Littoral Combat Ship: All Ahead Full!

By Rear Admiral Tom Rowden, U.S. Navy

Properly introducing LCS to the Fleet is one of my top priorities, and it was foremost in my mind when I had tactical control of the Freedom during RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific exercise) 2010. Now, it is my responsibility to apply the resources necessary to provide our Fleet commanders with a capable, multi-role, focused-mission combatant with the capacity to deter and, should the enemy choose to fight, prevail.

Mission and Requirements

A dozen years ago, Navy leadership foresaw an unbalanced and numerically insufficient surface Fleet to take on the future’s forecast threat. The primary focus needed to shift from a singular, large-scale open-ocean foe of the Cold War days to the troublesome areas of the littoral.

As described by then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark, LCS would be designed to “fill a niche in the near-land battlespace dominance arena” and “deny the enemy cheap asymmetrical anti-access kills against U.S. ships operating in the near-land environment.” Campaign analyses suggested swarming boats, diesel submarines, and mines would persist as future problems in anti-access/area-denial environments. Accordingly, LCS would execute three warfighting missions designed to ensure friendly-force access to littoral areas: SUW, MCM, and ASW. These missions remain relevant and drive LCS development and its prospective employment.

Given the fundamentally different demands of these missions, LCS was conceived as a modular fighting system. While the ship would have a core self-defense system, its primary mission capabilities would come from reconfigurable mission payloads consisting of manned and unmanned off-board systems.

Compounding LCS’s effectiveness, the ship was also designed to execute secondary missions, including intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR); homeland defense/maritime intercept; special-operations-forces support; and logistics support. The ship would also perform naval diplomatic-presence operations, a primary Navy role during peacetime.

‘Attributes and Capabilities’

First and foremost, LCS is a warship. Our emphasis today is on ensuring LCS’s successful Fleet introduction and performing those three previously mentioned warfare missions proficiently in a hostile environment. The ships have remained consistent with our original assessments and recurring analysis of the warfighting requirements of today and tomorrow. The ship attributes and capabilities include:

Speed and Endurance: The ship would have to be quick and agile with low speeds for most mission operations, economical speeds for transits, and high-sprint speeds of 40–50 knots. High-sprint speeds were desirable for responsive mobility, increased search volume, and threat evasion. Navy leaders were willing to trade endurance to achieve those speeds.

Leadership expected unrefueled intratheater sprint ranges of only about 1,000-1,500 nautical miles. During an unexpected or escalating crisis, this would allow the rapid concentration of LCSs from adjacent theaters. However, LCS was expected to operate at much more economical patrol speeds. Today, we continue to assess the tradeoffs between speed and other capabilities required to support threat prosecution in various scenarios.

Unmanned Systems and Modularity: LCS was envisioned to employ a variety of manned and unmanned surface, air, and undersea vehicles capable of real-time data exchange. Its modular mission remains the heart and key strength of the LCS concept.

Mid-life combat-system upgrades necessary to pace evolving threats are usually intensive and expensive. LCS’s open architecture (OA) combat system and modular design allow for accelerated, comparatively cost-effective, noninvasive retrofit and upgrades, and the incorporation of emerging technologies over the course of the ships’ 25-year expected service lives.

Mission modules combine related mission systems (vehicles, sensors, communications, and weapon systems), support containers and equipment, computer hardware and software, and command-and-control communications. Standardized, defined mission systems interfaces powered by mission package computing environments are central to the modular concept. A complete package forms when mission modules are combined with the mission crew and associated support aircraft and detachment personnel. Distinct advantages of the modularity concept include LCS’s ability to adapt to changing fiscal, technological, or threat conditions.

This design strategy allows platforms, weapons, and combat systems to evolve quickly and affordably, pacing current and future threats. Today, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert’s concept of “payloads, not platforms” is realized in LCS. 1 Each module will evolve using a combination of manned systems, such as MH-60R/S helicopters, and unmanned systems, placing even greater emphasis on this new field as it continues to mature. The unmanned option improves our ability to distance our ships and sailors from the immediate threat area.

