struggling to figure out how to get ashore from amphibious ships stationed 20-50 miles offshore. What if the Navy had a ship that could stand inshore and counter land-launched missiles? That would greatly expand the flexibility and range of options for an amphibious force or, for that matter, for any force operating near shore for whatever reason.
Of course, a counterbattery-capable ship would not prevent the initial launch of a missile but it would limit the enemy to one shot per launch site or launch platform. It wouldn’t take long before the enemy would become very reluctant to conduct land-based anti-ship attacks if the result was a destroyed launch platform each time. Aegis ships would, of course, deal with the missiles that did launch. That’s what Aegis is designed to do. The combination of an Aegis missile umbrella and a littoral ship with counterbattery capability to limit launch sites to one shot would make for a pretty effective overall shield for amphibious operations.
Remember the Scud hunts during Desert Storm? The problem was not locating the launch position; it was getting ordnance to the position before the mobile launchers could relocate. An effective counterbattery capability would have greatly changed the conduct of that conflict, though with the same end result. Inordinate resources were diverted to Scud hunts from other missions with largely ineffective results.
Let’s look at counterbattery fire a bit deeper. Although not explicitly called for in the article, a reasonable extension of the counterbattery capability would be the application of counterbattery to artillery and mortar attacks as well as anti-ship missiles. In general terms, ships frequently operate in close proximity to land during passages (canals, straits, and various chokepoints) and other missions. This creates a vulnerability to artillery and mortar attacks. Picture a ship trapped in the
Panama Canal and having to fight off terrorist mortar attacks. The ability to conduct counterbattery fire on artillery and mortars would be invaluable. Further, the ability to actually defeat incoming ballistic ordnance would be very desirable. In fact, the basis for doing so already exists. The Phalanx CIWS has been adapted by the Army for land use in exactly that role and is referred to as C-RAM (Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar). Adding that capability to the Navy’s CIWS would enhance a ship’s ability to operate in near-shore scenarios.
I believe that counterbattery was one of the most important, arguably the most important, of the capabilities in the original littoral ship concept. Unfortunately, it was never pursued. Even the aborted NLOS was not a counterbattery weapon but, rather, just a general land attack capability.
While I remain dubious about the actual need for a littoral vessel, if the Navy is determined to pursue such a ship, counterbattery fire should be one of the first requirements. Counterbattery would also make a reasonable addition to the Zumwalt which is intended to fight moderately near-shore.
(1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Birth of the Littoral Combat Ship”, Captain Robert Powers (Ret), Sep 2012, p.42