Navy Chooses Existing LCS Designs as Basis for Small Surface Combatant

Photo: A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class. US Navy Image. Click on the image to enlarge. Note the USNI post also includes an image of a modified Independence class LCS

USNI is reporting that the existing Littoral Combat Ship designs will be modified to become the new Small Surface Combatant. It is not clear if they mean they will continue to build two designs in parallel, or if they mean they will select only one of the two. Perhaps there will be a competitive bid.

In spite of apparently incorporating all the elements of both the anti-submarine and anti-surface modules plus over-the-horizon Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles, it is reported they will have a lighter displacement than the existing LCSs. Surprisingly they apparently will not include VLS, but will include a multi-function towed array sonar, over the horizon ASCMs, upgraded radars, EW, and Cruise Missile decoy systems, torpedo countermeasures, a Mk38 Mod2 25 mm, and additional armor, in addition to the Mk110 57mm, two Mk46 30mm, Hellfire, MQ-8 UAVs and HM-60 helicopters. Both designs will use SeaRAM.

The question for the Coast Guard now is, how much commonality with this new class can be incorporated into the Offshore Patrol Cutter either as equipment actually installed or as equipment fitted for but not with? The more commonality that can be achieved, the more supportable the ships will be over the long haul.

The world seems to be becoming a more dangerous place, where the US may need every warship it can muster. We cannot afford the luxury of building the OPCs without wartime potential.

44 thoughts on “Navy Chooses Existing LCS Designs as Basis for Small Surface Combatant

  1. I hope this makes it possible for the Coast Guard to move ahead with the OPC program. Now the Navy choose to shoot it self in the foot, again!

  2. Hopefully this will be another B1B, Starfighter, Tornado ADV, etc. One of those pieces of military equipment that was a failure in its original guise that gets warmed over and turns out to be a relative
    success. I am big on hope at Christmas time. 🙂

  3. Did anyone notice how half the items aren’t actually new, just from the modules they already planned on using? The hellfires (which replaced the earlier Griffon), 30mm turrets, extra 25mm cannon, all from ASuW. The towed array was from the ASW module. In fact, with the exception of unspecified anti-ship missiles, the rest are mostly the kind of upgrades you would expect to happen over time anyway. They didn’t even add a second SeaRAM or CIWS let alone ESSM launchers. This is just mostly just an LCS with the modules unpacked. They didn’t even replace the 57mm that the Navy claims wasn’t good enough for the Zumwalt class.

    • Well, I was wrong.

      I really thought they were going to significantly differentiate the LCS from the SSC. But you’re exactly correct, it is just the modules unpacked. Even the long range ASM was already in the works.

      What confuses me is that I have read several interviews where high ranking Navy officials talked about the need for an escort ship. And they also specifically talked about improved AAW as an area to look at. But they did nothing on that front.


      • It’s good that the Navy is keeping the Mk 110 57mm on the SSC/LCS. That means the weapons system and ammunition will be better supported and the CG won’t be hung out to dry as the only user.

      • There is some reference to at least Self Defense AAW in the USNI post. They will not have Standard or ESSM but perhaps they will have something in addition to SeaRAM.

        I have also seen some reference to the 57mm as “local”. Since the mount is normally unmanned, I suspect they mean Electro-Optic firecontrol rather than radar control, which would mean the NSCs’ system is still going to be superior, particularly in low visibility situations.

      • Commander Salamander explains why we should not have been surprised by the decision to go with upgraded LCSs rather than a new design.

        The more I read, the more it appears they will continue to make two distinct classes. That may not be all bad. My guess is that the Independence Class LCSs (the original design not the upgunned version) will become permanent Mine Counter Measures ships and will get only some of the upgrades, while most of the Freedom class will be slowly upgraded to the new configuration.

    • The Independence class already has better range and higher diesel cruise speed than the Freedom class. The only advantage I see for the Freedom class is the narrower beam making it easier to support.

