The LCS is designed to satisfy the requirement for shallow draft vessels to operate in the littoral (coastal waters) to counter potential ‘asymmetric’ threats of coastal mines, inaudible diesel submarines and the small boats designed to be fast and carry armed insurgents.
It was also designed as a simple platform with flexibility to accommodate multiple payloads. Modular system packages could be installed as needed for different mission sets, including anti-submarine warfare (ASW), mine countermeasures and surface warfare. The entire concept of mission modules has been shown to be flawed. They have long swap times and mediocre results compared to specialized warships.
The LCS is not a dedicated ASW ship
The ASW module is designed to make the platform a sub hunter, but submarines are not prevalent in the restricted littoral waters in which LCS operates. The ship has not been quieted, an essential feature for detecting submarines in either the active (pinging) mode or the passive listening mode. LCS sonars are short-range systems, and the ship contains no anti-submarine weapons on board. Any weapon launch has to come from the onboard helicopters.
Submarine numbers are increasing all over the world. Russia and China are both building newer, more capable submarines and the United States needs to maintain its qualitative edge in technology and platform capability. What the navy needs is a dedicated, high seas ASW ship designed around the ASW systems. Having a mediocre platform will not be a help in any future conflict we are involved in.
The wrong platform for the job
The major problem with the mine countermeasures module is that you are putting it on a ferrous metal hull and expecting non-specialized sailors to be able to do as good a job as experienced minesweepers can do. Practice has shown that mine countermeasures are so challenging that dedicated ships are needed resulting in wood or composite ships to minimize risk from magnetic influence mines often encountered in minefields.
No ASW, no minesweeping, limited surface combat…
Even though the LCS has a surface warfare module, the ship is not a major surface combatant. If the surface warfare module is not installed, the LCS is woefully under armed, even with it; the capabilities of the ship are not particularly impressive.
The surface warfare module consists of a 57mm main gun, twin 30mm cannons, and a MH-60R helicopter. Although, it was originally intended to carry a surface-to-surface missile with a 25-mile range, the LCS is equipped with the Griffin IIB missile. That missile is limited to a five mile range. A longer-range missile is not scheduled until at least 2019.
To reiterate, the LCS is not a capable ASW ship, its minesweeping/countermeasure abilities are on the wrong platform and it is a weak surface combatant with a pathetic range for its weapons. What the LCS has going for it is its inherent speed and helicopter staging abilities.
But these facts give a hint of where the LCS could be useful. As the older Ticonderoga cruisers were replaced with VLS versions, they were assigned to drug interdiction patrols in the Caribbean. Later frigates were used for those patrols. Helicopter support combined with a relatively long-range gun is ideal for this type of patrol. Drugs are still being smuggled into the United States on both the East and West Coast.
Piracy is also still a problem in parts of the world that the LCS could reach and since pirates don’t have heavy weapons, these ships could be an effective deterrent to them. The speed and reach of the LCS could make an effective pirate-hunter.
Disclaimer: The opinions in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of this website.