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The littoral combat ship (LCS) is a class of relatively small surface vessels intended for operations in the littoral zone (close to shore) by the United States Navy. It was "envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats in the littorals."
The Freedom class and the Independence class are the first two LCS variants, both are slightly smaller than the U.S. Navy's guided missile frigates and have been likened to corvettes. They have the capabilities of a small assault transport, including a flight deck and hangar for housing two SH-60 or MH-60 Seahawk helicopters, a stern ramp for operating small boats, and the cargo volume and payload to deliver a small assault force with fighting vehicles to a roll-on/roll-off port facility. Standard armaments include Mk 110 57 mm guns and Rolling Airframe Missiles. It is also equipped with autonomous air, surface, and underwater vehicles. Possessing lower air defense and surface warfare capabilities than destroyers, the LCS concept emphasizes speed, flexible mission modules and a shallow draft.
The first littoral combat ship, USS Freedom, was commissioned on 8 November 2008 in Veteran's Park, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The second ship, and first of the trimaran design, the USS Independence, was commissioned on 16 January 2010, in Mobile, Alabama. In 2012, CNO Jonathan W. Greenert stated that LCSs would be deployed to Africa in place of destroyers and cruisers. In 2013 and 2014, the Navy's LCS requirement was progressively cut from 55 to 32 vessels in favor of a proposed frigate, more capable of high intensity combat. In late 2014, the Navy proceeded with a procurement plan for enhanced versions of the LCS and upgraded older ships to meet the program's 52-ship requirement; the modified LCS will be redesignated as a frigate.
The concept behind the littoral combat ship, as described by former Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England, is to "create a small, fast, maneuverable and relatively inexpensive member of the DD(X) family of ships." The ship is easy to reconfigure for different roles, including anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, anti-surface warfare, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, homeland defense, maritime intercept, special operations, and logistics. Due to its modular design, the LCS will be able to replace slower, more specialized ships such as minesweepers and larger assault ships.
Most of the mission modules' functions are performed by carried vehicles such as helicopters or unmanned vehicles such as the Spartan Scout, AN/WLD-1 RMS Remote Minehunting System and MQ-8B Fire Scout as part of the Navy's goal to "unman the front lines". Performing functions such as sonar sweeps for mines or submarines as well as launching torpedos against hostile submarines at a distance from the ship is less risky. Placing sensors on remote vehicles allows the LCS to exploit concepts such as bistatic sonar. DARPA's Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program aims to build a Medium-altitude long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicle (MALE UAV) that can operate from LCS-2 and can carry a payload of 600 pounds (270 kg) out to an operational radius of 600–900 nautical miles (1,100–1,700 km).
A report in 2010 by the Pentagon's director of Operational Test and Evaluation found that neither design was expected to "be survivable in a hostile combat environment" and that neither ship could withstand the Navy's full ship shock trials. The Navy responded that the LCS is built to a Level 1+ survivability standard and that the ships will rely on warnings from networks and speed to avoid being hit, or if hit be able to limp to safety. Jonathan Greenert said that the crew would "conduct an orderly abandon ship" if their ship was struck by enemy fire, an action that might not be necessary on other vessels in the same circumstances. The ships were designed to minimize vulnerability with modern automated damage control systems to perform its mission, then withdraw from the area under its own power.
The LCS's combat abilities were said to be "very modest" even before the cancellation of the XM501 Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System. The Independence variant reportedly has better helicopter facilities and more internal space while the Freedom variant is said to be better able to launch and recover boats in high seas. Admiral Gary Roughead said that a mix of both types would be "operationally advantageous".
In April 2012, Chief of Naval Operations Greenert said, "You won't send it into an anti-access area," rather groups of two or three ships are intended to be sent into areas where access is jeopardized to perform missions like minesweeping while under the cover of a destroyer. The LCS main purpose is to take up operations such as patrolling, port visits, anti-piracy, and partnership-building exercises to free up high-end surface combatants for increased combat availability. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus clarified that the ship could operate in combat areas while under the protection of other warships.
