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Littoral Combat Ship: What Does the Future Hold?

by Kris Osborn on April 14, 2014

The Littoral Combat Ship program was one of the leading topics at the Sea Air Space Exposition outside Washington D.C. last week as Navy leaders continued to protect it from critics who said the ship is not built for the correct mission sets. A government watchdog even reported that 7th Fleet officials told investigators that the LCS is not suited for the Pacific.

The Navy’s director of surface warfare, Rear Adm. Tom Rowden, sat down with Military​.com last week to discuss the embattled program and why the Navy must continue to add these ships to the fleet. The video above covers his views on the program and where it must go from here.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel dealt the program it’s most serious blow this past year when he announced that the proposed LCS fleet will shrink from 52 to 32. Despite the decision, Navy admirals have said the program is still vital to the service’s future and the ship will prove its worth.

Associate editor Kris Osborn and Managine Edtior Ho Lin walked the show floor last week to get reaction on the program’s future.

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{ 63 comments… read them below or add one }

Lance April 14, 2014 at 3:26 pm

I the LCS is the future we are in trouble. We would go with over cost under armed tiny ships facing a Russian and Chinese Navy with large Cruisers and destroyers with long range heavy weapons. That's Not good. Shows DODs idiotic ideas to a T.

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peters April 14, 2014 at 8:36 pm

Well a regime as corrupt and murderous as the US regime, the world would be far better served with tiny under-armed US warships. Don't you think?

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Christopher Bloom April 14, 2014 at 9:16 pm

wonder if you where this spiteful when George Bush was pushing this during his administration!

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xXTomcatXx April 15, 2014 at 10:02 am

Clueless. "Large Cruisers". Three navies in the world have cruisers. The US has more than all others combined (three times more). China is NOT one of those countries.

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Lance April 15, 2014 at 1:30 pm

Even destroyers and subs have more firepower than this crappy boat. And yes China has subs and Destroyers.

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blight_ April 15, 2014 at 7:15 pm

I don't think we have /actual/ cruisers anymore. The Ticos are built on Sprucan hulls and presumably were deemed cruisers due to the SPY-1. The line between cruisers and destroyers has blurred, perhaps for the better.

It is down to "small boats that can't bite", "specialist frigates" and "multirole destroyer/cruisers". The Kirovs are the last cruisers.

Bring back the CGNs!

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Michael April 15, 2014 at 8:59 pm

This ship is not designed for that. We have destroyers and cruisers for that purpose. The purpose of these ships is to control littoral areas where shallow water and tight spaces are limiting factors for destroyers and cruisers. Where this ship will be operating there will not be any large ships

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ev3r3tt April 17, 2014 at 10:40 am

The problem with the "shallow water and tight spaces" is that a ship needs a lot of defense to be kept from sinking. Handheld rocket launchers would be a big deal. This means the ship is missing a lot of armor and needs much more defensive weapons. Remember those games where if you have a small force and want to defeat a larger force, use the choke point. Well, this ship should be designed to go through the choke point. Cancel this project immediately!

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blight_ April 17, 2014 at 11:27 am

"The purpose of these ships is to control littoral areas where shallow water and tight spaces are limiting factors for destroyers and cruisers."

That's the purpose of the Surface Warfare Mission Package. LCS is supposed to replace the Perrys, which did ASW and escort duty in the open ocean, along with two difference classes of mine warfare vessel.

If you throw enough things at the wall, you have to call it art instead of a mess.

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todd April 14, 2014 at 3:40 pm

The days of large surface ships is coming to the end… with radar, satellites, drones both above and below water. Ships have to be adaptable. Survivability… hmmm what country could hit one of these ships then not be obliterated by aircraft in a couple of hours. As in sports speed is life… the speed of these ships is amazing and gives it flexibility. They are the cornerbacks, safeties of the game…

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Big-Dean April 14, 2014 at 5:17 pm

replace Frigates with LCS since the LCS is faster
replace Destroyers with LCS since the LCS is faster
replace Cruisers with LCS since the LCS is faster
replace Carriers with LCS- since they are a mini carrier and they have less crew
replace Amphips with LCS since the LCS is a mini amphip and since they are in the littorals already
replace the Death Star with the LCS since it has less crew…..

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tmb2 April 14, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Cornerbacks and safeties win games on their own? How often do they score?

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Musson April 15, 2014 at 9:16 am

Who do you think you are? Billy Mitchell?

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blight_ April 15, 2014 at 10:09 am

"speed is life"

30 knots or 25 knots is still too slow. And the 40-50 knot dash still is slow against a cruise missile or aircraft.