Self-Defense and Survivability: LCS is envisioned to operate independently, with a surface-action group, or in support of a carrier/expeditionary strike group. It will operate with other ships in higher threat situations, relying on the anti-air warfare capabilities of other Fleet assets with the ship’s survivability characteristics linked to self-preservation as opposed to continued warfighting.

Originally, LCS was built to commercial standards with crew (instead of ship) survivability driving the requirement. Its speed and agility, remote sensors, and operating in proximity with other ships made it unnecessary to build to Level II or Level III survivability standards. Ultimately, however, this path was rejected, and a higher survivability level requirement was implemented. Building the ship to such a level required significant tradeoffs. Ultimately, the Navy decided to increase the minimum LCS survivability requirement from commercial standards to “Level 1+” to allow LCS to be able to take a hit, recover, and steam away under its own power, plus requirements to counter specific threats it might face in the littorals. With speed, inherent self-defense capabilities, reliance on unmanned systems, and ability to network with higher-end surface combatants, I am confident that we are building LCS to the appropriate survivability level.

LCS has effective core self-defense systems. During concept development and design, the minimal requirement called for a three-dimensional air-search radar and a terminal missile-defense system, including both hard- and soft-kill elements able to defeat antiship cruise missiles. Today, LCS’s total-ship approach balances survival capabilities consistent with its size, displacement, high-performance design, and expected operational environments. This includes a mix of active and passive defenses, including but not limited to the rolling airframe missile system, 57-mm gun, and electronic-warfare systems.

Unique Design: This ship’s design effectively fills warfighting gaps. Hull-configuration characteristics include maximum use of OA systems and modularity, reduced radar cross-section, maximum use of advanced materials, shallow draft, flight deck and hangar bay for MH-60R/S and UAV/vertical-takeoff and landing tactical UAV, rapid launch and recovery of boats, unmanned undersea vehicles and surface vehicles, and automated underway-replenishment technologies.

The Navy continues to learn a great deal from the testing and operation of the Freedom and USS Independence (LCS-2). When we identify issues, we take the necessary steps to implement fixes.

For example, the Independence experienced some galvanic corrosion in the water jets, where the aluminum hull and the steel water jet systems meet. We realized that the cathodic protection system (CPS) used in commercial shipping was not sufficient for LCS. The Freedom and Independence received an improved CPS system during their respective post-shakedown availabilities (PSA); the upgraded system is included in all follow-on ships.

In another example, crew members discovered a hull crack during the Freedom ’s heavy-weather trials, attributed to a weld defect and undersized backing chocks. A subsequent continuous maintenance availability repaired the crack and a follow-on PSA replaced the undersized chocks. Ultimately, design changes were incorporated into the Freedom variant to correct high stress vulnerabilities and fatigue issues, while providing easier access to facilitate proper and effective welding.

The post-delivery tests and trials period uncovered and resolved first-of-class ship problems, but experience shows that it is unreasonable to expect all problems to be found and solved before a lead ship is placed into service. 2

Cost: Affordability was a primary programmatic concern for LCS. In 2002, the Navy was struggling to contain shipbuilding cost growth. Therefore, both the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and leaders wanted LCS to be a low-cost ship built in numbers. OSD expected the Department of the Navy to buy at least three missionized LCSs for the price of one Arleigh Burke –class destroyer, equating to a target cost of approximately $400 million per ship, including mission packages (in Fiscal Year 2005 dollars), whereas the Navy wanted $250 million per ship without a mission package. 3 A “threshold” cost of $400 million and an “objective” cost of $250 million presented significant challenges to the requirements community and industry teams.

