Return Fire on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship

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The first two Littoral Combat Ships: the USS Freedom, rear, and the USS Independence, off the California coast. The ships primarily are designed to engage in combat close to shore.

Last week on Time’s Battleland blog there was a piece by Mr. John Sayen entitled The Navy’s New Class of Warships: Big Bucks, Little Bang.

Obviously, Mr. Sayen is not a fan of the Littoral Combat Ship. And that’s OK. We welcome the debate and the discussion. We agree with him that it’s important for the Navy to be transparent and honest about how we spend taxpayer dollars. I just wish he had reached out to me before writing his piece, because so much of his criticism was rooted in old, misconstrued or simply bad information.

Let’s take them one at a time…

SAYEN: “Since neither design had yet proven either its usefulness or functionality it seems that the Navy’s object was to make the LCS program “too big to fail” as soon as possible.”

That’s a pretty bold charge…and unfair. He’s basically saying we tried to steamroll the system to get what we want, to get so deep into a program that no lawmaker or leader would dare shut it down.

Actually, selecting both designs was the consequence of trying to encourage competition between the two builders and drive costs down. And we succeeded. We saved $2.9 billion in projected procurement costs, enough to buy five more LCSs, a DDG, and a Mobile Landing Platform.

By awarding two contracts for 10 ships each, we will be able to better analyze the two variants in fleet service, build up fleet numbers faster than expected, and save a bundle. And we always retain the option to down select to one variant should circumstances dictate.

Never did we have anything but the taxpayers’ — and our national — interests foremost in mind.

SAYEN: “It may be working: the 55-ship fleet is slated to cost more than $40 billion, giving each vessel a price tag north of $700 million, roughly double the original estimated cost.”

Yes, there has definitely been cost growth. Can’t deny that. The Navy initially established an objective cost of $250 million per ship and a threshold cost of $400 million per ship (seaframe and mission modules included). The first two seaframes of the class, which were both research and development ships of two different varients, cost $537 million (LCS 1) and $653 million (LCS 2), respectively.

But that was then. This is now. We have 20 LCSs under fixed price contracts. The average price for a fully missionized LCS (seaframe and modules) will be below the congressionally mandated cost cap of $460 million (FY10 dollars) for the seaframe only.

And the tenth ship of each production run will beat the cost cap my several tens of millions of dollars. That will allow us to inject added capabilities, if desired or required, without breaking the bank—just as we have done in the Arleigh Burke DDG program for the past 20 years.

On balance, for the LCS’s size and capability, we believe the Navy — and the taxpayers –are getting one heck of a bargain.

SAYEN: “The ASUW (anti-surface warfare) module is focused mainly on defeating speedboats and offers only two 30mm MK-46 guns and some short-ranged low payload Griffin missiles. None of these modules will even be testable until well into FY13 and none will be operational before FY16”.

Well, not really. Two surface warfare packages and two mine counter measure packages have already been delivered to us for testing. The surface package will be operational well before 2016.

In fact, we’re planning to embark it aboard USS Freedom when she deploys to Singapore next spring. The surface module weapons Mr. Sayen disparages will serve to supplement the ship’s organic 57-mm gun and an MH-60R armed helicopter, thus providing additional capability.

SAYEN: “…ballooning LCS construction costs caused the Navy to try to save money by ordering that future ships be built to commercial standards.

That’s sort of backwards. Actually, it was our going in position to design the ships to commercial standards, hoping to produce more of them faster and save money. But all that changed when we made the decision to increase survivability standards by adhering to Naval Vessel Rules.

All littoral combat ships are being built to these rules, not commercial standards.

As I readily admitted, that decision made the ships cost more … but we stand by the reasoning for it.

SAYEN: “…the LCS is rated as not survivable in a “hostile combat environment.”

Like all warships, LCS is built to fight. It’s built for combat.

Nobody ever said this ship can — and no engineer can ever design a ship to — withstand every conceivable threat on the sea. But the LCS is significantly more capable than the older mine counter measure ships and patrol craft it was designed to replaces, and stands up well to the frigates now serving in the fleet.

It is fast, maneuverable, and has low radar, infrared, and magnetic signatures. Its core self-defense suite is designed to defeat a surprise salvo of one or two anti-ship cruise missiles when the ship is operating independently, or leakers that get through fleet area and short-range air defenses when operating with naval task forces.

Its 57mm gun is more than capable of taking out small boats and craft. Its armed helicopter gives the LCS an over-the-horizon attack capability and is lethal against submarines. LCS will stand outside of minefields and sweep them with little danger to its crew—and be able to defend itself while doing so. The ship has extensive automated firefighting systems and can remain afloat after considerable flooding damage.