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John Fourquet April 16, 2014 at 12:27 pm

These under gunned 50 knot ships cannot out run a missile moving at 500 MPH or more. It is nothing more than a flexible target.

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Tad April 14, 2014 at 4:34 pm

Cancel the program now, but continue funding development of the modules for possible use on other ships, and use the current LCS hulls as testbeds. And learn a lesson about concurrent development!

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Marc Winger April 14, 2014 at 4:35 pm

Glad they reduced the number to 32. Different ships can be developed. Build as proposed, keep production & design going forward.

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blight_ April 16, 2014 at 10:01 am

32 should cover our ASW/MCM needs. We'll get something else for Surface Warfare. Maybe some tin can FAC's using an LCS or a JHSV as a tender, but at high sea states it is unlikely to be workable.

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ev3r3tt April 17, 2014 at 4:56 pm

Yeah, keep building those bobbers. Need some really expensive targets to know where the enemy is.

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Nicky April 14, 2014 at 4:44 pm

Time to cancel the LCS and put all the money towards a Multi Role Frigate

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Bronco46 April 14, 2014 at 6:20 pm

What good is a ship that can't dip its toe in the Pacific? And if it can't survive the Pacific how likely is it that the Atlantic will whip up a "fluke" storm that sinks one of these?

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High Guard April 14, 2014 at 6:29 pm

The extra large flight deck in back presents the most flexibility for an LCS in a modern Air-Sea conflict. With its low vis cross-section, it could spt dash and run support ops for a flight of F-35Bs or a Btry of Long-Range or Area Attack Artillery. With its speed, it could provide quite a few suprising engagements that would be more difficult for an FFG, or, even a few more if escorted by a BMD DDG.

What would be more awesome of a capability is an LCS that is submersible and mobile undersea? That would be a huge force multiplier.

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tmb2 April 14, 2014 at 6:55 pm

It takes a lot more than a place to park to launch sustained flight ops.

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Tad April 14, 2014 at 7:19 pm

The deck is not built to withstand the exhaust heat from an F-35B.

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Matthew Jacobs April 15, 2014 at 10:52 pm

That's fixable..don't You think?

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blight_ April 16, 2014 at 10:02 am

It is, but nobody's quantified how much a F-35B can take in fuel and payload when used as VTOL instead of STOVL. It's unlikely to be a good number.

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tiger April 14, 2014 at 9:10 pm

Your dreaming…..

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jack April 14, 2014 at 7:25 pm

I like how they never mentioned the horrible reliability of the LCS.

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Barry April 14, 2014 at 7:26 pm

This ship was designed for a uni-polar world with one superpower. It was designed to police, not fight. From today's perspective, this ship isn't suited for an uncertain future, where the US has rivals who are ramping up their arms expenditures to enforce their own interests and spheres of influence.

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Chuang Shyue Chou April 14, 2014 at 9:46 pm

I see this as a low-cost vessel meant to serve other functions besides surface to surface warfare. Anti-ship operations can be left to submarines and carrier aircraft.

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hibeam April 14, 2014 at 9:55 pm

America still builds the best first Amendment zones in the world. So at least we got that to be proud of.

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Dfens April 16, 2014 at 8:49 am

These 1st amendment zones are there for your safety. If you protest or say take pictures of the government's illegal behavior outside of those zones, they will be forced to send idiots who swore an oath to uphold the constitution to beat the crap out of you, and no one wants that now do they?

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blight_ April 17, 2014 at 11:28 am

Maybe if the King had designated a 1st amendment zone in boston the massacre wouldn't have happened. /sarc

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thom foote April 14, 2014 at 10:55 pm

It seems to be, like other platforms in the Navy, a bit more mission specific than as a front-line punch giver and taker. It was not designed to go toe-to-toe with a Chinese cruiser.

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Musson April 15, 2014 at 9:18 am

That's what Subs are for.

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xXTomcatXx April 15, 2014 at 10:05 am

Exactly. Plus the Chinese don't have cruisers.

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rtsy April 14, 2014 at 11:01 pm

Rear Adm. Rowden's remarks about survivability mirror the arguments of why humvees weren't armoured. During procurement it was decided that since the humvee couldn't take a hit my a landmine, rpg, or IED the US simply would not use the humvee anywhere a landmine, rpg, or IEDs were in use.

The US can't afford to be building ships that can't take a hit and keep on fighting. After two failing wars we don't have enough clout to be running away every time our nose is bloodied. We also don't have enough ships enough money or enough sailors for tactics like that.

