Home » Budget Industry » Pentagon Caps LCS at 32 Hulls, Hagel Directs Navy to Evaluate ‘Capable and Lethal’ Frigate Designs

Pentagon Caps LCS at 32 Hulls, Hagel Directs Navy to Evaluate ‘Capable and Lethal’ Frigate Designs

USS Freedom (LCS-1), left, and USS Independence (LCS-2) in 2012. US Navy Photo

USS Freedom (LCS-1), left, and USS Independence (LCS-2) in 2012. US Navy Photo

The Pentagon will cut the final number of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) by 20 — from 52 to 32 — and shortly begin a study on a new frigate for the service, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel told reporters at a Fiscal Year 2015 Defense Department budget preview on Monday afternoon.

“I am concerned that the Navy is relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long-term goals for ship numbers. Therefore, no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward. With this decision, the LCS line will continue beyond our five-year budget plan with no interruptions,” Hagel said in remarks to reporters at the Pentagon.

Hagel has instead directed the Navy to, “submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.”

The Navy is to consider options that would include, “a completely new design, existing ship designs and a modified LCS. These proposals are due to me later this year in time to inform next year’s budget submission.”

The Navy bought both Lockheed Martin’s Freedom-class and Austal USA’s Independence-class LCS variants in 2010 in an $8.9 billion deal for 20 ships.

The Navy had planned to execute a second block buy of ships as part of the Fiscal Year 2015 budget.

The move from the Pentagon follows a veiled reference from acting deputy secretary of defense Christine Fox that the Pentagon should avoid an over reliance on so-called “niche platforms,” she said earlier this month.

“Presence is important – presence with a purpose, and with capability,” she said.
“But with limited resources and global responsibilities, we simply can’t afford to build a navy tailored for one region and one kind of fight.”

The Navy has pushed back publically on a rumors of reduction in the number of LCS that emerged earlier this year.

“We have a valid requirement for 52 ships, and the program is performing strongly,” Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told reporters in January.
“So the Navy’s position on the LCS program is that it is solid.”

The service views much of the LCS missions to be in the so-called Phase 0 operations — establishing ongoing peaceful interactions with international entities — and Phase 1 operations — early shows of force and presence ahead of an armed conflict. LCS operations would free up other ships for higher end operations.

“LCS is not a [guided missile destroyer],” Capt. Randy Garner, Commodore of LCS Squadron (LCSRON) One, told USNI News in an interview on Feb. 20 on the overall program.
“That is relatively obvious. We are not going to shoot satellites out of the sky.”

Garner and Cmdr. Jerry Olin, the U.S. Surface Forces requirements officer for the LCS program, would not speak to what a reduction in the ships would mean for the program and gave their comments based on the Navy’s stated overall vision for LCS.

Olin said “in Phase 1 and Phase 0 operations it’s far more economical to operate a $400 million ship than a $1.75 billion destroyer with a crew of 300 people to conduct many of the lower end missions with what we do in the Navy with about 98 percent of our time.”

Both hulls of the LCS will 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 MCM mission is among the most crucial for the ships as the Navy’s current Avenger-class (MCM-1)minesweepers are among the service’s oldest ships and are rapidly reaching the end of their service lives.

The new frigate study will be overseen, in part, by the Pentagon’s Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E), a defense official familiar with the modified program, told USNI News.
DOT&E has been highly critical of the LCS program in its annual reports for years calling the ships under gunned and not survivable in certain combat situations.

The new study opens the door for the first new combat surface ship design concept in more than a decade.

Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) — builder of the Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) guided missile destroyer — has been open about adopting its National Security Cutter design for the Coast Guard as an option if the Navy decided to build a more traditional frigate.

Lockheed and Austal have both shopped beefed up variants of their ships for international customers in recent years.

