If They Ditch the LCS, Perhaps the OPC as Frigate

OPC “Placemat”

Criticism of the Littoral Combat Ship Program continues unabated, with additional fuel thrown on the fire by a series of machinery casualties. With the new administration indicating they will take a look at existing programs, looking for savings, at the same time they are seeking a much larger fleet, it seems likely the LCS program will get a second look. After initially choosing to base the new frigate, on one of the LCS designs, it now appears the Navy is willing to look at other hulls.

Perhaps the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) might be considered.

  • It is larger than either of the two LCS designs.
  • It cost less–about half as much.
  • It is built to ABS Naval Vessel Rules.
  • It is likely that anything that can be added to the LCS can be added to the OPC.
  • It has two to three times the range and endurance.
  • It can operate in heavier seas.
  • It has 25% more generator capacity than the Freedom class LCS (unable to find info on the Independence class.)
  • It’s more spacious interior makes it easier to maintain.
  • It’s engineering plant is simpler and probably more reliable.
  • It’s efficient hybrid diesel/electric propulsion system permits much long loiter times.
  • It’s propulsion system is probably inherently quieter than the water jets used on the LCSs–an advantage for ASW.
  • It’s only real disadvantage is lower speed and that can be mitigated if necessary.

The GAO has recommended a two year hiatus.

LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP AND FRIGATE
Slowing Planned Frigate Acquisition Would Enable
Better-Informed Decisions

What GAO Found
The Navy’s vision for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has evolved significantly over the last 15 years, reflecting degradations of the underlying business case. Initial plans to experiment with two different prototype ships adapted from commercial designs were abandoned early in favor of an acquisition approach that committed to  numerous ships before proving their capabilities. Cost, schedule, and capability expectations have eroded over time, as shown in the table below. More recently, the Navy attributed a series of engineering casualties on delivered LCS to shortfalls in crew training, seaframe design, and construction quality.

Additionally there is Congressional opposition.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) plans to hold hearings on the Navy’s frigate program amidst calls to open the competition to more domestic and foreign designs.

“The frigate acquisition strategy should be revised to increase requirements to include convoy air defense, greater missile capability and longer endurance,” (emphasis applied–Chuck)

The high speed requirement has resulted in ships with water jet propulsion systems that are inappropriate for ASW escorts, ships that have relatively short range and poor seakeeping. These characteristics make the ships less capable of independent operation and helicopter launch and recovery in rough weather, particularly for the mono-hull Freedom class. The Aluminum hull, trimaran Independence class has great aviation facilities and a bit better range and cruise speed, but its aluminum hull raises survivability issues.

The Navy now sees that they need a frigate and they chose to meet this requirement using a modified LCS, but the LCS has notable weaknesses that mean it may not have been the best choice. In addition now it seems they see a need for local area airdefense that was not initially considered  According to a recent DefenseNews report, 

“A study group called the Requirement Evaluation Team (RET) has been formed to examine how to add a local air defense capability to the frigates to protect Combat Logistics Force ships – the supply and support ships that bring fuel, ammunition, spare parts and food to warships at sea. The frigate design as currently envisioned is armed with anti-missile and anti-aircraft missiles, but only to protect itself.

“The goal, according to a draft document, is – at a minimum – to double the loadout of Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) Block 2 from 8 to 16 or incorporate a Mark 41 vertical launch system with at least 8 Standard SM-2 missiles. The SM-2 is one of the primary anti-air weapons carried by the fleet’s Aegis destroyers and cruises.

“…We’re looking at further increases to survivability, and we’re looking at endurance, pushing the envelope. And as always we’re going to balance that against technical risk and cost.”

Additionally it now appears they may be more expensive than previously reported.

A frigate based on the Offshore Patrol Cutter could be a cheaper and, in many respects, superior alternative.

WHY DO WE NEED FRIGATES AND WHAT SHOULD BE ITS CHARACTERISTICS?

A nation chooses to build frigates rather than destroyers because it needs numbers. They choose to build a frigate rather than smaller corvettes because they want longer range and better sea-keeping.

If you are looking for numbers, it make no sense to build a frigate that cost 75% that of a Burke Class DDG and provides only 50% of the capability. We can’t build enough of them without impacting other programs. The Europeans are making ships like this, but they are not intended to complement destroyers like the Burke class, they are intended to replace them. They are the premier warships of their respective navies.

In navies that actually have destroyers, frigates tend to be around 4,000 tons full load, The Chinese Type 054A are reportedly 4053 tons full load and the Russian Admiral Grigorovich class 4,035 tons full load. South Korea’s Incheon batch II class frigates will be 3,592 tons full load. Japan has recently announced that they will be building two 3,000 ton frigates a year instead a single 5,100 ton destroyer annually (whether this is full load displacement or something less is not clear). The very numerous Oliver Hazard Perry (FG-7) Class were about 4,200 tons full load. While no final official figure has been published, the Offshore Patrol Cutters are also expected to be about 4,000 tons. Any significant modification is likely to make them displace as much or more than the Perry class. 4,000 tons is already larger than any US Navy destroyer of World War II and would have been considered a light cruiser in WWI

Small warships are not the answer for open ocean escort either. When escorting large ships, a small escort may be unable to keep up, regardless of its nominal maximum speed. I had access to the USCGC Duane’s war diary and was a bit surprised to learn that there were instances when, because of weather, the 2,300 ton, 20 knot cutter was out running smaller 1,300 ton World War One design destroyers that were nominally capable of 35 knots. Smaller ships also tend not to have sufficient range for more than theater coastal operations.