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Skyepapa April 15, 2014 at 12:16 am

These are diplomacy boats — that's why Rear Adm. Rowden's can accept lower survivability. They were designed to give the US a sustained military presence in areas where a destroyer or something else would otherwise piss off some nearby regional power, but where we also need to demonstrate our commitment. I think they imagine the ship's real strength is the 61 Arleigh Burkes standing behind them.

But we could do the same with something way less expensive.

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Lyle May 2, 2014 at 4:30 am

So Basically you want the Navy to have their own Coast Guard that specializes in Maritime security. Why not just increase the size of the coast guard.

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Big-Dean April 15, 2014 at 12:18 am

that's a great analogy rtsy

but the LCS fanboys are going to say that "there will also be a destroyer near by to provide cover, since the LCS was never designed to operated by itself."

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xXTomcatXx April 15, 2014 at 10:10 am

Because the Cole, Sheffield, Stark, and Cheonan were all fit to fight after being hit. Advancements in weaponry exceeded the capabilities of armor half a century ago. It's why we don't build battleships anymore.

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JohnnyRanger April 15, 2014 at 12:25 pm

Umm…Sheffield and Cheonan sank…

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xXTomcatXx April 15, 2014 at 12:38 pm

That's precisely my point. Sheffield and Choenan sank and the others were rendered mission kill. Point is, the vast majority of warships today are not designed to operate after a direct hit. They're designed to take a hit and swim home.

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JohnnyRanger April 15, 2014 at 12:41 pm

Gotcha. I misunderstood. My bad.

Kostas April 15, 2014 at 12:37 am

I understand the advantages of modularity but a pluripotent capability would be even more advantageous. Is it so hard to add a towed sonar, a mk48 VLS for ESSM, 8 Harpoons, and 2 MCM UUVs?
This way, the ship would be a very useful platform and fewer ships would be able to deliver the same capabilities. Additionally, the ships would be able to operate autonomously and not under the constant protection of the destroyers or cruisers…

Overall I see a great amount of money being spent in platforms that do not offer any real new advantages, on the contrary they appear inferior to legacy systems.

I would expect to see submersible ships (the French DCN had a submersible ship design several years ago), with a large flat deck able to support the landing and take off of F35s. Now, that would be a breakthrough in naval operations.

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Bob April 15, 2014 at 5:42 am

ASM's threaten all surface vessels, and can, potentially, sink them in one shot.
The Age of Battleships has ended.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_anti-ship_mi

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blight_ April 15, 2014 at 6:59 am

True, but who would waste an anti-ship cruise missile on LCS?

For the LCS it's not that much better off than the Navy's Perrys, which are no longer FFG without the single-arm, and reliant on the helicopter as their executioner against submarines and small boats (like the LCS). As others have noted, the size of the radar places upper limits on effective armament, though I am sure an AAW module will use drones to expand its detection range, and perhaps an IoT built on USurf/Usub/UAirV's with mesh networking will make L3 Communication's wildest dreams and quarterly bonuses.

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oblatt22 April 15, 2014 at 5:48 am

LCS 2.0 will address the looming marker buoy threat.

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Big-Dean April 16, 2014 at 5:59 pm

…with it's $5 billion dollar "looming marker buoy threat module" LOL

hey, where's TOmcak, I'm sure he's got some "wise" words for us all here ;-P

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blight_ April 15, 2014 at 8:03 am

Navy should go back to using blimps/airships. Hang out high, drop glide bombs on small boats.

I wonder if a CIWS or RAM mount could be fabricated. Until some low RCS shapes for lighter-than-air ships are proven it'll be dangerous to put near a country with actual surface to air missile systems. At one point we did have navy blimps serving as skycarriers…until they were all lost to weather events. We then used blimps during WW2 as ASW.

However today it's difficult to detect things in the water without advanced sonar, as the limits of MAD have been reached.

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Dfens April 15, 2014 at 9:17 am

What does the future hold? The LCS program will get cancelled after they build a handful of crappy boats and the Navy in it's infinite wisdom will start a new program in which they will do all the same things, and, of course, expect a better result this time. Because the next time is always better. That's the basis of this scam. The next program is always better. We'll do it right next time.

