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GAO Flags LCS Missile Problems

by Greg on March 30, 2010

A couple of weeks back we posted a story about how the failure of the Army’s Non Line-of-Sight-Launch System (NLOS-LS) Precision Attack Missile (PAM) to hit its targets in a recent series of live fire tests could prove problematic to the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). See, the LCS is to be fitted out with interchangeable modular mission packages, such as various weapons, aerial drones and helicopters, so the same ship can be custom tailored to different missions.

One of the primary missions of the LCS is to act as a screen for larger fleet ships, fending off small boat swarms in coastal waterways. The standard package for that mission is the Surface Warfare module (SUW), which includes a 30mm cannon and the NLOS-LS. According to a report released today (big .pdf) by the auditors at the Government Accountability Office, the Navy took delivery of a SUW package in 2008, minus the launcher and missiles (see page 98).

GAO says the launcher was tested last summer, but failed due to a malfunctioning sensor and battery connector. The Navy expects delivery of another SUW package this year, this time with the launcher, but minus the missiles. As we noted in our previous write up, Army officials told us they think the missile’s targeting problems are pretty serious ones, considering how far along the NLOS-LS is in development. They’ve hinted they may look at a low cost alternative to the NLOS-LS.

Yet, the Navy is going ahead with delivery of the launcher. Why is the Navy taking delivery of a problematic launcher to fit in a mission module for an unproven missile? I’m guessing they’ve already sized the module for the NLOS-LS and at this stage it may be tool late to redesign it for another launcher without incurring serious costs. Absent a functioning SUW package, the LCS is not mission capable for its primary function as a small surface combatant. We’ll try and get some answers from the Navy on whether they have another launcher and missile on-deck in case the NLOS-LS doesn’t pan out.

– Greg

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Rhode Islander March 30, 2010 at 10:11 pm

First tests showed NLOS actually did hit some targets at ranges of about 7.5 miles. So this is 15,000 yards. That little Swedish gunmount has a max (effective) range of somewhere around 10,000 yards (plus or minus depending upon which source you read). The gunmount only engages one target at a time.

Unless LCS type ships get a weapon that works for real, like NLOS is supposed to (someday), then LCS ships might as well give up most of their incredible Comm and Command & Control suite to save money. And just add more fuel, and become grey colored (or unbrushed aluminum colored) expensive coastal patrol vessels.

By the way of comparison, that tiny RAM launcher onboard each LCS-2 / 1 class has a max range of roughly 6,000 yards (plus or minus depending upon the source). Rather pitiful armament for a $750,000,000 warship, given that helo's have a rough time flying 24/7 off an LCS. Besides helo op's might use of what little fuel each LCS carries !

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The_Hand March 31, 2010 at 1:16 am

We all complain about interservice rivalry and not-invented-here syndrome when it comes to procurement… but then something like this happens. I'm really not sure what the Navy can do now. The best I can say is that at least they don't have to go back and redesign the ship, just the module. Ugly.

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doc75 March 31, 2010 at 1:19 am

What's the range on a Javelin?

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Theo March 31, 2010 at 2:41 pm

about 2.5km according to wikipedia

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ohwilleke March 31, 2010 at 2:26 am

I would dispute that the LCS has a "primary function as a small surface combatant" against swarms of small ships as a screen for bigger ships.

The most urgent shortages the LCS is replacing are in mine warfare and anti-submarine warfare. Another major role, anti-piracy and interdiction of commerce, does not involve swarms of small ships. Another was to deploy special forces. Providing a screen for larger naval ships from swarm attacks by small ships was well down the list of missions for the LCS, a potential role, certainly, but not a primary function. The Navy has jobs for dozens of LCS in its other roles that can be filled before a problem in one of many mission modules becomes a crisis. It is far better to have a problem in a mission module than in the core ship.

Another of the key points of the LCS, besides its modularity and low crew levels, was to build a ship that was something other than an escort for aircraft carrier and amphibous groups that could act autonomously on smaller scale missions.

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FormerDirtDart March 31, 2010 at 3:52 am

Here is s decent photo of the USS Freedom sporting two (2) 30mm gun mounts Surface Warfare Module. just aft if the mast.
http://peoships.crane.navy.mil/images/Gallery/lcs

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STemplar March 31, 2010 at 6:30 am

It isn't that it makes the ship incapable of carrying out missions, however, it does raise serious cost concerns. This program is already grossly over budget and the bottom line is a redesign of the SUW module would be a killer. Someone very quickly will point out, why not buy off the shelf options for the various missions using existing designs, and simply buy 20 or so of each. They wanted 55? LCS'. Seems like 60 or so existing corvette, patrol, frigate options each out there might be cheaper than the LCS at this point.

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Tony C March 31, 2010 at 10:56 am

The LCS is a grand experiment, given the experience of the Royal Navy with aluminum hulled vessels (HMS Sheffield) and how well they burn. If the LCS has limited offensice/defensive capability due to lack of one missile system, it may be too small to operate independently. The Frigates are coming out of the fleet very soon and the LCS is intended to take over those missions. Frigates were considered costly, yet the costs of the LCS systems keeps climbing. Maybe time for the US Navy to reconsider the role of the frigates and LCS in terms of costs.

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WebWalker March 31, 2010 at 4:39 pm

VLS could stick out of the hull without trouble. The Bridge isn't flush with the deck, the Mk41's don't have to be flush with the deck either. If the Mk41 sticks up far enough, it provides a vertical surface on which to hang
forward-leaning harpoons on each side. 16 Mk41 cells would enable carrying 64 ESSM. That's significant bark & bite.

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Dark_Sentry March 31, 2010 at 1:46 pm

The NLOS missile is the only one under development that can fit. Most ship borne missiles are VLS (Vertical Launch System) missiles. There launchers are very tall and so they would not fit in the LCS hull design. Not only would it be additional cost, it is neary impossible to design these missiles in without making them a permenant feature, thus removing LCS's supposed flexibility (though that is questionable in itself)

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