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Naval Forces 

Marines Eye Littoral Combat Ship for Future Missions 

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By Grace V. Jean 

PANAMA CITY, Fla. — The Marine Corps is considering new ways in which it could employ the Navy’s new littoral combat ships.

“We’re working on an assessment of what we can put on the LCS,” the chief of the Marine Corps Combat Development Command, Lt. Gen. George Flynn, told a recent Expeditionary Warfare conference. “There’s a potential for maybe two or three mission modules.”

The shallow-draft warship that sailors will employ in mine warfare, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare missions still is in development and testing.

Flynn, who has been aboard both lead ships — the USS Freedom (LCS-1) built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the USS Independence (LCS-2) built by General Dynamics, told reporters that it was important for him to “see the art of the possible.”

He said the Marine Corps commandant asked him to think about putting a “box of rockets” aboard the ship, which would turn it into a naval surface fire platform. “We still need to talk to the Navy a little bit more about that, but there’s a possibility here. You could use that ship for some of those missions,” he said.

Marines could deploy small units such as platoons or companies aboard an LCS, Flynn said.

“I have seen where you can drive on some amphibious craft on the back of at least one LCS,” he said.

The increased demand for naval support in coastal areas, meanwhile, is creating a growing demand for ships that are even smaller than the LCS. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Thomas Benes, director of the Navy’s expeditionary warfare division, said there is a need for boats that are larger than the riverine units’ 40-foot boats but smaller than the 400-foot littoral combat ship. The Navy does not have such a vessel in its inventory.

In the Persian Gulf, U.S. warships have been targeted by suicide bombers in fishing boats and threatened by Iranian speedboats.

“It’s obvious you need some smaller boat to be able to patrol that area,” Benes said. “We’re taking that on.”

A study conducted last year recommended two types of craft, said Capt. Mark Mullins, deputy director of the division’s irregular warfare branch. One of the options is a patrol-boat size craft and the other is a craft in the 90- to 100-foot range. “There’s definitely some momentum building about doing more in the littorals, to be able to engage the partners with ships that are a lot smaller than what we currently have in our inventory,” he said.

Sailors also need ways to detect the boats and ships coming into a harbor, said Capt. David Balk, assistant chief of staff at Navy Expeditionary Combat Command. With piracy becoming more commonplace, sailors also are looking for technologies to detect small boats and to thwart possible attacks in non-violent ways.  

“How do I tell a small boat’s intent approaching our ship? How can I tell when those boats are just looky lou, or if they have evil intent?” Balk asked the industry conference. Sailors would like to be able to identify the type of boat, its intention, and whether it’s carrying any weapons in a rapid fashion because they don’t have time to analyze the data. “We’re not a 15-knot Navy anymore,” Balk said. “We’re a 40- to 50-knot Navy, and the bad guys are close to 25 now.”

Nonlethal weapons are being considered, he said. The command wants to waterproof the laser dazzler used by Marines at vehicle checkpoints in Iraq to stop suspicious drivers without harming them. It also is interested in the active denial system, a millimeter-wave transmitter used for crowd control. There is potential to adapt that weapon and put it on a ship, Balk said.

The command wants a faster way to acquire technologies to counter enemies because it takes them only a few weeks to adapt and respond. “I need continuous feed of the new technology,” said Balk. “I can’t wait five years in a normal acquisition program.”
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