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JSIII April 15, 2014 at 10:24 am

The navy will be much better off when it cancels this program. Maybe the LCS replaces current mine sweeping ships…if that system ever ends up working right. In the interim maybe its time to look at buying a FREMM from the French so we can remember how to build a good multirole FFG

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Virgil Cuttaway April 15, 2014 at 2:27 pm

Bring back the cruiser! After all, “of the many different types of warships that have evolved over the years the most enduring class has been the cruiser (direct quote of Lord Hill Norton, former First Lord of the Admiralty)

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@GreensboroVet April 15, 2014 at 3:12 pm

The Chinese Coast Guard is better armed than a LCS. As for that comment about the LCS is built for certain fights, no problem. The thing is NO one can guarantee that an LCS will not in up engaging or being engaged by a more powerful combat ship.

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muttling April 15, 2014 at 3:55 pm

They're sinking tons of money into this piece of junk weapons platform while looking seriously at cutting pay/benefits for servicemen/women. What BS.

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Dfens April 16, 2014 at 8:46 am

The defense contractors demand their tribute. Really it is just that they should cut the number of soldiers to pay these defense contractors. They are the monster of the military's own making.

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Michael April 15, 2014 at 7:01 pm

with all the money being put into these LCSs, a lot more zumwalt can be built. if we need some small vessels to fight less intensive battle just get a few more frigates and upgrade the existing radar and electronic devices on those frigates. less costly than these LCSs.

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Charles April 15, 2014 at 7:51 pm

The clown in the video said it all – when you get into a fight you fight with what you have.

This explains why LCS is a failure: when you build weak, you fight with weak. This is why at the recent HASC meeting, after giving their spiel w/r/t how versatile LCS is (or rather, might be), the navy was bluntly told: "If it can't survive – we don't care".

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Cataldo April 16, 2014 at 4:09 am

LCS is a big mess, is not a surprise, since the birth of two platforms when the first required achievement was "modularity" :)

This kind of fleet had to resolve an impossible balance between the $$budget and the fleet ambitions to reign over the seven seas.

Is not a surprise too that they are less secure for sailors, this side of the balance will suffer a lot in the future, a little step today, another tomorrow … a little cut on retirement, etc etc, what about an historically study about economic conditions of USA military personnel ? i suspect will be orrific.

The real soution is a rethinking of "full spectrum dominance", now, when you have all the 5 aces in the hands ;)

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PolicyWonk April 16, 2014 at 8:59 am

Where I don't blame Rear Adm. Rowden for trying to salvage the situation, even implying that this ship was suitable for combat (hence, the "C" in LCS) when they (in theory) had no intention of using it in a hostile environment is an outstanding example of un-smart marketing (the less charitable term "fraud" comes to mind).

If they called it a patrol or utility ship it might not have raised so many suspicions. But to call it "Combat" under the circumstances was just pure dumb (and calling it anything else may have ensured it wouldn't ever be funded).

LCS, in its present form, as a result, is inappropriate for the very mission it was originally intended for (taking out swarms of speedboats). The very swarms they were supposed to fight could cause severe damage with shoulder-fired weapons, and could easily defeat LCS via saturation. It seems like they latched onto this one need, and then wanted a vehicle to test modularity on, and ignored the original purpose.

It may be fine for sweeping mines, it might be able to help in some way with ASW (its lack of suitability for blue water operations would seemingly compromise its utility), but its surface warfare capabilities are (to be generous) lacking, as is its lack of protection.

If they want a ship for serious littoral combat – neither LCS variant is suitable.

And while it may be ok for non-hostile environments, if a real fight starts up then someone will need to tell our adversaries that these boats aren't combatants, and therefore aren't fair game.

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John Fourquet April 16, 2014 at 12:44 pm

The Navy refuses to accept the fact that the LCS is big expensive mistake. This video is part of a new campaign by the Navy leadership to establish LSC as the new small combatant the sectary of defense ordered the navy to develop as a replacement for the existing LCS. What we are seeing now is the navy paving the way for that decision. The navy will reject all potential replacements for one reason or another and then announce that a bigger LCS will be the next small combatant. The result will be a bigger and more expensive LCS with many of the same problems and even more money wasted on a failed idea. The Navy's leadership refuses to accept that they are wrong when it comes to the LCS and the only way to prevent wasting even more money on the LCS is to replace the existing Navy leadership.

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voodkokk April 16, 2014 at 5:52 pm

So is this Admiral telling 7th Fleet he doesn't know what he is talking about?

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ev3r3tt April 17, 2014 at 10:26 am

This ship is a very expensive PT boat. I saw the Netflix documentary on it. Looks like an inflatable is capable of causing sever damage to it. I didn't see a single Vulcan gun (Phalanx) for self-defense. I have to agree, this boat is worthless.

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