The U.S. Navy is seeking to develop a new surface combatant family
of ships, designed to expand the nation’s war-fighting capabilities.
Among the concepts being considered for the future force is a mission-focused
vessel called the Littoral Combat Ship.
The LCS concept focuses on operations in the littoral or coastal
regions of the world. The ship will be small, fast and highly maneuverable.
Operating within the larger construct of a naval network of distributed
ships, the LCS will provide naval and Joint Force Commanders capabilities
that will both complement and increase the combat effectiveness
of the Navy’s larger, multi-mission ships.
The U.S. national strategy will require the Navy to project dominant
and decisive offensive power ashore and support fast-moving ground
forces. To do this, the Navy must assure access to all maritime
regions and establish a presence in littoral environments characterized
by a multitude of rapidly evolving and increasingly asymmetric threats.
The need for assured access for the U.S. armed forces in certain
regions of the world has been long recognized. However, events of
the last two years, including the ongoing war against terrorism,
have brought a new sense of focus and energy.
The LCS, with its unique combat capabilities, is ideally suited
to meet this need.
The Navy’s fleet of the future will see a surface combatant
family of ships. Today’s in-service Aegis fleet of cruisers
and destroyers will be joined by revolutionary new ships: DD(X),
an advanced multi-mission destroyer with significant precision strike
and volume fires capabilities, CG(X), an advanced multi-mission
cruiser with sea-based theater air and ballistic missile defense
suites, and the stealthy, small, highly maneuverable, focused-mission
Littoral Combat Ship.
Without abandoning traditional core competencies, the family of
surface combatants will distribute offensive firepower among a number
of both large and small, multi-mission and focused-mission platforms
operating in both deep-ocean and shallower, coastal waters.
This concept of a multi-mission family of ships acknowledges the
continuing rapid maturation of technology. Traditional ship designs
became outdated in the period between the initial requirements development
phase and the time the class become operational in significant numbers.
The process for modernizing ship systems usually involved field
changes to machinery and weapons systems. Although effective in
keeping installed systems updated, this approach was not intended
to replace an aging fleet with modern vessels.
A case in point is the Spruance-class destroyers. These ships received
significant upgrades, such as the Vertical Launch System, and were
the basis upon which the Aegis cruisers were built, due in no small
part to the fact that the ships were designed with room for growth.
This ability to evolve has also proven useful with Aegis systems
that have received continuous computer program improvements.
Replacing outdated hardware systems still involves extended and
costly shipyard repairs. Given the ongoing march of technology,
new ships built from the keel up must be designed for rapid upgrades,
such as advanced information systems. A modular design, open architecture
and a spiral development strategy are essential to making these
This approach is particularly well suited for a smaller, modular,
focused-mission platform. The modular design approach planned for
LCS would enable it to remain at a high state of technological readiness
throughout its service life, which should extend well beyond the
average service life of current generation ships.
Today’s frigates and destroyers are decommissioned when their
combat systems are outdated and it is no longer cost effective or
practical to upgrade them, not because the hull, propulsion and
electrical distribution systems have no further service life.
The potential for more timely technology insertion will be addressed
in the LCS design. As technology matures, the Navy will incorporate
it into new LCS modules. Once the technology has been proven, the
modules will be installed in ships for at-sea testing and integration
with other sensor and combat systems.
When the risks of installing the technology have been mitigated
to an acceptable level, operational units at sea will replace their
modules with new, state-of-the-art systems.
The Littoral Combat Ship’s modular, open architecture design
will provide three primary benefits during throughout the total
ship life cycle:
This plug-and-play process will enable complete change-out of entire
systems. Such an approach will reduce the risk of investing in new
technology by not making an acquisition program dependant on the
success or failure of a single technology or development.
In the past, ship designers faced the challenge of designing a
ship that would be able to conduct traditional open-ocean naval
missions, such as anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare.
In addition to these core competencies, the 21st Century security
environment requires designers to incorporate new capabilities to
conduct precision strike, volume fires, ballistic missile defense
and mine warfare, to prosecute diesel submarines in the littorals,
and to chase down and destroy small, high-speed surface craft.
