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What’s Next After LCS?

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An artist's concept of the Multi-Mission Combatant offering based on the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship design. General Dynamics Photo

An artist’s concept of the Multi-Mission Combatant offering based on the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship design. General Dynamics Photo

On Monday the Pentagon capped the Littoral Combat Ship program at 32 ships and the Navy has been tasked with finding a more lethal surface combatant to follow on to the two LCS hulls that have been mired in controversy for the better part of a decade. Announced Monday by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Pentagon is directing the service to, “submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, consistent with the capabilities of a frigate,” he said in remarks to reporters at the Pentagon.

Hagel’s direction will kick off the search for the Navy’s first new surface combatant design in more than a decade. The search for the LCS follow on will run in tandem with early work for the service to replace its high end cruisers and destroyers which will expect to start construction in 2028, Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden, director of surface warfare (N96) for the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) told USNI News in an interview in the Pentagon on Jan. 9.

Hagel offered a few hints what the Pentagon is looking for in the follow on to the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class and Austal USA Independence-class LCS hulls.

“We need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and firepower to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific,” he said.
“If we were to build out the LCS program to 52 ships, as previously planned, it would represent one-sixth of our future 300-ship Navy. Given continued fiscal restraints, we must direct future shipbuilding resources toward platforms that can operate in every region and along the full spectrum of conflict.”

Criticisms from internal Pentagon reports from the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) have called into question the survivability of the Freedom and Independence class hulls, “because its design requirements do not require the inclusion of survivability features necessary to conduct sustained combat operations in a major conflict as expected for the Navy’s other surface combatants,” according to DOT&E’s most recent 2013 annual report.

Sources familiar with program shift told USNI News DOT&E will have a hand in the next study moving forward with new design.

The LCS is currently designed to be manned a crew of about 90 sailors for surface warfare (SuW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and mine countermeasure (MCM) operations. Each operation is executed by a series of mission packages that can be swapped out of the ship depending on the circumstances.

The Navy had planned to field 52 of the ships, split evenly between each variant. The service committed to buy 20 of the ships as part of a 2010 $8.9 billion block buy between Lockheed Martin and Austal.

The new ships would likely be built with a more permanent capability for ASW and SuW missions built into the hull with less of an emphasis placed on the modular aspect of the ships.

Whether or not the new ships will have a MCM capability remains to be seen. The U.S. Navy tested an organic capability for MCM on the guided missile destroyer USS Bainbridge (DDG-96) but cancelled the program.

USNI News reached out to several naval experts on potential follow-ons to the LCS and came back with four ships that could fit the bill under Hagel’s mandates.

Internationally, several frigate designs have proven successful but under U.S. law, those manufactures would have to partner with a U.S. company to move forward.

Though it’s still early in the process for the Navy, there are at least four contenders for the small surface combatant that have emerged over the last several years as so-called international variants for existing U.S. ships — or in one case — a foreign frigate built with extensive U.S. cooperation.

Patrol Frigate

Shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) has long pitched a gray hull variant of the Legend-class National Security Cutter (NSC) it’s currently building for the U.S. Coast Guard at its Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss.

An artist's conception of Huntington Ingalls Industries Patrol Frigate design. HII Photo

An artist’s conception of Huntington Ingalls Industries Patrol Frigate design. HII Photo

Dubbed the Patrol Frigate 4921 by HII, the 5,070 ton combatant would be built around a twelve missile cell vertical launch system (VLS) paired with an active phased array air search radar and X and S band surface search radars, according to information provided to USNI News by HII.

The ship concept includes torpedo tubes and hull mounted and towed array sonars for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) operations. The ship would have a combined diesel and gas turbine propulsion system, a top speed of 28 knots, an 8,000 nautical mile range and a 60-day endurance.

Freedom International Variant

Lockheed Martin has pitched a variant of its Freedom class LCS for international customers that — in its largest offering — includes VLS and AN/SPY-1F variant of the company’s Aegis radar. A version of the Multi-Mission Combatant is thought to be in the running as an offering for the Saudi Naval Expansion Plan II (SNEP II).