WHY NOT BASE A FRIGATE ON AN LCS DESIGN?:

In some respects the LCS look appropriate for conversion to frigates. They are not too small, but are notably cheaper than the Burke class DDGs, and their crews are much smaller than the more than 300 member crew of Burke class destroyers. They are a little smaller than most modern frigates, 3,500 tons for the Freedom (LCS-1) and 3,100 tons for the Independence (LCS-2) class. Unfortunately, the original concept of a very high speed, shallow draft, forward based, modular vessel specializing in Littoral combat has resulted in compromises that make them a poor basis for an Open Ocean Escort Vessel.

The high speed requirement has resulted in crowded machinery spaces that make access for underway repair difficult. They have short legs, likely generate a lot of noise, and are reportedly weight critical.

PRICE COMPARISON:

The last contract for two LCS ran about $550M each. The award to Eastern for construction of up to nine Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) if all options are exercised is $2.38B. That is only $264.4M per ship. Additionally the Coast Guard contract includes a warranty that requires the builder to fix construction errors while the Navy contracts require the Navy to pay for correction of construction faults.

“Upgrading” the existing LCS designs to fill the frigate mission may exacerbate their existing problem with range. A post from Warisboring.com notes:

“The frigate will also be slower than the standard LCS and have shorter range. (emphasis applied–Chuck) All in all, the frigate version “was the least capable option considered” by the Navy out of several alternatives, the report stated.”

It goes on to note,

“But it was the cheapest and quickest to produce … which is the whole point. The Navy is desperate to get ships under construction as older vessels age out. The sailing branch currently fields 274 deployable warships — well under its goal of 300.”

The root of the problem is the LCS’ lightweight building materials — aluminum—and its size and unorthodox shape. In other words, it simply and physically cannot ever be as survivable as an older FFG 7, or Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate.

The GAO notes:

A minor modified LCS could not be modified to the level of vulnerability resistance of the FFG 7 due to LCS weight and design constraints that would prevent adding more physical structure. For example, Navy task force officials told us that approximately 200 tons of additional weight in steel would need to be accommodated in the LCS seaframe designs if the Navy wanted to upgrade it from commercial build standards to more robust, Navy-like specifications like those used for FFG 7. Task force officials told us that this weight increase would have required a major modification to the LCS design or a new ship design.

PAYLOADS vs PLATFORMS:

When Admiral Greenart wrote his seminal article, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” published in the July 2012 US Naval institute Proceedings, he said, “We need to move from “luxury-car” platforms–with their built-in capabilities–toward dependable “trucks” that can handle a changing payload selection.”

The LCS are not really luxury cars, but they are sports cars–high strung, expensive to maintain, with outstanding capabilities over a limited range of activities but perhaps impractical for many purposes. The greater the payload you attempt to stuff into them, the less appropriate they appear to be.

Certainly not a sports car, the OPC, by contrast, is an “F-150 pickup,” simple, practical, easy to maintain, with a spacious interior, and fast enough for most purposes, and with optional horsepower upgrades possible if you really want it faster. Recently it seems the required payload is being increased to include 16 anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCM) and either 16 ESSM or an 8 cell Mk41 to provide a degree of AAW protection for ships escorted.

OTHER THAN BEING CHEAPER, DOES THE OPC HAVE ANY ADVANTAGES?: 

Actually the Offshore Patrol Cutter enjoys several advantages:

Range: The range we see quoted for the OPC, 10,200 nmi is far more than the 3,500 and 4,300 given for the Freedom and Independence classes respectively. The ranges for the LCS classes is quoted for 18 knots while the range for the OPC is for 14 knots so the range difference is not as great as it may first appear, but even at 18 knots it is likely the OPC will have a range of over 6,500 nmi. That means the OPC will not have to break off operations to refuel as frequently as its LCS counterparts.

Endurance: The OPC is designed for 60 days endurance while the LCSs are only designed for 21 days. Again the OPC will not have to break off operations to replenish as frequently as its LCS counterparts.

Operations in higher sea states: The DHS considered the possibility of replacing OPCs with LCSs but noted that while the OPC is designed to operate both its boats and helicopter in seas up to 4 meters, the LCS was expected to operate boats only to 2.1 meters and helicopters to 3.7 meters.

Quiet Operations for ASW: The water jet propulsion chosen for the LCSs work well at high speed but are relatively noisy and less efficient at low speeds. Additionally the OPCs are designed with “Promas rudders” which are claimed to increase maneuverability, speed, and fuel economy while decreasing noise compared to a conventional propeller/rudder interface.