The ships are planned to have a 3:2:1 manning concept. That is three ship crews, and two hulls for each ship that is on station at any time. The other ship and other two crews who are not on deployment will either be preparing for deployment or in rotation in or out of theater. The result is a 50% reduction in ships and a 25% reduction in crews (and smaller crew sizes) than traditional deployment practices. The ships were predicted to fall short in manning. The Navy has deployed ships with berthing modules in the mission bays in order to carry the crew required for operations. However the ships are designed with sufficient headroom to change from 2-high bunking to 3-high bunking, which would allow crew sizes of 100 if needed.
The LCS is the first USN surface combatant class in a generation to not use the Aegis Combat System, though Aegis-equipped variants have been offered to foreign customers. They have suffered from problems in their communications and radars and will require refits in these areas. The LCS is unable to defend themselves effectively against anti-ship cruise missiles, which are commonly employed in the littorals; but does have survivability via its ability to disperse in shallow waters better than larger warships.
The LCS is reconfigured for various roles by changing mission packages, each of which includes mission module equipment (weapon systems, sensors, etc.), carried craft and mission crews. Projected modules include Anti-submarine warfare (ASW), mine hunter (MCM), surface warfare (SUW), and special warfare missions. The MCM and SUW modules are planned to reach initial operating capability in Fiscal year 2014, and the ASW module in FY2016. Module changes were envisioned to allow a single LCS to change roles in a matter of hours at any commercial port allowing it to rapidly optimize effectiveness against a threat. A report from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) on a January 2012 sustainment wargame reportedly stated that, possibly for logistics reasons, the mission module changes may take as long as weeks, and that in the future the navy plans to use LCS ships with a single module, with module changes being a rare occurrence. In 2014, Independence switched from mine to surface warfare modes in 96 hours on short notice.
In addition to the ships' organic weapons systems, the surface warfare package includes two 30 mm gun systems, a counter-boat missile system, two 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs), and weapons deployed from MH-60 helicopters and MQ-8 Fire Scout UAVs. The surface warfare mission module is intended to deal only with small boats and is called "best swarm killer in the surface fleet". It includes two 30 mm gun mission modules manufactured by Teledyne Brown Engineering, Inc. The Navy's proposed budget for FY 2015 includes funding for the Surface-to-Surface Missile Module (SSMM) for the first time.
In January 2011, the U.S. Navy recommended the selection of Raytheon's Griffin missile to replace the NLOS-LS missile, lowering the LCS's missile range from 25 miles to 3.5 miles. The packages were to be deployed in sets of three, with 15 per set for a total of 45 missiles. Initial deployment of the Griffin was set for 2015, a longer-ranged version was enter service around 2017; however, procurement was canceled after being judged to be "too lightweight". An enhanced Griffin and the Sea Spear were considered likely competitors for the increment 2 missile. The Navy chose to integrate the millimeter wave radar-guided AGM-114L Hellfire missile to increase the LCS' standoff firepower. Navy use of the Hellfire gives access to the U.S. Army's existing stockpile of 10,000 missiles. The Hellfire is an interim decision, the Navy is interested in developing a longer-range version. An LCS can carry 24 Hellfire missiles in its Surface-to-surface Missile Module (SSMM), using M299 vertical launchers mounted within a gas containment system; the SSMM design does not facilitate at-sea reloading. The Hellfire is slated to be operational aboard the LCS by 2017. A longer-range missile with an over-the-horizon engagement capability is planned to defend against fast attack craft, ships, and patrol boats by 2020 as part of the surface warfare package Increment 4.
Norwegian company Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace proposed equipping LCSs with their radar-evading Naval Strike Missile, presenting scale models of the Freedom-class with 12 NSMs and the Independence-class with 18 NSMs. In July 2014, the Navy confirmed that it would test-launch the NSM from the USS Coronado (LCS-4) to evaluate feasibility, the first time an LCS will fire a surface-to-surface missile. The NSM has a range of 100 mi (87 nmi; 160 km), greater than the Harpoon anti-ship missile; but LCSs lack long-range fire control systems to detect targets at this distance. On 24 September 2014, the NSM was successfully fired at a mobile target. The LCS' modular design makes it possible to add weapons and sensors as part of the warfare suite. This could mitigate lethality criticism of the LCS, which is oriented toward asymmetric swarm boat threats than comparable surface combatants.