A Lockheed Martin concept for variations of the Freedom-class LCS design from corvette to Frigate sized hulls. Lockheed Martin Photo

A Lockheed Martin concept for variations of the Freedom-class LCS design from corvette to Frigate sized hulls. Lockheed Martin Photo

In late 2012, the company presented three variants of its Multi-Mission Combatant that range from a 1,650-ton corvette up to a 3,500-ton frigate sized ship, according to information provided to USNI News by Lockheed Martin. The largest variant would field the AN/SPY-1F with smaller versions built with a CEAFAR active phased array air search radar, according to an Oct. 2012 report in Jane’s Navy International.

The variants would preserve some measure of the modular mission space found on the Freedom-class LCS, according to the Lockheed material.

Independence International Variant

Before Austal USA split with General Dynamics to build the production variant of the Independence-class LCS, General Dynamics touted an Aegis capable international version of the trimaran with an air search radar capability.

Little else is known about the then proposed offering from General Dynamics.

That version of the Independence hull, “features an innovative trimaran hull form that provides outstanding stability, volume and sea keeping; a flight deck that is nearly three times the size of any other surface combatant; and a mission system that is built upon an open architecture computing environment,” according to a years-old release from General Dynamics. Austal USA — the current builder of the Independence ships — did not immediately return calls for comment.

F-100

The Spanish-built Álvaro de Bazán class frigates (F-100) are the most proven platform of the four ships experts told USNI News that were ready candidates for follow on to the LCS hulls.

Spanish Navy Ship Álvaro de Bazán (F-101) in 2005.

Spanish Navy Ship Álvaro de Bazán (F-101) in 2005.

The 4,555 ton ships field the U.S. Aegis weapon system, pairing an AN/SPY-1D air search radar with a 48 VLS cells armed with 32 SM 2 Block IIIA/B air defense missiles and Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM). The ship can also conduct the ASW mission with both a hull mounted sonar and a towed array, according to Naval Institute’s Guide to Combat Fleets of the World.

The Royal Australian Navy is basing its Hobart-class surface combatant on the F-100 design.

A previous relationship with General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW) between the F-100 shipbuilder Navantia’s predecessor (Izar) could make it easier to bridge international defense trade restrictions.

Izar had teamed with BIW and Lockheed Martin in 2000 to form the Advanced Frigate Consortium (AFCON) that jointly developed a smaller Aegis combatant for international export.

AFCON counted the F-100 ships and the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigates for the Royal Norwegian Navy as successes for the consortium, according to an archive of AFCON’s website.

  • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

    This is why the US Navy should start looking at buying a Frigate Design from Europe Such as the FREMM Frigate, Álvaro de Bazán class frigates, Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate, F-125 Frigate, Blohm+Voss MEKO® A-200 Class Frigate, Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate or the Type 26 GCS.

    • Jim

      Well, the Fremm by all accounts is an excellent ship, but it costs 800 million and doesn’t have mine sweeping capability. So I fail to see how it is an appropriate substitute.

      • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

        That’s cause the FREMM is not going to do MCM. It’s a Multi Role Frigate. That’s where LCS-2 is going to Do MCM, while LCS-1 is going to do corvette missions and support special operations.

    • Walter Sobchak

      What about one of the Danish ships that use the STANFLEX system? If they want modularity, why reinvent the wheel?

  • 2IDSGT

    We have plenty of DDGs, no need for a mini-Aegis destroyer. LCSs main weaknesses are undersized crews and lack of OFFENSIVE firepower. When people look back at this program, they’ll realize that the problem wasn’t so much with LCS itself, but with the lack of suitable weapons available for it. The cancellation of NLOS made these ships vulnerable to cuts. Interestingly, the USN seems to be doing the same thing with CVNs via its lukewarm attitude toward the F-35C. They want the ships, but they don’t seem to understand that its the weapons on-board that make them relevant.

    • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

      We don’t need the LCS acting like a Frigate. The LCS is NOT a Frigate but a undergunned Corvette. What the US Navy needs is a Multi Role Frigate that has firepower & sea legs

      • 2IDSGT

        What you’re describing doesn’t work either. Again, no need for mini-destroyers in the USN. What’s needed is LCS, with a few more teeth and a crew large enough to keep it running. We have enough DDGs already to handle the “firepower & sea legs” side of things.

