Two reports, one from US Naval Institute and one from Defense News. They appear to disagree, but they both were based on the same presentation. Really it is good news that both 5th and 7th Fleet want Independence class LCS. Trouble is, they don’t think they have enough to go around, if they are all based in San Diego, as they currently are. So, the Navy is looking at alternatives including forward basing or using other assets to provide the required Mine Counter Measures capability to 5th Fleet.
Their decision has potential consequences for Coast Guard forces’ efforts in the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone, Western Pacific IUU fisheries enforcement, and Southwest Asia.
The US Naval Institute report basically says the current plan is to supply 5th Fleet’s MCM requirement by using Independence class LCS operating from their base in San Diego, but they are looking at alternatives including forward basing or perhaps letting Freedom class LCS fill in.
The Defense News report tells us why the Navy wants an alternative solution.
The U.S. Navy is considering alternatives to deploying littoral combat ships to the Middle East for a mandatory mine countermeasures mission, hoping to instead maintain LCS deployments to the Western Pacific. (2)
“We’re trying to leverage that as much as we can and see how that fits into the mix,” he said. “There’s several different things going on, but right now I think the plan of record as it stands would be an Independence-variant MCM capability out there — but … we are working on several other options to see how we can fill that, and I personally think the answer is going to be something that is forward-deployed to Bahrain.” (Emphasis applied–Chuck)(2)
The Independence class (trimaran) LCSs in the Western Pacific are, or at least could be, helping to counter Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.
Once expected to go to the 5th Fleet/CENTCOM, the remaining Freedom class (mono-hull) LCSs are now expected to support 4th Fleet/SOUTHCOM including drug interdiction with embarked Coast Guard Law Enforcement Teams. If they are diverted to 5th Fleet to fill in, it could potentially hurt the drug interdiction effort.
An Alternative: As MCM can now be modularized, there appears to be less reason to have dedicated MCM ships or that all the elements have to be collocated on a single ship.
The service plans to buy 24 packages to equip 15 of the Independence-class LCS. That leaves nine mine countermeasure packages for potential use on “vessels of opportunity,” as Capt. Mike Egan, branch head for mine warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, said last May at the 2022 International Mine Warfare Technology Symposium of the Mine Warfare Association. (3)
The aviation components and the Uncrewed Surface Vessel and its mine hunting sonar could be operated from shore or from an Expedition Base Ship. The Lionfish Unmanned Underwater Vehicle is the Remos 300. It is relatively small.
Part of the Navy’s planned family of systems, Lionfish’s main role will be intelligence gathering with the Navy’s expeditionary mine countermeasures company. As its name suggests, the SUUV is only 150 pounds and requires just a few sailors to deploy it. It will be based on HII’s Remus 300, a “man-portable UUV” that is “designed for modularity… [and] can be reconfigured with a range of sensors and payloads to meet mission requirements,” according to a statement the company published last year when announcing the government of New Zealand had ordered four UUVs. (4)
It could be operated from shore, from Expeditionary MCM Company RHIBs, or from Webber class WPBs.
More Reading: Good article on the state of US Navy Mine Warfare here.
Naval Strike Missile: Incidentally, there is affirmation that the Freedom class LCS, in addition to the Independence class LCS, will be equipped with Naval Strike Missile. From the USNI post,
“As of right now, the Navy still plans to put the Naval Strike Missile on the remaining Freedom-class hulls, Rear Adm. Fred Pyle, the director of surface warfare on the chief of naval operations’ staff (OPNAV N96), told reporters.” (1)