For better or worse, the LCS is in the fleet and, with 40-52 planned, it will make up a major portion of our combat fleet. Now, including a toothless vessel in a count of the combat fleet is delusional but the Navy is, numerically, replacing frigates and Aegis cruisers with LCS so we need to deal with it. Sure, for many of us the preferred solution is to terminate the LCS and move on but the reality is that the Navy is committed to the LCS. Recognizing that, let’s ask ourselves, are there combat or combat related uses that the LCS could be put to, with suitable modifications, so that we can get some value from the class? I’ve looked at this in previous posts but it’s worth a fresh look. Here’s some possibilities. Note that in most (all?) of the cases, the LCS would have to be modified to greatly increase its at-sea endurance in order to be useful – this in addition to whatever specific possibility is being discussed. Note, also, that I’m ignoring the “frigate” version of the LCS since we have so little concrete information about it, as yet.
SigInt – The Navy had a dedicated signals intelligence aviation platform in the EP-3 and, later, the ES-3A Shadow (an S-3 Viking variant) but those have been retired without replacement. The Navy also has a history of operating various intelligence gathering ships. Unfortunately, there has also been a history of intelligence gathering ships and aircraft being attacked –
, Pueblo ,
EP-3. An armed LCS, fitted with a
comprehensive suite of electronic intelligence gathering equipment and
supplemented by UAVs, might be able to fill the role and provide its own
protection against the kind of attacks and seizures that have happened in the
UAV Carrier – I’ve often talked about the need for large numbers of relatively small and cheap UAVs to conduct surveillance and targeting. An LCS with its module space converted to hangar and UAV storage space and a large flight deck for UAV launch and recovery operations would make a suitable UAV carrier. One such LCS UAV carrier with each surface/carrier/amphibious group might prove useful
Company Landing Team – The Marines have been experimenting with smaller, Company sized landing teams (referred to as CoLT, at one time) and the LCS might be a suitable platform for the hosting of such a unit. For a variety of reasons, I don’t view this as a good idea but it is a potential use for the ship if the Marines are determined to pursue a bad idea.
Fire Support – Amphibious assault (and general ground support) naval fire support is a glaring gap in the Navy’s ground warfare support capability. The Navy has made it clear that they will not risk operating Burkes close enough to shore to provide naval gunfire support. The LCS could be modified to operate navalized rocket systems (MLRS/ATACMS). The combination of standard rockets and long range ATACMS would actually offer greater strike range than the Zumwalt’s now non-existent LRLAP rounds. By utilizing the flight deck space, several launchers could be mounted. Making them reloadable along the lines of the Mk 112 ASROC launcher would offer a substantial capability with an extensive magazine. Several LCS, each with several launchers, would provide a potent naval firepower support capability. Adding a few extra SeaRAM AAW self-defense units to each ship would provide the ability to operate in close to shore with a reasonable chance at survival.
Riverine/PC Mother Ship – An LCS might make a suitable mother ship to a group of riverine or PC (Cyclone class) vessels. The extensive modular storage spaces of the LCS could be converted to maintenance shops and food/fuel/munitions storage. This would allow the smaller vessels to operate farther from bases and for a longer period of time.
Torpedo Ship – This option is less of a dedicated ship type than a specialized function that could prove useful. One of the tasks in any war and a possible (though not preferred by ComNavOps!) specific strategy is blockade and the need to destroy enemy merchant shipping. The LCS could be used around the world as a commerce raider of sorts except that it lacks a ship killing weapon. Even the addition of a handful of Harpoon-ish weapons won’t sink large tankers and cargo ships. Adding a bank of standard 533 mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes would go a long way to providing a ship sinking capability for relatively close range encounters.
At the higher end of this concept, what weapon is the Navy most afraid of? Well, there’s a few possible answers but the large Russian wake homing torpedoes are certainly one of them. If the Navy would develop their own version, it could be mounted on a torpedo-LCS and offer a potent anti-ship capability. The Russian Type 65 torpedo is reported to have a range of 30-60 miles depending on speed. That’s approaching Harpoon anti-ship missile range!
SURTASS – The Navy currently operates the USNS Victorious class T-AGOS SURTASS ships which stream very long towed arrays and are used for very long distance detection of targets. These ships are not active combat ships and their role in war would be peripheral, if at all. A suitably modified LCS might be able to provide a degree of SURTASS capability to combat surface groups and/or provide detection capabilities to amphibious groups conducting assaults. This is a questionable use. The LCS itself might be too loud to effectively operate a SURTASS array or the presence of surrounding ships might provide too much noise interference. I just don’t know enough about the T-AGOS function to say. Still, it’s a possibility.
Consider these as just conceptual ramblings. Any or all might prove infeasible. On the other hand, any or all might prove to be feasible and allow us to gain some value from an otherwise currently useless ship.
How about it? Got any ideas of your own for the LCS?