In the interest of quick delivery to the Fleet, ship design began before requirements were finalized, and building started before designs were stable. More changes occurred during the building process, which led to cost overruns and schedule dilemmas. Consequently, the Navy lost cost control on both the Freedom and Independence . To control costs, a stop-work order was issued on LCS-3 and LCS-4 in 2007. When we were unable to come to an agreement with industry on restructured fixed-price incentive contracts, we terminated those ships. We subsequently awarded such contracts, which impose less cost risk on the government than the previous cost-plus contracts, for the construction of LCS-3 and LCS-4 in 2009, followed by two ten-ship production runs of each variant in 2010.

Today, LCS is the most cost-effective solution to address the enduring littoral capability gaps. We remain under the congressionally mandated cost cap of $538 million ($480 million escalated and averaged across the block buy). 4

There are several other key points to make regarding LCS’s return on investment. First, LCS will fulfill missions of the in-service guided-missile frigates, patrol craft (PC), and mine countermeasures ships (MCMs), but it is not intended to be a one-for-one replacement. LCS and its mission packages will quickly adapt and expand into other mission areas to meet evolving threats, whereas related legacy platforms lack this adaptability. Second, ships like MCMs (and PCs) are singularly mission-focused but lack air-defense capability and therefore require an escort; LCS can perform the same missions without escort. Third, we will deliver significant capacity as our ship deliveries accelerate alongside an inventory objective of 24 SUW, 24 MCM, and 16 ASW mission packages. Fourth, as for Phase 0/1 operations, presence, and the imperative to build partner capacity and interoperability with critical Pacific Command and Central Command allies, we will deliver three LCSs and their crews for the cost of a single DDG and its crew while prudently conserving the latter’s expected service life by allowing the Arleigh Burke class to focus on the high-end missions it is designed to execute. 5 Finally, and as previously described, we can keep our sailors farther from harm’s way with the MCM mission package.

Over the Horizon

We must review and refine the new concepts associated with LCS, especially during the initial stages of implementation. The Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and the Fleet conducted comprehensive internal reviews and assessments to ensure LCS’s smooth introduction to the Fleet. The CNO chartered a Three-Star LCS Council to assist in maximizing the potential capabilities of LCS by providing unity of effort and focus on getting LCS right.

We are identifying the optimal manpower to best support operational needs. LCS’s minimal manning construct requires the right mix of experience and rank. A 40-person core crew is insufficient for the ship. We are working to achieve the correct balance of on-board maintainers for the ship’s self-sustainability and availability with the appropriate crew complement for watch standing—under the threshold of 50 sailors.

The LCS’s manning construct is bolstered by assigning most maintenance work to shore-support organizations. During deployment, LCS will return to port periodically to conduct maintenance. We will refine our maintenance strategy and implement the LCS Product Support Plan aligned with this new concept. We are establishing class-wide reliability engineering/condition-based maintenance capabilities based on the preliminary findings from the Freedom .

We are also refining the processes and resources required to operate and maintain these ships forward. The LCS will operate under a rotational crewing construct; three crews are planned to rotate across two hulls, one of which will be forward-deployed. The forward-deployed ships will rotate with their continental U.S.-based “sister ship” approximately every 16 months. This results in approximately double the deployed time per hull than traditionally crewed combatants. Half of the LCS fleet will be in theater at any given time to satisfy combatant-commander requirements. Rotational crewing and forward-deployed constructs are new and will need to be tested in the context of the ship’s concept of operations (CONOPs).

We are also codifying the framework under which the LCS will be employed, known as the Concept of Employment (CONEMP). This document will evolve based on experience and will be a foundational reference, dictating how we will operate, man, train, maintain, modernize, and sustain these ships. The CONEMP will frame the critical program tenets and planning factors to build and refine the various mission-specific CONOPs and other implementation documents issued to support LCS Fleet introduction.

Recent LCS Council decisions that help define the CONEMP include the addition of ten core crew members, the creation of a dedicated LCS support cell of uniformed maintenance personnel from within regional maintenance centers, and an initial set of design changes to improve habitability, waste processing, and ship handling.