MODIFYING THE OPC TO FULFILL THE FFG ROLE:

Even before the Requirement Evaluation Team recognized the need for greater air defense capabilities and greater endurance, it was anticipated that the LCS would require major redesign.Quoting a recent Seapower Magazine article “Features Shaping Up for Lockheed Martin’s Frigate Proposal for Navy“,

Patton expects the FF to retain the 118-meter length of the Freedom class, with a steel hull and an aluminum topside. The additional berthing and cooling requirements, along with other hull, mechanical and electrical enhancements, will involve approximately a 40-percent redesign of the ship.(emphasis applied–Chuck)

While I think the OPC could be made a credible warship with relatively few modification, it is likely that the Navy would want to make some changes which I will discuss later.

The OPC has the advantage of having already been designed for a larger crew. Unlike the LCSs, it provides accommodations for 126, very near the expected complement of an FFG.

ASCM and ASW  Installation: The OPC could likely support installation of 16 anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs)

Below is a Harpoon installation on a Ticonderoga class cruiser, which has a beam of 55 feet–only one foot greater than that of the Offshore Patrol Cutter. As you can see, moved over to the side, it would not require the entire fantail leaving room on the fantail for ASW equipment. There may also be some room for ASW equipment in the compartment below the fantail.

Below is the Harpoon installation on a 3,600 ton ANZAC class frigate, a smaller ship, which has a beam of 49 ft–five feet less than that of the Offshore Patrol Cutters. A similar installation could be made on the OPC on the O-2 deck between the gun mount and the bridge.

091104-N-3038W-255 GULF OF OMAN (Nov. 4, 2009) The Australian navy frigate HMAS Toowoomba (FFH-156)

ESSM AAW missile installation: The Mk56 launch system provides a relatively light and structurally non-intrusive way to support the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile System. The earlier and 25% heavier Mk48 system was used to provide up to 12 Sea Sparrow vertical launch missile tubes on the 450 ton full load, Danish Flyvefisken class STAN FLEX 300 vessels. The relatively small foot print of the Mk56 VLS system (pdf) can be seen below on a Danish Absalon-class command and support ship (beam 64 feet, ten feet more than the Offshore Patrol Cutter but they provide three twelve launch tube sets for ESSM). Two sets are visible in the foreground, one set of twelve with missile canisters with red tops in place to the right, on the ship’s centerline, and a second set of twelve without canisters to the left. A third set  is off camera to the right. 16 Harpoon launchers are seen in the background. It appears likely the OPC could support two twelve missile sets on the superstructure above the boat davits.

Photo below: Mk48 mod3 VLS for ESSM seen here mounted on the stern of a 450 ton 177 foot Danish StanFlex300 Flyvefisken class patrol boat.  Each tube could contain two, so this small installation could have provided 24 ESSM. The Mk56 launchers replace the Mk48s with an approximate 20% weight savings. (My wife tells me these look like port-a-potties.)

VLSLauncher_korvet

Replace the Mk38 mod2 with SeaRAM: Replacing the 25mm Mk38 mod2 atop the hangar with a SeaRAM would provide a stand alone missile system capable of defending the ship even if all power fails. Hopefully a second SeaRAM could also be provided forward as well.

Without major structural changes I believe the OPC design could be adapted to support

  • an ASW system/multifunction towed array
  • 16 anti-ship cruise missiles (with possible land attack capability depending on the choice of missile)
  • 24 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles
  • At least one, perhaps two, SeaRAM systems
  • Plus the planned 57mm Mk110

MAJOR DESIGN CHANGES:

The Navy may want to make additional changes including.

  • A bigger gun
  • More armor
  • Less self noise
  • Better radars
  • More Speed
  • More Missiles

These are all achievable at a cost.

Replace the gun: 

There has already been discussion about the desirability of replacing the 57mm on the LCSs. From the discussion it appears nothing larger would fit on the Independence class and nothing larger than a 76mm could fit on the Freedom class.

I see no reason why, given some strengthening of the structure, OPC based frigates could not be armed with the 5″/62 Mk45 mod4. This would provide much needed Naval Gunfire Support capability and potentially extended range guided projectiles. This is apparently not even an option for the LCS designs. 

The OPC’s 57mm Mk110 occupies some valuable real estate. If it is not replaced by a larger gun, it might be replaced a second SeaRAM system or a Vertical Launch missile system. If replaced by a missile system, it would likely be desirable to provide at least a pair of Mk38 mod3 mounts in place of the planned .50 caliber mounts.

070111-N-4515N-509
Atlantic Ocean (Jan. 9 2007) – Guided missile destroyer USS Forest Sherman (DDG 98) test fires its five-inch gun on the bow of the ship during training. The Sherman is currently conducting training exercises in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Joshua Adam Nuzzo (RELEASED)

Add armor: This is another area where a displacement hull like the OPC’s would not be as adversely effected by additional weight, than the more exotic hull forms of the LCSs.

