From the start of the LCS program, there has always been the spectre of the Perry FFG lurking over it. Many have suggested that the Perrys should have been upgraded instead of building LCSs. Others have suggested building new Perrys. In any event, the Navy decided to get rid of the Perry class in a move highly reminiscent of the sinking of the Spruances to eliminate their potential competition with the Navy’s desired Aegis cruisers - remove the Perrys and there could be no potential alternative to the LCS.
Once in a while it’s fun to ponder what might have been. Just for fun, let’s look at what a Perry path could have given us compared to what we got with the LCS.
For starters, here are a few physical characteristics.
Length 450 ft 378 ft
Displacement 4200 t 3500 t
Speed 30 kts 35 kts
Range 4500 nm @ 20 kts 1200 nm @ 20 kts *
Draft 22 ft 13 ft
* Estimated from DOT&E reported data
The key physical characteristics are the speed, range, and draft.
An LCS would be somewhat faster. Recall that the LCS speed has been steadily downgraded such that a practical max speed is now only a few to several kts faster than a Perry. More importantly, neither the Navy nor any LCS supporter has yet come up with a tactical use for the LCS’ speed so in comparing the two vessels speed, this is essentially a non-issue.
The range advantage for the Perry is enormous. Again, recall that the LCS range has been steadily downgraded from the design goal of 3500 nm @ 14 kts. Add to this the conceptual requirement for the LCS to put into port every two weeks for maintenance as opposed to the Perry’s ability to stay at sea indefinitely and the range/endurance characteristic hugely favors the Perry.
Draft is another of those ambiguous characteristics that the Navy has been unable to come up with an actual use for. Is there really any operational benefit to a 13 ft draft versus a 22 ft draft? Is there something useful that an LCS can do in 13 ft of water that a Perry can’t do in 22 ft? This is another non-issue.
Now, for purposes of this comparison, we’re going to assume that the Navy continued building Perrys. Thus, we’re not going to compare the LCS with the old, defanged Perrys that the Navy neutered. Instead, we’re going to compare the LCS with a modern version of the Perry. By “modern”, I mean a Perry that had been reasonably upgraded with new technology as it became available but not with non-existent technology promises like the LCS.
Seaframe. The vessel would have the same hull but with a modern, slanted superstructure for a degree of stealth. That’s a reasonable construction modification. The vessel would not be a super-stealth ship but would have an easily achievable and reasonable degree of stealth. In essence, it would have an LCS-ish superstructure.
The entire hull and machinery spaces would be built with quieting in mind (much of it was!) Acoustic isolation, vibration dampening, and materials selection would make the ship as quiet as possible. Prairie/Masker technology was, and will be, applied.
The stern would be modified in some fashion to accommodate waterline (or nearly so) stern launched RHIBs along the lines of the LCS’ dry well deck. This would provide a great deal of flexibility and ease of operation for boarding and inspection (VBSS) ops and the like.
Sensors. The main radar would be the TRS-4D supplemented by optical sensors (EO/IR). Sonars would include a hull mounted multi-frequency sonar, a dedicated mine finding sonar, multi-function towed array, and dipping sonar (VDS or aircraft type). Laser sensors and target designators would round out the fit.
Armament. The bow would accommodate a 76mm gun and an 8-cell VLS along the lines of the Australian upgrade. Free standing Harpoon box launchers would hold 8 Harpoons. A RAM launcher would provide short range AAW. A pair of Mk38 Mod 2 25mm remote gun systems would provide close-in protection against surface craft. A Hellfire launcher would provide short range anti-surface, anti-swarm capability. Two sets of triple torpedo tubes would provide anti-submarine weaponry. Odds are that an additional one or two 8-cell VLS could be accommodated but that would remain to be seen.
Aviation. As now, the ship would have a hangar and flight deck capable of operating two Seahawk type helos versus the LCS which can only operate one.
In summary, the Perry would be a highly proficient ASW vessel with a long range surface strike capability and a reasonable AAW self-defense and near area defense along with anti-swarm defense. This would have been a reasonable frigate with good endurance, range, and both blue water and littoral capability. Had we built these, they would have nicely bridged the gap between the old Perrys and a new, clean sheet frigate design. Best of all, it would be serving as we speak compared to the current LCS with no modules and barely a Coast Guard level of combat capability.
Ah, what might have been.