NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The undersecretary of the Navy has an ardent message for anyone who would doubt the Littoral Combat Ship’s capabilities: Don’t.
Undersecretary of the Navy Robert O. Work told a large audience April 18 that he is fed up with criticism of the Navy’s new vessel. The latest wave of negative press has been fueled by reports that the ship is less survivable that other top-line Navy craft.
The ship has previously come under fire for cost overruns caused by mid-construction design overhauls and reports that its offensive and defensive capabilities are lacking.
It was a familiar theme at the Navy’s League’s annual symposium, where service leaders, both uniformed and civilian, were repeatedly asked to defend what will become the largest class of surface ships in the Navy's fleet.
“It is a warship,” Work said.“It is a WAR-ship. We have to prove it’s a good platform. … I know there are a lot of skeptics, but this ship is the right ship at the right time for the right fleet design and this will be the best U.S. battle force that history hasever seen.”
The Navy plans to eventually buy 55 LCSs, of which two are afloat now – one built by Lockheed Martin and the other by General Dynamics. The two companies are each expected to build 10 ships over the next decade.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus called the ship “a capability that we need very badly.”
“It’s very fast with a very shallow draft and can operate in littorals,” he said. “It is fully capable of going into combat situations. We’re not going to have the LCS out there by itself.”
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert last week said the LCS was less survivable than other ships in the Navy’s fleet. He was responding to a question regarding the ship’s performance in an anti-access, area denial environment that would be encountered in a potential war against an advanced enemy.
Work sought to temper backlash from that comment, saying Greenert’s words were taken out of context.
“When the CNO said it would not be survivable … of course it’s not going to go into the straits. The only thing that would survive in the straits if a war was started would be a submarine.”
The ship was designed to operate close to the shore, where it might encounter enemy mines and other threats. The Navy plans to equip LCS with unmanned mine-hunting systems and surveillance drones.
“It is a platform for unmanned systems and that’s the future, that’s where we’re going,” Mabus said. “It’s also modular. As technology gets better, you won’t have to build a new ship.”
At around 400 feet, the ship and its relatively small crew of about 80 sailors is intended to be a cost effective alternative to the much larger destroyers and cruisers.
"Today we're using DDG-51s which are multi-billion dollar warships, we're using [big-deck amphibious assault ships] which are multi-billion dollar warships to do some of these engagement activities that LCS could do," Mabus told reporters."We're going to use LCS to free up some multi-mission ships."
Though the first two LCSs came in way over initial bids at $600 million, they are projected to eventually cost around $350 million apiece — significantly less than the almost $2 billion price tag for an Aegis missile destroyer.
Another criticism of the LCS is that its 80-sailor crew is too small to sustain it at sea for long deployments,which have already been reduced from six to four months because of crew fatigue, said Work.
Definitive crew requirements will not be known until the ship is fully integrated into the fleet, he said. It could end up being higher than 80 sailors.
“This is a new concept. We’renot stupid,” Work said. “We’ll make that damn change if we need to.”
Other critics have panned the ship's shorter endurance. Work countered that under normal conditions, running on diesel engines, the LCS will have “plenty of endurance” if not more than a destroyer.
The LCS is seen as a critical program that would allow the Navy to reach its target fleet strength of 300 ships in 2019, a goal both Work and Mabus said would be achieved and maintained based on the new strategic guidance rolled out earlier this year.
“It’s all about fleet design,”Work said. “People who don’t get the LCS don’t get the [fleet] design we’regoing for.”
Pushed on the efficacy of the LCS, a semi-experimental design that became the centerpiece of the Navy’sfuture service fleet, Work offered a challenge to enemies that would seek to attack it.
“It will kick their ass,” he said.