Independence Class LCS = Surveillance Frigates

PHILIPPINE SEA (June 13, 2021) Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Tulsa (LCS 16) conducts routine operations in the Philippine Sea. Tulsa, part of Destroyer Squadron Seven, is on a rotational deployment operating in the U.S. 7th fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Colby A. Mothershead)

The 17 Independence-class variants of the littoral combat ship– including some carrying hybrid surface warfare and mine countermeasures systems and seeing much better availability after switching from contractor to sailor-performed maintenance– have been getting some more attention and love from the Navy lately.

“We’ll always be operating in and around the archipelagos, probably Ryukyus, the Philippines, and areas into the Philippine Sea behind it. It turns out it is highly survivable and highly effective when operating in the environment it was built for,” said COMSEVENTHFLT Vice Adm. Bill Merz, commenting that one “pretty much owned” the South China Sea during a period last year where COVID had sidelined other, more sophisticated assets.

“It is not blue water ship by any means but when you put it in the archipelago and you combine low signature and high-speed, it turns out it’s very hard to target, very hard to kill and it’s very effective with a thousand places to get gas,” said Merz.

PHILIPPINE SEA (June 13, 2021) Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Tulsa (LCS 16) conducts routine operations in the Philippine Sea. Tulsa, part of Destroyer Squadron Seven, is on a rotational deployment operating in the U.S. 7th fleet area of operations to enhance interoperability with partners and serve as a ready-response force in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Colby A. Mothershead)

With that, Craig Hooper in a piece at Forbes argues the class could (finally) be settling into its groove, and points to its perhaps best use– creating mobile “surveillance bubbles” to point the Big Battle Fleet at stuff to kill.

Properly kitted out, an Independence Class surveillance frigate can serve as an electromagnetic warfare threat, collecting everything from tactical targeting data to strategically relevant emissions. Potentially add in a Marine Corps reconnaissance element, and things could get interesting.

Hooper argues to upgrade the sensor package on the Indys, fill them with UAVs, and turn them into proper surveillance frigates, with doctrine to match.

He may be on to something.

Wouldn’t it be nice to see the LCS turn out to be something that can work?

Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) arrives in Trincomalee Sri Lanka June 23 2021

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