I’ve stated repeatedly that the LCS’ major failing was the absence of a well developed Concept of Operations (CONOPS) prior to committing to the program. This lead to pointless capabilities like excessive speed which had no tactical purpose, unfeasible concepts like module swapping in a tactical timeframe, missing capabilities like the lack of air defense, and cost overruns due to attempts to include all manner of capabilities because there was no CONOPS to evaluate usefulness against.
That said, what is the single biggest complaint voiced about the LCS? It would probably have to be the lack of armament. That brings us to the Netfires NLOS (Non Line Of Sight) weapon system. The failure of that system lead directly to the lack of armament complaint.
Let’s take a moment to briefly review what NLOS was intended to be. NLOS was a family of vertically launched missiles including a Precision Attack Missile (PAM) and a Loitering Attack Missile (LAM). The 117 lb missile had a range of around 20-25 miles. Missiles were to be equipped with IR, GPS/Inertial, and semi-active laser homing. The system was to have networked the missiles, in flight, to provide autonomous target recognition and allocation, real time targeting updates, and damage assessment imaging. The missiles were to be launched, arrive over the target area, autonomously identify and allocate targets, and attack. Supposedly, the missile had a multi-target warhead with both shaped-charge capability and blast fragmentation.
For the LCS, the system was envisioned to provide both a land attack capability and anti-surface capability (the anti-swarm mission).
If the LCS had actually achieved this capability, we’d be having a somewhat different discussion about the LCS. Yes, the LCS would still have the same inherent flaws but at least the armament complaint would have been largely alleviated for the ship’s intended role. The LCS would still not be a frigate with long range anti-ship missiles but, to be fair, that was never envisioned as the LCS’ role. And, yes, the modular concept would still be a weakness in that a LCS that was not equipped with the ASuW module would be helpless against a swarm.
The NLOS was certainly the key to the ASuW module and, arguably, key to the LCS’ success overall.
So, aside from historical enlightenment and amusement, what do we learn from this?
Among other lessons, we learn the folly of committing to a production run of a warship whose main weapon is experimental at the time of commitment. Most experimental weapons never pan out and, in this particular case, the Army had already declared the NLOS a failure and cancelled the program. I wonder why the Navy thought this would succeed?
The point of this post is two-fold: to provide some historical perspective on the LCS’ armament issue and to try to recognize and understand the Navy’s failure.
It’s not just that the NLOS failed. As I said, weapon programs fail all the time. The real issue is the Navy mindset that chose to ignore the history of failure of weapons development, in general, and the Army’s pronouncement of failure for this system, in particular, and, instead, chose to believe that this would be the program that would defy the odds. Any reasonable person would have opted to stop the LCS acquisition program at the point that the NLOS was cancelled and wait until a suitable alternative could have been procured or developed. Of course, the truly reasonable person wouldn’t have even begun an acquisition program where the main weapon didn’t actually exist – but, I digress.
The Navy’s ability to ignore reality is legend but at some point you’d like to see some recognition of reality especially as the Navy pursues lasers, railguns, BMD, Fords, LX(R)’s, UCLASS/UCAV, etc. If the Navy doesn’t start to do a better job of recognizing reality, I’ll be writing for the next 30 years!