The anti-submarine module will have its focus changed from stationary systems to en-stride systems (while the ship is moving) that are useful in the open ocean as well as in coastal areas. One of the items to be added is a "torpedo detection capability" so that the ship can know when it is under attack. Thales has sold one CAPTAS 4 low-frequency active sonar to the U.S. Navy to be towed behind the LCS, with a potential order of 25 units. The USN will test a combination of this unit, derived from the Sonar 2087 on British Type 23 frigates, with the TB-37 multifunction towed array found on US warships. As of September 2013[update], deployment of the ASW module is planned for 2016, but the 2013 sequestration cuts could push this back to 2017.
The Thales 2087-towed sonar will give the LCS an ability to detect diesel-electric submarines while on the move, even better than destroyers and cruisers; because submarines can hide based on how sound is refracted through the temperature salinity and pressure profile, the variable depth sonar can pierce that layer better than a hull-mounted sonar. The sonar is paired with a torpedo decoy under development. To destroy submarines, an MH-60S helicopter will deploy the Mark 54 MAKO Lightweight Torpedo. Submarine detection is achieved by using an active VDS and passive Multi-Function Towed Array (MFTA); the active sonar sends out an acoustic signal to analyze the return, while the passive sonar simply listens through the water for noise signatures.
A wargame held by the Naval War College demonstrated the possibility of using the LCS in open water operations to assist carrier battle groups and guided missile destroyers. The LCS was found to be more useful in open water operations than previously considered. The wargame found that an LCS operating the ASW package could perform the mission, which freed up a destroyer that would normally perform the mission to contribute to the lethality of the strike group. Submarine hunting ability is increased by the combination of a destroyer's towed array and hull-mounted sonar and an LCS' variable depth sonar.
The Mine Counter-Measure (MCM) module is designed to provide minesweeping, remotely detecting and bypassing mines, as well as minehunting, detecting and then disabling. It was envisioned to perform "influence" minehunting via acoustic and magnetic signatures rather than contact or mechanical minehunting. The MCM module includes the Airborne Laser Mine Detection system, the Airborne mine neutralization system, the AN/AQS-20A underwater towed sonar, the remote minehunting system, the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis system, and the Knifefish, a Surface mine counter-measure unmanned undersea vehicle. Cancelled module features include the Organic Airborne and Surface Influence Sweep System, and the Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System. The AN/AQS-20A and the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System have been found to be unable to meet performance requirements in a single pass, requiring multiple passes. The Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle's mean time before failure is 7.9 hours compared to the required 75 hours. The Airborne Mine Neutralization System cannot track mines because of software problems, and the loading/unloading system has issues. The final increment IV MCM module will not have an EOD team, it will also not have an in-stride capability to neutralize discovered mines, neutralization is preceded by post-detection mission analysis. As of September 2013[update], the first increment MCM module is to be fielded in 2015, and the second in 2019.
The first increment of the MCM module will enter service in 2015 and will include three systems: the helicopter-deployed airborne laser mine detection system (ALMDS); the airborne mine neutralization system (AMNS); and the remote minehunting system (RMS) composed of the remote multi-mission vehicle (RMMV) and the AQS-20A sonar. The ALMDS will detect mines near the top of the water, and the RMS, which is the RMMV paired with the AQS-20A, will detect them below the waterline. To destroy mines, the AMNS is lowered by the helicopter and guided by an operator on board to neutralize it. Increment two will be the coastal battlefield reconnaissance and analysis system (COBRA) mounted on the MQ-8B to search beaches and surf zones. Increment three will involve an unmanned surface vehicle (USV) with unmanned surface sweep system (USSS), which is a cable towed behind the USV. It will mimic the acoustic and magnetic signature of a ship to fool magnetic and influence mines into detonating; introduction is expected in 2017. The final increment will be the Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle to find and detect buried mines in 2019.
The Navy included an irregular warfare package in its 2012 budget request to Congress.
Congressman Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) wrote that the 55 LCS buy was made at the cost of 10 fewer amphibious vessels. Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps, General Joseph Dunford said in 2011 that the LCS is one of the platforms under consideration to help close the gap in amphibious shipping. In August 2014, the USS Coronado demonstrated the ability to rapidly stage and deploy Marine Corps ground units, including two Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadrons conducted day and night deck-landing qualifications. The Independence-class LCS' features of high speed, a large flight deck to support UH-1Y Venom and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters, and reconfigurable mission bay can support air and small-boat employment and delivery of ground and air forces; a small Marine ground unit can be carried within an embarked mission module. In 2014, Marine Corps General John M. Paxton, Jr. claimed several deficiencies in using an LCS for amphibious operations as a substitute platform for an amphibious assault ship, including the ability to operate in difficult sea states, survivability in contested waters, limited flight deck and berthing space, and command and control limitations.
