We’ve discussed how the Navy’s supposed new “frigate” that will replace the LCS is just going to be a slightly upgunned LCS. We also noted that the Navy will do this backwards by forcing requirements to conform to the ship rather than designing the ship to fit the requirements. No sense beating that horse any more. Instead, let’s look at what the Navy can do and needs to do to make the replacement LCS (RLCS) even marginally useful.
The first and most important change is not additional weapons or sensors … Ah … Hang on. Several people who were looking over my shoulder while I typed that sentence passed out in panic and disbelief and one ran off wailing and gnashing his teeth. I’ll be back in a minute… … … … OK, I’m back. I gave them smelling salts and a picture of a foreign frigate to hold tight. They’ve calmed down and they’re happy now.
As I said, the most important change is not weapons or sensors; it’s endurance. The Navy envisions the RLCS as a key actor in the Pacific Pivot. In order to make that work, the RLCS needs much greater endurance. Currently, the LCS has around 14 days endurance due to food storage limitations. With anticipated increases in crew size coming, that endurance is going to be further reduced. To be effective, the replacement RLCS needs a much greater endurance. We need to greatly increase food and water storage so that the RLCS can spend more than a couple of days on station and doesn’t need to have a replenishment ship tethered to it.
Unfortunately, additional storage space will eat into the internal volume available for new weapons, sensors, and additional crew.
The second and next most important change, closely related to endurance, is range. For Pacific operations with limited basing options we need as much endurance as we can reasonably get. The WWII Fletcher class destroyer had a range of 5500 nm at 15 kts. By comparison, the LCS has a range of 3500 nm at 18 kts. We need to add range in the form of bunkerage and whatever engine modifications are needed to at least get to the 5500 nm ballpark.
Unfortunately, additional bunkerage will eat into the internal volume available for new weapons, sensors, and additional crew.
The third change is survivability. There’s no point to fielding a vessel around the size of a WWII destroyer only to have it susceptible to one-hit kills or even near miss kills. We need to add armor to the level of a WWII Fletcher, as I’ve opined in previous posts. However, the Navy isn’t going to do that. So, at the very least we need to add additional compartmentation and shock hardening of installed equipment. Further, since the gun (of whatever caliber) is going to be considered an important part of anti-small craft defense, we need to mount the gun in an armored enclosure similar to the Navy’s 5” guns of WWII. Those armored mounts consisted of 1”-2” steel and were proof against shrapnel and cheap kills. If we’re going to have only one gun on the ship we need to at least protect it to the extent possible.
Unfortunately, additional compartmentation and armor will eat into the weight margins and internal volume available for new weapons, sensors, and additional crew.
The fourth change is crew size. We’ve already seen that the LCS is badly undermanned. If we increase the range and endurance and add weapons and sensors the ship will be at sea for much longer periods of time. The current model of doing no maintenance on board ship will not work. The ship will need to perform onboard maintenance just like any other ship and that means a much larger crew. We also need more crew for combat and damage control. Of course, a larger crew means additional berthing, heads, laundry, galley space, food storage, water storage, etc.
Unfortunately, additional crew comforts and support will eat into the internal volume and weight available for new weapons, sensors, and additional crew. Are you seeing a trend, here?
Lastly, and everyone’s favorite, we need to add better weapons and sensors. I won’t discuss this further because it’s been beaten to death. I will remind everyone that by the time the first four needs are met there won’t be all that much weight and space left to go sprinkling weapons and sensors all over the ship as so many want to do. It’s just the reality of ship design. It may be fun to talk about the whiz-bang technology of weapons but it’s the other aspects that will determine whether the design is ultimately successful.
So, there you have it. That’s what the Navy could reasonably do to get from the current LCS to the RLCS. Of course, that’s not what I’d do but given the Navy’s near certain selection of the existing LCS as the basis for the new small surface combatant and the ass backwards “design” process they appear to be embarked on, this is the logical way to get from here to there and wind up with even a minimally useful vessel. Quite sad but this is what it’s come to.