Will We Start Seeing LCS in SOUTHCOM?

USS Independence (LCS-2)

Are we going to see any Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) joining the Coast Guard in interdicting drugs? They seem to be saying yes, but the level of effort, and when it will start, is still not clear. In April DefenseNews reported, “The Pentagon is poised to send the LCS to thwart narcos.,” but then the first line said they were “poised to decide,” which is not really the same thing.

The report indicated that four ships would deploy in 2019 (“The Navy has been piecing together a strategy to get at least four ships back down to SOUTHCOM to perform counter-drug ops.), and that 24 LCS deployments are planned between 2019 and 2024.

August 22 we had another DefenseNews report, “Newly reorganized littoral combat ship program faces its first big test in 2019,” that reported , “Four littoral combat ships are on track to be available to deploy in 2019,” but it is still unknown when that will be, for how long, and even what kind of deployment.

SOUTHCOM and others are pushing for additional assets from the Navy, but it is unclear what, if any, additional support he will be given.

Both articles had the same quote from Secretary of Defense Mattis,

“Is it primarily law enforcement? Do they need to have people with badges, which would mean Coast Guard cutters were going to have to shift and go to the Department of Homeland Security? Or is it LCSs, because of the nature of an evolving threat?” Mattis said. “We don’t have the answer yet, sir, but we’re working it.”
I find that statement a bit troubling. It looks like SecDef does not know how the ships are used. There certainly seems to be no urgency. So when will we see them? Given the current lack of commitment, probably not until mid to late 2019 at best, and even then we are unlikely to see all four committed to SOUTHCOM. The Navy will probably want to send at least one to IndoPacific Command (INDOPACOM) and one to Central Command (CENTCOM).
Ships expected to be deployed in 2019 are two of the trimaran Independence class,
USS Montgomery (LCS-8) and USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), both based in San Diego, and two mono-hull Freedom-class, USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9), both based in Mayport. One of these, USS Detroit is now expected to deploy with Naval Strike Missile installed. I can’t believe they have accelerated integration of this anti-ship cruise missile so that they could go chase drug runner. Detroit is likely to go to INDOPACOM, although it might pass through SOTHCOM AOR in transit.
There are potentially a couple of interesting things to watch if they do deploy.
  • How long can they deploy given their apparent strong dependence on contractor support and the short cruising range of particularly the mono-hull Freedom class? Hopefully deployment will be more than a photo-op.
  • If they bring an MQ-8 Fire Scout, particularly the larger “C” model which the Coast Guard has not had a chance to try, it will be interesting to see how useful it is for a Coast Guard mission.

MQ-8C Fire Scout Ground Turns and Telemetry Testing onboard USS Montgomery (LCS 8)

Photo: MQ-8C seen in the hangar of USS Montgomery (LCS-8)

 

4 thoughts on “Will We Start Seeing LCS in SOUTHCOM?

  1. All good comments. I don’t understand SECDEF reluctance to say clearly that the LCS with or without LEDETs are needed in 4th Fleet AOR?
    2 issues: the Detroit is supposed to get new missiles in 2019, and I am pretty sure the Charlies will be used based on those coming from the new UAV squadron pipeline.

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