I agree that we need to modernize our fleets to remain supreme on the high Seas. Our secure world relies on the fact that we protect our continent and sometimes other countries. By land and by sea as the old saying goes. New technology has aided to make the new LCS ships, faster and stealthier than our previous Navy ships. And as with any project of this size it started many years ago.
Back in the 1990s, the U.S. Navy came up with a radical plan to replace its tried-and-true Perry-class frigates, at the time the sailing branch’s most numerous surface warship.
The idea was to build lots of copies of a cheap, fast, lightweight “Littoral Combat Ship” with plenty of empty space inside. These “modular” vessels would swap different weapons, sensors, helicopters and drones—all depending on the particular mission.
That plan has collapsed. And now we know how the Navy will fix it—by building tougher, more heavily armed versions of the same modular ships.
Boy howdy, the original LCS is a mess. The 3,000-ton-displacement vessel—the Navy has three in commission so far—is flimsy, lightly armed with just a few short-range guns and missiles and guzzles gas. And at $500 million a pop, the class isn’t anywhere near as cheap as the Navy originally promised.
Surprising no one, in February Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the sailing branch would cancel the last 20 of the 52 LCSs it was building … and replace them with 20 new frigate-like “small surface combatants” starting in 2019.
“The LCS was designed to perform certain missions—such as minesweeping and anti-submarine warfare—in a relatively permissive environment,” Hagel said. “But 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.”
China, in other words. We actually simulated a confrontation between two LCSs and a pair of Chinese warships and, chillingly, neither of the American vessels survived the encounter. Both Chinese ships did.
After 10 months of study, Hagel revealed on Dec. 11 that the new surface combatant would be … an LCS. With more guns. More missiles. More armor. Better sensors.
“By avoiding a new class of ships and new system design costs, it also represents the most responsible use of our industrial base investment while expanding commonality in the fleet,” Hagel explained.
Shipyards in Wisconsin and Alabama each build their own sub-class of LCS—one a monohull, the other a triple-hull trimaran, both with similar weapons, sensors and shortfalls. The Pentagon hasn’t said whether the new “frigate” LCS will be a version of just one sub-class or both.
In any event, the new LCS will get an enhanced radar, a towed sonar for detecting submarines, new jammers and missile- and torpedo-fooling decoys, extra 25-millimeter cannons, an over-the-horizon-range anti-ship missiles plus more armor and measures to reduce the ship’s detectability by enemy sensors.
The frigate LCSs will also keep the basic weapons and other gear of the baseline LCSs, including anti-ship Hellfire missiles, 30-millimeter guns, short-range anti-air missiles and facilities for H-60 helicopters and drone rotorcraft.
Orson Wells may have been more accurate in his predictions than I could have imagined as kid growing up in the 1960’s. Robot or remote controlled warfare. Cool but scary at the same time.