One of the criticisms of the Navy and Coast Guard’s ship building programs has been that they were not coordinated; that they should have been able to come up with a common hull. I think there may still be an excellent opportunity to do that and get the benefit of large scale series production, by combining the 25 ship Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) with the last 31 ships of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.
It doesn’t even require that the Navy admit they made a mistake in their Littoral Combat Ship procurement, only that they acknowledge that the current program will supply all the ultra high speed vessels that they will need, and that a different hull can meet their remaining requirements more economically.
The Navy’s plan has been to build 55 hulls with interchangeable mission modules. These modules will be designed for three different missions: Mine Countermeasures (MCM), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW, specifically against very quiet diesel electric submarines, lying in wait in littoral waters), and Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW, specifically countering swarms of Iranian boats in the Straits of Hormuz–what I will call the Swarm Destroyer role).
Originally the concept was that they would have 165 modules, one module of each type for each of the ships or Seaframes (The new terminology attempting to conveying the idea that these were like airframes, that could be adapted to different missions by putting on different equipment). As the price of the individual modules went up, the Navy realized they would probably never need 55 of each, so the current plan is for 64 modules total, 24 MCM, 16 ASW, and 24 ASuW (or Swarm Destroyer).
Importantly, to me, this means that the Navy plans to deploy at most, 24 in the “swarm destroyer” role.
Perhaps by coincident, the Navy has currently built, under contract, or optioned 24 of the hyperfast ships through FY2015.
Two characteristics have set the LCS apart, mission modules and extreme speed. Why the speed? It is certainly not for the purpose of conducting MCM or ASW (some times called awfully slow warfare). You might assume it is so that they can get to the scene rapidly, but that doesn’t really work, because if they use their speed to get there, their range is very limited. The trimaran LCS-2 class are a bit better, but the LCS-1 class ships can burn virtually all their fuel in about 12 hours at maximum speed, giving them a max range at top speed of about 600 miles, and then they have to wait for their 20 knot tanker to get there. The only real justification for the speed is the “swarm destroyer” mission.
24 modules, 24 ships, the ASuW mission is presumably taken care of, if the ships currently in the pipeline are not required for ASW or MCM.
The current LCS contracts and options extend through 2015. The Navy will be ready to contract again in 2016.
The current NSC program is expected to run through 2015. The Coast Guard will be ready to contract for the OPC in 2016.
There are 31 additional LCS planned. There are 25 OPCs planned. If we could combine the programs that would be 56 ships of a single basic design.
Why would the Navy want a different ship? Both cost and capability.
- For ASW and MCM, a higher cruise speed and longer range, that would allow them to economically transit with amphib and replenishment vessels without going on turbines is desirable, and the extreme high speed is unnecessary.
- The existing LCSs have sacrificed a lot for their extreme speed. Simpler ships, which can also accept the mission modules, but do not have the same high speed can do ASW and MCM at less cost.
- Conventional hulls will be less weight sensitive. They can probably mount all the weapons of the ASuW modules in addition to either ASW or MCM equipment.
- The Navy has recently decided to include a multi-function towed array in their ASW outfit. Apparently they hope to make it modular, but that concept may not work out and they may have to mount it permanently.
- Having a combined program with the Coast Guard would lead to additional economies.
Why would the Coast Guard want to do it? Both cost and capability.
- Common ships and systems can lead to economies in parts, logistics, and training.
- By adding the towed array to some of their ships the Coast Guard can leverage Navy expertise to find drug smuggling submarines and semi-submersibles. In the past the Navy has paid for Coast Guard ASW systems.
- The CG can also benefit from the Modular approach. In addition to using Navy modules, the CG can develop their own. They might include cadet/student berthing and classrooms, holding cells for prisoners/migrant interdiction, scientific research facilities, or aviation or boat repair shops.
- Sharing a design with the Navy will make the CG more credible as a military force, which can provide additional justification for funding.
- The conceptual design is close to the requirements of the LCS with the exception of the extreme speed. Combining the programs should provide a lower unit cost (at least for equally capable ships).
This is what I think it would look like. The Navy continues to develop their mission modules and use them as necessary on the first 24 LCSs until the new class comes on line. We (Navy and Coast Guard) build 56 ships to the same basic design. Relatively simple, all steel, diesel electric powered ships, 25(+) knot, approx 330 foot, of 2,500 to 3,000 ton.
The Navy permanently installs towed array on 16 of theirs and leaves the remaining 15 open for MCM installations.
The Coast Guard has towed arrays installed on some of their ships so that they can track down drug smuggling submarines and leaves the remainder, at least 9 ships, open for MCM installations.