      • Yes. GTs impact on manning, internal layout (vertically due to uptakes), etc. It is already an easily driven hull, why not capitalise on it? I don’t like the idea of losing all that extra power. I see logic in turning the Indies into trucks for the “modules” including extra aircraft leaving the for the combat role for the Freedom class. Think of the Indie’s as the support company and the Freedom’s as the rifle companies.

        Still think the whole project is what we Brits would call a “bodge”!

        Just a thought. I don’t think anything to do with LCS is worth spending much time on.

  4. Looks like it is official, the Navy will continue building both classes. They will also attempt to bring forward some of the modifications in the next eight ships to be funded. They are calling these modified ships Flight 0+ (the first 24 apparently are referred to as Flight 0). They also intend to incorporate some of the changes in the Flight 0 ships.

    Also I have seen nothing so far about changes in the engineering plant that might give particularly the Freedom class more range and/or a higher cruise speed on diesels.

  5. Extract from a post on gCaptain,
    “The ship is built in two versions by Lockheed and Austal, and Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top weapons buyer, told reporters that the service will continue the “dual-sourcing” approach that’s been used to buy the first 20 ships. That means “two builders competing on the program,” he said, adding that the service is still drafting an acquisition strategy for the modified vessels.”

  6. It was always going to be a modified LCS. The question was how much would they upgrade it and would they downselect. They didn’t really do either though.

    They just made parts of the ASW and ASuW package standard equipment, upgraded the radar (which was already underway) and added a few defense systems.

    The people making the decisions know a lot more than I do, so I’m not going to pass judgement on their decision, it would be ridiculous of me to do so.

    I’m just surprised based on what I’ve read that the LCS wasn’t upgraded more extensively and that there wasn’t a downselect.

    • More extensive upgrades would have meant more extensive cost growth, and nobody on the Hill has shown any tolerance for further cost growth in LCS even under SSC reset. The Navy already has pretty big challenges ahead making the shipbuilding budget work, if the per-hull cost of LCS went up $100 million or more they’d be in a bad way.

      • That’s true. And even the added cost of the SSC as opposed to the LCS is kind of an accounting gimmick. They’ll adjust the number of mission packages they buy because they are permanently installing most of the ASW/ASuW packages on the last 20 or so. And the improved radar costs were going to be incurred regardless, because they had already announced they were getting the newer EADS radar.

        Again, I wasn’t questioning the decision. I was just surprised because of repeated comments about the need for escort ships. It seems to me the dispersal of US forces in the Pacific with the drawdown at Okinawa will require most escorts, and Hezbollah hitting the Israelis with an ASM indicates a need for more escorts for amphibs in the Med and Persian Gulf.

      • Moose RIGHT ON. More organic weapons means more payload weight and the inevitable decrease in performance. Congress gagged at a $750 mil price tag for the first two variants, and more or less directed the SSC, so what do you think they will say now?

  7. There is some additional background here:

    “Sean Stackley, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) told reporters that reporters the planned upgrades to the existing ships would add $60 million to $75 million, or less than 20 percent, to the current cost of the ships.

    “He said the Navy reviewed 18 existing ship designs in addition to a various permutations of the existing LCS before deciding on the two designs,.

    So the new ships should not cost much more than the existing LCS if you include the cost of modules. I note that the Mk46 30mm are still considered modular so other things might be put in their place relatively easily.

    All the talk about the LCS has prompted me to look again at an old post suggesting the Navy lend the CG LCS until the OPC program is completed.

  8. So basically the USN is saying FU to the LCS critics. Which I think if were gona be stuck with the LCS. We should have at least make sure they NEVER sail with the BIG Navy such as a Carrier strike group and the very least sail with an Amphibious ready group or a Naval fleet Auxiliary force. They should at least be tied to the PC and MCM force and make LCS-1 a PC ship and LCS-2 a MCM ship. At the same time Arm them up to Corvette standards and stick them in secondary roles such as patrols, Special operations support and coastal raids. Though if the USCG was to go with the LCS-1 design, it would have to do a Massive engine swap and take out the jet drive engines for a more economical diesel engines with more fuel tanks.