Less Self Noise: Making less noise is always an advantage in ASW. The less crowded engine rooms of the OPC probably make providing additional isolation easier. In addition upgrading the hybrid propulsion motors to 1,000 HP, as was considered at one time, would allow the ship to make 13 knots on generators alone.

Replace the radar: The OPC, like the LCSs will have a multifunction radar. This could conceivably be replaced by a more capable radar, including perhaps a scaled down version of the SPY-6.

Extend the hull–for speed: The speed figure we have for the OPC is a sustained speed of 22.5 knots I presume this means that maximum speed in all but the most adverse conditions is about 24 knots. This is enough for most purposes. It will keep up with Navy Amphibs and is faster than most merchant ships, but most frigates tend to have a speed of about 28 knots. That would likely require doubling the horsepower. This could be done by extending the hull amidships about 10 meters (33 feet) to provide what I believe would be a third main machinery space. A gas turbine might be added and would probably boost speed to 29 knots or more, but instead adding two additional diesel engines of the type currently planned would most likely provide 27-28 knots without the complication of another type of engine.

Use the extended hull–for a missile farm: Additional length, added to increase speed, could provide space for additional vertical launch systems amidships. These could be Mk41 systems or the newer Mk57s like those used on the DDG-1000, which are heavier but safer and require less maintenance.

SUMMARY:

Because of its conventional hull and greater displacement it is likely anything that can be added to a LCS can also be added to an OPC. The OPC could likely accept even more additional weapons than either of the LCS designs.

The OPC already enjoys several advantages over the LCSs most notably much longer range.

Modifying existing LCS designs will still involve much work and considerable risk. The OPC may require substantial modification as well, but the OPC already has far more accommodation space and range than either LCS design.

Using the OPC as the basis for a new Navy frigate is likely to save at least $200M per ship compared with similar modifications to a LCS design.

44 thoughts on “If They Ditch the LCS, Perhaps the OPC as Frigate

  1. I think a long endurance “small surface combatant” makes sense as a supplement to the LCS. The problem, is what makes sense is something along the lines of this, not a miniburke. But an OPC derived frigate will be derided just as much as LCS by the proponents of a eurofrigate. I happen to agree with you, that a billion plus frigate makes no sense, at that point just build a stripped down Burke and compete it between Bath and HII. That isn’t what CSBA and McCain are talking about though, they want the full Monty MiniBurke.

    LCS has been poorly executed, that is inarguable. The larger problem is that no one agrees on what is needed.

      • Well, they rushed it in the beginning, but damn, we’ve had a half dozen reviews in the past decade. The problem is no one agrees. The CSBA crowd wants an FFG and won’t be happy with anything less. Mabus and Work wanted the LCS, and it seems the Navy has settled into let’s just make the best of what we’ve got. I’m telling you, the criticism of an OPC derived frigate will be just as loud as LCS. They’ll start griping about survivability, and want more armor and more missiles and more radar. And we will be right back where we are now just with a different hull. They don’t want a compromise ship.

        The short legs of the LCS is about the last thing on the list of gripes by the FFG crowd, it should be the first.

      • Like I said, they never did the needs analysis. They were replacing three types, the mine warfare ships, the PCs, and frigates. Well now they have enough MCM ships (Independence class–even if the module doesn’t work yet), enough speed boat chasers (Freedom class), now they need some open ocean escorts and neither one of them really fills the bill.

        If they start modifying and lengthening it, the Navy will be convinced it was entirely their design, just like the way the FFG-7 grew out of the 378 design. (That is really a stretch, but you can see the similarities.)

      • I submit that a needs analysis done in 2003 would likely have still come up with the same solution. LCS was sold as a cost effective way of replacing 3 low end ship classes with one for operations in a fairly low end combat environment. A needs analysis today would likely deliver a different result, Repeating the “LCS did not do all the DoD analysis in 2003” really doesn’t mean much 14+ years later. Few were making that call at the time, and those who did were doing it to protect their “ricebowls” from the vengeful Donald Rumsfled, who was then shaking up DoD.organization in many ways and threatening whole agencies with extinction.

    • James WF I agree with. WE don’t need to supplement the LCS, we need to replace them with a warship (call it what you want) that is a good ocean escort.
      The CSBA study appears to want a damn expensive well-armed “firgate” when something smaller with less missions is needed?
      Where is Adm Burke when you need him?

    • You could probably arm them similarly. The difference is $400M. If you really need the speed, you would not need to lengthen the ship to get 28 knots, that would cut the difference somewhat, but then there would be no place for a missile farm.

      • if you have to extend the hull of the OPC to increase the firepower, you might as well build a sea control frigate based on the NSC with a 16 round mk41, and an extra helo. If you can extend the hull of the OPC you should be able to extend the hull of the NSC to produce a true FFG replacement for the FFG-7’s.

        You can turn the NSC into a FF, and the OPC into a FFL, but we are still missing an FFG capable ship here.

      • Lyle, without extending the hull, I think it could support 24 ESSMs in addition to SeaRAM. That is more than the proposed tasking and what they are now calling an FFG.

