Tag Archives: littoral combat ship

Slumming it in the colonies

What an idyllic nautical scene! This image, posted by the Forces Armées de la Nouvelle-Calédonie, the French garrison in their of New Caledonia, is of the Floréal-class light surveillance frigate Vendémiaire (F734) tied up at her base at Noumea, that South Western Pacific colony’s primary port.

Vendémiaire just left Noumea last week on one of her regular two-month cruises around the West Pac.

The six Floreals, built in the early 1990s just after the end of the Cold War, are interesting 3,000-ton (full load) 306-foot ships that split the difference between a standard frigate and a Coast Guard cutter. Built with a diesel-only suite, rather than CODAG/DOG, they have a maximum speed of just 20 knots but can range over 9,000nm without searching for a tanker and pull into ports that can accommodate a 14-foot draft.

Their hulls were reportedly built to commercial standards, but that hasn’t stopped them from putting in three decades of solid overseas service and still looking good and well-maintained.

Armed with simple weapons pulled from retired platforms– a single 4-inch/55 cal CADAM Modèle 68 main gun, a pair of 20mm GIATs, and accommodation for some Exocets– they can also embark a light helicopter and a platoon of French Marines (who are notorious for being unable to take a joke).

Note her recognition “VN” marks on her helicopter deck, and her twin 20mm GIATs with ready boxes over the hangar. The vacant deck space behind her stack was originally for MM38 Exocets, but could always pick up a more modern AShM, such as the NSM.

Vendémiaire has spent almost her entire 29-year career at Nouméa while her sisterships Floréal and Nivôse are based at Réunion– the French Indian Ocean colony between Mauritius and Madagascar– Prairial at Tahiti (what a horrible duty station!) while Ventôse and Germinal are at Martinique in the Caribbean, with the latter two vessels often supporting U.S. 4th Fleet training, humanitarian, and counter-drug initiatives.

Shorter and slower than the more expensive LCS concept, they also can provide NGFS in the littoral if needed, though arguably are even more prone to air attack. 

MARTINIQUE, FRANCE (June 23, 2021) The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Sioux City (LCS 11) conducts a bilateral maritime exercise with the French Navy Floréal-class frigate FS Germinal (F735) following a port visit to Martinique, France, June 23, 2021. Sioux City is deployed to the U.S. 4th Fleet area of operations to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter-illicit drug trafficking missions in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Marianne Guemo)

Walking the Beat, USS Charleston

Great visuals here. Ensign, Naval Strike Missiles, force protection detail, deck gun, South Pacific clime, submarine tender in the distance. Naval heritage carried over from generations past.

APRA HARBOR, Guam (Dec. 16, 2021) Mineman 3rd Class Daniel Kern, from Harrison, Ohio, stands topside rover watch on the flight deck aboard the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18) during a port visit to Apra Harbor, Guam. Charleston, part of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, is on a rotational deployment in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operation 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 Ryan M. Breeden) 211216-N-PH222-1687

Insert “too bad it’s on a ‘little crappy ship'” comments, here.

Ever Seen the Magazine of a MK 110?

I thought this shot was interesting, as it shows something I personally have never seen before: the below-deck stowage of rounds aboard USS Charleston (LCS 18) for the ship’s No. 1 mount, its Bofors Mark 3/BAE Mk 110 57 mm gun. Capable of a whopping 220 rounds per minute until its 120 round automatic loader drum is empty, GMs would likely then have to refill said drum from this magazine.

PHILIPPINE SEA (Aug. 20, 2021) Mineman 2nd Class Hunter Auslander, left, from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and Mineman 1st Class Danielle Epperson stow 57mm rounds aboard the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Charleston (LCS 18), Aug. 20, 2021. Charleston, part of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 7, 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 Adam Butler) 210820-N-WU807-1040

With a range of 9.1 nautical miles, the MK 110 gun is installed aboard both classes of LCS and the Coast Guard’s large National Security Cutters, taking the place of the 75mm OTO Melera gun in the fleet. It is also set to be used on the Constellation-class frigates and the USCG’s offshore patrol cutters.

Personally, I’d like to see all of the above carry a MK 45/62 5-incher, firing beautiful 70-pound shells, but that’s just me and SECNAV never returns my phone calls. 

