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Thoughts on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)


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I've been doing a little thinking about the LCS, both in terms of the politics and the possibilities for scenario design.

 

My limited understanding of the controversy surrounding the LCS is that a) people are annoyed that the ship has cost so much to develop and build and B) people are disappointed that some of the promises associated with the design (all those modules, etc.) have not been delivered. I don't know how justified these complaints are, but it sounds like there have been a lot of problems with the development of the LCS, and these are certainly legitimate reasons for people to be upset.

 

Question...from what I can tell, there are currently contracts to build 10 of each type of LCS. Are there plans to go beyond these 20 vessels (I understand the Navy originally wanted something like 50 of them) or will that be the point where the LCS is phased out in favor of something else? What have people heard or read on this topic?

 

It seems to me that the LCS is basically a big (and regrettably expensive) patrol ship. Actually, I get the impression that is really one of the biggest objections to it--it's not so much that the LCS is a particularly bad design but that it is costing a lot more than people think it should cost--it's probably a reasonably capable patrol boat/corvette but it has ended up costing as much as a destroyer.

 

In any event, for better or worse, it looks like we will be getting a bunch of them. How should they be used in scenario design?

 

It would work well as a scout for a larger task force or as a main combatant in low intensity conflicts (hunting pirates, hunting terrorists, etc.).

 

It also sounds like it would serve well as a escort if the primary threats will be small surface vessels (pirates, other patrol boats, etc.) or submarines. It is not meant to take on a task force of destroyers or other large warships. It would also serve as a force multiplier for such missions--instead of using two destroyers, one destroyer and one LCS, while less effective, would be adequate, and would free up the second destroyer for other missions. Does this make sense?

 

How well would the LCS work as a major combantant against small nations--e.g., Central American or African states that have very small air forces (some with no combat aircraft except helicopters) and small navies? If other assets were tied up with other conflicts, how might one use a wolfpack of four or five of these ships, with a dozen drones and helicopters, and a company or two of Marines? How would a task force like this fare against, say, Nicaragua or Togo? (I'm assuming a limited mission like a couple of raids rather than an invasion.) What about somewhat larger and more capable nations like Uraguay or Cambodia or Cameroon? What are the realistic limits of what the LCS can do for the US (or anyone else who buys it...I understand some other countries are looking at it)?

 

Thoughts? Observations? Suggestions? Comments?

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The LCS came up (again) during discussions on IRC yesterday.

 

Consensus seemed to be (and TonyE or Brains can correct me if I misstate) that the 'concept' of modules for swappable anti-submarine, anti-surface, mine countermeasures (or what have you) roles is not necessarily flawed, but its implementation into an inexpensive (this almost never works out) platform that can make effective use of those modules - the LCS - is flawed.

 

The ASW module, for example, cost in excess of $200 million in its first (circa 2008) iteration and is still being modified.

 

Looks like the latest plan will include VDS, towed array (probably the SQR-20), an UAV, helicopter and torpedo countermeasure. That doesn't sound cheap, and the most effective tool in the toolbox there is probably the helicopter. Which, of course, already exists and doesn't need to operate from the LCS.

 

The partially complete ASUW modules include a pair of 30mm guns and an 11 meter small boat. Again, not particularly impressive, and no missiles are expected until after 2017 (and then maybe just the very short ranged Griffin?).

 

The MCM module is still a mess.

 

Current plans call for nine LCS by 2016, but there won't be a single 'mission capable' module among the bunch. That's a sad reflection on the state of the program.

 

I don't see a role for LCS as a scout for task forces. A surface ship would make a poor scout these days, what with myriad better ways of performing reconnaissance, many of which don't put anyone in harm's way.

 

Without an effective ASUW module - one that includes large numbers of weapons, for example - the LCS would fare poorly against a swarm of small boats. Especially if those boats carry more than your small caliber MG or RPG. Frankly, the LCS might be eaten alive.

 

In a region of small navies or non-existent navies, then maybe the LCS would find its legs. But that's an awfully expensive ship for such a low exposure role. A coast guard cutter with a 3 inch gun and a helipad might serve just as well there.

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In HCE I've tried the same questions with this scenario:

http://harpgamer.com/harpforum/index.php?/files/file/616-lcs-goes-to-war-battle-off-vietnam-2015/

The idea is not to update the scenario, the idea is test the scenario after each updating in the DB of the hypothetical "offensive power" of the LCS.

Also, the scenario was designed a lot of time before the decision of basing the LCS in Singapore, very near the operational theatre of the scenario ...

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