Tuesday, May 01, 2012

The Saga of the Littoral Combat Ships

Littoral Combat Ship.  What a cool designation and new kind of warship for the U.S. Navy.  Intended to operate in shallow waters and even river estuaries, the LCS is intended to fill a seldom tapped role for the primarily blue water American navy.  It was even new enough to generate two designs, a traditional planing monohull, and an unusual trimaran, so intriguing the navy contracted for both.  In all 55 littoral combat ships are intended to join the navy between 2010 and 2040.
PT Dockyards LCS-1 is a chunk of resin.  It could use a detail kit, but an admirable subject for the 1/700 modern coastal range.
Yet the LCS is one of those Pentagon nightmares.  Think B-70, Sgt. York AA system (DIVADS),  V-22 Osprey, or F-35 Joint Combat Fighter. The problem with the LCS is that it's damned expensive and it is unclear how to arm and equip it for its varied envisaged missions. Though the LCS could be a brown water workhorse, it is also intended to replace the Perry class frigates and aging minehunters, with a ship whose armament is much less formidable than the tiny Iranian missile boats it could face in the Persian Gulf.
Side view of Freedom miniature.  LCS-1 has a steel hull and aluminum superstructure.  Interpreting photos, I painted the lower hull gull gray and the upper works a light haze gray.
Armed only with BAE systems Mk. 110 57mm automatic cannon (that's right, just like a WWII British 6 pdr. firing 230 rounds per minute), .50 cal. machine guns, and a  RIM 116 Rolling Airframe Missile to defend againt anti-ship missiles, drones, helicopters and small vessels.  These vessels would also depend on their complement of MH-60 helicopters to perform surface attack, mine warfare, and ASW tasks.  Unfortunately, at about 3,000 tons, or frigate size, it's not clear these vessels can defend themselves, let alone project offensive power with their standard armament.

Though the standard armament on the LCS is relatively puny, its punch should come in "mission modules."  These could be be mine detection and clearance modules, anti-submarine modules, or surface attack modules for sea or land. These would supplement the standard armament while offering flexibility in planning for specific missions. 
The turret mounted Mk. 110 and the RIM 116 are clearly visible on the miniature.  I painted in much of the detail including aft hanger doors and the landing area on the helicopter deck.
Unfortunately this has driven the cost of the LCS well above its planned cost per copy.  LCS+electronics+mission module is now well above the $550 million per copy.  This is almost twice the cost of better armed European or Israeli frigates. Hoping to build an export market for the Littoral Combat Ships, the United States now finds itself in a difficult decision to determine a mission for the LCS, holding costs down at a time of shrinking budgets and escalating costs.  For the Littoral Combat ships the sky would be the limit--if it was fifteen years ago and the Navy didn't have to reexamine its wallet.

A fabulous critique of the LCS program appears in Defense Industry Daily.

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