US debates LCS

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The United States is debating the viability of its Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), with Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead saying costs are stabilising after massive over-runs and critics charging the opposite.

Reuters reports Roughead told journalists he was “encouraged” by the cost trends on the two ships under construction and that the Navy would try to avoid adding new requirements that could drive costs higher.

Lockheed and General Dynamics are now each building a second LCS. The US Navy wants to buy 55 LCS ships to operate in foreign coastal waters to hunt mines, conduct anti-submarine warfare and combat small surface craft such as that used by pirates and al Qaeda.

The Navy also hopes the smaller LCS will over time allow it to expand its fleet from 283 ships.

But Reuters notes costs have more than doubled from an original projection of $220 million per ship and the program is subject to a Congressional cost cap of $460 million per ship from this October.

The cap however excludes certain items and adjusts for inflation, “bringing it more into line with caps on other shipbuilding programs.”

“We’ve turned the corner on that important capability,” Roughead said.

But LCS critic and former commander of the US Pacific Fleet, retired Admiral James Lyons afterwards wrote in the Washington Times that the LCS was conceived as a very “inexpensive stealthy” ship but was, in fact, neither.

He noted that the first two ships cost nearly $700 million each and that was “before adding the costs of any modules that are essential for the ship’s combat capability.”

“These mission modules are also running over cost and falling short of performance requirements. In recognition of these realities, the Navy is buying fewer modules – further increasing risks,” he said.

“In addition, the first LCS hull, USS Freedom, is overweight and fragile (it cannot always travel fast enough) and has stability problems.

“The high-speed fuel consumption of both designs, neither of them stealthy, will sharply limit their capacity to execute their intended operations. Other problems are surfacing – such as overworked crews – that have affected retention rates. But all these problems pale next to the real issue: survivability in combat,” Lyons argued.

“Aligning a shipbuilding plan with ‘today’s environment` is precisely the problem. The Navy must have the depth of high-end-capable forces to prevail in any conflict. Instead, we are pursuing low-end ships that are too expensive to achieve a forward-deployed ‘presence` but incapable of surviving in serious combat.

“The emerging threats we face in the 30- to 40-year lifetime of the ships we build today are clear and greatly exceed the capability of a fleet of LCS. Our forward-deployed ships must have recognised capabilities to go in ‘harm’s way.` That’s the key element in deterrence. Forward presence is the beginning of the Navy’s mission, not the end.” Lyons further argued.

“As a result of all these problems, the LCS is the wrong programme on which to spend the Navy’s limited shipbuilding funds. I think at this point, a far better alternative would be to terminate the failed experiment.”

Lyons says the US Navy should collaborate with the US Coast Guard “to build a dual-purpose ship with a credible integral combat system that can meet limited warfare requirements. This very different ship should be built in large numbers as part of the coming Ocean Patrol Cutter Program.”

Janes Navies International meanwhile adds that the Israeli Navy (IN) has abandoned its plan to procure the LCS as the baseline for a future surface combatant because of its high cost.

Once an enthusiastic LCS supporter, the IN is now said to be looking at the German MEKO A-100 corvette family, but fitted with a “high degree of Israeli content”.

The A-100 is similar to, but smaller than, the South African Navy`s stealthy MEKO A-200 frigates.

  

Janes added the decision followed two feasibility studies conducted by the IN in partnership with Lockheed Martin on the suitability of the LCS for Israeli requirements.



“Rising costs of the LCS have forced us to look at other options,” a senior IN source told Janes. The IN assessed that the procurement of the LCS platform combined with Israeli combat systems could cost more than $600 million per vessel.