The modified Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class will be designated as frigates, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced at the Surface Navy Association 2015 symposium. The name change follows the December decision by the Navy to up gun the existing LCS classes for the last 20 of the service’s 52 small surface combatant requirement as part of an almost yearlong study directed by the Office of Secretary of Defense (OSD).
«One of the requirements of the Small Surface Combatant Task Force was to have a ship with frigate-like capabilities. Well, if it’s like a frigate, Let’s call it a frigate»? Mabus said. «We are going to change the hull designation of the LCS class ships to FF. It will still be the same ship, the same program of record, just with an appropriate and traditional name».
As the existing Flight 0 LCS are modified and back fitted with additional capabilities, they could earn the FF label, he said. Mabus said the name change came after consultation with Navy leadership, including Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA). Mabus said he often had confusing conversations about the LCS ship class. «It’s not an ‘L’ class ship», he said. «When I hear ‘L’ I think amphib, so does everybody else». The FF designation for the LCS will be the first of a planned set of nomenclature changes for other ships classes as well that will come in the coming weeks, Mabus said. He mentioned the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), the Mobile Landing Platform and the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) in his remarks.
As for the now Fast Frigate class, the up gunned variants are moving forward are set to be acquired starting in Fiscal Year 2019, will add about $50 to 60 million in weapons, sensors and armor to beef up the existing Flight 0 Austal USA Independence and Lockheed Martin Freedom class designs which are now being built for about $500 million a hull on average.
According to Sam LaGrone, USNI Online Editor at the U.S. Naval Institute, Navy leaders have highlighted the new ships will have an emphasis on anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare borrowing some of the modularity of the Flight 0 LCS designs. The Navy is set to deliver an acquisition strategy to the OSD in May and an analysis if some of the modifications can be back fit on to the existing LCS designs.
«Something is rotten in the state of Denmark» (Hamlet 1.4). The U.S. Navy again restructures Littoral Combat Ship’s programme. The LCS is known as «the WARship that can’t go to WAR» because of its high vulnerability. «The Navy needs a Small Surface Combatant», Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, told reporters at the Pentagon.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has directed the Navy «to move forward with a multi-mission Small Surface Combatant (SSC) based on modified Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) hull designs. The new SSC will offer improvements in ship lethality and survivability, delivering enhanced naval combat performance at an affordable price».
Consistent with the Fleet’s views on the most valued capabilities delivered by a Small Surface Combatant, the modified LCS ship will provide multi-mission anti-surface warfare (SUW) and anti-submarine warfare capabilities (ASW), as well as continuous and effective air, surface and underwater self-defense. Adding to current LCS Flight 0+ baseline configurations, which include the 57 mm gun and SeaRAM Anti-Ship Missile Defense System, this ship will be equipped with:
over-the-horizon Surface-to-Surface Missiles;
air defense upgrades (sensors and weapons);
an advanced electronic warfare system;
a towed array system for submarine detection and torpedo defense;
two 25 mm guns;
an armed helicopter (MH-60R Seahawk) capable of engaging with either Hellfire missiles or Mark-54 torpedoes;
and an unmanned Fire Scout helicopter for surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting.
Modularity design features will also be retained to augment SUW and ASW capabilities as directed by the Fleet Commanders. Available mission modules include Longbow Surface-to-Surface Missiles (Hellfire), two Mark-46 30 mm guns, and two 11M RHIBs for Surface Warfare, or a variable depth sonar for submarine warfare which, when added to the ship’s organic multi-function towed array and embarked helicopter, make this an extremely effective anti-submarine warfare platform.
In addition to the improved weapon systems capabilities for this ship, which reduce its susceptibility to being hit by a threat weapon, the Small Surface Combatant will also include improved passive measures – measures that will reduce the ship’s signature against mine threats, and measures that will harden certain vital spaces and systems against potential damage caused by weapon impact – to further enhance its overall survivability.