  9. Looks like this is an evolution of the existing design. Same power plant, better sensors and counter measures. More armament bolted onto it. Looks like the swap-able module concept has mostly been ditched.

    I have to say I am underwhelmed but concede the upgrades make the ship a more capable ASW/ASuW platform. Now…if they can just keep the darn things running rather than tied up at pier-side…

    • The upgrades are definitely not overwhelming on the AAW side particularly.

      It might be the right thing to do though. Chuck has mentioned a couple times that the LCS was never going to be a terrific escort platform. So maybe that would have been trying to fit a square peg in a round hole if they had tried to do that.

      One thing I’m curious about, and would appreciate if someone could educate me on the matter. Why no torpedo launchers in the ASW package? They can’t be terribly heavy or expensive (I am aware that the torpedos themselves are a million or so apiece) if they really wanted to add it. Obviously the LCS will be used in conjunction with other platforms like the P8 and attack submarines for ASW, but it’s still surprising that the ship has no other way to shoot at a submarine other than it’s helicopter. Interestingly it seems like the Type 26 might also not have shiplaunched torpedos.

      Anyway, I’m just curious what the line of reasoning is for why a shipborne torpedo launcher (or ASROC) isn’t critical for an ASW frigate. And would be interested to hear an explanation from people more knowledgeable that me.

      • Just to clarify a bit. My reservation about the LCS as an ASW escort centers mostly on the range and max diesel cruise speed of the Freedom class (the monohull). The Independence class is much better in this regard. They are relatively fast on diesels alone. I am also told the engine rooms on the Freedom class are very crowded with little room to work. Plus the Freedoms can only support one MH-60 whereas the Independence class can support two.

        The ASW torpedoes are really last ditch weapons. You don’t really want to get that close to a submarine, because its heavy weight torpedoes would almost certainly sink you before you get into range. Still as you say they are relatively cheap and light so why not.

        As ASW escorts, these ships should be operating in groups of at least three so that they can keep helicopters, preferably a pair, in the air 24/7.

      • STWS seem to be seen some warfare bods in the RNs as very much last ditch weapon. The idea of an escort charging about on active shooting torpedoes, depth charges, and mortars prosecuting a submerged submarine in close proximity is passe. I think the idea of “shooting the archer” is more prevalent. Perhaps the RN has greater faith in its ASW capability than the USN has in theirs? LCS will not match T23, hopefully T26 will be better, and Chinese boats are just going to get quieter. ASW in the littoral is best left to helicopters.

    • Having reread some of the stuff, there is still a fair amount of modularity in the design.

      There are now only two packages, but apparently when you have one you still do not have the other.

      The Anti-Surface package includes the 30mm guns, Hellfire Missiles, and two 11 meter RHIBs.

      The Anti-Submarine package includes the Active Variable Depth Sonar (in addition to the towed array portion that is apparently always there) and the ASW Helo’s ASW engagement weapons (which must mean torpedoes, it may also mean the sonobuoys).

      Two critical systems are now permanent, the over the horizon anti-ship missile systems, and the torpedo counter-measures which include the passive portion of the towed array that detects inbound torpedoes and active systems to seduce or destroy the torpedo.

      So apparently if it configured for Anti-surface, it is still not an ASW ship. And when it is configured as an ASW ship it is much less capable of countering a “swarm attack.”

      • Interesting, that wasn’t immediately clear. After I read your comment I found this link, which further details what you wrote regarding the modularity.

        Here is what I like about the decision. The ASuW LCS will be vastly superior to the Cyclones and Cutters currently conducting many of those operations overseas. Because there is such a need for maritime security assets I think it will be a needed upgrade in that area. I’m confident that the Navy has thought out what the LCS will do in regards to the overall ASW strategy. Another thing I’m starting to like is that they didn’t try to make the ship something it isn’t. As you and others have pointed out the LCS hulls were never going to be optimized as long endurance escort ships, so it likely would have been a mistake to try to modify them for that role.

