Twitter Facebook Google RSS

Littoral Combat Ships Will Help U.S. Forces Gain Access 

12  2,002 

by Rear Adm. Don Loren, USN 

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 Traditional ship designs became outdated in the period between the initial requirements development phase and the time the class become operational in significant numbers.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 improvements possible.

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.

Technology Insertion
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 environments.

In addition to these core competencies, multi-mission ships will conduct precision strike, volume fires, area air defense and ballistic missile defense.

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.

Enhanced Survivability
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 operations craft.

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.

  Bookmark and Share