Yes, the Littoral Combat Ship Is Becoming the Jack-of-All-Trades

 In Sea, Forces & Capabilities

Key point The LCS orig­i­nal­ly was a boon­dog­gle that had many prob­lems. However, it looks like over time and with fixes the plat­form is final­ly matur­ing.

The U.S. Navy is adding more Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to the fleet to fur­ther strength­en its sub­ma­rine-hunt­ing capa­bil­i­ties. The LCS are also being equipped with upgrad­ed weapons for coun­ter­mine, sur­face war­fare and sur­veil­lance mis­sions needed for major, great power war­fare. 

The Navy has now com­mis­sioned its 22nd Littoral Combat Ship, the USS St. Louis, as part of a broad­er move to fur­ther strength­en the war­fare tech­nolo­gies of the sur­face fleet. 

“St. Louis is the 22nd LCS to be deliv­ered to the Navy, and the tenth of the Freedom-vari­ant to join the fleet,” a Navy state­ment said. 

Plans for the ship have evolved over the years as it was ini­tial­ly con­ceived of as purely a shal­low-draft ship intend­ed for coastal or lit­toral regions. With the advent of a great-power war­fare com­pe­ti­tion era, Navy strate­gists have recon­fig­ured the mis­sion scope for the ship and armed it with over-the-hori­zon mis­siles and emerg­ing sub­ma­rine and mine hunt­ing sys­tems. 

The ship’s shal­low draft allows it to hunt submarines, mines and enemy tar­gets in areas not deep enough for deeper draft ships. This enables coastal patrol and recon­nais­sance mis­sions as well as a close-in mine-hunt­ing abil­i­ty. 

As part of this mis­sion set, the LCS is increasingly being engineered with sur­face and under­sea drones to hunt mines, con­duct sur­veil­lance and lower sub­ma­rine-hunt­ing sonar into the water. 

“When the USS St. Louis is paired with world’s most advanced mar­itime heli­copter, the MH-60R, it will have a robust anti-sub­ma­rine mis­sion capa­bil­i­ty,” the Navy report says. 

The ship’s forty-knot speed, advanced sub­ma­rine hunt­ing tech­nol­o­gy and addi­tion­al weapons are vari­ables expect­ed to great­ly improve the ship’s abil­i­ty to per­form deep-water mis­sions.

Several years ago, some observers, crit­ics and mem­bers of Congress made the argu­ment that the ship was not sur­viv­able enough for major-power, “blue-water” war­fare, inspir­ing a Pentagon effort to reduce the fleet of planned LCS ships and engi­neer a new, more heav­i­ly armed Frigate ship. 

However, despite some of these move­ments, the Navy has con­tin­ued to pursue its fleet of emerg­ing LCS ships and worked to pre­serve and evolve its combat effi­ca­cy. These efforts have includ­ed arming the ship with deck-launched Hellfire mis­siles and inte­grat­ing longer-range strike mis­siles into the ship. 

The Navy has made par­tic­u­lar efforts, in fact, to inte­grate Hellfire tech­nol­o­gy, sen­sors and fire con­trol with other assets woven into the LCS. Not only could an MH-60R offer a laser spot for the ship-launched weapon, but the heli­copter can fire Hellfire mis­siles itself.

A ship-launched vari­ant, how­ev­er, would need to fur­ther inte­grate with ship-based lay­ered defense tech­nolo­gies to opti­mize its attack options against enemy air­craft and ships, par­tic­u­lar­ly in a mar­itime combat envi­ron­ment poten­tial­ly more dif­fi­cult for heli­copters to oper­ate in. 

This would include engi­neer­ing the ship to oper­ate as part of a broad­er ship-wide tech­ni­cal system con­nect­ing things like vari­able-depth sonar, deck guns, ver­ti­cal take-off drones such as the Fire Scout and small boat mis­sion capa­bil­i­ties such as eleven-meter Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs). The Surface Warfare Mission Package also includes the Gun Mission Module, con­tain­ing 30mm guns, Navy state­ments say. As part of this, the LCS is equipped with a 57mm gun, .50-cal Machine Guns and a defen­sive inter­cep­tor mis­sile called SeaRAM.

Kris Osborn is defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn pre­vi­ous­ly served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army — Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air mil­i­tary spe­cial­ist at nation­al TV net­works. He has appeared as a guest mil­i­tary expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. This first appeared in 2018 and is being repost­ed due to reader inter­est.

Image: Reuters

National Interest source|articles

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