|PCU Jackson (LCS 6)|
It is late in the game for second-guessing the Navy on a program where 24 ships have already been built or funded. Another round of joint assessments will only reproduce the body of information the Navy has been building since 2001 on what place the littoral combat ship will occupy in the fleet. There have always been only 3 potential solutions to the problem of the block obsolescence of the now retired Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates (FFG’s), the Avenger class mine countermeasures ships (MCM’s), and the Cyclone class patrol coastals (PC’s). These include the New Navy Fighting Machine (NNFM) concept of many single mission small frigates as proposed by some members of the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) faculty and the Office of Net Assessment; the mid-sized modular warship concept embodied by the LCS and its frigate variant; and a larger, multi mission frigate like the now retired Perry’s. Any new analysis will likely find that the mid-sized, modular warship concept as represented by LCS and its frigate variant still represents the best choice for the low-end component of the Navy’s new High/Low mix. Individual pieces of equipment on specific modules may change, but that was always assumed in the modular component warship concept. These new calls for analysis represent a lack of understanding into the Navy’s surface combatant needs in the 2nd decade of the 21st century and into the future.
The origins of a ship to replace multiple combatants, including the FFG’s, began with studies conducted in the 1980’s’s to minimize cost through standardization and reduction in the number of warship classes. Some of these predicted a reduction of ship classes to just two; a larger carrier (of other platforms) and a scout fighter as an expendable escort. Interest was minimal, as Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work suggested in his 2004 Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) paper on LCS and transformation. Work said, “With no immediate naval challenger on the horizon, and with the ships in service quite capable of meeting any potential near- to mid-term threat, the urgency for designing an entirely new generation of combat ships was quite low.”
|Independence variant LCS under construction at Austal Yard|
While the larger modular “large objects carrier” concept moved toward more specialized duties in the form of today’s afloat forward staging base (AFSB), the scout fighter continued to develop into a heavily armed attack craft. This concept was picked up by forward thinkers such as Vice Admiral Arthur Cebrowski and Captain Wayne Hughes and became the famous “streetfighter”; a warship that combined Cebrowski’s concept of an expendable warship with Hughes’ vision of numerous small missile combatants as an offensive force in littoral waters. Both Cebrowski and Hughes were concerned that so much of the Navy’s ship-based combat power was being concentrated into a smaller number of ships. A more-numerous fleet of smaller and expendable vessels such as streetfighter would reverse this concentration trend and allow for a larger and more robust naval network; where Cebrowski considered true naval power and capability was now resident. Hughes wanted a larger number of ships that would allow for sustained, messy fights in littoral waters where reaction time would be short and the potential for damage and loss of U.S. warships significant. The streetfighter was then adopted by so-called “transformationalists” at the dawn of the 21st century seeking low cost, minimum-manned, technologically advanced warships as the next step in a revolution in military affairs (RMA) at sea. The Office of the Secretary of Defense explicitly told the Navy that it must accept a small combatant of some kind in order to secure support for its DD 21 class.
The Navy, however, was not enamored with small, expendable warships and sent the streetfighter concept back for further modification. This involved growing the overall size of the streetfighter to make it self-deployable and more survivable. Work says Cebrowski and Hughes needlessly created animosity from the surface warfare officer corps by suggesting, “They build small ships destined to lose” rather than focusing on the proper mix of large and small ships. The initial design size grew in response to survivability concerns as well as a new operating concept. Rather than charge into the littorals looking for enemies, the new littoral combatant, as approved in the Defense Planning Guidance (DPG), would protect existing sea base units from attacks emanating from within littoral waters. This concept of LCS was vetted and approved by Congress in 2003. The legislative branch complained about the lack of a full analysis of alternatives; the so-called “virgin birth” of the LCS, but by allowing the program to proceed, “It implicitly endorsed then Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Vern Clark’s intention to pursue a small littoral combat ship in a way distinctly different from normal programs.”
