USN Approves LCS Surface Warfare Package – But Doubts Remain
The Navy announces that it is moving forward with development of the Littoral Combat Ship’s Surface Warfare (SUW) Mission Package, which it describes as “designed to combat small, fast boat terrorist threats to the fleet.” The Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren division is the technical direction agent for the SUW mission package, with NSWC Port Hueneme division providing integrated logistics and testing support. US NAVSEA’s release lists the components as:
“…electro-optical/infrared sensors mounted on a vertical take off unmanned air vehicle [the MQ-8B Fire Scout] to provide over-the-horizon detection; 30mm guns to kill close-in targets; four  non-line-of-sight launching system [NLOS-LS/ "NetFires"]… container launch units, with each system containing 15 offensive missiles; and the MH-60R armed helicopter for surveillance and attack missions. The SUW mission package has software that interfaces with the LCS command and control system to maintain and share situational awareness and tactical control in a coordinated SUW environment… The first two  SUW mission packages assembled for developmental and operational testing use the Mark 46 30mm gun made by General Dynamics Amphibious Systems.”
The $400-500 million question is, will this be enough?…
As other DID articles have noted, this array plus a 57mm naval gun is a slim attack punch for a $400 million frigate-sized ship, with no torpedo launchers for snap engagement of submarines, and no missiles that could seriously threaten other warships. Even smaller designs like Denmark’s SF300 FlexShips, which inspired the LCS’ mission module design, pack both anti-shipping missiles and torpedo tubes.
Foreign LCS versions [PDF] add vertical launch cells that can be filled with a variety of weapons, including anti-ship missiles and improved anti-air defense missiles; the GD/Austal international variant [PDF] also adds torpedo tubes.
The Lexington Institute’s “Modularity, the Littoral Combat Ship and the Future of The United States Navy” correctly notes that the mission module concept adds tremendous flexibility to the LCS platform, and dramatically reduces the cost and time of future upgrades to keep pace with rapidly-evolving technologies. Absent similar flexibility in their weaponry, however, the ships’ lack of punch and current cost levels are beginning to call the LCS program – and indeed, the US Navy’s future high-low force structure – into question.
As Vice-Admiral Mustin (ret.) and Vice-Admiral Katz (ret.) warned in a 2003 USNI Proceedings article:
“Because the Navy has invested heavily in land-attack capabilities such as the Advanced Gun System and land-attack missiles in DD (X), there is no requirement for [the Littoral Combat Ship] to have this capability. Similarly, LCS does not require an antiair capability beyond self-defense because DD (X) and CG (X) will provide area air defense. Thus, if either DD (X) or CG (X) does not occur in the numbers required and on time, the Navy will face two options: leave LCS as is, and accept the risk inherent in employment of this ship in a threat environment beyond what it can handle (which is what it did with the FFG-7); or “grow” LCS to give it the necessary capabilities that originally were intended to reside off board in DD (X) and CG (X). Neither option is acceptable.”
Especially if the low end has grown to a cost level that makes it equivalent to other countries’ major surface combatants, while falling short on key capabilities that will be required in the absence of higher-end ships.