Tuesday, November 19, 2013

LCS Report Card

As reported by the Wall Street Journal online site (1), the Navy has received an early report on the performance of the USS Freedom, LCS-1, Singapore deployment.  As we’ve discussed on this blog, Freedom has suffered from generator failures, blackouts, power outages, leaking piping, flooding, propulsion, and steering problems among other lowlights.  The ship has had to routinely carry several tech reps to assist with maintenance.  From the article,

“When Navy leaders were given an expedited assessment on the ship's performance last week, they found the scope of those problems to be "a little stunning," says Rear Adm. Tom Rowden, the Navy's director of surface warfare.”

As the demonstrated shortcomings of the LCS are becoming more apparent, Navy officials continue to ratchet down the expectations and offer revisionist history.  Again, from the article,

“Some Navy officials have distanced themselves from one original selling point: the ability to shift between missions in 72 hours.  "I'm not sure that I ever bought into that concept at all," says Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, who led a council created last year to review the littoral-ship program.”

You never bought into it.  Sure ...  I believe you.

Another issue that has surfaced is the automated maintenance reporting system.  The ship collects large amounts of data on a continuous basis with the data being automatically communicated back to the shore based support facility so as to facilitate the needed maintenance and repairs when the ship returns to port.  However, the maintenance reporting system has suffered from bandwidth issues causing data reporting to be delayed for many days or more.

As the evidence mounts against the LCS, the Navy’s public support for the program seems to increase proportionally.  The Navy seems determined to ride this program right to the bitter end.


  1. The LCS works fine in group with an SSGN or a Zumwalt. It was just never designed to be more than a sensor and helicopter platform. The additional attributed features are optional.
    An SSGN is the hardest to kill strike capability. Give it a couple of LCS as surface helicopter and sensor platforms and you can outfight most surface forces. However, the LCS has still a critical weakness in self-defence and group defence.
    Further development for the LCS are likely MCM enhancement, commando integration and surface and air defence capability.
    Add to this an improved heavy strike version derived from the Zumwalt with submerged missile containers and lots of SSGN and you have the future of the USN with a strike capability that can not be eliminated by striking at the surface sensor vessels. That would just raise an alarm and doom the opponent who gave away his presence. Instead, the SSGN must be hunted to eliminate the strike capability. Same goes for the Zumwalt. These underwater hulls can only safely be hit by torpedoes, reducing the range for attacks.
    The financial bonus is that small ships need less personnel and large ships need less personnel per ship volume. For the same strike and sensor capability overall constant costs can be reduced. That's why the LCS is the result of a study on networked forces. It is meant to be a way of replacing vessels with all on board by a better network that as a combination outperforms them. In respect to strike capability this has been achieved via the many helicopters on the LCS with sensor input for SSGN and Zumwalt. The remaining problems with this LCS have been outlined, the lCS is not yet ready as a full escort within such a network. When it matures to escort capability, there will be no better naval network system than LCS, SSGN and Zumwalt with lots of flattops. The interim solution is to have legacy destroyers and cruiser protect the flattops.

    1. Kurt, to be fair, the LCS was designed to be much, much more than a sensor and helo platform. I've got the original descriptions and Powerpoint slides and they clearly show that the Navy envisioned the LCS as an immensely powerful vessel that would not only protect the littoral battlespace but lead the way in amphibious assaults by rapidly clearing the waters and beaches of mines and obstacles, provide a dominant anti-surface offensive and defensive capability, establish an impenetrable anti-submarine barrier, and would project a devastating land attack capability as well as acting as a network node to enable a region wide dominance by other platforms.

      This may sound silly to us now but this is exactly what the Navy intended at the start. Of course, they've dumbed the requirements way down now to the point that LCS apologists make claims that start with, "Well, it was never intended to ....". The reality is that, yes, it was intended to ... It simply failed miserably.

      Moving on, I'm curious, how will the LCS transmit its sensor data to an SSGN? Subs are notoriously difficult to communicate with.

      You realize that between the LCS, Zumwalt, and SSGN the only anti-surface weapon they possess is the sub's torpedo?

    2. “””””You realize that between the LCS, Zumwalt, and SSGN the only anti-surface weapon they possess is the sub's torpedo?”””

      I thought that the SH-60’s would have Penguin Missiles but I guess I am wrong since checking around the internet I have read that they are being phased out so all the SH-60 would have would be Hellfires which is not much of an anti-ship weapon. And that is only if the LCS and Zumwalt magazines are set up to handle them.

    3. The Zumwalt should also have surface-mode ESSM, assuming the software is written for it.

    4. CNO, we've been over this whole anti-surface weapon issue before. Almost no current USN vessels have any viable anti-surface capability. IIRC, the only USN vessels that even have AShMs anymore are the CGs and CVNs.

      And no, in the modern era, the 5" gun isn't viable as an anti-surface weapon anymore than the 57mm on the LCS as both don't have enough range to engage anything with AShMs.