  • Now that they are capping the LCS at 32 and realizing that the LCS is never going to be a Frigate. Maybe now they can ARM the LCS like a Corvette that is so common in Europe, Middle East and Asia. I’d arm the LCS in a similar fashion to the Braunschweig-class corvette, Steregushchy-class corvette, Sa’ar 5-class corvette, or the MILGEM project. At the same time, start looking at buying a Frigate Design from Europe Such as the FREMM Frigate, F-125 Frigate, Blohm+Voss MEKO® A-200 Class Frigate, Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate or the Type 26 GCS

    • estuartj

      I’m still not sure they have a firm idea of what to do with the LCS SuW package. Who are they intending to fight? Iranian gunboats? Pirates? The cancelled missle system and the planned Hellfiire instillation all point to enemies at less than peer level. This is fine as far as it goes, but is the replacement FFG going to be any better prepared for peer to peer small ship action (ie taking out those save frigate/corvettes from China?, and is that even necessary?).
      My guess is they’ll go with a full install SuW component for the remaining LCS, scrap the ASW package and push ahead with the MCM. A MCM platform capable of handling swarm boat attacks and/or anti-piracy patrols is a nice asset to have, and the new FFG will be a dedicated ASW platform with a limited group AAW capability in order to defend itself and a convoy from sub launched ASMs.
      Aegis is obviously too “big” for a FF hull, which is why the Perry class FFG are being sold off before the end of their hull lifespan.

      • Patrick Bechet

        The OHPs are beyond the end of their hull lives. Their engines are shot too. As for Aegis, someone should tell the Norwegians and Spanish that Aegis can’t fit on a frigate hull! See Namsen class and F-100 class frigates.

  • Peter

    This makes sense considering that the Oliver Hazard Perry (OHP) frigates are nearing the end of their service lives. I just hope that the new frigate will not be a “gunboat” design and will carry missiles with longer range than the SeaRAM.

    Another article quoted that the new frigate might be armed with a 76mm gun, Harpoon, 16 VLA tubes, torpedo tubes, and a 20mm CIWS…a bit less armament than the OHPs with their forward magazine of 40 missiles. However, including ESSM VLAs and SeaRAM may bump up the missile count.

    • estuartj

      What good is a 16 VLA tube system without Aegis? If you are operating in a strike group then the 16 tubes don’t contribute much and if you aren’t then the SM-series missles require Aegis which an FFG is too small to carry (or provide power for). That’s the whole reason they removed the SM launch system from the Perry’s before selling them off.

      • Peter

        That’s not true. The reason why they took off the MK13 single-rail launcher from the OHP FFGs was because the firing arm was exposed and the missile contacts rusted in the open sea air and spray, meaning the contacts couldn’t hold onto the missile underneath. There’s nothing worse than reloading the MK13 and having the missile FALL OFF the rail before launching because of the rust. As such, for safety’s sake, all MK13 single-arm launchers were removed from the OHPs and the 40-missile magazine cylinder plated over.

        There was talk of installing VLAs in place of the MK13, but the US Navy decided against that for cost reasons and instead installed a MK38 MOD 2 25mm autocannon in the place of the MK13s.

        VLAs are the best safe way to store missiles on a ship.

        • Patrick Bechet

          What source do you have for this? I had heard the removal of the MK-13 from tge OHPs was due to the discontinuation of SM-1 production and the expiration date of the rounds in inventory having been reached.

          • Peter

            I believe I read it in the newspaper. IRRC, there was an article where this sailor refused to serve aboard a OHP because it lacked missiles. In essence, he called the ship “A gunboat” and didn’t want to go patrol against pirates in only a gunboat. The newspaper article went on to explain that the reason why OHPs lacked missiles was because the MK-13 was removed…and the issue of corrosion with the MK-13 and the mounting rail. Yes, the SM-1s were taken out of service, but the article said the MK-13s were also old and shot and hard to maintain. Again, this is all from memory.

            I don’t know if that sailor got a Court Martial or was assigned to another naval ship with missiles.

          • Patrick Bechet

            Thanks for the response Peter. I was surprised when I read your post as the MK-13 has been usedon the Charles F Adams class for as long as the OHP class and without (I believe) the corrosion issue. BTW one of the saddest sights I’ve seen is a OHP without the MK-13 and a puny 25mmin its place. It almost feels disrespectful to this great class of Frigate (and when you look at OHP exploits in the Gulf, during Earnest Will and Desert Storm, they are a great class).