USS Delbert D. Black (DDG-119) conducted the first live-fire of her Mk. 45 5in 62 Mod 4 gun, Feb 2020. (U.S. Navy photo)

Curious Craft from Austal

Mobile, Alabama-based Austal USA, builder of the Navy’s Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF)– which have gotten good reviews– and the Independence-class littoral combat ship– you know, the class of LCS that kinda-sorta works– released these interesting artist depictions of future designs without much context or details.

The company was recently given a $44 million contract from the Navy to develop one of its EPFs as an autonomous surface vessel, so keep that in mind.

This appears to be a larger version of the EPF with a huge 96-cell VLS section, a concept that could be a budget arsenal ship. A Tomahawk raft, if you will. The Spearheads use 40~ man crews. 

Speaking of arsenal ships, this looks to be a larger version of the company’s 58m OPV, stretched to add a long (strike length?) 32-cell VLS section. Note the Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV) designator on the hull and the airborne sensor off the stern. Besides the VLS, the only other armament visible is four M2 .50 cal mounts. The small number of liferafts hint at accommodations for a tiny transit or combat crew. 

Odds are, this is an autonomous design for ISR purposes

Look at this sweet trimaran. Envision a 53-foot container that can hold anything from ASMs to IRBMs or a mine-hunting det, which would make sense if the design incorporates a composite hull. An MCM LSUV, if you will. 

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

Happy Tax Day: First LCS makes last deployment

210412-N-NN369-1046 SAN DIEGO (April 12, 2021) Littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) returns to Naval Base San Diego from her final deployment, April 12. Freedom returned after supporting Joint Interagency Task Force South’s counter illicit drug trafficking mission in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jessica Paulauskas)

Via 3rd Fleet:

SAN DIEGO (April 12, 2021) – The inaugural littoral combat ship returned from a U.S. Fourth Fleet deployment, April 12.

Littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) was deployed to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific.

“The success of this deployment is a testament to the hard work and dedication of Freedom’s Sailors and our embarked detachments,” said Cmdr. Larry Repass, Freedom’s commanding officer. “Every Sailor and U.S. Coast Guardsman on this mission has lived up to Freedom’s motto of ‘Fast, Focused, Fearless,’ and they have made great contributions to maritime security in the region.”

During their deployment, the crew of Freedom and a detachment from Helicopter Sea Combat squadron 23 completed joint operations with a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment in support of counter-illicit trafficking, improving Navy-Coast Guard naval warfighting readiness and interoperability. Additionally, Freedom sailed with naval assets from both El Salvador and Guatemala, strengthening naval partnerships and improving regional readiness.

Written off by Big Navy as a beta test vessel for an increasingly troublesome class of under-armed warships not even worthy of being deemed a frigate and too expensive to upgrade, Freedom is set for decommissioning in September just shy of her 13th birthday.

In related news, it turns out these ships, designed to be inexpensive and, let’s face it, expendable, cost almost as much ($70 million per year per hull) as a full-sized guided-missile destroyer ($81 million) to operate. 

Big Navy wants to bench the first LCS quartet to pass on the savings, or something like that

Going back to the old Zumwalt Redux “Streetfighter” concept, the littoral combat ship program was envisioned to crank out an armada of cheap (err, affordable) but deadly and fast ships ready to go into harm’s way in the dangerous shallows where you may not want to risk a billion-dollar Aegis cruiser or destroyer.

Streetfighter, in concept, 1999ish

After all, in the enemy’s coastal region, even dated weapons like Great War-era moored contact mines, speedboats with RPGs, and 105mm howitzers left over from World War II can be killers and don’t need a lot of C4I that can be easily disrupted.

When it comes to doctrine, the LCS were the outgrowth of the PT-boats of the 1940s, PGMs of the cold war, and Reagan(Lehman)-era PHMs of the 1980s.

USS Aries (PHM-5) back in her fighting trim

Somewhat less than a frigate/destroyer escort, and a bit more than a patrol boat. For lack of a better word, they were expendable, to turn a phrase

Now, heading out the door are the first four of the LCS fleet, the initial two of Marinette Marine’s Freedom-class monohull models– USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Fort Worth (LCS-3)— and the first two of Austal’s Independence-class trimaran design– USS Independence (LCS-2) and USS Coronado (LCS-4). Further, funding for more of either type is zeroed out after FY2020.

Now to be fair, all four ships were basically beta tests for the follow-on boats and have seen lots of unexpected teething problems on everything from hull design to propulsion, electronics to berthing areas, and everything in between.