        If the hull is lengthened the “missile farm” might include 40 Mk41 VLS cells that could handle a mix of weapons including up to 160 ESSMs. That would definitely be a FFG.

      • The PF4923 version of the NSC is the major up gunned version with a 16 mk41 in it. Create a stretched hull version and reserve space for a 32 mk41 missile farm And you would equip it depending on whether it was a FF, or a FFG. So basically you would have a FF with a 16 round, and a FFG with 48 round silos. And the OPC which would be a FFL( light frigate). We would have a balanced fleet again.

      • You are on to something Chuck. The key to cost effectiveness and being able to build a lot of them is to keep them fairly austere.

        We have a lot of Burkes and are building more. Not sure we need a mini version when we have the real thing.

        A light frigate or long range corvette, if it is reliable, has decent weight margins and is not a logistics nightmare (LCS) will have utility.

        The simplicity of the ship, when compared to say the Independence class, means multiple yards could potentially build them.

        I hope the Navy seriously considers the idea.

  2. Just a few notes on the LCS’s figures. Freedom max. range is 2,138 nm at a speed of 14 knots and 855 nautical miles at 43.6 knots (GAO-17-262T), reflects the semi-planing hull resistance at normal speeds and where it only becomes more economical at speeds ~ 28+ knots than standard displacement hull. Navy claimed a higer range but did not quote at what speed. The Independence top speed was just below 40 knots in trials and at 14 knots ~ 5,300 nm, but as ship was overweight from LCS 4 reduced fuel bunkage by 100 mt. The Austal proposal for LCS/frigate shown at SAS 2017, increased displacement by 400 mt to ~3,500 mt, range quoted at 4,300 nm at 12 knots, max. speed reduced to 32+ knots.

    Costs, the Navy’s proposed FY2017 budget requests $1,125.6 million for the procurement of the 27th and 28th LCSs, or an average of $562.8 million for each seaframe and $139.4 million for procurement of LCS mission module equipment, $69.7 million per ship, so $632.5 million per ship. The GAO-17-333SP also reports that the Navy had spent $3,292.7 R&D on the seaframes excluding mission modules as of Oct. 2016, with forecast of an additional R&D of $678.9 million to complete. Total cost to US taxpayer assuming 40 ship buy including R&D cost $99.3 million each, looking at $731.8 million per current LCS, the proposed LCS/frigate will cost more than the ‘standard’ LCS.

    For all the words written on the LCS have never seen any details of why the two LCS seaframes require R&D spend of $4 billion.

    • The numbers for the LCS-1 are not the same as LCS 3 or LCS 5 which are substantially improved in range. The follow-on LCS 2 variants from 6 onward are not overwieight, anf that figure itself is misleading as it does not mean any danger, but rather that the ship does not have enough room for additional equipment over its life span as GAO wants. GAO has a model that they have followed since 1970 on SWaP-C margins. They always want large amounts of reserved space/weight, so like the DD 963 class, any ship can have a long service life and hence save $$. GAO is not thinking operationally here, but in terms of keeping a ship for long periods, something that is perhaps not needed in a small; combatant.

  3. IMO, I think the US Navy should have gone with the more reliable and proven USCG’s National security cutter hull and up gun it to Frigate standards. Now with President Trump’s Buy American/Hire American initiative, I think the National security cutter will have a 2nd more serious look.

    • They only do this because LCS violates the SWaP-C ideas that GAO has been chained to since 1970. The only class of combatant they ever liked with the DD 963 since it had such substantial SWaP-C margins. Sadly, GAO does not state this in their report as one opinion on warship design. Instead, they suggest it is dogma.

    • While I seldom agree with Mr. Wills, he’s got some good points here. We don’t need a mini-Burke, we need some Knox class replacements. The Burkes can handle air defense but we need some ASW hulls too. This is one of my issues with the euro-frigate crowd. Those ships are destroyer substitutes for smaller navies. I am a proponent of the NSC upgrade although the OPC would be a good choice as well. I bet the price will come down if we order 20 of them. Not that we have any money, but…

      • I don’t think the frigate needs to have Aegis or even Standard missiles, but it does need to have more than RAM if it is going to extend a degree of AAW protection against submarine launched ASCMs over the ships they escort. The ESSM probably fills the bill.

        On the other hand most submarines load out of ASCMs is realatively small (unless we are talking about Ohio class SSGNs converted to an antiship role). They are probably not going to launch more than four missiles in a salvo so eight missiles may be enough for an open ocean escort.

        If they are to operate in the littoral, it is a different story.

      • I agree that we are mixing up ship types and trying to require a smaller ocean escort warship like the OHP firagates to be much more capable i.e expensive to afford many

  4. I noted this from the Defense News article: “RET has been formed to examine how to add a local air defense capability to the frigates to protect Combat Logistics Force ships”. Does that mean the Navy will only protect CLF ships when/if they are being escorted?
    Speaking from expierence, the Navy ignores the CLF and sealift ships when they are away from a task group, as when the CLF ships are going into port to reload. Or sealift ship are going to assigned discharge ports.