In 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard began advocating the LCS as a tailor-made platform for drug interdiction missions. Under pressure from Navy vessels retiring, the Coast Guard will suffer a surface vessel shortage for intercepting smuggling ships in the Caribbean area, forcing the Navy to examine other platforms for drug interdiction. The Coast Guard noted that the LCS has previously preformed this task, and pointed towards its high speed and embarked helicopters to run down smuggling fast boats; the Navy plans to base 10 Freedom-class ships at Naval Station Mayport, Florida which could be tasked to conduct interdiction missions.
During the late 1990s, the U.S. Navy realized its Cold War-era cruisers and destroyers would be vulnerable in shallow coastal waters, where the next naval battlespace was anticipated. Designed for open-ocean warfare, they faced dangers from high-speed boats, missile-firing fast-attack craft, small submarines, sea mines, and land and air-launched anti-ship missiles. The Navy's official solution was the DD-21, a large coastal warship that could absorb hits. Two Navy strategists, retired Captain Wayne Hughes and Vice Admiral Art Cebrowski, refined an opposing Streetfighter concept for a 1,000-ton small, specialized, and heavily-armed vessels costing just $90 million (2001 dollars). Being small, light and numerous, the Streetfighter was envisioned as a "single-serving" ship to be abandoned once hit, made possible by its low cost. The concept of a manned expendable warship was contentious and the idea was not picked up. When Donald Rumsfeld was made Secretary of Defense in early 2001, he promised transformational approaches and doing jobs with fewer people. In October 2001, Cebrowski was assigned to head the Pentagon's new Office of Force Transformation, shortly after which Admiral Vernon Clark cancelled the DD-21 and replaced it with a "family" of ships, including the littoral combat ship, being motivated to produce ships cheaper and faster to increase fleet size. Clark declared the LCS was his "most transformational effort" and number-one budget priority in 2003.
The Navy committed to the $15 billion (2003) program in advance of rigorous analysis or clearly defined purpose, appearance, or survivability. Proponents typically pointed to its speed, asymmetric littoral threats, and impact on the American shipbuilding industry. The LCS suffered from requirements creep, adding more missions and equipment, potentially rendering it too complex and expensive to use. When it was decided the ship would not be expendable, the original concept of a small, cheap, simple coastal warship became bigger, more expensive, and more complicated; with a smaller crew due to automation. The task force assigned six different missions which had been previously performed by individual ships: submarine and mine hunting; combating small boats; intelligence gathering; transporting special forces; and counter-drug and piracy patrols. Each ship would be big enough to sail across the Pacific alone, embark a helicopter, have a minimum 40 knot top speed, and cost $220 million. The Navy was only willing to build one type of ship, the task force, realized it was virtually impossible for one vessel to fill all roles, advocated a large hull to cover the mission range through modularity, organic combat power, and unmanned systems. Empty space was left for weapon and sensor mission modules costing $150 million. When the first production contracts were awarded in 2004, no mission module worked outside of a laboratory. Fast, cheap construction was emphasized, solving problems with technology.
In 2003, the Navy launched its first experimental LCS, Sea Fighter, designated as fast sea frame or FSF-1. In 2005, the SWATH-hulled Sea Fighter entered service as an experimental vessel using mission modules. As the Oliver Hazard Perry, Osprey, and the Avenger classes were reaching the end of their lives, the U.S. Navy released the LCS requirement. In 2004, Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics and Raytheon submitted design proposals. It was decided to produce two vessels each (Flight 0) of the Lockheed Martin design (LCS-1 and LCS-3) and of the General Dynamics design (LCS-2 and LCS-4). After these are brought into service, and experience gathered on the design's usability and efficiency, the future design for the class would be chosen (Flight I). The ultimate decision was to fund both designs as two variants of the class. On 9 May 2005, Secretary of the Navy Gordon R. England announced that the first LCS would be named USS Freedom. Her keel was laid down on 2 June 2005 at Marinette Marine, Marinette, Wisconsin. The contract to build the ship was managed by Lockheed's Maritime Systems and Sensors (MS2) division, directed by Fred Moosally. On 23 September 2006, LCS-1 was christened and launched at the Marinette Marine shipyard. On 19 January 2006, the keel for the General Dynamics trimaran, USS Independence, was laid at the Austal USA shipyards in Mobile, Alabama. LCS-2 was launched 30 April 2008.