The Navy is arguing in their latest budget justification that it would be a case of good money after bad to continue to upgrade these little tubs to make them worthy of keeping around.

“These ships have been test articles and training assets, and were key in developing the operational concepts leading to the current deployment of LCS ships today,” says the Navy in a statement. “But canceling their modernization allows us to prioritize lethality and survivability where we need it.”

However, these are low-mileage tin cans, with Coronado only in the fleet for five years and 10 months. Even the oldest of the four, Freedom, was commissioned in 2008.

Of note, the plan restores funding for USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)‘s refueling and the carrier’s associated airwing– although let’s be honest, the Navy was never going to retire her with another two decades of life on the ship’s hull. It also includes around $350 million over the next two years for the planned Future Large Surface Combatant (LSC) and Small Surface Combatant FFG (X) while chipping in about $3B for the Columbia-class SSBNs.

Odds are, the Pentagon will be overruled by the Dems in the House or the Republicans in the Senate and the funding will be added to keep these four fairly young LCS around, which may be the gamble the Navy is banking on.

If not, I wouldn’t be surprised if they were swiftly passed on via FMS to Saudi Arabia in a warm transfer, as the Kingdom is eager for more hulls at a good price to both keep their oil lifeline going and continue their blockade of Yemen.

Speaking of which, USS Normandy (CG-60) just reeled in another undocumented (*cough, Iran, cough*) dhow off Yemen, a mission that could arguably be performed by an LCS with an on-board helo and a LEDET/VBSS team of some sort.

Included on the boat’s manifest were 358 missile components including 150 Delavieh anti-tank missiles, Iranian versions of the modern and uber dangerous Russian 9M133 Kornet, basically a budget Javelin.

200209-N-PC620-0005 ARABIAN SEA (Feb. 09, 2020) The crew of the guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60), in accordance with international law, seized an illicit shipment of advanced weapons and weapon components, which held 358 surface-to-air missile components and “Dehlavieh” anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM), intended for the Houthis in Yemen, aboard a stateless dhow during a maritime interdiction operation in the U.S. Fifth Fleet area of operations, Feb. 9, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael H. Lehman)

And the beat goes on…

Queen City, Fifth Edition

The fifth U.S. Navy warship built for the first city constructed after the War of Independence was commissioned into the Fleet this weekend.

All photos: Chris Eger, feel free to share. Note that big bow thruster marking and the fact that she is drawing under 5m. 

USS Cincinnati (LCS-20), an Independence-class littoral combat ship, follows on the heels of a Los Angeles-class SSN, two cruisers (more on that later) and a City-class ironclad gunboat that was sunk and raised twice during the Civil War. This, of course, all befits the mold of storied Roman statesman and military leader Quintius Cincinnatus.

I attended the ceremony– which had Adm. Jamie Foggo (COMNAVEUR-NAVAF) in attendance, who spoke eloquently about Cincinnatus and, in the end, broke his flag aboard the Navy’s LCS– met her crew and toured the vessel.

For a 420-foot/3,100-ton frigate-sized (although not frigate-armed) warship, the wardroom is small.

Her skipper and XO are both CDRs, while OPS is an LCDR. Ten O2/O3s flesh out the rest of the departments (NAV, CSO, 1stLT, EMO, Weaps, Ordnance, Chief Engr, Main Prop Aux, Aux, Electrical). There are 25 Chiefs including an HMC who serves as the ship’s independent duty corpsman. The rest of the crew is made up of just 33 ratings and strikers. This totals 71 souls, although it should be noted that some of those were from other LCS crews. Notably, Crew 214 recently commissioned a previous Independence-class LCS only months ago.

Of interest, her first watch was just four-strong (including two minemen) with just two watchstanders on the bridge.

A few other things that struck me was the size of the payload bay on the trimaran– the ship has a 104-foot beam, more than twice that of the FFG7s!– which was downright cavernous for a ship that could float in 15 feet of brownish water. This translates into a helicopter deck “roof” that is the largest of any U.S. surface warship barring the Gator Navy and, of course, carriers.

One thing is for sure, you can pack a lot of expeditionary gear and modules in here.

She also has a lot of speed on tap, packing 83,410 hp through a pair of (Cincinnati-made) GE LM2500 turbines and two MTU Friedrichshafen 8000 diesels pushing four Wartsila waterjets. She is rated capable of “over 40 knots” although Foggo noted with a wink she could likely best that.