        • http://nickysworld.wordpress.com/ Nicky

          you must be an LCS Fan boy who doesn’t know that the LCS is NOT a Frigate. It’s a Corvette SHIP. What we really need is a Multi Role Frigate cause we all know the LCS will never survive combat and will never survive an attack from an Anti Ship cruise missile.

        • Jim

          I could have even lived with an ESSM box launcher. But they had to have something. It seems like the attitude was well of course we’ll uparm when we need to. But they completely ignored the politics.

          I’m with you that the MiniBurke makes no sense. And I’m still trying to think of a realistic ROE that would have an LCS firing a harpoon missile from 50 miles away. If the ROE’s allowed for launching missiles from 50 miles away the LCS wouldn’t be in the vicinity. And people continue to ignore the fact that there are situations where a Griffin is the right weapon, and a larger weapon is not. For petesake, the Griffin was created because in some cases the Hellfire was too much, so it couldn’t be used. This isn’t make believe, where the more powerful weapon is the better weapon. In real life the better weapon is the one you can use to accomplish a specific task.

          Look at the ships in the Persian Gulf right now. It’s the Avenger Class and the Cyclone Class. The LCS is a lot more survivable than either of those.

          • Headman56

            The LCS is billed as a Littoral Combat Ship. Therefore it is expected to do combat in the Littorals. Our adversaries are now building (by the dozen) their own vessels to patrol and fight in the littorals. The Chinese Type 056 FFL is an example. If either LCS with current armaments met up with one of those vessels in the loittorals in the WestPac (where they carry four very lethal ASMS with ranges in excess of 100 km), our LCS vessel would be in very serious trouble. There is the scenario right there. A Burke dedcatied to such an engagement would be significant overkill. We either must up-arm the LCS, or build a decent multi-role frigate that can handle such missions.

  • tasmo

    ”Sighs”. If only in the early stages, the designers have some common sense about basic self defence capability, sacrificed a bit of speed and draft in exchange for a standard 16-cell MK-48 module , then we wouldn’t this many voices about the lack of firepower in the first place. The ship would then be able to carry ESSMs , ASROCs or even the up and coming LRASM.

    And I am not sure about the suitability of these European frigate designs. (If the LCS is so useless it can’t perform any one of it’s intended role).

    The USN wasn’t looking for a , as 2ISSGT said, mini-AEGIS boat that’s a miniature copy of the Burke or Tico. We already have plenty of DDGs and CGs for that. The USN was originally looking for a ship that

    - is reasonably armed;
    - can perform ASW
    - can perform MCM operations effectively. (Afterall the Avenger class needs replacing;
    - has an emphasis on situational awareness (crucial when operating in the difficult litterol environments) by having a larger hanger/mission space to accommodate a large number of current and future UAVs.

    Ships like the F-125, F-100 , Nansen, FREMM etc , cannot fulfil the points 3&4 above.

    These ”mini Aegis” , as mention earler , their roles are already covered by the existing DDGs and CGs.

    • 2IDSGT

      “If only in the early stages, the designers have some common sense about basic self defence capability, sacrificed a bit of speed and draft in exchange for a standard 16-cell MK-48 module , then we wouldn’t this many voices about the lack of firepower in the first place. The ship would then be able to carry ESSMs , ASROCs or even the up and coming LRASM.”

      —————————————
      Even those weapons would have been overkill for what the USN wanted. SeaRAM is adequate for the defensive purposes of LCS, but the lack of an offensive weapon with a range of more than 3-5nm is simply stupid. One could see getting by without LRSM on these boats, but the lack of a general purpose “in-betweener” missile makes the whole platform difficult to defend, both literally and figuratively.

      • Jon

        Or just simply called it the “Littoral Support Ship”, equipped it with a lightweight Oto 76mm mount as standard equipment, and extended the concept of modularity to providing the hull capacity for future/potential weapons loadouts there would be little grounds for complaint…

    • Jim

      +1

  • Tony

    I’m OK with mission modules for off-ship ISR and offensive unmanned vehicles, but I think an MCM should be purpose-built, and 3/4 of those should be in the Reserve Component. The single most expensive and so-far un-utilized (at least during it’s Singapore deployment) Key Performance Parameter (KPP) of LCS is high speed: you can build all sorts of 25-30 knot hulls quite economically, but not 45+ knot hulls, certainly not combined with a 3000 mile range requirement. I don’t think LCS-1 hull can maintain anywhere near it’s current max speed with a hull sonar, VLS cells, and a larger radar/gun, and it is a gas hog as it is, unable to keep up with a CSG even today. LCS-2 may be able to take the extra weight, I just think the multi-hull/aluminum design will not find favor in a future competition. I don’t think you need AEGIS (D or F) for a frigate, unless you want to add weight and $$cost$$. VLS makes sense, and it needs a weapon/sensor combination that can defeat the current threat of supersonic cruise missiles.

