However, because proximity to mission areas is of critical importance, and because the LCS has limited range at high speeds, the vessels will have to be forward-deployed. Their shallow draft allows them to respond to inland casualties closer to shore than most ships, which saves time, aircraft fuel, and lives. After the Haitian earthquake, Port-au-Prince’s seaport was extremely dangerous for deep-draft ships. But the draft of an LCS is comparable to that of a Military Sealift Command salvage ship or U.S. Coast Guard buoy tender.
In addition, while the LCS may not have the immense resources of an aircraft carrier or hospital ship for responding to casualties, its ability to install temporary mission modules allow its use for humanitarian purposes as well as for warfighting. A standard reverse-osmosis module can produce immense amounts of potable water, and embarking a medical module can provide high-quality care to survivors immediately.
The humanitarian benefits of the ship are numerous, but the LCS was built and should serve as a warship. Its capabilities as a combatant in a naval engagement do not match those of an Aegis destroyer or cruiser, but the original purpose of the LCS was not to play a major role during large-scale Mahanian conflict.
The modern maritime theater is populated by a variety of asymmetrical threats; emphasizing this is a Jane’s Fighting Ships photo, in the section covering Iran, of a man riding a jet ski while carrying a rocket launcher (2007-8 edition, p. 361). The U.S. Navy has for years been training against the threat of numerous small boats swarming a large ship, and vessels are no longer armed to the teeth with gun mounts or heavy armor. The main defense against a swarm attack is to create a wake big enough to disrupt the small vessels, then reach a distance from which the ship’s main gun can take out multiple boats with each shot. The speed, armament, and maneuverability of the LCS allow it to excel at this type of combat.
It is because of the Navy’s more recent missions that we must support more littoral combat ships, but they will play only support roles during large-scale combat and are not meant to replace destroyers or cruisers. In a crisis, the LCS will face the difficult challenge of which module to install for a variety of diverse threats, a decision that will result in the success or failure of its first engagement and determine the outcome of the program. But speed will also be critical, and an LCS is more than 30 percent faster than a guided-missile destroyer. To ensure continued support during the ship’s early missions, its advantages of both speed and flexibility should be highlighted.