She has a 3200kW electrical plant including four generators and an MTU 396 TE 54 V8 prime mover.

Sadly, she doesn’t have a lot of firepower, limited to topside .50 cals, her Mk-110 57mm Bofors and C-RAM launcher.

She is expected to be optimized for mine countermeasures with the MH-60-based ALMDS and AMNS systems along with an Unmanned Influence Sweeping System (UISS) and AN/AQS-20A mine detection system. She has a missile deck for the new Mk87 NSM system, although the weapon itself is not currently installed.

Still, should she be headed into harm’s way, I’d prefer to see more air defense/anti-missile capabilities installed, but what do I know.

USS Cincinnati will join her nine sister ships already homeported in San Diego: USS Independence (LCS 2), USS Coronado (LCS 4), USS Jackson (LCS 6), USS Montgomery (LCS 8), USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10), USS Omaha (LCS 12), USS Manchester (LCS 14), USS Tulsa (LCS 16) and USS Charleston (LCS 18).

Built just at Austal’s Alabama shipyard, an hour away from where she was commissioned, five sisters are currently under construction in Mobile. Kansas City (LCS 22) is preparing for sea trials. Assembly is underway on Oakland (LCS 24) and Mobile (LCS 26) while modules are under production for Savannah (LCS 28) and Canberra (LCS 30), with four more under contract through to LCS 38.

LCS finally gets some teeth

From U.S. Pacific Fleet Public Affairs:

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (NNS) — The Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) successfully demonstrated the capabilities of the Naval Strike Missile (NSM) Oct. 1 (local date) during Pacific Griffin.

Pacific Griffin is a biennial exercise conducted in the waters near Guam aimed at enhancing combined proficiency at sea while strengthening relationships between the U.S. and Republic of Singapore navies.

“Today was a terrific accomplishment for USS Gabrielle Giffords crew and the Navy’s LCS class,” said Cmdr. Matthew Lehmann, commanding officer. “I am very proud of all the teamwork that led to the successful launch of the NSM.”

The NSM is a long-range, precision strike weapon that can find and destroy enemy ships at distances up to 100 nautical miles away. The stealthy missile flies at sea-skimming altitude, has terrain-following capability and uses an advanced seeker for precise targeting in challenging conditions.

Rear Adm. Joey Tynch, commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific, who oversees security cooperation for the U.S. Navy in Southeast Asia, said Gabrielle Giffords’ deployment sent a crystal clear message of continued U.S. commitment to maritime security in the region.

“LCS packs a punch and gives potential adversaries another reason to stay awake at night,” Tynch said. “We are stronger when we sail together with our friends and partners, and LCS is an important addition to the lineup.”

The NSM aboard Gabrielle Giffords is fully operational and remains lethal. The weapon was first demonstrated on littoral combat ship USS Coronado in 2014. It meets and exceeds the U.S. Navy’s over-the-horizon requirements for survivability against high-end threats, demonstrated lethality, easy upgrades, and long-range strike capability.

Gabrielle Giffords’ deployment represents a milestone for the U.S. Navy and LCS lethality and marks the first time that an NSM has sailed into the Indo-Pacific region. The successful missile shoot demonstrates value for long-range anti-ship missiles.

Gabrielle Giffords, on its maiden deployment, arrived in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility Sept. 16, for a rotational deployment to the Indo-Pacific region. This marks the first time two LCS have deployed to the Indo-Pacific region simultaneously. Gabrielle Giffords is the fifth LCS to deploy to U.S. 7th Fleet, following USS Freedom (LCS 1), USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), USS Coronado (LCS 4) and the currently-deployed USS Montgomery (LCS 8).

Gabrielle Giffords will conduct operations, exercises and port visits throughout the region as well as work alongside allied and partner navies to provide maritime security and stability, key pillars of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Its unique capabilities allow it to work with a broad range of regional navies and visit ports larger ships cannot access.

Littoral combat ships are fast, agile and networked surface combatants, optimized for operating in the near-shore environments. With mission packages allowing for tailored capabilities to meet specific mission needs and unique physical characteristics, LCS provides operational flexibility and access to a wider range of ports.

With that being said, I have an invite to check out the newest Independence-type LCS this weekend and will report more on that, later.

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