    • My expectation of what would be expected of the class is to escort CLF and high priority cargos from Hawaii to Guam. The Chinese have nuclear subs that are not quiet enough to go against our SSNs, but they could be good commerce raiders.

      • What weapons would an OPV carry to combat submarines? Would such a ship have any other use? The USN does not need a new DE class to do this. USN CLF units would operate separately and herding them into some kind of convoy would only attract more attention. What evidence suggests that the PLAN intends to use its limited SSN assets against CLF units when the US CSG seems to be the PRC’s primary target? I think that you are “mirror-imaging” a need for such a ship. The USN built the whole Perry class on the assumption that the USSR planned to attack REFORGER convoys; an assumption proved utterly false by David Rosenberg and Chris Ford in “The Admiral’s Advantage.”

      • Steve Wills posted this question below:
        “What weapons would an OPV carry to combat submarines?”

        A better question would have been something about HOW any surface ship can detect a submarine ( which has to be accomplished before shooting any weapons at one).

        What are the LCS SENSORS that can detect a submerged sub ? Please don’t say their embarked Helo will be flying around dropping sonobuoys. The helo obviously does not fly 24 hours per day. As everyone well knows, you don’t attempt open ocean searching for subs using sonobuoys. Helo birds carried onboard LCS are reactionary vehicles and are sent out to localize a previously detected sub, and then to drop an torpedo on it.

        but HOW is the sub initially detected ? with what SENSOR does the LCS detect a submerged sub ? Yes, in the future, hopefully, an LCS will tow some passive and or active sensor astern and below it. That will be done at slow speeds which use the noisy very large diesel engines installed onboard LCS odd and even classes. Waterjets are quiet according to Steve Wills. Yes they make different sounds in the water, uniquely identifying themselves as an LCS which everyone knows does not carry any hull mounted sonar, (which do function 24 hours per day). And the monster Diesels carried onboard LCS for both electrical loads (4 of them), as well as slow propulsion (2 of them per LCS), are very loud and carry noise into the waters.

        LCS is not optimized as an ASW detector and sub killer. It is being BAND AIDED to hopefully provide some sort of ASW protection ( at very slow speeds), in the future. LCS is not an ideal ASW platform.

      • Having served as an OPTEVFOR Trusted Agent during previous OPEVAL’s for some RAM versions, you should know that RAM is an excellent ASCM killer. And the newest Block 2 version of RAM will probably be even better, with a greater range. The only drawback with RAM onboard LCS is that they do not properly implement their ESM sensor into their full combat system and (as DOT&E and GAO have previously reported publicly), LCS cannot shoot their RAM surface to air missiles in their “best mode”. So, the strange LCS program solution to this poor combat system integration by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics AIS, is to in the future, only use the SeaRAM launcher which has a built in (directional only) ESM sensor. But this SeaRAM only carries a total of 11 rounds, vs. the 21 total missiles carried in the standard RAM launchers all over the world now.

        At great expense, LCS plans to remove all the 21 cell RAM launchers from LCS 1,3,5,7,9,11,13,15…. and backfit an 11 cell RAM launcher called SeaRAM. Should be completed by around 2025 approximate date that has been published.

        Since ESSM will not ever ?? or easily fit onboard any LCS, then just stick with a 21 cell RAM launcher and properly connect the LCS’s omni directional built-in ESM sensor into the combat system, like has been properly done onboard all CVN, all LHD, all LHA, all LPD, all LSD……. ever since 1997.

        Subtract 1997 from 2017 and you get 20 years done correctly by RAYTHEON onboard CVN, LHD, LHA, LPD, LSD. LCS ?? well …. never done even in the year 2017. Or even by the year 2027 !! LCS is not really concerned about combat systems.

  5. Reading over the GAO report on the “LCS with minor modifications, now called a frigate.” https://news.usni.org/2017/04/20/document-gao-report-recommends-delay-frigate-program, which was before the requirements team said there was a need for greater AAW capability, GAO had issues with the current plan to award a block buy.
    Current issues:
    –Range: Operators prioritize a range of atleast 4,000 nmi, currently expect only 3,000 nmi.
    Accommodations: have accommodations for 98 need accommodations for 130.
    –Lack of redundency. No separation of critical spaces. Compartmentation
    –LCS construction costs have exceeded targets. Cost to upgrade to frigates is unknown.
    –Both classes were damaged in heavy weather trials. Changes were made in subsequent ships but there effectiveness is still uncertain.
    –Reliability and maintainability issues. Some propulsion machinery has proven failure prone. Machinery spaces are crowded. LCS unique equipment has posed maintenance and logistical challenges.
    –Mission capabilities that are still unproven.
    –As yet there is no realistic estimate for the frigate, there is no detail design. IOC for the ASuW package will not come until 2018. OT&E for the ASW package will not begin until 2019. LCS survivability assessment will not be complete until 2018.
    –The LCS pricing that justified continuing two classes has not been achievable.
    –Because of scheduling delays, there is no reason to order a 12 ship block buy in FY2018. FY2019 is early enough allowing better information before making a decision.