    • Joseph Hoffman

      All of the Oliver Hazard Perry class Frigates had their Standard Missiles and Harpoon Missiles removed as a cost saving measure back in 2004. For the last ten years the Oliver Hazard Perry class has operated as a patrol frigate or gunboat, similar to an FFH. The proposed improved LCS or new frigate will suffer the same fate as the CGX and DDG-1000, either built in insufficient numbers or cancelled completely as President Obama’s disarmament program accelerates.

  • Pat Patterson

    Should have capped the LCS at 24 ships.

  • DF

    “But with limited resources and global responsibilities, we simply can’t afford to build a navy tailored for one region and one kind of fight.”

    “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” ??

    I’m unsure about ASW ships, but do patrol boats and MCM ships have a survivability rating suitable for a potential war with China? I don’t think so, and even so the LCS has a 1+ rating as opposed to the 1 rating those ships have had.

    “…to conduct many of the lower end missions with what we do in the Navy with about 98 percent of our time.”

    I’m not understanding these decisions.

  • jm2112

    LCS = underarmed target. Cancel that overpriced pig.

  • Dwight Looi

    About time! But let’s cap it at 10 — those already built or under construction — not 32! We don’t need 32 blue water race crafts with a gun or two; we need proper frigates.

    Let’s look at the LCS design paradigm.

    (1) They are very lightly armed… One 57mm gun and one short range RAM launcher (a navalized version of the Shoulder fired stinger with a bigger motor) — that’s less armament than every single 3rd world Missile Gunboat or Corvette. They carry a Helo or two, but that’s a lot of money for a very vulnerable mobile landing pad.

    (2) They are unnecessarily fast ships at 45~47 knots. Unnecessary because you don’t chase down pirate boats with a fast ship. You chase them down with a Helo or two!!!

    (3) They have been scandalously problematic from day one — especially the Freedoms.

    (4) The hulls are decidedly unsuitable for the fitting of proper sensors and armament required of a multi-role frigate. You can’t squeeze in more than about 8 Mk41 VLS cells, the superstructure can’t take a proper air defense radar system and the (planning and trimaran) hulls make sticking hull or bow array sonars on them difficult if not impractical. The are designed for efficiency at very high speeds (in excess of 40 knots), whereas what is needed most of the time is endurance and efficiency at 16~22 knots.

    (5) All of the above would have been fine if they are cheap. They aren’t at over $700 million for the first ships and about $400~500 if built in numbers.

  • Dwight Looi

    What is needed is a REAL frigate. The specifications of which are actually quite simple and quite conventional:-

    FFG-500(?) Multi-role Frigate

    Complement: <= 100

    Displacement: ~ 5,000 tons
    Speed: 30 knots
    Endurance: 6,000 nm @ 18 knots

    Sensors: AMDR-X or SPY-3 radar arrays (no S-band), SLQ-32(V) SEWIP, SQS-61 HF Sonar, SQR-20 Towed Array

    Engines: 1 x GE LM6000 Gas turbine Generator @ 42 MWe + 2 x Catepillar MaK 32 Diesel Generators 7.7 MWe + Batteries
    Propulsion: 1 x Rolls-Royce Kamewa SL waterjet 67,000 shp (50 MWe Induction Motor) + 1 x 350 hp bow thruster

    Missile Armanent: 24~32-cell Mk41 or Mk57 VLS (ESSM, SM-6, VLA and LRASM missiles; typically 32 ESSM, 8 SM-6, 4 VLA, 4LRASM in 24-cell arrangements)
    Gun: Mk110mod (1) 57mm + 2 x Mk38 25mm
    Torpedoes: 2 x Twin Mk32 324mm torpedoe tubes
    Aircraft: 1 x MH60 + 1 x MQ-8B VUAV

    Cost cap: $750~1 Billion

  • Guest

    good news. 20-30 of these is enough for minesweeping and basic patrols in low intensity areas / coastlines. We need a new frigate for the rest of the world though.

  • Secundius

    Make the FREEDOM class into a Perimeter Action Ship or Fast Destroyer designs and make the INDEPENDENCE class into a Through-Deck Frigate design.