In the coming decade, enemy forces that focus on aircraft carriers, destroyers and other ships of a carrier strike group and ignore the little Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will do so at their own peril.
Thus dismissed, the LCS will be able to sneak up on the opposition and deliver quite a punch with a surface-to-surface missile from more than 100 nautical miles out.
So much for questions about lethality.
That’s just a taste of what some of the U.S. Navy’s best and brightest wargamers are discovering in the last week of March during some sophisticated simulated action involving LCS models in production now.
Yes – now. The wargamers are not using some modified LCS or new small surface combatant as was ordered recently by the Pentagon.
“The ships we are playing are the ships we are building today,” says Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden, director of surface warfare.
Rowden, who has been locked away in for the wargames in the frigid New England wintry spring weather, took time to chat exclusively to Aviation Week about LCS’ performance thus far in the mid-2020s scenarios.
Stated simply, he says, the LCS give enemy fits.
“They are aware of where the carriers and amphibs are,” he says. “They had no of where the LCS was. They can give the enemy a helluva hard time.”
The LCS, he says, could swing out from the group, nearly unobserved, and deliver a sneak attack with missiles that can hit a target 120 to 130 nautical miles away. There are missiles now, he says, available or in development, that the Navy is confident will work with the ships.
LCS concept of operations, or conops, really open up, he says, when they are paired with other ships, like guided-missile DDG destroyers or Joint High Speed Vessels.
The LCS-DDG mating was particularly devastating, he says, for antisubmarine warfare (ASW). “The whole is significantly greater than its parts,” he says, combining three helicopters and an unmanned vertical lift aircraft.
Also, he says, LCS could be tasked to do some destroyer-type missions to free up the DDGs for other jobs.
Essentially, he says, when used the correct way – the way the ships were envisioned -- they can take a punch and deliver one.
“Are they lethal and survivable? Absolutely.”
For the wargames, he says, the Navy has used both LCS-class ships – the LCS-1 USS Freedom mononull built by a team led by Lockheed Martin and the LCS-2 USS Independence all-aluminum trimaran built by a team led by Austal USA.
“We used them both in different ways,” he says. “For open-ocean ASW, where we needed longer legs, the trimaran was preferred.”
Closer to shore, he says, the wargamers opted more for the mononull.
But, he says, both ships are interchangeable. “There are no hard and fast rules.”
Other thing that’s also supposed to be interchangeable are the mission module packages and he says the gaming proves that out as well. But now the Navy is looking at making even quicker changes by swapping out whole crew sets – that is to move one module crew onto another ship with that module already in place.
“Say you have a crack ASW crew,” he says. In that case, it may be better to swap out crews instead of modules.
Like everything else with this ship, the conops have to be viewed through a different prism.
“You have to look at warfare just a little bit differently,” he says.
And, despite concerns to the contrary, he says the ships are up to the job. The naysayers, he says, are just being unrealistic.
But the naysaying has had an impact on the program. The Navy had planned for an LCS fleet of 52. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, though, has told the service to halt contract negotiations at 32 ships because of concerns over survivability and lethality and he directed the Navy to look at a more frigate-like vessel for future small surface combatant needs.
Even a Frigate can be vulnerable, though.
“You put a missile into any ship, that ship is going to have a bad day,” Rowden says. “In any open-ocean fight, any ship – alone and unafraid – is vulnerable.”
Given the right conops, LCS will be a force to be reckoned with, he says.
“I see no issue with the survivability of these ships. The idea is to reach out and touch someone before they reach out touch you. With a destroyer, the LCS becomes very lethal.”