5@5 – Littoral Combat Ship Part I

In response to your 5@5, the Director, Surface Warfare Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden is answering your questions about the littoral combat ship. Questions were gathered and selected in an attempt to focus the conversation on the capabilities of the LCS program.

LCS will establish and maintain dominance in near-shore environments (littorals), and is a critical part of the surface force’s ability to provide deterrence, sea control, and power projection around the world. Want to learn more? Read on.


Question: whats its use? does it carry cruise missiles?

Answer: LCS is a high-speed, shallow-draft, focused-mission surface combatant designed for operation in near-shore environments, yet fully capable of open-ocean operations.  LCS is designed to defeat threats in coastal waters, where increasingly capable submarines, mines, and swarming small craft operate.  To deliver capabilities against these threats, Navy introduced LCS with innovative concepts, such as modular mission packages, to quickly respond to evolving threats.

In addition to the three focused warfare missions it will conduct using its surface warfare mission package, mine countermeasures mission package, or anti-submarine warfare mission package, LCS’s inherent capabilities and suitability to conduct lower-intensity missions, such as theater security cooperation, will free up our more expensive, multi-mission cruisers and destroyers to conduct higher-intensity missions.

LCS and its mission packages will deliver enhanced capability compared with that currently provided by guided-missile frigates (FFGs), mine countermeasures ships (MCMs), and patrol coastal ships (PCs) – many of which will decommission over the next several years.  LCS, similar to the FFGs, MCMs, and PCs, does not carry cruise missiles.  However, Navy weapons, sensors, ships, and aircraft systems are continually reviewed and evaluated against current and future operations and threats to determine the best mix of total combat power that can be brought to the fight. LCS is no exception to this process.

Question: Will you still build both types of ship, or are you planning on one single type for the LCS?
Question: Will you still build both types of ship, or are you planning on one single type for the LCS?”

Answer: The program of record for LCS is a total of 55 ships. The Navy procured the first four—two of each variant—prior to awarding block buy contracts to both industry teams in December 2010, which provided each team the opportunity to build ten additional ships. LCS 5 through LCS 12 are currently under construction or in pre-production stages. Subject to annual congressional appropriations, LCS 13 through LCS 24 will be funded over FY13 through FY15 at four ships per year (two to each team). These block buy contracts include the technical data package (TDP), so that Navy has the rights to both designs going forward.

The Navy’s acquisition strategy for LCS in FY16 and beyond has yet to be determined, and will be guided by cost and performance of each of the industry teams with a focus on options for sustaining competition throughout the life of the program, and with consideration of the potential costs and benefits of all alternatives. Such alternatives include competing for cost and/or quantity, introduction of one or more second sources for a particular design, a future down selection, and competitive multiyear procurements, all of which would be viable as the LCS program progresses.


Question: I understand that these class of ships uses modules. How many modules can these ships carry at one time? Fight close to shore, yes that’s good and all. Can they support NSFS? Maybe small caliber guns they have. Can they support AAW? This is iffy because I don’t see or heard any AAW capabilities aside from the close in weapons systems, I think that’s the CRAM system. ASUW? Anti-ship missiles? None. ASW… maybe cause they can carry helos and bring in modules for ASW. Can they manage to defend themselves while they are in littoral waters? You have to remember, the closer they are from the shore, the more vulnerable they are from different forms retaliation from the enemy. I know they can be a perfect platform for inserting troops due to their mobility. Conducting VBSS is another good capability for it. Manning. I know the Navy is downsizing, and from what I’ve heard the crew on these ships are minimal. The strain on the personnel onboard these ships can be enormous (just a thought). You can be on watch as a helmsman, then next thing you know you have to man your station for flight quarters. I know this great Navy of ours want to forge ahead and maintain superiority against our enemies. I just hope that our leaders made the right decision by acquiring these class of ships.

Answer: LCS was designed to fill capability gaps in littoral mine countermeasures (MCM), littoral surface warfare (SUW), and littoral anti-submarine warfare (ASW).  As a focused-mission ship, LCS was designed to carry one mission package at a time.  (One mission package comprises several mission modules plus personnel and aircraft.)  While these are the ships’ primary missions, the ships’ characteristics and systems provide an inherent capability to fulfill other missions as well, including theater security cooperation, maritime interdiction operations, and anti-terrorism/force protection. 

The LCS mission packages deliver under an incremental plan, whereby packages of increasing capability are delivered as the component systems mature.          