In 2007, the U.S. Navy canceled contracts to build LCS-3 of Lockheed Martin and LCS-4 of General Dynamics and Austal USA, citing failure to control cost overruns. Subsequently, the Navy announced a new bidding process for the next three ships, the winner building two ships and the loser building one. In the 26 September 2008 U.S. Presidential debate, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) cited the LCS as an example of botched contracting driving up costs unnecessarily. In March 2009, then-Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter announced that LCS-3 would be named Fort Worth after Fort Worth, Texas, and the fourth ship would be named Coronado after Coronado, California. The contracts for LCS-3 and LCS-4 were renewed in early 2009.
In April 2009, the Navy announced its revised procurement plan that three ships be funded in the FY 2010 budget; officials also hinted that the Navy may not down-select to one design for further orders, pointing out complementary features of the two designs. Former Secretary of the Navy John Lehman called for fixed-price contracts to be adopted. Pressure mounted in Congress for the Navy to control the cost: in June 2009, during a hearing of the House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee, Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor, D-Miss, said that other contractors would be keen to build LCS as the subcommittee added language requiring the Navy to open bidding if either lead contractor walked away from the offered $460 million fixed price contracts. In response, the Naval Sea Systems Command conducted a study on whether reducing the top speed requirement from 40 knots to 30 could help keep the ships under the price cap.
The Congress asked the Navy to study improvement programs on existing ships in place of the LCS program. In June 2009, Vice Admiral Barry McCullough, USN testified in a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting that the Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates and minesweepers were too worn out to cover the gap if the LCS suffered further delays. Retired Admiral James Lyons, USN called for a $220 million common design with the U.S. Coast Guard's National Security Cutter (NSC) program to save costs and meet "limited warfare requirements". A Huntington-Ingalls study found that the NSC would be a better match for the listed mission set while lacking the LCS's mission modules to perform many missions.
In May 2012, Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems released a study that showed seven LCS can more efficiently perform anti-piracy patrols in the Western Indian Ocean than a fleet of 20 conventional ships for a quarter of the cost. To help reduce cost of each ships, Navy Acquisition Chief Sean Stackley and Vice Admiral Barry McCullough in September 2009 indicate that only one contractor would be offered a fixed price contract in 2010 for up to ten ships, followed by an offer to build five additional ships of the same design as the first contract to the secondary builder. The Congress agreed with the Navy on this plan. On 23 August 2010, the US Navy announced a delay in awarding the contract for 10 ships until the year's end.
FY2010 budget documents revealed that the total costs of the two lead ships had risen to $637 million for Freedom and $704 million for Independence. On 16 January 2010, the Independence was commissioned in Mobile, Alabama.
The GAO found that deploying the first two ships will delay the overall program because these two ships were not available for testing and development so changes may have to be made in the second pair of ships during construction instead of in advance. The U.S. Navy responded that "Early deployment brought LCS operational issues to the forefront much sooner than under the original schedule, some of which would not have been learnt until two years on."
In 2013, Work explained that cost overruns were partly due to the shipbuilders bidding to American Bureau of Shipping commercial standards, the Navy changed this to Level I survivability standards for greater crew survivability, although the ships were not expected to operate after being hit. The Navy acknowledged that their failure to communicate clearly that the experimental and developmental nature of the first two ships caused a perception that the overall LCS program was in worse shape. A GAO report in July 2014 found that the annual cost to operate an LCS was $79 million, compared to $54 million to operate a larger frigate. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus pointed out that new vessels traditionally start off costing more to operate due to difficulties with ships being built and tested simultaneously; GAO reports of new warships since the 1960s support this claim. As more littoral combat ships are built and enter service, Mabus said operational costs will decline to acceptable limits.