We’re more than comfortable that the ship can fight and defend itself in a combat environment, especially when acting in concert with larger multi-mission cruisers and destroyers, exactly as we designed it to do.

SAYEN: “…the Navy has admitted that, unlike the foreign systems they were modeled on, LCS modules will not be swappable within day or two as originally envisaged. Instead, the process can take weeks.”

Each LCS will deploy with the Mission Package (MP) required to accomplish directed missions. If a commander directs a mission package swap, equipment staging and personnel movement will be planned and coordinated in advance.

The physical swap of mission package equipment can occur, as advertised, in less than 96 hours … just like we “originally envisaged.” Getting the ship ready for a new mission may take a little longer. But the fact is this ship is more flexible than any in the fleet.

Consider this: with three crews assigned to every two LCS hulls, the Navy will keep 50% of the entire LCS fleet deployed or ready for tasking. That means up to 27 ships might be “out and about” at any given time, with a mix of anti-submarine, anti-surface, and counter mine mission packages already aboard. With the LCS’s high speed, this force will be able to quickly concentrate in any theater with exactly the right packages needed for the job. When coupled with the ability to change out modules in theater, you have an extremely agile force.

SAYEN: “Its MIW (mine warfare) and ASW (antisubmarine warfare) capabilities are only those of the aircraft it carries.”

Not so.

The LCS Mine Countermeasures package will be capable of conducting the full gambit of mine operations — hunting, sweeping, and neutralization — against a wide variety of threats. And it’s going to do that using both organic AND embarked systems.

SAYEN: “Its RIM-116 lacks the range to protect other ships. Its 57mm gun is short-ranged and cannot support troops ashore.”

OK … but the LCS was never designed to protect other ships or to support troops ashore.  That’s not its job.

Its job is to protect the sea base and high value naval units from swarming boats, hunt down and sink diesel submarines, and clear mines in littoral waters. And it will do these jobs extremely well. It will be the best swarm killer in the surface fleet. It will have a better anti-submarine capability than the frigate it replaces. And it will be superior to the mine warfare vessels it replaces.

I thank Mr. Sayen for his interest. I really do. And I hope we can have a conversation with him moving forward. I don’t mind the criticism. I just want the opportunity to help inform it.

Look, we know the ship has hit some rough waters. We know it’s controversial in some quarters. And we know that there have been both cost and requirement challenges. Some of that is just intrinsic to the work of developing and building a new class of ship.

But we also believe that the decisions we’ve made with respect to capabilities, while costly and perhaps even time-consuming, will in the end put to sea a faster, more powerful and more agile warship.

Let’s not forget that we’ve been doing something almost unheard of in the shipbuilding business. In relatively short order — and far faster than the 12-15 years it takes with a destroyer — we designed a new ship class…we commissioned three of them, with nine more in various phases of construction…and now we’re going to deploy one to the Western Pacific.

I don’t expect the LCS debate to cease anytime soon. As I said, I welcome it. It’s healthy for us and for the country. But I do expect the criticism to be based on facts — current, relevant facts.

Let’s try to have that discussion.

Rear Admiral John Kirby is the Navy’s chief of information.

Rob Mahrt
Rob Mahrt

If tax payers and national interests are the driving forces behind decision making, then why when you save $2.9 billion do you turn around and spend it on more ships.

If you ask for 10 ships and these ships will fulfill national interests, and you can build 10 ships for less money, then build them and give the prevent the debt from going up by $2.9 billion.

If I expect to spend $15 on dinner, and end up only spending $10, I don't put another sandwich on my credit card and eat that too.


"Actually, selecting both designs was the consequence of trying to

encourage competition between the two builders and drive costs down."

Translation into English: "Everybody wins".  The "everybody" in question being the industry as a whole. That's not competition, because competition means that at least one of multiple competitors must lose. This is the antithesis of competition; competition is the foundation of free enterprise;  free enterprise is one of the main pillars of democracy... I think you can figure-out where the rest of this ladder goes.

"We saved $2.9 billion in projected procurement costs, enough to buy five more LCSs, a DDG, and a Mobile Landing Platform."

To see whether that actually counts for anything, we first need to see how much money was spent on the LCS Program. To do that, look as the SARs (Selected Acquisition Reports). These cover the costs of every major program in the US military... if you know how to read them, that is

According to the December 2011 SAR (the most recent one released as of October 15th 2012), $37.44 Billion was spent on the LCS program to buy 55 ships;;

However, take note of the "Baseline Year" of 2010. The LCS program did not begin in 2010.

So why is that listed as such? The reason is because costs are only tracked in the SAR from whatever year is listed as the "Baseline Year", which the DoD can make any year they want. This is a method of statistical deception known as "Rebaselining". This throws lawmakers, and journalists off the trail, without even concealing the actual expenses.

