By virtue of her large flight deck and capacious mission bay, the Independence-class littoral combat ship (LCS) is uniquely capable of undertaking small-scale amphibious operations and related support missions in the littoral. Some structural modifications would have to be made to fully realize this potential for the ship class.
In surveying the areas of potential conflict around the globe—the Persian Gulf, Korean Peninsula, or South China Sea—the one common theme is the potential for small-scale amphibious operations and other littoral missions in support of the main effort or as final objectives in themselves. The range of missions is broad.
The Independence class could be used to seize offshore islands and infrastructure to ensure freedom of navigation and prevent the targeting of friendly forces. These ships could support the land campaign. This would include the occupation of islands and other land features as intermediate objectives in support of a larger landing. An example of this mission would be the seizure of Wolmi-Do island in preparation for the Inchon landings during the Korean War. The LCSs could facilitate the neutralization of enemy-held islands in small-scale raids. Though similar to the above missions, the neutralization mission would be to clear out enemy forces and then extract the raid force to avoid an enemy counterattack. All these would be ideal missions for light, agile forces. In a hotly contested battlespace and/or one of limited sea room, it would be neither advisable nor desirable to employ large, capital amphibious ships. In addition, employing U.S. Naval Ships (non-commissioned Navy ships operated by the Military Sealift Command) such as the expeditionary fast transports under contested conditions would not be feasible because of the restrictions in the employment of their civilian mariner crews. Enter the Independence LCS.
With some modifications, such as strengthening the flight deck and the side port ramp door, the Independence class can undertake a range of missions that together fall under the umbrella of Advance Force Operations. Joint Publication 1-02 (Amphibious Operations) defines the advance force as “a temporary organization within the amphibious task force, which precedes the main body to the objective area, for preparing the objective for main assault by conducting such operations as reconnaissance, seizure of supporting positions, mine countermeasures (MCM), preliminary bombardment underwater demolitions, and air support.”
By embarking for short duration, medium- or heavy-lift rotary and tiltrotor lift assets together with troop berthing and mission-planning modules, the Independence class would be capable of carrying out company-size or smaller landings, inserting and extracting reconnaissance forces, and supporting special operations forces (SOF) and explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) teams.
With the aforementioned structural strengthening, additional advance force operations would include at-sea forward arming and refueling point (FARP) for armed helicopters and vertical-lift aircraft on long-range missions. Staging fuel bladders and temporary magazines in the mission bay would add FARP to the mission set of these ships.
MCM is a mission already under development for both classes of LCSs, and its operational maturity cannot come soon enough. The ability of an MCM ship to be able to self-escort or at least contribute to her own defense while operating in a contested battlespace is absolutely essential for the conflicts expected in the future.
Finally, by employing her speed, agility, and manned and unmanned surveillance assets, the Independence class can act as fleet scout in support of an amphibious task force. Of course, the fleet scout mission is not unique to the Independence class and can be equally executed by the Freedom class as well.
Bottom line, the Independence class has the potential to be a key player across a broad range of advance-force amphibious operations.