    Just some thoughts…

  • Peter

    Having 16 VLAs compared to the 40-round missile magazine of the OHP FFGs is a HUGE difference. The new FFG will have less offensive and defensive missile firepower than the legacy frigate it’s replacing. True, one could fire 16 VLA missiles faster than the MK13 single-arm launcher, but we’re talking about 24 fewer missiles.

    I am not sure if this is the start of the “Less Weapons Deathspiral” which seems to be a trend with newer weapons systems such as the USCG NSC having no missiles or torpedo tubes, and the F-35 being armed with only two AAMs. This trend of arming newer ships with fewer weapons magazine inventory should stop.

    • gunshotlead

      But each VLS tube can carry a quad pack of ESSM, which is significantly more effective at both point and area defense than the Perry’s old SM-1. That’s 64 rounds compared to 40. Even if you gave up 8 holes for Harpoon, that’s still 56 AAW missilkes.

      • estuartj

        Is Harpoon VLS capable? I thought only Tomahawks were, could be wrong…
        Either way this FFG model will have a difficult time producing the power or carrying enough weapons to be survivable in any sort of hostile ASCM enviorment. If the ship can’t operate outside of the DDG/CVN umbrella than what’s the point of building an ASW auxillary?
        I think the 32 LCS will find a useful niche as surface patrol vs non-peer hostiles like Pirates and Iranian style swarm boats, and will eventually provide useful flexiblity as MCM, but IMO we are fast approaching the era where any ship without high end AAW (and perhaps BMD too) isn’t survivable in any contested sea-space.

        • gunshotlead

          It doesn’t have to be Harpoon. It could be LRASM or a different strike missile. 56 missiles is still better than most small combatants today.

          I don’t know why folks think that independent steaming still exists in the modern navy. Stop watching Master & Commander. No single ship is a) capable of completely handling and overcoming all threat types and b) is expected to operate singly in wartime (subs being the obvious exception). The proposed FFG would work in concert in a task group, so it will benefit from AAW, aviation support, etc.

          • gunshotlead

            And the point of having a low-end asset is to send them up against threats that don’t merit a larger vessel. In OOTW, you want a ship like this instead of sending a 1 Billion dollar DDG to chase pirates. When you need to help teach another nation’s navy how to interoperate with you (so *they* can chase the pirates and you don’t so you can stay ready for a bigger threat – called partner building) – they can understand and absorb your lessons because that FFG is close to what passes for a major combatant in their inventory. There are many reasons to have this type of ship – not just for explicit war fighting.

  • estuartj

    The key failing of the LCS is that the mission module system was a bridge too far, making an affordable hull capable of doing 3 jobs with one base system was desined for failure. I do think the LCS can prove to be a valuable asset in Surface Warfare vs non-peer enemies (ie Iran and East Africa Pirates, etc) and in MCM (if they can make the module work). But the ASW and AAW roles call for a large multi-mission hullform.
    My fear though is that no surface combatant below the Aegis level is going to be survivable in any near-peer-to-peer engagement. That IMO is the key limitation of the retiring FFGs, if you can’t provide any area Air-Defense you are just a target.

    • Jon

      Why, would you build a light ASuW ship, non-survivable in a combat environment, tout it as a “The Best Swarm Killer in the Fleet” (which doesn’t say much for the rest of the fleet), with organic helos/drones providing targeting, networked sensors/combat management suite…that can’t shoot over the horizon? Why, leave your guns at home, leave the house wearing a t-shirt…when you know the other guy is outside waiting with a knife?

