A sprinter’s speed, reliance on aircraft and unmanned systems, and flexibility to deploy in disparate environments with different U.S. Navy vessels will anchor mission success for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet, according to a copy of the LCS concept of operations (conops) obtained by the Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN).

For years, analysts have tried to articulate what they believed to be the conops for the LCS, which is the Navy’s first newly designed surface combatant in decades. The conops essentially serves as a user’s manual for ship operations.

“LCS is the first surface ship designed to operate extensively with unmanned aircraft and overall unmanned systems are an integral component for mission capability,” says the current LCS “Platform Wholeness” conops, Revision C, dated September 2009. “The attribute that differentiates the LCS from previous surface combatants is its role as a ‘seaframe’ serving much the same purpose as a reconfigurable airplane or helicopter airframe,” the conops says.

“Airborne systems are a critical component of the overall LCS combat package,” says the conops, which notes that all LCS mission-module packages, “and many inherent capabilities rely, on varying extents, on both manned and unmanned aircraft (e.g. ASW weapons delivery from a manned airborne system, over-the-horizon communication relay through an unmanned airborne system, etc).

“The nominal LCS load out is one Seahawk MH-60S and one MQ-8B Firescout vertical takeoff unmanned aerial vehicle (VTUAV) for the (mine-counter) mission or MH-60R or two VTUAVs for the ASW (antisubmarine warfare) and SUW (surface warfare) missions. The MH-60R will provide the ability to conduct surveillance, prosecute and neutralize submarine contacts or neutralize surface contacts.”

The MH-60R will not be immediately available for deployment aboard LCS, the conops notes. Until the Romeo is available, the SH-60B will be used in the interim, the conops says. The Navy will need about 30 MH-60Rs and 22 MH-60Ss for LCS fleet requirements, according to the document.

“Firescout is intended to complement manned helicopter systems with the intent of providing extended on-station time for communication relays of other unmanned off-board systems such as sensor packages for surveillance (Britestar II EO/IR system) and surf zone mine detection (Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis System),” the conops says. “Additionally, the Firescout is designed with an open architecture that will provide for the development and employment of future payloads (e.g., radar; automatic identification system (AIS); weapons; electronic support measures; chemical, biological, radiological/nuclear and explosive, etc). The ultimate vision is to provide effective systems (manned and unmanned) at the right time for the right mission.”

Those “right” missions are global in nature. The conops details a “Forward Deployed Naval Forces (FDNF) anticipated strategic requirement for eight seaframes (four in Guam, four in Sasebo).” Other possible sites include Pearl Harbor and Bahrain.

“Any number of potential basing sites in the Persian Gulf could be combined to create a single LCS node,” the conops says. “The same holds true for Japan. To create a basing node within a network, four capabilities must be located within MH-60 range (unfueled).” The Navy has already said it plans to send LCS-1, the USS Freedom, to Singapore for a short deployment next year.

The LCS fleet’s job, the conops says, will be to “detect and neutralize mines, defeat submarines and counter the small-boat attack.” Based on current LCS warfighting conops, the guide says, “LCS will operate with strike groups a minority of the time.”