“… Congress is tasking U.S. Southern Command with studying the feasibility of permanently assigning four to six LCSs to the combatant command.”
Is this likely?
Frequently nothing comes of these Congressionally mandated studies, but I suspect this may happen because it would complement the plan to replicate the 5th Fleets international unmanned effort, Task Force 59, in 4th Fleet.
What will not change?
Assigning up to six LCS to 4th Fleet probably would not increase the number of Navy ships underway in the SOUTHCOM Area of Operations (AOR). As the post points out, LCS are already routinely assigned to SOUTHCOM’s 4th Fleet. Typically, there is at least one and normally two doing drug interdiction with an embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment.
Navy combatants are typically deployed less than a third of the time and underway less than 25% of the time, so six would be translate to no more than two regularly deployed. Of course, the Navy could temporarily assign other LCSs to 4th Fleet.
All the LCSs that I have heard of operating under 4th Fleet have been Freedom class monohulls like the Billings pictured above. These ships are based Jacksonville. I would not expect their homeport to change.
What might change?
4th Fleet wants to be the Fleet of Innovation. For evaluating advances in Maritime Domain Awareness, they have the unique advantage of a full time, highly motivated opposition force that is always testing their capabilities in the form of drug smugglers.
Having four to six LCS permanently assigned to 4th Fleet would provide a continuity of experience that the current system does not allow. That continuity would likely enhance both their law enforcement operations and allow progressively more complex experimentation. The vessels might be provided with better accommodations for the Law Enforcement Detachments and additional facilities for detainees and storage of seized contraband. They might operate more frequently with embarked Coast Guard airborne use of force helicopters.
While they have had their problems, LCS are uniquely suited for operating unmanned systems. This might include operations in support of unmanned surface vessels like Saildrones and small unmanned aircraft like V-Bat.
Continuity in 4th Fleet operations might also extend to disaster response and IUU fisheries enforcement, both of which might benefit from use of unmanned systems.
Not called for the study, but a Navy oiler operating in 4th Fleet would be a real plus. The Freedom Class LCSs have relatively short range and can quickly run out of fuel if operated at high speed. An oiler might also make operating Webber class WPCs in the Eastern Pacific more practical.
Thanks to Walter for bringing this to my attention.