        But here is my concern. There is an obvious and growing need for escort ships. The proliferation of ASM’s, the high tempo of US operations in the 21st century, and the dispersal of US forces across the Pacific have created a need that we currently have a gap in meeting. Using something like the OPC or NSC hull with a frigate level radar and ESSM seems to be something that is needed to escort MSC ships in the Med, the Persian Gulf, and in the Pacific. But there isn’t going to be any money to build these ships. Of course the Burkes could do it, but they’re already overtaxed by sequestration, the BMD mission, and CSG duty as it is.

  10. One can’t help but wonder if congress will feel that they’ve been slapped in the face with this “upgrade”. The more they realize that the contractors are simply permanently installing modules and some electronic upgrades, the less likely they will support LCS continuation. There have been proposals of a “Burke Light” without the AEGIS/System and perhaps a single VLS battery. It wouldn’t be cheap, but it would fit the frigate mission more than the LCS/SSC.
    If so, perhaps we will see the tradition of the CG getting Navy hand-me-downs include the LCS. After all, the armament of the first few hulls isn’t much different than the NSC.

    if the Navy really thinks that all that are needed are the modules and a helicopter platform, we could simply install landing pads on merchant ships and put the modules on the ships.

    • What tradition of the CG getting the Navy hand-me-downs JohnniesZ? That is just a myth! Must of the cutters, boat and aircraft were brought for the Coast Guard by the Coast Guard. The one thing that falls in to that category, was the 311’s cutters. Their are also a few others, but not many!

      • Not entirely a myth. In addition to the 311’s the CG operated the 306′ Edisto class DEs in the ’50s. The Yacona, Acushnet and Healy all ex navy salvage ships. The CG operated many 205′ ex Navy sea going tugs like the Tamaroa for years. The 143′ ex navy ATAs like the Modoc. The Glacier, Burton Island and the Staten Island. Even the Kukui that built LORAN stations and operated radio free Europe in the Med was ex Navy. And most recently the Cyclone class PCs that we operated for a number of years. The 378s. 327s, 270s, 255s and 210s were all CG platforms but the CG does have a history of using ex Navy platforms. We just used them better. LOL

      • There were a lot of serviceable ships left over at the end of WWII and the CG chose those that they though suited their missions. 311s were actually much better ships for Ocean Station than the 255s, and the 205s and 213s were decent WMECs.

        Trouble is that we should have replaced all the WWII ships by 1975, but we did not. We stopped building new OPVs in 1972 (378s and 210s in this case) and completed none for 10 years (when the 270s started entering service). Consequently 213s, 205s, and 143s, along with Unimak, Storis, and some WLBs turned MECs lived long past their reasonable life. I did a post about the history of CG ship building that talks about how we failed to maintain an orderly replacement program here:

      • There are even earlier examples of the CG using Navy “hand-me-downs” going back to the 19th century. Bill Wells would also point out plenty of cases where ships built for the CG were transferred to the Navy, most recently Wind Class icebreakers. We in turn got the Glacier from the Navy. The Navy never owned, but actually paid for Healey, some of the 110s, and four of the 87 foot cutters. And of course the Navy loaned the CG destroyers during Prohibition.

  11. Word that the Navy will be putting over the horizon anti-ship missiles on two LCSs scheduled to deploy in 2016. The ships are Freedom and Coronado, and the missiles are Harpoon on one ship and the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile on the other.

    • I find it odd two different over-the-horizon missiles are being chosen. What would be the point of that? Certainly the characteristics of both missiles are well understood.

      • Really they haven’t made a decision, they are still shopping. I could not tell you what more they think they might learn by doing this.

  12. Interesting development for the troubled LCS program. Saudi Arabia wants to purchase four extremely up-gunned Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). The deal will be worth $11.25 billion including weapons and support. This will also be the first export sale for the troubled LCS program, and these Saudi ships will be far more capable than any version of the LCS the Navy plans on procuring.

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