With the divergent nature of open-ocean and littoral missions,
the question of the required ship’s size, draft and armament
assumes greater prominence. Can an affordable, combat capable ship
be designed with sea-keeping ability to allow open-ocean transits
while maintaining the draft needed to operate in shallow water with
speeds required to execute littoral missions?
The next-generation family of ships will distribute capabilities
amongst multi-mission and focused-mission ships. For example, today’s
multi-mission Aegis cruisers and destroyers—to be joined by
tomorrow’s DD(X) and CG(X)—will conduct traditional
combat operations while fighting in dynamic, high-threat multi-warfare
In addition to these core competencies, multi-mission ships will
conduct precision strike, volume fires, area air defense and ballistic
As a focused-mission ship, LCS will complement the other members
of the family of ships. Simply put, LCS will operate where it would
not be effective to use larger, more capable multi-mission ships.
Speed, shallow draft and maneuverability will allow the agile LCS
freedom of action to operate near the shore, where larger, deeper
draft ships would be constrained severely.
The Littoral Combat Ship will focus on countering the threat of
mines, small boats and diesel submarines—employing a rich
mixture of manned and unmanned systems, on, over and below the sea.
The LCS, additionally, will be capable of conducting secondary missions
such as maritime interception and interdiction operations and homeland
defense, special operations and logistic support for movement of
personnel and supplies.
In some scenarios, LCS also will be capable of operating at slow
speeds, while on patrol or loitering, and at traditional sustained
transit speeds of a carrier battle group. It will execute high-speed
“sprints” to prosecute small boats or reposition for
submarine threats, laying a sensor grid, conducting over-the-horizon
operations or retiring from a special operations extraction mission.
To enhance survivability, the LCS will incorporate low observable
technologies. Its stealth and speed will bolster its self-defense
capabilities and allow it to operate where the risk would be too
great for other warships. The presence of diesel submarine and mine
threats in the littoral will require that LCS be designed with ship
quieting, noise monitoring and controlled anti-mine signatures.
A shallow draft of 20 feet or less will facilitate shallow-water
and near-land excursions.
LCS will operate as part of a netted and distributed force, with
near-instantaneous flow of tactical data throughout the force. The
architecture will allow participating units to share data from sensors
and weapons. The ship will benefit from combined sensor data from
all networked platforms, thus minimizing use of its own sensors,
which could be reserved solely for self-protection and focused missions.
A new advanced hull design will be needed to make the LCS a fast,
agile and stealthy combatant. While employing stealth, onboard sensors
and weapons for self-defense, LCS will rely on remotely controlled
sensors and weapons delivered by a family of unmanned vehicles operating
on, above and below the ocean’s surface.
The Littoral Combat Ship will have a flight deck and hangar for
helicopters. The flight deck will be available for operating, fueling
and supporting unmanned air vehicles. The ship’s organic manned
and unmanned aerial, surface and underwater vehicles will be networked
to the ship, in order to facilitate real-time data exchange and
support littoral warfare combat operations. The ship’s configuration
will allow for the rapid launch and recovery of boats and special
To enhance mission accomplishment and survivability, LCS will take
advantage of recent breakthroughs in human systems integration,
including optimal manning concepts, crew support services and an
integrated command environment.
The size of the crews will be determined by the mission. The ship’s
manning will support crew rotation in theater as well as ship rotation,
depending upon the chosen doctrine. LCS could use forward basing
and/or extended forward-deployed operations with crew rotations
as a primary methodology of operations.
The size and characteristics of LCS will provide flexibility as
to where the unit will be based. Fully self-deployable and capable
of sustained underway operations and deployment from homeport to
any part of the world, LCS will have the speed and endurance to
transit with the battle group. In addition to vertical replenishment
capability, it will have full underway replenishment capability
and will capitalize on automated and modular technologies for all
at-sea and inport commodity handling.
Leveraging selected research and development now underway with
the DD(X) program, LCS will feature new technology in ship construction
in many areas, such as composite materials, new hull design, planar
arrays and apertures, as well as human systems integration that
will result in reduced crew size.
While the ship’s initial propulsion plant may be characteristic
of what is found in current ships, the modular design and construction
approach will facilitate upgrades with new propulsion technology.
LCS also will incorporate novel logistics and maintenance processes.
Navy Rear Adm. Don Loren is deputy director for surface ships (N76E)
at the office of the chief of naval operations surface warfare division.