PENTAGON — Navy operators said the service’s next small surface combatant (SSC) top priorities should be fighting other surface ships at longer ranges and hunting and killing submarines — not fighting fighters, striking land targets at long range or conducting ballistic missile defense (BMD), service leaders outlined last week when they briefed the follow-on to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to reporters.
In response to fleet input, and approved by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the up gunned variants of the existing Flight 0 Lockheed Martin Freedom and Austal USA Independence designs beef up anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and surface warfare (SuW) weapons and sensors but still largely ignore air threats.
“The capability the fleet placed its priorities on [were], ‘We need a multi-mission capable ship, over the horizon — both surface and ASW capability — and then to provide a degree of self defense capability that would allow the ship to operate independently and as a part of a battle group for surface action groups and battle force protection’,” Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) told reporters on Thursday.
“Missions that are assigned for anti-air warfare, [ballistic] missile defense (BMD), strike, those are allocated to the large surface combatant. Separately, mine countermeasure mission, which is typical of a small surface combatant, will be accomplished as part of the 32 earlier LCSes.”
As part of the Navy’s most recent force structure assessment the service has lumped its outgoing frigates (FFG), LCS, Avenger-class MCMs and the Cyclone class patrol craft (PC) under the SSC umbrella while its Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers (DDG-51) and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers (CG-47) and trio of planned Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyers (DDG-1000) operate under the large surface combatants (LSC) banner.
The SSC classification wrapped up ships intended to operate close to shore in the lowest levels of conflict — in so-called Phase 0 and Phase 1 conditions.
“The Navy needs a Small Surface Combatant. We have about 32 today, we need 52 to do the job out there out in the future and this ship will meet that need,” Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert said on Thursday.
“[The modified LCS] brings the added capability to the fleet, per the fleet’s input.”
No Vertical Launch System
Perhaps the biggest surprise to naval watchers when the service revealed the LCS follow-on was the absence of a more offensive anti-air warfare (AAW) capability on the two hulls.
Proposed export versions of both Independence and Freedom classes from Austal USA and Lockheed Martin featured a vertical launch system and upgraded 3D search radar and the capability to field the Navy’s family of Standard Missiles developed for the Aegis Combat System.
In the ten months since Hagel announced his decision to cap the Flight 0 LCS at 32 hulls and directed the Navy to find a ship “consistent with the capabilities of a frigate,” a myriad of naval experts contacted by USNI News suggested one of the first capabilities added to SSC would be an AAW capability.
The new design concepts include an unspecified 3D radar but not the missiles.
Greenert said the SSC task force assessed adding VLS but decided against it in the final calculus.
“They did evaluate a vertical launch system [but] it’s kind of heavy, kind of big, [it requires] major change, cost, time,” he said.
“It was considered, but I’ll leave you with that.”
However, the Navy kept modular aspects of the LCS in the follow-on and there maybe margins for the service to add a smaller missile, like the Raytheon Evolved Sea Sparrow (ESSM), in a smaller VLS system, like the Mk 56 VLS.
When by USNI News asked about the possibility of adding an additional AAW capability on the follow-ons, the service reiterated the Thursday statements of Greenert and Stackley.
“The top priorities for the modified LCS are consistent with emerging threat environments, Navy force structure, fleet input and small surface combatant capabilities and roles across the spectrum of conflict,” read a Monday statement from the service.
Sub Hunting, Surface Warfare and Special Operations
Both Stackley and Greenert stressed the benefits of the modularity retained in the follow-ons.
“The modular concept that remains with the first 32, that still has great value to the Navy,” Stackley said.
“One of the beauties modular design feature is those mission packages are going to continue to evolve as the threat evolves and you will continue to have the ability to upgrade, update your capabilities to keep pace with the threat with out having to bring the ship into depot and bring it down to its knees and build it back up in a major overhaul.”
The new design will be able to “swing” between an emphasis on ASW and surface warfare.
Swung toward ASW, the follow-on has , “a detect and kill capability unlike any other platform in the Navy,” Stackley said.
The 20 ships will feature a fixed multi-function towed sonar array that can be augmented by variable depth sonar under development for the existing LCS ASW missions package — currently a Thales towed array.
“You add is a variable depth sonar and when you add that in conjunction with a multi-function towed array, you have the most effective ASW sensor platform in the Navy,” Stackley said.
“You add to that a helicopter with its torpedo capability, now you have a detect and kill capability unlike any other platform in the Navy.”
The key addition of the SUW swing will be the inclusion of an over-the-horizon anti-ship missile (ASM)that would work in concert with the Navy’s plan to include the shorter range Longbow Hellfire AGM-114L missile and the ship’s guns. The current stand-in for the modified LCS is the decades-old Harpoon Block II ASM.
“We are looking at other surface-to-surface missile systems that would compete with Harpoon to get on this ship. That’s over the horizon,” Stackley said.
“At the horizon you have an armed helicopter onboard… with Hellfire missiles. Inside the horizon, you have the Longbow missile system. You add to that the 57 mm gun, two 30 mm guns, two 25 mm guns and what you’ve got is an extremely lethal surface warfare configuration.”
Stackley also hinted the ship could be used for special warfare operations.
“The ship in its SUW capability has the ability to carry two 11 meter RHIBS… to quickly deploy for, let’s say, ‘special missions’,” he said.
In addition to the increased ASW and SUW capabilities, the service will also move the ships to a common combat management system. Currently each variant of the LCS has its own.
Now that the service has its concept approved by Hagel, the service will now work on an acquisition strategy and how to create a competition for the follow-on designs.