GAO’s 2015 annual weapons assessment report contains some interesting tidbits about the LCS modules (1).
Regarding the ASW module,
“Program officials report that currently the [ASW] mission package is 5 tons too heavy to fit within the parameters reserved for the packages.”
This is probably the most mature and useful module if only because the Navy abandoned every aspect of the original module and is now using proven, existing components: a Thales variable depth sonar, a multi-function towed array, and a standard Navy helo. The challenge is whether they can get the components to integrate in an effective manner. Of course, the LCS can never be an effective ASW platform due to inherent structural problems that impact ASW performance: the vessel is not quieted and optimized for ASW and the ship’s self-noise from the water jets not only precludes a hull mounted sonar but makes the ship an acoustic beacon for miles around. Add to that the lack of an onboard ASW weapon and you have an extremely mediocre ASW platform. Further, the inability to operate two helos (yes, some reports credit the LCS-2 version with the ability to operate two but that is questionable due to flight deck structural weaknesses) severely limits the extent of available helo ASW coverage.
The Navy is currently contracting with three companies for ideas on how to reduce weight in the ASW module without removing a key component. You know the process when things go through contracts and studies. It will be years, yet, before we see a functioning ASW module.
Regarding the MCM module,
“The Navy has accepted five MCM packages without demonstrating that they meet interim—or threshold—requirements and plans to accept one more in fiscal 2015.”
As we know from various reports, the MCM module has proven particularly troublesome with most, or all, of the module components failing to meet their performance criteria. Thus, the Navy’s continued purchases of MCM modules is puzzling, to say the least. I guess it’s analogous to buying F-35s that are not ready.
Further, the Navy just announced that the MCM module would not reach its scheduled IOC in September due to across the board reliability issues discovered during testing.
“… LCS Mission Modules Program Manager Capt. Casey Moton said Thursday at a Mine Warfare Association lunch that across-the-board reliability problems in the two start-to-finish mine clearance runs in the technical evaluation led the program to extend the evaluation for several months rather than move prematurely to IOT&E.”
It appears that IOC will be pushed back another year or so.
The Navy has dropped the plan to use the incredibly short ranged and lightweight Griffon missile in favor of the Hellfire missile. While there is nothing wrong with the Hellfire, it is still a lightweight, short range missile. Wiki lists the range as 550 yds out to 5 miles. It is doubtful that range holds for a surface, vertical launch. The effective range will likely be more like 3-4 miles. Also, note the minimum range. If a target gets inside 550 yds the LCS will have to engage with guns which have, thus far, proven problematic. The 30 mm guns have had a succession of maintenance and performance issues and the 57mm gun is inaccurate above 10 kts or so due to ship vibration. Further, the guns are optically aimed and are not linked to radar in the ship’s fire control system.
USNI News has some disturbing news even about the Hellfire missile testing. (2)
“The program office began tests on a research vessel at the end of February against ‘high-speed maneuvering targets out off the
.’ That testing wrapped up in June, and based on
the results, the office has to do ‘some tweaking – it’s really that level,
tweaking – to the missile seeker and such.” Virginia Capes
When you factor in the military’s ridiculously positive spin on testing – every test is an unqualified success, no matter how bad (remember the fabulously successful F-35B tests on the Wasp that actually barely achieved 50% availability? – you get the sense that the Hellfire has some serious issues integrating into a vertical launch system. “Tweaking”, with the slight negative connotation it has, must indicate that the missile failed badly! Getting a missile that is designed to launch horizontally to launch vertically, tip over, and acquire its target, is not a trivial feat without mid-course guidance.
The missile will have to undergo another set of tests several months down the road.
Here is GAO’s summary assessment in their typically bland style.
“The systems that comprise the Navy's mission packages have yet to work successfully together to achieve results. For example, none of the mission packages for any increment have achieved interim requirements on the
meet its threshold requirements for either seaframe.” Independence
Remember, also, that the IOCs that the Navy is trying so desperately to achieve are not for the desired modules but for very stripped down versions that simply allow the Navy to field a bare minimum (many would say less than minimum) capability as a PR event. The desired modules that the Navy sold the LCS program on are many years down the road or, more likely, will never be achieved. Go back and read the original module descriptions to see just how much the modules have been dumbed down in the quest to get something, anything, fielded. We’ve largely forgotten the grandiose promises made and have come to believe that the current, anemic versions of the modules are what was always intended. Nothing could be further from the truth. As a group, the modules are an utter and colossal failure.
Perhaps the most important point in the report, though, is this one,
“The Navy continues to procure LCS seaframes, even though the sub-systems necessary to meet full mission package requirements have not yet been fully developed, demonstrated, and integrated with either seaframe class.”
The LCS’s value and effectiveness, whether you support it or not, is predicated on the performance of its modules just as a carrier’s value is based wholly on its air wing. An LCS without an effective module is just an overgrown Coast Guard cutter, if even that. GAO points out that the Navy is proceeding full speed with seaframe acquisition in the absence of any useful and effective module. The only module that even theoretically exists is the ASuW module and, let’s be real, an ASuW module that consists of a couple of machine guns and a RHIB is hardly useful or effective.
Worse is the Navy’s laser like focus on seaframes. While the modules languish, seaframe construction continues unabated. It would be nice if the Navy put the same effort into the modules as the seaframes and it would be even nicer if the Navy would recognize the importance of the modules. No module, no useful LCS. If the Navy isn’t careful, half the LCS seaframes will reach their end of life without ever seeing a useful module. What a waste that would be (assuming you don’t consider the LCS to already be a waste!).
(1)Government Accountability Office, “Defense Acquisitions – Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs”, Mar 2015, GAO-15-342SP
(2)USNI, “LCS Anti-Sub Warfare Package Too Heavy; 3 Contracts Issued For Weight Reduction Study”, Megan Eckstein,
July 30, 2015