The Navy and Marine Corps are testing out whether Littoral Combat Ships armed with anti-ship missiles could be key to how the Marines employe their island-hopping strategy in the Pacific.
The platform, which has struggled to find its footing in the surface fleet, could aid the Marine Corps in its Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) mission, Naval Surface Forces commander Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener said last week.
“We looked at lethality and adding [Naval Strike Missile] and then some of the experimentation we’re looking at, particularly in the area of finding, getting targeting data and things like that,” Kitchener told reporters in a Friday media call previewing the upcoming Surface Navy Association symposium. “We think that LCS out in the first island chain and supporting EABO with the Marines and littoral warfare – [is] a very potent hull. And we continue to work it and we’ll continue to find better ways to get it more reliable and more sustainable.”
The Navy has done some experimentation with using the LCS for EABO out in U.S. 7th Fleet and off the coast of California, including in a recent exercise called Steel Knight, which featured amphibious ships and unmanned assets working to pass information back and forth to each other.
The idea from the Navy is the LCS would work in conjunction with the Light Amphibious Warship, a program the Marine Corps is pursuing to shuttle Marines around Indo-Pacific archipelagos and shorelines, where they would set up ad-hoc bases to fire anti-ship missiles.
Kitchener described LAW and LCS as a “complement” to each other in the EABO mission. LAW could move Marines around, while LCS provides necessary firepower to the emerging Marine Littoral Regiment formations. The Navy plans to outfit each LCS with the Naval Strike Missile and is prioritizing fielding the weapons on ships heading to the Indo-Pacific.
“LAW – we see it as going to be able to move people and things around. LCS can do that, but LCS can also move and be different places with different packages that are tactically relevant, whether it’s a [unmanned aerial vehicle], a [unmanned undersea vehicle], or be somewhere where it can employ NSM, alongside of those Marine Regiments that are employing NSM from their positions where they’re bedded down,” Kitchener said.
“In Steel Knight, where we’re passing data from Marines to ships and ships to Marines, that focus on controlling [sea lanes of communication] is kind of what we’re doing there to get right at it. And so I do think it is going to become a viable platform to support those kind of missions as far as – alongside of LAW. I think you kind of need a little bit of both,” he added. “LAW can help the Marines move their gear around. LCS is going to give them a little bit of a punch working alongside of them. And so I think those are the things we’ve been working out in 7th Fleet and some of the things we’ve been working off the coast here.”
During an August visit aboard USS Kansas City (LCS-22), Rear Adm. Robert Nowakowski, the deputy commander of Navy Recruiting Command and Naval Education and Training Command Force Development who is currently leading an initiative called Task Force LCS, emphasized the speed of the LCS in making the case for the platform to participate in the EABO mission.
“I mean these ships are fast. And one of the options is to use these ships to transport between the island chain. Now, if you have missiles on these island chains and you have ships moving people between the island chain, that’s a whole other element of surprise, a whole other strategy, that throws a curveball to our adversary,” Nowakowski said at the time.
“How do they know what we have specifically? We’re going to have stuff on the ships, but we’re also going to have stuff on the land. And we’re moving people around all the time – it’s hard for them to counter it,” he continued. “And if they do counter it, they have to have more forces in order to counter it. So it just adds a whole other level of complexity and lethality to our national security.”
The Independence-class ships, with their large mission bays, could house Marines and their equipment, USNI News previously reported. Kitchener on Friday also highlighted the ability to deploy both UAVs and UUVs from the Independence-class ships.
“I think I would use something that – you know what I really like about it, to be honest with you, it’s got the big well deck. It’s got an incredible flight deck, particularly the Independence variant, where I can use UAVs. UUVs can launch from them,” Kitchener said. “And if I can put more weapons on it, I think it’s really good. I think it’s a good support for that whole EAB Marine logistics regiment that we would use in the first island chain. So, yeah, I think having something like that, LCS-like, in our tool bag, is something that we should pursue.”
While the Navy is evaluating new ways to employ the LCS in the Indo-Pacific, Kitchener also noted the ships still have to perform the mine countermeasure mission. Fielding both the anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasure packages on the LCS have been delayed.
“I think there’s some other walk-on capabilities we can use and the ability to do targeting. I also think that – as I discussed earlier – the UAS, UUV stuff, is very key to their mission. I think that’s going to give them more lethality. And then let’s not forget, we do need them to do our MCM mission and we’re tagged by Congress to do that. We deployed a couple of the ships out there this time, have the aviation MCM capability and we should be finishing up the surface capability this year,” Kitchener said.
“And so I think that combination – and I’m always looking for other things to put on LCS – and so it’s a great, with that big mission bay, there is a lot of things you can do,” he added. “Talking to our Navy commandos that are down the strand from us here, there are some things we’ve worked with them on, and we’ll continue to experiment and make it more lethal. But it’s got a great role out there in EAB mission and 7th Fleet continues to experiment with it.”