‘A Balanced Force’

The Fleet’s forthcoming mission-specific CONOPs and refinements to the ship’s current warfighting and platform wholeness CONOPs will follow. LCS is a component of a balanced force, structured to defeat adversaries seeking to deny our access. The LCS CONEMP and various CONOPs will likely be very different documents from what we’re accustomed to, given the unique concepts of LCS and its emerging role in the Fleet.

We envision two or three LCSs operating with carrier strike groups or amphibious ready groups. For example, if we have three LCSs in the Persian Gulf in addition to three DDGs from a strike group, the DDGs can fulfill other critical missions, including ballistic-missile defense, intelligence collection, and air defense. Meanwhile, one SUW mission package-capable LCS conducts anti-piracy patrols, a second MCM mission package-capable LCS surveys Q-routes in the Strait of Hormuz, and a third LCS conducts patrols in the International Recognized Transit Corridor. 6

In short, the LCS is essential to filling the warfighting gaps in the littorals. This ship has a very clear purpose—to fulfill defined, enduring, and Joint Requirements Oversight Council-approved warfighting gaps. Concurrently, fiscal realities dictate that we need LCS because it is a cost-effective and capable solution. The Navy is proceeding responsibly and enthusiastically in putting these ships to sea rapidly to meet our requirements around the world. Combatant commanders are eager for this addition to the joint force, and leadership remains committed to the success of this program. We are regaining our track at full speed and will continue to refine our course as appropriate to meet the Navy’s operational needs.

1. ADM Jonathan W. Greenert, USN, “Payloads over Platforms: Charting a New Course,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings , July 2012, 16.

2. Regarding Industry’s improving performance, we have seen an 86.5 percent reduction in INSURV starred cards between LCS-1 and -3 along with an increased level of modular fabrication, automation, and quality control. As for design stabilization, we’ve seen approximately 67 percent fewer changes between LCS-3 and -5 compared with LCS-1 and -3. In the case of LCS-2, we’ve seen roughly 80 percent fewer changes between LCS-4 and -6 compared with LCS-2 and -4.

3. President’s Budget 06’s (February 2005) budgeted average unit end cost for a DDG-51 at approximately $1.25 billion is equivalent to 3 LCSs at $400 million (which included mission packages) in Fiscal Year 2005 dollars.

4. The congressionally mandated cost cap is $480 million in FY10 dollars, which is equivalent to an average cost of $538 million when inflated across the block buy. The cost cap is composed of the costs allocated to Basic Construction Costs plus Government Furnished Equipment plus Change Orders. Section 121(c) and (d) of the FY2010 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 2647 / P.L. 111-84 of 28 October 2009). The act excluded certain costs from being counted against the $480 million cap, to include provisions for adjusting this value over time to take inflation and other events into account, and permitted the Secretary of the Navy to waive the cost cap under certain conditions. Mission package costs are not included in the cost cap.

5. To deliver persistent presence (and in FY13 dollars), the Navy will deliver two seaframes, three seaframe crews, two mission packages (MP), three MP crews, and two MP air detachments for the cost of a single DDG and its core crew and aviation detachment.

6. The integrated LCS schedule will result in the delivery of 17 LCSs and 21 MPs by the end of FY17. The Program of Record is for 64 MPs, strategically distributed based on Global Force Management demand, Combatant Commander Theater Campaign Plans, Office of the Secretary of Defense Guidance for Employment of the Force (GEF), and wartime operational plans.

Rear Admiral Rowden is director, Surface Warfare Division, N96, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.


Conferences and Events

2014 U.S. Naval Institute Annual Meeting

Wed, 2014-04-16

U.S. Naval Institute members and supporters are cordially invited to attend the 2014 U.S. Naval Institute Annual Meeting...

View All

From the Press

Guest Lecturer

Sat, 2014-04-19

Guest Lecturer

Sat, 2014-04-19

Captain Bernard Cole

Why Become a Member of the U.S. Naval Institute?

As an independent forum for over 135 years, the Naval Institute has been nurturing creative thinkers who responsibly raise their voices on matters relating to national defense.

Become a Member Renew Membership