    • NSC # 6 ( WMSL-755) USCGC Monroe showed off her actual Range and Endurance earlier this year. While transitting from Mississippi and Florida to her new homeport in Northern California, NSC #6 steamed thru the Gulf of Mexico, thru the Panama Canal, then continued on Westward and changing course South, away from California. WMSL-755 then travelled Southwest across the Equator and thence headed on out West to Hawaii ( which only added another 6,000 nm to this brand new test of the Coast Guard’s newest cutter). So, another 3000 miles out into the great Pacific Ocean to reach Hawaii and then 3000 miles back to (finally) their first visit to their new Homeport of Alameda Calif. Then, a run up North to Seattle, Washington area for commissioning ceremony and now back down to California.

      Wouldn’t any LCS lover be ecstatic to “brag” on such a prolonged journey as WMSL-755 just did ? And she didn’t need to be towed at all.

      Wouldn’t any pro-LCS fan-person be posting this stunning ENDURANCE onto the U-tube and other Blog sites ??? Wouldn’t LCS be happier if they had an actual, real world range of 12,000 miles without burning up their Helo JP_5 fuel as propulsion fuel ( which LCS does in order to meet their contrived 3,000 nm Range)……

      The Coast Guard doesn’t have to post any half-truths or use deceptive theatrics ….USCG just quietly actually (you know) conducts their many missions…. competently……

  6. Chuck, you left out a great deal of information. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) analysts Ron O’Rourke says that the OPC will cost of minimum of $421m per unit. The OPC design remains notional at best and your costs will likely increase as they did for the NSC, which is now $694m average cost. The OPC probably lacks the shock mountings that the NSC does not have, suggesting additional costs. The OPC looks like it has 1/2 the rotary wing aviation capability of the LCS. There does not appear to be room aboard for 16 ASCM’s as you suggest, unless you mount them on the flight deck. There is certainly none of the space available for sonar installations that a frigate would need. LCS has space available for both VDS and a towed array sonar. Again, the OPC does not appear to have such. A sustained speed of 22 knots is not acceptable for battle group escort missions; even those of short duration, as suggested missions for a frigate.

    How do you suggest that the LCS frigate would have LESS range than the LCS itself? Do you know that the LCS-2 variant has always made range estimates and that the LCS 5 and forward ships have substantially improved range numbers.

    This appears a quick attempt to suggest the OPC as an LCS replacement, as it has become painfully obvious that the NSC will not suffice as an LCS replacement. The OPC is even less capable, lacks the firepower, helo capacity and space for improvement of even the basic LCS seaframe, and the cost estimates remain vague and subject to increase.

    • Total costs includes government furnished equipment and things like precom and alterations to supporting changes to port facilities. There are differences in what is included in Navy and Coast Guard budgets.

      Looking at the Shipyard cost is as close as I could get to leveling the comparison.

      GAO is saying range of LCS is still a problem. It is a problem that may be resolved, but it has not yet.

      Modifications will be required before the Navy would be happy with it, but the same has to be said of the LCS derivitives.

      • GAO only has test data from one LCS variant; that done on LCS 3 in 2014. LCS 3 in fact had better range on its Pacific deployment than when measured by DOT&E in CONUS-waters, which questions the test and evaluation “watchdog’s” competence on basic naval issues. There should be updated range tests on LCS 5/6 units to clear up any confusion.

        The basic LCS seaframe’s modular interface system allows upgrades to be made at lower cost than a conventional ship and without the need for specific programmatic alteration. The addition of both Harpoon to LCS 4 and Longbow to LCS 7 are examples of such.

      • Shock Test the weapons onboard future LCS ?? The recent LCS-5 Shock test did not have even empty Harpoon canisters welded onto the bow of LCS-5. The recent LCS-6 Shock test did not have any Longbow hellfire launcher installed onboard LCS-6.

        Why not ? both have been planned for a long time now. Will the Navy bother to re-shock any LCS boat now that they are all under contract or completed already?

        So, the Navy missed their chances last summer to shock test LCS 5 and 6 with the new weapons that Steve Wills brags about below.

        “The addition of both Harpoon to LCS 4 and Longbow to LCS 7 are examples of such. ” quoted from Steve Wills post below.

    • I think it was Austal that said the upgunned frigate will have less range. That makes sense, the HII patrol frigate was going to have less range than the NSC too.

      Going with both versions was a big part of the problem. How did the Navy plan to sustain two more yards indefinitely? And why get two versions of a ship optimized for the same thing? And finally, why in the world would you get two hulls when the plan was to have swappable modules? That complicates system integration a ton.

  7. An enlarged OPC would be very similar to the new European “light frigates” designs, like the Fench FTI, the British Type 31, the Spanish alpha 4000 (aimed to the export market), etc. In a time of increasing costs that type of design could be useful to big navies (trying to keep the number of hulls) and also to smaller navies who seek a general purpose frigate without the huge costs of the bigger frigates (like the European AAW frigates/destroyers). The improvement in sensors and missiles could help to maintain a “small” combatant ship like this relevant. For example the ESSM Block II are going to be much more capable and usable in different scenarios.