Analysis of the type demanded by Congress in the latest NDAA has in fact already been done by the Navy several times over the course of the period 2000-2015 for a low end, surface combatant component of the networked battle fleet. Each option was carefully considered with meaningful analysis. The first option considered was an updated version of the now retired Perry class multi mission frigate. Such a replacement was estimated to have cost $617 million in 2005 dollars ($752 million in 2015 dollars adjusted for inflation) based on its light load displacement, corrected for additional costs associated with its electronic systems and military equipment. This cost was considered too high for a smaller combatant and it was believed that network connectivity could allow a smaller ship to be substituted with similar capability results.
|LCS 5 (Milwaukee) and LCS 7 (Detroit)|
Another round of analysis might suggest that an even higher cost multi mission Perry class replacement would be prohibitive in comparison with the limited combat capability such ships deliver. The cost of the Australian Hobart class destroyer program and recently released figures for the production of the Royal Navy’s Type 26 global combat ship (both European-style large frigate designs) support the supposition that a US-constructed medium capability combatant would cost at least $1 billion dollars a copy while providing about ½ the combat capability of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer. Some European states such as Denmark have built relatively inexpensive frigate-like ships, but made use of recycled, legacy equipment, outsourced key elements of construction to low cost, Eastern European builders, and sent the ships to sea without all of the equipment and armament in place; conditions the United States Navy would not duplicate.
The second course of action is the small, numerous fleet of 1000 ton, single mission frigates as proposed by members of the NPS faculty and the OSD Office of Net Assessment. This “New Navy Fighting Machine” (NNFM) concept is well detailed in force structure and operational concept, but significantly less in how it will be logistically supported when forward deployed. Its authors accept that there are limited numbers of combat logistics ships available to refuel and support a large force of single mission combatants, and only suggest that resources and support for them will inevitably be found if and when required. The NNFM concept is at its heart operational and tactical, but does not address wider strategic concerns. It suggests that heavy lift ships, such as those they hauled the damaged frigates Stark and Samuel B. Roberts back to the U.S. from the Persian Gulf might be used to transport a substantial element of NNFM platforms to overseas locations. The NNFM does not, however, suggest how this could be done in wartime against opposition. These small combatants would be, for all intents and purposes, strategically imprisoned within their regional environments and dependent on a large, and as of yet unbuilt logistics network. Those logistics ships would in turn require escort and protection, as would the regional bases and smaller logistics ships the NNFM would depend on for support during active combat operations. The NNFM also specifically says that small combatants should be “prepared to accept losses while achieving littoral water superiority”, a repetition of the same language that caused many in the Surface Warfare community to reject the larger LCS in the mid 2000’s. This combination of logistics problems, lack of connection to wider U.S. Naval strategy, and accepted lack of survivability was rejected early in the LCS development process. It would do little good to revisit this concept in further analysis.
|USS Fort Worth (LCS 3)|
The last concept worth analytical consideration is that of the current LCS and its frigate variant. The Navy has, however, answered all of the chief criticisms of the program at different times over the last 12 years. Secretary Work states that the Navy (and presumably Congress at the time) accepted that the LCS would not have the same unrefueled range as the retiring FFG. The high sprint speed was considered useful in moving the LCS rapidly within theater and to enable rapid concentration of multiple ships of the class from remote patrol locations. LCS was expected to conduct antisubmarine operations and substantial rotary wing aviation facilities were considered absolutely necessary for that mission’s accomplishment. The smaller crew size was also well considered. The current Cyclone class patrol coastal ships operate for extended period with a mere 28 person crew. There have certainly been many problems with elements of the LCS program. The initial cost of $220 million dollars platform was not realistic. Some of the equipment in both the sea frames and the modules was immature when programmed. The first two units (LCS 1 and 2) have very limited weight growth ability. PEO LCS is still "cleaning up" from significant program issues of the last decade. That said, there has been little outside analysis (beyond the examples presented here) supporting better ways the Navy could have solved the problem of multiple low level platforms reaching block obsolescence. While often decried in multiple venues, the analytical “virgin birth” of LCS was approved by senior Department of Defense officials with authority and responsibility over programmatic issues. Congress has endorsed the LCS program’s continuation on multiple occasions. It could be that LCS critics keep repeating the “virgin birth” accusation because they don’t like the result of those studies that were conducted.