The SUW mission package (MP) provides LCS the ability to perform escort missions and maritime interdiction operations.  The SUW MP provides increased firepower and offensive and defensive capabilities against large numbers of fast, highly maneuverable small craft, giving LCS the ability to protect sea lanes and move a force quickly through a choke point or other strategic waterway.  The initial increments, two of which have delivered to the Navy and are undergoing testing and evaluation, deliver the capability to counter small boat threats with two 30mm guns and an armed helicopter, as well as the capability to conduct Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) with two 11 meter Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats (RHIBs) and specialized equipment for use by the VBSS team.  Follow-on increments deliver a surface-to-surface missile capability (initially short-range, subsequently over-the-horizon), an Irregular Warfare (IW) Module that provides a medical and training capability, and integration of Vertical Takeoff and Landing Tactical Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (VTUAVs) to provide enhanced Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities.

The MCM MP provides LCS with a capability to counter deep, shallow, floating, tethered, bottom, and buried mines.  The initial increment, two of which have delivered to the Navy and are undergoing test and evaluation, provide the capability to detect and identify mines in the water column and neutralize volume and bottom mines through use of systems deployed from off board manned and unmanned vehicles.  Follow on increments add the capability to detect mines in the surf and beach zones, then the ability to sweep mines and neutralize near surface mines, and, ultimately, the ability to find buried mines and mines in a cluttered environment. 

The ASW MP, the first of which delivers in 2016, enables LCS to conduct detect-to-engage operations against modern submarine threats.  An ASW MP-equipped LCS, with its sonar, towed arrays, and countermeasure systems, can perform area search, high value unit escort missions and, in conjunction with the embarked helicopter, submarine localization and engagement.

LCS was not designed to conduct naval surface fires support (NSFS) or anti-air warfare (AAW), as other Fleet assets focus on these mission areas.  LCS does, however, have a robust self-defense capability.  LCS, with its 3-D air search radar and highly effective Rolling Airframe Missile, is at least as capable against the cruise missile threat as the CIWS-equipped FFG 7 and significantly more capable than the Avenger class MCM and cyclone class PC, which have no anti-cruise missile self-defense capability.  A tenet of the operational construct, in a high threat environment, LCS would operate as part of a networked battle force.

As previously mentioned, efforts are now focused on transitioning from testing these initial R&D ships to operationally employing the ships and ensuring Navy is prepared to man, train, and equip this entirely new class in the most efficient and effective manner.  This includes an in-depth review of the crew size and billet base to determine if and where we need to make any adjustments.

Bottom line, LCS is the most versatile combatant ever developed and will remain relevant throughout its service life.  The modular MP concept allows a tailored capability to accomplish specific missions without the added cost and complexity associated with traditional multi-mission ships, provides the ability to modernize elements of the combat capability to defeat new and emerging threats without taking the ship off line, and enables the ability to rapidly expand into other mission areas with the development of new mission packages based on identified warfighting gaps.


Question: What kind of active defense are we looking at here? I am heartily for the idea of a littoral fleet in green-water and brown-water theaters of operations, but it appears that could entail many encounters that result in bullets, RPGs, and other short range, unguided projectiles of all sizes incoming on these vessels. If passive defense doesn’t work, what do they have in the way of armor? Kevlar at key points? Titanium? Lots and lots of steel? I know that weight is a factor to keep the speed up, but I worry we’re getting a bit to wedded to passive defense and that such an approach would be potentially disastrous in an asymmetrical warfare situation… Thanks, hope you address this.
Answer: LCS uses a total ship approach to provide the optimum balance of survival capabilities consistent with its size, displacement, high performance design and operational environment.  This includes a mix of active and passive defenses, including but not limited to, the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) System, 57mm gun, Electronic Warfare systems, select fragmentation protection, and shock hardening.

LCS, with its 3-D air-search radar and highly effective RAM system, is at least as capable against the anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM) threat as the CIWS-equipped FFG 7 and significantly more capable than the Avenger class MCM and Cyclone Class PC, which have no inherent self-defense, anti-cruise missile capability. LCS capability against ASCMs has been demonstrated with two live firings of RAM from LCS against cruise missile targets, as well as multiple tracking exercises and simulated ASCM engagements within the developmental test window.


Question: What is the expected service like of a FREEDOM or INDEPENDENCE class LCS, with the consideration that they will be heavily-worked platforms?Will you still build both types of ship, or are you planning on one single type for the LCS?
LCS is designed to be a forward deployed, rotationally-crewed ship and its expected service life is 25 years.