      As far as MCM goes…they’re retiring the first Avengers as we speak. Proven ships, designed specifically for the job, that cost $225 million full up. Replacing them with the LCS (in a few years, if they get the hardware to work, maybe), costing $500+ million, that in best possible case, won’t be as effective, or provide the same range of capabilities. That doesn’t make any type of sense, economic or other wise…

  • Wellstone

    This approach seems short-sighted to me. With its large flight deck and huge 11,000 cubic meter hold, the LCS is capable of delivering and collecting multiple platoons with light armor and logistics into hotspots with ease.

    I understand it has now become extremely vulnerable to likely air and SSM attacks, but there are many solutions for that.

    We need to be able to deliver strong SEAL, Ranger, and Special Forces mission teams now more than ever, to places like the South China Sea, Hormuz, Panama Canal, the Sea of Japan, the East Med, and other places. I don’t see anything that can take the LCS’ place for this type of mission.

    • Jon

      Look at the JHSV. 25% larger mission bay, mission planning center, berthing/facilities for 120 passengers, better aviation facilities, stern ramp, stern crane, folding vehicle ramp, 650 ton load, 40 knots, 6k cruise range.

      Real question, is why the LCS at all?

  • David Heller

    Ambassador MK III/MK IV Missile Boat — already built in the U.S. by Halter Marine. Armament; 8 × RGM-84 Boeing Harpoon SSM Block 1G in 2 quad canister launchers1 × General Dynamics/OTO Melara Mk 75 76 mm/62 Super Rapid DP gun
    1 × Mk 31 Mod 3 RIM-116 RAM (21 missiles)
    1 × Raytheon Mk 15 Mod 21 Phalanx (Block 1B) 20 mm Phalanx CIWS
    2 × deck-mounted 7.62 mm M60 machine guns.

    Also, 3D radar, data-links installed for sharing information, ECM,ESM ECCM measures built-in with a reduced radar signature, and a 41 Knot speed with a crew of 36.

    WE already Build this thing………… we’re shipping them to Egypt as I write this for about $230M a pop.

    We don’t have to reinvent the wheel…………. it’s already round.

    • GJohnson

      While you’re right, these vessels have short range and no helicopter capability. That said, it’s not at all difficult to add the Harpoons, a Phalanx, 21-cell RAM, and ESSM In a 48-cell VLS. We could also add twin torpedo tubes launched from the lower module bay where they’re stored for the helos anyway.

      Upgrade data links if necessary, and more ESM, and add a bow-mounted sonar (no towed arrays here -water jets makes them useless), and you’ve got a major increase in offensive and defensive capacity.

      Increase the complement to 120 or so, and return to the days of having a platoon or two of Marines and/pr SEALS permanently attached to each LCS, and you’ve got a true multimission vessel.

      Most importantly, increase the fire-fighting, flood control, and damage control capabilities, add bridge wings, a separate CIC, increase fuel for patrol speeds, and you’ve got a warship.

      • Tortply

        Or Sa’ar V, also US-built, which does include a helo hangar and a great deal of capability.

  • CaptainParker

    The whole underlying assumption has been to have a small ship that could go into harm’s way and, if lost in battle, wouldn’t beggar the Navy into bankruptcy. OK…so let’s build a basic 2500 ton frigate with a gun, surface to air/surface to surface missiles and an ASW capability. The Europeans have several quality designs (ooh, bugga bugga…perish the thought that the U.S. Navy would have to license a foreign design. The Navy should look at its own history – when the Spanish American War erupted, the Navy needed light cruisers because many of the domestic designs sucked. They bought two cruisers from Britain’s Elswick yard – the New Orleans and Albany both gave 30 years of excellent service). If the Brass are too proud to go that route, why not use a modernized design of the Perry-class frigates – certainly a design that has given great bang for the buck. Let’s be blunt – the Brass are too hung up on spending tons of taxpayer money for Buck Rogers technology while ignoring whether the ship can be used and whether it CAN PERFORM THE MISSION!

  • APC

    Why doesn’t the US Navy buy into the Royal Navy Type 26 Frigate programme? It has 3 variants General Purpose AAW and ASW BAE has a US Arm already and is being considered by a number of nations.

    It is just a common hull that can be fitted it out with US Radars & weapon systems etc etc

    It is planned to be able to launch UAV and remote mine clearance UAV’s.

    Has a large range
    The US Navy has used British designs before (The Harrier)

    The frigates are already cheap and could be cheap with a massive US Buy in.

    What are your thoughts?