Instead of declaring a winner out of the two competing designs, the U.S. Navy in November 2010 asked the Congress to allow for the order of ten of each design. US Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) said that the change was made because both bids were under the Congressional price cap. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said that unlike the possibility of splitting orders for projects like KC-X or the General Electric/Rolls-Royce F136, the Pentagon had already paid the development cost for both designs so there was no further development required for both designs and have them compete for future orders.
In December 2010, the Government Accountability Office identified some problems with the designs including extremely long crew training time, unrealistic maintenance plans, and the lack of comprehensive risk assessment. On 13 December 2010, both production teams extended their contract offers until 30 December in order to give more time for the Navy to push through the plan. The Navy would be forced to award the contract to only one team if it failed to secure Congressional approval. The Navy budgeted $490 million for each ship while the Congressional Budget Office projected a cost of $591 million for each ship. Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley testified to a Senate panel that the actual price range was $440 to $460 million.
A day before the offer's expiration, both Lockheed Martin and Austal USA received Navy contracts for an additional ten ships of their designs; two ships of each design being built each year between 2011 and 2015. Lockheed Martin's LCS-5 had a contractual price of $437 million, Austal USA's contractual price for LCS-6 was $432 million. On 29 December 2010, Department of Navy Undersecretary Sean Stackley noted that the program was well within the Congressional cost cap of $480 million per ship. The average per-ship target price for Lockheed ships is $362 million, Stackley said, with a goal of $352 million for each Austal USA ships. Government-furnished equipment (GFE), such as weapons, add about $25 million per ship; another $20 million for change orders, and "management reserve" is also included. Stackley declared the average cost to buy an LCS should be between $430 million and $440 million. In the fiscal year 2011, the unit cost was $1.8 billion and the program cost $3.7 billion.
In May 2012, Robert Work said that the two designs may each be best suited to different theaters, the LCS-1 design being better suited for the enclosed waters of the Middle East, while the LCS-2 design for the Pacific Ocean's open waters. In order to increase commonality, the Navy will force both types to use the same combat system electronics.
The handoff from General Dynamics to Austal of management for the Independence class lead to a 13-month schedule slip as the company struggled with building the JHSV ships at the same facilities. In May 2013, the GAO called for a pause in ship construction until issues with the sea frames and modules were resolved. In August 2013, the USN revealed plans to reduce the procurement rate in 2016.
A 2012 report by Rear Admiral Samuel Perez, USN, found that the ships lacked the manpower and firepower to complete the missions required by regional combatant commanders. The report found that the LCS is "ill-suited for combat operations against anything but" small, fast boats not armed with anti-ship missiles. It also found that the excessive beam of the trimaran Independence class ships may pose a "navigational challenge in narrow waterways and tight harbors". The report also found that the contractor-based maintenance scheme for the ships had led to poorly supervised and unaccountable contractors leaving problems unresolved. As contract workers are required to be American, they must be flown out to any foreign ports visited by an LCS. A special panel was appointed to investigate "challenges identified". Twenty more bunks were installed to allow for a larger crew.
In 2013, Captain Kenneth Coleman, the U.S. Navy's requirements officer for the program, identified the LCS as being especially vulnerable to tactical aircraft armed with standoff anti-ship missiles. Vice Admiral Thomas H. Copeman III is reported to be considering an upsized "Super" LCS, with space to install needed firepower, because he noted that the 57mm main gun was more suitable to a patrol boat than a frigate. Austal’s vice president for sales, Craig Hooper, suggested that the ships should instead be used for UAV operations. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus has called the lack of identified missions for the LCS "one of its greatest strengths". The various modules all use the same Internet Protocol formats. In 2013 Congressional auditors found that the ships lacked robust communications systems and a USN review "uncovered classified deficiencies" in the ship's cyberdefenses.
At a hearing on 25 July 2013, the House Armed Services Committee's seapower subcommittee argued with Vice Admiral Richard Hunt on how the LCS would be employed if tensions with North Korea or China led to a confrontation in the Western Pacific. Hunt said the ships are designed in accordance with the Navy's survivability standards, and that the LCS would be used during the initial phase in the theatre and sense the environment before hostilities occur. Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter countered saying the LCS was not survivable enough for long-range threats that China possesses. LCS class ships are built to the Navy's survivability category Level I+, higher than Level I patrol craft and mine warfare ships, but lower than the Level II Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate they are replacing. The Navy has said the LCS was designed to pull out of combat upon sustaining damage.
