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…