    5. The only good reference for a guided missile engagement is the battle of Latakia between Israel and Syria (and to some degree the Falkland War)
      Syria was well equipped with Soviet hardware, had heavuier missiles with twice the range. Syria lost the engagament with all units destroyed because the Israeli EW defence was supreme and defeated all their munitions. Afterwards the tiny short ranged Gabriel missiles delivered doom to the Syrians.
      US navy ships and allies field for example the Tomahawk that provides sufficient capability to kill ships under suitable conditions (the USS Chancellorsville Hit By Drone article in this blog hifghlights how difficult defence is without successful jamming)
      Defence, as the Israeli example highlights, rests mainly on jamming and decoys. CIWS are of minor importance, but indespensible for more security.
      By packing the LCS with electronics and sensors the most important issue for surviveability has been established. CIWS is nice to have and the ability to actually stomach damage and keep afloat or fighting makes a ship outstanding. That's clearly not the goal with LCS, but with the Zumwalt. The spoofing defence measures make it difficult to take out such a minor target without wasting important ammunition that is scarce on every nation's surface ships.
      The Tomahawks on the modified Ohio-class SSGN are sufficient to kill whole surface battle groups. Same goes for two Zumwalts that field the same firepower. That is very massive firepower and the problem of sufficent targets for all that firepower appears.
      One problem has always been to transfer sensor data to launch platforms. Previously, the common solution was a total integration of both into one increasingly bigger ship. Network centric warfare does not have that requirement, because of much improved secure communication channels that enable a data flow suitable for targeteering.
      The LCS will certainly benefit from improved surviveability, air defence and reliable operation. Mass producing this item enables to have changes from one tranche to the next and iron out existing errors. The initial reports on what the LCS was meant to be are unlikely to be achieveable with the current tranche that neither is complete with all the automated subsystems, for which the LCS serves as a mothership.
      However, I hope to have made it clear that neither is the LCS a wasted approach. It's rather a departure from existing patterns with network centered strike capability in very capabale platforms that operate in the littorals such as the Zumwalt or generally support combat groups with sheer firepower such as the modified SSGN of the Ohio-class. The communication problem of the 1980s has been solved in the 2010s with even cheap SSK of other nations having dedicated unmanned aerial assets that communicate with the submarine - networked submarines with UAV and guided missiles like the Israeli Dolphin class (including a likely nuclear second strike capability).
      While the Zumwalt class has from the outset been meant as a ship to operate in the littoral warzone, same as the LCS, both are part of new procurement within a generational shift to very new ideas and concepts.

    6. Kurt, are you aware that the Tomahawk is not anti-suface ship capable? There used to be an anti-ship version of Tomahawk, the TASM, but that weapon is no longer in service.

  2. The SSGN is packed with missiles.
    The LCS has suffered from mission creep, like all US procurement projects.
    Reading through all the mission creep, you can never procure a sound system. But it's more of a standard bureaucratic voodoo to make sure that expectations can not be met and there's a reason for more meetings on the issue.
    Simply cut that out and look at real design priorities.
    It is sensors, communication and helicopters.
    A small helicopter carrier with powerful sensors that makes a lot of sense in a network, but will accomplish little on its own.
    The Zumwalt is of the same ilk, specifically for littoral combat. For some strange reason the Zumwalt was not named littoral combat ship and the LCS minuscule flattop. Like with every weapon procurement the next tranche will be modified The LCS is nice, but needs to survive. jamming is part of that answer, but can't totally replace good point defence (there was a minor war where Israeli corvettes, similar to the LCS, won a missile engagment via their jamming defence).
    The problem is communication. As highlighted, the Zumwalt is meant to be in the littoral and the LCS must always be analysed together with the Zumwalt as one package. Can this destroyer accomplish the task with the minuscule flattops? Yes, but there's room for improvement.
    The SSGN has lots of guided missiles and special forces on board. It's difficult to communicate with submarines, part of the problem why it is difficult to find them. However, the Germans (Israelis) and Italians have outfitted their submarines with an aerial surveillance UAV, so the communication issue must be solveable.
    One option is the buoy. Either the rump or the buoy is in shallow depth at the other side of the thermic layer listening to sonar emissions reflected there. This low depth simplifies communication and enables emmsion of sonar without giving the position away. It's due to the development of military towed array systems that not all nations have mastered. (and it's not difficult to have a small antenna reaching into even more shallow water, plus directed communication via aerial assets over short distance is possible, all means of technology that were so not available during the submarine communication problems of the Cold War.
    I hope we can agree that the SSGN do have some other capability than their periscope to acquire targets for their missiles.

    1. Kurt, to the best of my knowledge, the Navy has never linked the LCS operationally with a Zumwalt and certainly not an SSGN. That's OK, you can surely propose a new concept of operations. In fact, you may as well, since the Navy has no viable concept of operations for the LCS!

      As I stated in the comment above, the Tomahawk is not anti-ship capable so what would the mission/role of an LCS/SSGN/Zumwalt group be? It's not anti-ship. It has no AAW capability beyond self-defense since the LCS can't defend itself let alone anyone else and the Zumwalt can't defend the LCS. It does have a land attack capability but the SSGN can perform that by itself and perform it better since the LCS and Zumwalt would only attract unwanted attention. I'm at a loss to see what mission you have in mind for the group?


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