The 24 LCS 1 and 2 class ships specialize as “swarm destroyers” which seems to have been their reason for being all along (even though I have never found any of the scenarios credible).
The country ends up with 80 LCS in three classes, some optimized for ASW, some MCM, and its 24 “swarm destroyers.”
This preserves a great deal of flexibility while making all 64 modules usable simultaneously. The Navy has 24 swarm destroyers that can also do MCM if necessary. They have 15 dedicate MCM vessels and 16 dedicated ASW vessels. The Coast Guard adds 25 ships, some with installed ASW capability and some that can be quickly adapted to either ASW or MCM.
This is why I think the US Coast Guard should have gone corvette or OPC shopping in Europe. They should have gone shopping for the European Corvette designs and bring it to the US where shipbuilders will build the corvette in the US. Based on the design rights the US Coast Guard brought from Europe.
Since I started reading this blog this is your best damn piece of work. I really enjoyed this plus your post on the port defense.
Thanks, Patrick. Always nice to be appreciated.
It wouldn’t hurt our chances of making this happen if they accelerated to OPC program.
I like the idea the truth is ships need to be in the water to do the job. With 8 NSC cutters backed up by out dated fleet that has huge break down rate it means our sea time is going down fast. Also with 8 new ships if one goes down 15% of our newest and greatest is down. If the cost of one is the price of two or three it seems better to go with 2-3 ships.
Chuck – your idea makes incredible sense. Alas, that dooms it in the current climate.
Guilty of logic and reason – often fatal flaws within government 😀
Hello Chuck Hill,
I completely agree with your proposal (with just one exception,I think it may need to be more than 3,000 tonnes).
I tried to get a similar idea idea here:
The current Bertholf,Freedom and Independence classes are not well suited for use by both services but there is no reason why a purpose designed vessel could not meet everyone’s needs as long as it has a configrable utility deck.
It is a shame the navy did not think of this before placing the recent Littoral Combat Ship order.
Has anyone ever given a convincing explanation for the 50 knot speed requirement?
The rationale for the extreme speed always had something to do with providing time to deal with a swarm, but I have never seen a scenario that made sense to me.
Using the LCS offensively against the swarm–chasing them down–could be handled better by helicopters or attack aircraft.
Can’t see the LCS getting into a situation where the swarm is intentionally attacking the LCS unless the LCS is escorting something larger and slower in which case it should not be running away at 45 knots.
The rationale has always been that the speed would allow the LCS to keep the swarm at arms length while the LCS methodically wiped them out. Sorta like indians circling the wagon trains while the settlers used them for target practice. It will never happen. They are not that stupid.
More discussion on the LCS here:
Even this relatively positive post doesn’t think they will build more than 24 of the existing types.
Here’s an Idea for an OPC that might be worthy of consideration and look. This is something the US Coast Guard can look at.
80 m Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV 80)
It’s being built for the Chilean Navy and I think this can replace the 210s and 270s
Looks like it could work. Here is a bit more information on the project. Interesting both Northop Grumman and BAE are involved. This source says max speed 22 knots, but it does hanger an HH-65 like helo. The price is certainly reasonable.
As always the devil is in the details. Will it meet all the spec? Hard to tell. (80 meters is about 264 feet.)
For those who might have missed it, there is a pdf you can access on Nicky’s link that also has more details and a diagram of the ship’s layout.
I know they have a 90mm version of the 80mm and the link is below. I think it could be doable as a OPC to replace the 210’s and 270’s that we have in the fleet, though I think they would need to replace the engines to meet the speed requirements.
Click to access PZM.pdf
Click to access PZM.pdf
To me what we need is a simple design of about 5000 tons. Something with allot of room to grow. I do not see a need for more than 30 knots speed to be honest. I think the navy has built a dragster when it needed a rally car. They talk about the modules and being able to swap them out for different missions. If the current buy of modules holds what are they going to swap out? Seems to me we paid for the ability of modules but in fact are building ships that are pretty much one trick ponies. We need a update Perry class really but the navy wanted out of the escort role I think for some reason.
The Navy is finally recognizing there are problems with the Littoral Combat Ship concept. Perhaps it is time to again consider a common hull for both Navy and Coast Guard. Timing of the OPC program may be appropriate for LCS 2.0 as well.
Interesting too that they want to go back to the 76mm gun.
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Increasingly it looks like they may stop the current LCS program at 24 and if they look to an LCS 2.0 substitute, perhaps there will be an opportunity for cooperation with the Offshore Patrol Cutter Program.