The deployment of USS Freedom is seen by the Navy as an opportunity to test the ship and operational concepts in the real-world. Congressman Hunter replied that that the Freedom had docked in harbors that other ships couldn't (demonstrating its shallow draft) and do "donuts" (move in fast circles). Admiral Hunt told Hunter that the Navy was about to conclude a war game at the Naval War College to examine ways of exploiting LCS capabilities in a Western Pacific scenario, among others. Hunt added that the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission package would play an important role in protecting aircraft carriers and amphibious ships. The mine countermeasures (MCMs) mission package would also provide necessary port security and waterway patrol capability following combat operations. The MCM mission package is expected to reach initial operational capability (IOC) in 2014, and the ASW mission package is expected to reach IOC in 2016.
A Government Accountability Office report in April 2014 found that several U.S. 7th Fleet officials thought the LCS was more useful in the Persian Gulf, but not suitable in the Pacific theater as they lacked the speed, range, and electronic warfare capabilities. The first two vessels from each maker were found to be overweight and not meeting performance requirements for endurance or sprinting over 40 knots. Navy leaders contend that the LCS' shallow draft is well suited for Pacific operations due to the many shallow-water ports, typically difficult for larger warships to access. The GAO report recommended the Navy consider buying fewer ships of the type if its limitations prevent effective use in the Pacific theater. The GAO also found that both designs were overweight and under performing.
On 24 February 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed the Navy to submit alternative proposals for a new surface combatant comparable to a frigate that can operate in all regions under conflict conditions. In response to Pentagon direction to halt LCS purchases at 32 ships, the Navy is re-examining the vessels' role, such a whether they have enough protection and firepower to survive against advanced adversaries, and alternate proposals which included a modified LCS or a new platform. The Navy requires the class' roles of counter-mine, anti-submarine, and surface warfare provided by modules. Proponents point out that the LCS was not designed to function like destroyers but for littoral tasks like high-speed patrols and counter-piracy missions, moving at 40 knots and within shallow water where other ships cannot.
Hagel was concerned by the LCS to make up one-sixth of the Navy's 300-ship force. The 2013 Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) report on the two LCS ships questioned their survivability as their requirements did not include features for sustained combat operations unlike other Navy surface combatants. A new ship class would need built-in anti-submarine and surface warfare mission features, as opposed to swappable mission modules. On 27 March 2014, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus defended the LCS' survivability and the need for 52 small surface combatants before the Senate Armed Services Committee. Greenert explained that the LCS meets or exceeds survivability and recoverability standards, was as survivable as a frigate, and was more survivable than mine countermeasures and patrol craft; susceptibility has to be improved upon, and he would consider modifications to increase survivability and flexibility.
On 30 April 2014, the Navy issued two Requests for Information (RFI) to industry to give the LCS task force follow-on designs to Flight 0 ship models. One RFI was for design concepts and information on cost and lethality, and the other was for specific systems and technologies. Mission areas consisting of anti-air, surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine countermeasure missions will offer a range of mission and capability options based on the threat environment that will drive design work and costs. Options for the proposed small surface combatant were a modified version of the LCS, an existing alternate ship design, or an entirely new design.
On the proposal's due date, ship designs were submitted by Lockheed Martin, Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls, and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, and separate combat systems proposals were submitted by Lockheed, Raytheon, and General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems (GD AIS); ship and combat systems responses were limited to 25 and 15 pages respectively. Lockheed's response was a variant of their Freedom-class LCS; different upgrades included an advised increase in length to 125 m (410 ft), vertical launch systems for Standard Missile 2 missiles or the Standard Missile 6, and the SPY-1F Aegis radar or a Air Missile Defense Radar derivative. Austal USA submitted a modified Independence-class ship, adding permanently-installed systems like a towed array sonar, torpedoes, vertical launch anti-submarine rockets, and aviation capability to support the MH-60 helicopter in place of mission modules. Like Lockheed's submission, it has a VLS for Standard missiles, a 76 mm gun in place of the 57 mm gun, and can take on an Aegis or ADMR radar. Huntington Ingalls submitted a larger, more heavily-armed National Security Cutter. General Dynamics also made an unspecified response.