LCS was built to a lower survivability standard than that of the Perry’s from the perspective that unlike the frigate, it was not intended to sustain a hit and continue to fight due to its smaller physical size, and smaller crew available to conduct damage control. Network connectivity was also assumed to support survivability through advanced warning and the provision of an operational picture beyond that available from the LCS’ organic sensors. Secretary Work points out that the current families of large naval ordnance (missiles and torpedoes) can just as easily sink a 10,000 ton Ticonderoga class cruiser as it can an LCS. Survivability, as currently defined by the Navy in OPNAV Instruction 9070.1A, allocates only 1/3 of that concept to recovery from damage, and bases 2/3 on avoidance of attack and defeat of weapons that acquire a target vessel.The Perry class being replaced by the LCS is not the ship it was 15 years ago. It leaves service as globally deployable offshore patrol vessel with a heavy antisubmarine warfare capability. It is no longer a medium capable, multimillion warship as it was when first commissioned in the 1970's. There is no need to replace the 1979 Perry.
The recent Russian use of the Gepard class frigates as launch platforms for a cruise missile strike on Syria will likely cause more criticism of the LCS concept and demands for more analysis. The Gepard’s are smaller than LCS, but have a much heavier armament than either LCS sea frame. Despite this difference, there is no need to demand that LCS or its frigate variant be immediately up-armed to perform the same capability as demonstrated by the Gepard’s. The modular warship concept separates much of the ship’s potential armament in the form of modules in order to enable more upgrades and reduce both initial and long term costs of the LCS system. An LCS surface warfare or land attack module may eventually boast the same capabilities as the Gepard. Modularity, hower, ensures that the LCS can continue to support new weapon systems throughout its lifespan, while frigates with dedicated weapon systems like the Gepard langusih in growing obsolescence. Every Navy must designate missions for its warships incumbent with national requirements. Vessels of similar size and general appearance do not necessarily have the same missions. To assume that LCS must be able to perform every mission that like-sized warships built by other nations perform demonstrates a very immature understanding of seapower.
In short, the same questions now being asked by Congress regarding the LCS Program have been answered multiple times over the last dozen years. Another analysis of alternatives is not going to yield a different set of results, but will instead merely cost the taxpayers more money for the duplication of effort. LCS and its frigate variant still represent the best way forward for increasing the size of the U.S. surface fleet, and preserving multiple mission capabilities in a period of continuing financial constraints. There is no need to copy other small frigates like the Gepard’s as the globally deployed and operational U.S. Navy has a fundamentally different set of tasks than regional fleets like that of Russia. The Navy needs to finalize the configuration and specifics of the LCS frigate variant, and Congress is well within its rights to demand those be submitted to the nation’s legislative body in an expeditious manner. The Navy needs to do a better job in educating members of the legislative branch in how the LCS concept will be implemented. Congress, however, needs to fund the frigate variant of the LCS to its full build in order to replace the now retired Perry class frigates. It remains a variant of the LCS, not an entirely new class, and should not be subject to a complete repetition of the analysis of the last dozen years.
 Ibid, p. 51.
 Ibid, p. 53.
 Ibid, p. 5.
 Ibib, p. 7.
 Ibid, p. 8.
 http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense-news/2015/09/25/ballpark-cost-revealed-royal-navy-frigates/72796134/ and http://news.usni.org/2015/05/26/australia-launches-first-hobart-destroyer-amidst-additional-cost-overruns-delays
 http://intercepts.defensenews.com/2014/11/sleek-modern-and-built-on-a-budget-denmarks-latest-frigate/ and http://www.nxtbook.com/nxtbooks/aw/dti0708/index.php?startid=28
 Ibid, pp. 19, 20.
 Ibid, pp. 20, 21.