From an operational perspective, the sum of these improvements will increase the ship’s capability and availability to participate in SUW Surface Action Groups, ASW Search and Attack Units; escort of High Value Units, and support of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) SUW and ASW operations.
With increased lethality and survivability, the modified LCS will provide the flexibility to operate both independently and as a part of an aggregated force. This decision allows the Navy to add organic multi-mission capabilities to the Small Surface Combatant force while leveraging the benefits and affordability of the LCS program.
The modified LCS ships will complement the planned 32 LCS ships, resulting in a 52 ship Small Surface Combatant Fleet in keeping with the Navy’s Force Structure Analysis. The 32 LCS ships, with their full modular capability, will allow the Navy to deploy assets to meet the Navy’s mine warfare, SUW, and ASW demands.
According to Chuck Hagel, «production of the new SSC will begin no later than fiscal year 2019, and there will be no gap between production of the last LCS and the first SSC. A significant advantage to this approach is the ability to enhance naval combat performance by back-fitting select SSC improvements to the LCS fleet. 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 the commonality of the Navy’s fleet».
«The new SSC ships will cost about $60 to 75 million more than the current versions of LCS. Over the life of each class, both have come in at less than $500 million a hull, not including the mission packages», Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) told reporters.
However, and this new concept was heavily criticized by some experts. For example, the editor of the defense-aerospace.com says, «the idea that the LCS’ numerous flaws – unworkable modular design, cost overruns, inability to take battle damage, faulty design and construction, unworkable operational concept with interchangeable mission packages and crews (3-2-1) – can be fixed by resigning an improved version called SSC seems unlikely to result in an operationally effective ship, but will certainly add additional cost to the LCS’ already unconscionably high price tag. The LCS was designed, as its name implies, for coastal work in shallow and constrained waters where it could be supported by other larger and better-armed ships. However, it cannot be expected to operate effectively in theaters like the Pacific, and especially not anywhere within hundreds of miles of the Chinese coast, where it would be operationally useless, yet still a sitting duck».
Another example, Clark, the naval analyst, in his report, spells out exactly why the ship’s ASCM (Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles) vulnerability is a fatal one, especially in circumstances where an LCS is tasked with defending a larger ship.
«Given the LCS’s short-range missiles, a defended ship would have to operate too close to the LCS to permit effective maneuvering and the LCS would have to be positioned between the incoming missile and the escorted ship or directly in front of or behind the escorted ship. To ensure the incoming ASCM is intercepted, two RAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) would likely be shot at each incoming ASCM. This would result in the LCS’s magazine of RAMs being exhausted after ten ASCM attacks. In the LCS’s envisioned littoral operating environment, more ASCM attacks would likely occur before the ship could reload its RAM magazine».
The avoidance of detection, the LCS’s only real survival capability, will become more difficult thanks to improvements in ship locating technologies. Frank Hoffman, a former deputy director of the Navy’s Office of Program Appraisal, told Defense One that enhancements to Chinese ship detection capabilities would render the LCS a very, very targetable ship.
The Independence Variant of the LCS Class
Construction: Hull and superstructure – aluminium alloy
Length overall: 127.1 m
Beam overall: 31.4 m
Hull draft (maximum): 4.5 m
Payload and capacities
Complement: Core Crew – 40
Mission crew – 36
Berthing: 76 in a mix of single, double & quad berthing compartments
Maximum mission load: 210 tonnes
Mission packages: ASW, SUW, MIW
Main engines: 2 × GE LM2500
2 × MTU 20V 8000
Waterjets: 4 × Wartsila steerable
Bow thruster: Retractable azimuthing
Speed: 40 knots (46 mph, 74 km/h)
Range: 3,500 NM (6,482 km)
Operational limitation: Survival in Sea State 8
Deck area: >2000 m2
Launch and recovery: Twin boom extending crane
Loading: Side ramp
Internal elevator to hanger
Flight deck and hanger
Flight deck dimensions: 2 × SH-60 or 1 × CH-53
Hanger: Aircraft stowage & maintenance for 2 × SH-60