LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP (LCS) CONTRACTS AWARDED – WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO THE US NAVY?
For what seems forever, the US Navy has been discussing the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS. As a fighting force, the Naval Service has recognized that “blue water” combat ended in 1945 and, in lieu of the former Soviet Union, never occurred in the 45-year-long Cold War. Had the Soviet Union and its rapidly growing Navy continued unabated, then it is likely that there would have been a clash at sea, but economic collapse doomed the Soviets out of existence.
In 2004, the buzz word continues to be “littoral” or close to the shoreline where 80% of the population and major national assets are located worldwide. This has meant a re-thinking of national defense and how the US Navy will fight its enemies in the future. So far, the US Coast Guard has done most of the littoral work ably assisted by aging fast frigates and the much maligned Patrol Coastal Boats (Cyclone-class) of the Navy.
Other nations such as Sweden, Norway and Denmark long ago realized the need for ships to fight in the littoral and often wondered why the US Navy persisted in building behemoths to sail the deep blue sea. The Visby-class corvette in the Swedish Navy as well as the Norwegian Skjold-class fast patrol boat have no counterpart in the USN, and both are well-suited for slugging it out in the littoral. At first, the US Navy scoffed at these small vessels and rested their laurels in “size matters” as opposed to “capability matters more.” At this point, the French, Moroccan, German, Spanish, Canadian, Danish, Russian, Indian and many other Navies are far ahead of the US Navy. Many nations are flocking to the low displacement, stealthily built and well-armed littoral ships being built outside the USA. With European consortiums, design firms and shipyards hard at work, there are even more exciting small ship ideas coming forth that are more than an even match for anything the US Navy can field in the green and brown waters of the littoral.
Finally, after years and wading through the bureaucracy of Washington and the Pentagon, the US Navy has settled upon two designs: The General Dynamics team-led trimaran which is 417-ft in overall length, and the Lockheed Martin led-team monohull which is 379-ft in length. The cost for both ships is $536 million as a starting point.
General Dynamics design: LCS preliminary design calls for rotary wing capability, a FLIR (forward looking infrared site), 57mm Bofors gun, integrated command and control, RAM for air and sea defense, decoys, a number of .50-cal machine guns; and mine avoidance sonar – all of this on a 419-ft hull displacing 2595-tons. The propulsion is based on diesel/gas turbine systems, and states a 47-kt top speed. The hull is founded on a trimaran shape.
Lockheed Martin design: A LCS with a top speed of 45-kts on a 2840-ton displacement and 379-ft in length. It too is armed with a RAM, .50-cal machine guns, and a 57mm gun forward. The vessel is a monohull.
By way of comparison, the Swedish Visby-class corvette has much the same armament and electronics, and the lead ship will be operational in 2005. The five-ship Visby-dass can make 35-kts, is nearly impossible to detect due to stealth construction, and displaces several hundred tons less than either US design.
Although different in capability from the Swedish Visby, the Norwegian Skjold-class can make 54-kts, is stealth designed and also displaces a fraction of the American designs.
What the LCS concept means to the US Navy is a recognition that the old way is no longer the proper way to fight and win wars. The big ship Navy must slowly recede to a more appropriate level, and the role of the small ship must be recognized and emphasized. For one thing, the US taxpayer is weary of high taxation to maintain a WWII mentality Navy. Wisdom and reality are required rather than holding on to the past.
As a side note, recently I visited the Swedish Naval and Maritime Museum in Stockholm and the Swedish Naval Authorities were stunned that I . would compliment them on the Visby and its capabilities. They were accustomed to being looked down on by American Naval personnel and found my obvious interest and genuine admiration refreshing. I was ashamed of my fellow American Naval enthusiasts and officers.
Copyright Challenge Publications Inc. Nov 2004
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