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.