Results from the Navy task force on LCS upgrades, capabilities, costs, and alternative options were completed by 31 July 2014 for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) to review. The Navy senior leadership briefed top Pentagon officials on proposals for the new SSC on 6 October 2014. A decision is to be made by February 2015 in advance of the 2016 budget submission. On 12 December 2014, a joint statement was issued by the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations endorsing SSCTF recommendations for a modified LCS to complement the planned 32 LCSs for a 52-strong Small Surface Combatant fleet.
On 11 December 2014, Hagel accepted the Navy's recommendation to base the 20 SSCs on more powerful versions of both existing LCS designs. The SSC shall have an improved 3D air defense radar, air defense decoys, better electronic warfare system, over-the-horizon anti-ship missiles, multi-function towed array sonar, torpedo defenses, additional armor, and displace less than Flight 0 vessels. The SSC will focus on anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare; mine countermeasures will be handled by existing LCS ships. Although not designed for modularity, it will maintain the ability to carry mission modules and LCS mission package equipment, including 30 mm and 57 mm cannons (upgrading to a 76 mm gun would have had marginal benefits for increased costs), Hellfire missiles, 11-meter RHIBs, and the ASW variable-depth sonar. Current plans lack vertical launchers for Standard missiles; the SSC is planned to be able to operate alone. The over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missile will likely have both anti-ship and land attack capabilities in the Harpoon Block II class. Other enhancements include spaced armor, installation of Mk 38 Mod 2 25 mm chain guns, improved decoy systems, the SeaRAM missile interceptor, a "lite" version of the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP), and improved signature management through degaussing. An SSC will cost $60–$75 million more than a Flight 0 LCS, with procurement to begin by 2019. Hagel also directed the Navy to study which improvements could be added to LCSs; completed ships cannot accommodate all changes, more can be added to incomplete ones, the final number and mix of each type has yet to be determined.
The decision was made on SSC upgrade features to prioritize over-the-horizon surface and ASW capabilities with a greater degree of self-defense, not anti-aircraft or missile defense, which will be left to large surface combatants. Although a 3D radar is included in the designs, a VLS was absent from the hulls, contrary to what naval experts suggested and industry submissions contained. Adding a vertical launch system was evaluated, but was determined to be too heavy and large and requiring long and costly changes; modular aspects of the ships may allow for the addition of the smaller Mk 56 VLS for the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. When emphasized on ASW, the ships will combine the fixed multi-function towed sonar array with the mission package's variable depth sonar to have "the most effective ASW sensor platform in the Navy." For SUW, the key addition is the inclusion of an over-the-horizon anti-ship missile; the Navy is looking at potential systems that could compete with the Harpoon Block II. Aside from lethality changes, the service also intends to have a common combat management system for both variants.
In January 2015, the Navy announced that the up-gunned LCS will be reclassified as a frigate, since the requirements of the SSCTF was to upgrade the ships with frigate-like capabilities. Hull designations will be changed from LCS to FF; existing LCSs back-fitted with modifications may also earn the FF label.
Saudi Arabia and Israel have both expressed an interest in a modified version of the Freedom variant, the LCS-I, but Defense News has reported that Israel has dropped out of this project in favor of a new frigate design to be built in Israel.
The Indonesian Navy was reportedly interested in either purchase or construction of littoral combat ships to protect Indonesia's wide ocean territory. Early images indicate a trimaran design much like the Independence variant ships (LCS-2).
Japan will design its own version of the Independence class.
|Freedom variant||Independence variant|
|USS Freedom (LCS-1)||USS Independence (LCS-2)|
|USS Fort Worth (LCS-3)||USS Coronado (LCS-4)|
|USS Milwaukee (LCS-5)||USS Jackson (LCS-6)|
|USS Detroit (LCS-7)||USS Montgomery (LCS-8)|
|USS Little Rock (LCS-9)||USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10)|
|USS Sioux City (LCS-11)||USS Omaha (LCS-12)|
|USS Wichita (LCS-13)||USS Manchester (LCS-14)|
|USS Billings (LCS-15)||USS Tulsa (LCS-16)|
|USS Indianapolis (LCS-17)||USS Charleston (LCS-18)|
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