    For this kind of warship I think that the Mk56 VLS could be a good fit, with lower cost and weights than the Mk41. The Danish installation of them Absalon-class seems very clever. To note that they also have cranes able to replenish the missiles (I presume also the Harpoons canisters) without needing special installations on port. This video has some images interesting showing that and the launching of some missiles:

  8. With ref to Steven Wills post and a few comments.

    The OPC costing $421 million per ship. As mentioned earlier the LCS costs (not the proposed LCS/frigate) per the FY2017 Navy budget is $632.5 million each for nos. 27 & 28th, that excludes the $4 billion R&D incurred on the seaframes (Steven do you have any knowledge/explanation/breakdown of the R&D as you are along time student of the LCS). Another cost excluded from LCS figure is warranty, included in USCG ship build contracts but excluded in Navy contracts and repairs charged to post delivery support contract.

    ” A sustained speed of 22 knots is not acceptable for battle group escort missions; even those of short duration, as suggested missions for a frigate.” The Austal proposal for their LCS/frigate quotes max. range on diesels of 4,300nm as only 12 knots vers. OPC 10,200 nm at 14 knots. (Original LCS requirement was for 4,300nm at 16 knots)

    “The OPC probably lacks the shock mountings”
    The delayed max. 50% shock trials of LCS6 Jackson, Independence version, the Navy had Austal rebuild the ‘seaframe’ to new standard. Repaired missing and undersized foundation welds, Strengthened some bulkheads where heavy equipment was attached, Replaced some existing bolts with higher strength material, Replaced some rigid pipes with flexible connections, Added cable slack in some locations, Rerouted some ducts and pipes and modified ship structure to increase shock excursion space around equipment.
    Additionally they removed equipment, including the 57 mm gun, just look at the video, the Tactical Common Data Link antenna and racks, the navigational radar. Post the shock trial Navy contract was placed for LCS 6 to enter shipyard for repairs.

    USS Jackson (LCS 6) Full Ship Shock Trials

  9. Both LCS have undergone development over the build of the first four, with LCS 1/2 being a first phase, LCS 3/4 a second phase and LCS 5/6 forward as a mature phase. LCS was not built to a simple, fixed price contract, and Navy engineers are constantly backfitting o both existing ships and those under construction. R&D is part of that cost.If you want to “blame” someone, then I suggest Congress and the Navy itself for requesting/making changes to the basic sea frame design.

    LCS remains under a Congressional Cost cap, but that agreement allows for increase IAW inflation. Also, buying less LCS per year (2 as opposed to 3,) drives up the cost per unit. Again, don’t blame LCS, blame the Defense Acquisition System; a process that dates from the 1960’s with come changes in the 1980’s and badly in need of a 21st century overhaul.

    If the navy ever just wanted an OPC, such as those used by coast guards around the world it would have bought one. $421m is a starting cost, and I suggest that figure would grow substantially if navalized.

    Shock testing frankly suck! It is not an accurate measure of “survivability.” It gives contractors an idea of how much force a particular system might sustain before tripping off-line, but that’s about it. Small ships have not done well (historically) in shock trials. The original FFG 7 sustained framing and shell plating damage in shock trials that could not be repaired and stayed with her the rest of her existence. MHC 51 saw her GRP shell badly damaged by shock trials. The post-trial bills for shock events are substantial and of course the Navy tries to limit them by removing some equipment. That has always been the case.

    Range estimates at differing speeds should not be confused with most economical or best speed. Austal’s figure cited in the post above is just the range for that speed. Both LCS frigate design variants are expected to make at least 28 kts or better in order to operate with battle groups. A ship that makes a max speed of 22 kts is frankly useless in modern Navy operations. There are no more REFORGER convoys to escort. 22kts is fine for a patrol coast guard cutter but not sufficient for a modern warship.

  10. Waterjet propulsion is actually very quiet. LCS’s diesels and gas turbines might be loud and would need more silencing work, but waterjets themselves are actually very quiet.

  11. Chuck Hill “My estimate is that the OPC will have a range of 4,000 miles at 22 knots.”

    As prelim figure for OPC is 10,200 nm at 14 knots, think 4,000 nm at 22 knots may be on low side. I’m not a naval architect but did see figures for AB so apples to oranges as it uses GT propulsion and different hull form.

    AB at 10 kts using a trail shaft engine configuration burns approximately 730 GPH, if doubles speed to 20 kts burns approximately 1,600 GPH, 2.2 times as much fuel, if triples speed from 10 kts to 30 kts, changes from trail shaft to full power on both shafts and all four GTs and will burn approximately 6,400 GPH, or about 8.8 times the amount burned at 10 kts (Bennett 2014).

    If OPC speed increases by 8 kts from 14 kts to max. 22 kts making big assumption fuel consumption would only double range would be ~ 5,000 nm ?, if max. range only 4,000 nm fuel consumption would have to increase by a factor of 2.6.

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