To cover the littoral regions adequately, the Navy must have a high-low mix of vessels that includes fast-attack craft. Currently, the United States is not building enough of any type. (The fleet also will need more oilers and replenishment ships to properly support littoral campaigns.) The homeland defense tasks to be assigned ultimately to the Navy are complicating factors. When the nation gets around to deciding it needs more ships, naval planners must ensure that littoral warfare is not left in the lurch.
The multihulled LSC(X) design has excellent characteristics: a 4,000-nautical mile self-deployment range at 40 knots, with a top speed of 50 knots; operable in sea states up to 4; and an estimated cost of $25 million. Its capabilities include space for unmanned aerial vehicle operations, communications connectivity, fire support, wide-area surveillance and targeting, and limited mine countermeasures. Rearming and refueling Marine Corps and close-support special operations helicopters is a primary task of the LSC(X). It will have additional berthing for special operations forces and be outfitted to launch rigid-hull inflatable boats and combat rubber raiding craft, essential insertion platforms for SEALs and Marines. Finally, the craft can be modified with a “moon pool” to accommodate wet submersibles, such as the SEAL delivery vehicle.
Ten LSC(X)s cost less—and put fewer personnel at risk—than one guided-missile destroyer. With regard to the risk factor, size does not matter. Run into one mine and the vessel is out of action, whether it is a large ship or a small craft. But, if it is an LSC(X), for example, nine will be left to fight while the crippled destroyer withdraws. Recall the sad statistics of the ships that hit mines in the Persian Gulf: the Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58)—$96 million for repairs, out of action for 18 months; Tripoli (LPH-10)—$4 million for repairs, out of action for 4 weeks; Princeton (CG-59)—$17 million for repairs, out of action for 2 months.
There has been a spate of articles in Proceedings and other magazines supporting the vital role of fast-attack craft in littoral warfare. Regrettably, almost ten years of decay in Navy shipbuilding have crippled the nation’s ability to dominate the littorals. It is time to snap out of the bureaucratic drowsiness that has characterized our approach to littoral warfare and identify and build the types of craft needed to accomplish the mission efficiently and economically.
It takes more than forward-deployed carrier battle groups to keep naval pressure on the kind of enemy that the United States faces now. The Navy should proceed with the affordable experimental littoral support craft instead of spending more money and time in yet another long, drawn-out design and development effort. At the very least, the LSC(X) could function as a prototype to generate and validate requirements for another class of littoral warfare ship.
Retired Rear Admiral Worthington, a former SEAL, is a defense consultant in San Diego, California.