Thus, to see the amount of money *actually* spent on LCS, go back through the earlier SARs...; the September 2010 SAR, which lists the LCS as only a $2.52 Billion program, but shows no "Baseline Year";

The June 2010 SAR, however, *does* have the LCS' "Baseline Year" --- as 2004;

It shows that $3.73 Billion was spent on the LCS Program between then and 2004, when the LCS Program ACTUALLY began.  So in other words, while the Admiral claims that the LCS Program saved $2.9 Billion, there is a $2.52 Billion HIDDEN ADDITIONAL EXPENSE that he never mentioned.

He also never mentioned that the $2.9 Billion "cost-savings" occurred during a cost increase of $37.44 Billion, from $2.52 Billion.

That's 3 steps forward, and 37 steps back, which he characterizes as "progress" without telling you the whole story about how much is being spent.

Lastly, if you add $2.52 Billion to $37.44 Billion, you get a combined cost of $39.96 Billion. For a more even result, let's say that's $40 Billion, and divide it by the 55 ships it promises to produce --- that gives you a Unit Cost of $727.27 Million. That's 3/4 the cost of an Arleigh Burke class Destroyer, with nothing to show for it.

That's an awful lot to pay for a Gunboat pretending to be a Corvette, but more importantly, it's also incontrovertible proof that $2.9 Billion will buy that many ships as claimed.  It will buy 3-4 LCS', not 5, and will not cover the cost of the other two ships.

This is also assuming the number of ships to be bought will not decrease, which is extremely doubtful, and that the Project Cost will not increase --- and no one is fooling anyone that the latter WILL happen.

This is taking a long time, so I'll leave it at one more.

"By awarding two contracts for 10 ships each, we will be able to better

analyze the two variants in fleet service, build up fleet numbers faster

than expected, and save a bundle. And we always retain the option to

down select to one variant should circumstances dictate."

What he isn't saying is that buying so many of both means that the Navy is stuck with both --- along with the logistical support contract with the manufacturers that won't expire for decades. And also, if the Navy is stuck with both, that means that the money and logistical capabilities to acquire superior alternatives is gone, and we can't get out of this mess by buying a better ship.

As for the ability of LCS to " up fleet numbers...", it doesn't. As we buy 55 Coastal Gunboats, we retire the rest of 60 Frigates. We've already divested ourselves from every Destroyer built before the Arleigh Burke, all of the twin-arm Ticonderogas, and every Cruiser built before them. There are no replacements under consideration, no plans for them, and no money to fund any even if we did, thanks in part to the LCS.

And all these forfeited capabilities are supposed to be worth 55 Gunboats?

Finally, stuffing 10 of each makes BOTH classes too big to kill, and leaves us with nothing to take their place even if we do.


These discussions are for East Asia.Give Japan back the Kamikazee spirit and support them with technology and see what they come up with.It will be scary.

Kevin Brent
Kevin Brent

LCS, CGX, DDG 1000, all were rip-offs forced on the Navy. We need a new CG and a new FFG. But, we already have a fine DDG in the Arleigh Burke Class and LCS is a ship desperately in search of a reason to exist. A Coast Guard Cutter could kick an LCS around like a school yard sissy.


I like the potential of the LCS (the GD is my preferred platform) due to its very large mission bay and large flight deck (very drone/helo friendly), but I agree that they are under-armed.

Here are my thoughts to get the GD LCS better armed using OTS systems (no new dev needed).

1.  Throw the Griffin away.  Put VL versions of the Spike NLOS (25km+range) in the forward mission bay (behind the 57mm at the bow).

2.  Replace the slow firing 30mm with armored Hellfire boxed launchers.  Replace 1-2 (as needed) Hellfire Missiles with a quad-pack of LOGIR/DAGR type 2.75 guided rocket.

3.  Put two Millennium guns (35mm) on the hanger roof (no thru-deck penetration). They not only provide secondary cannon support but increase the CIWS capabilities.

4.  Replace pindle .50 cal mgs with remote Mk51 mounts with M230LF (variant of the Apache cannon).  Mount can take any number of systems.

5.  Increase Situational Awareness with mast-mounted EODAS from F-35.  NG is now officially proposing a naval version of EODAS for this called Silent Watch

6.  If needed, mount 8-pack of Harpoon/NSM/JSM/Spear3 in LO enclosure in front of bridge (like the Multi-Mission version).

Overall, this will provide an effective amp; layered defensive and offensive capability without taking too much space from the interior. Here is a graphic I put together:


I just hope these ships are better than the F-22s. That's not a very high bar either. 

Paweł Kasperek
Paweł Kasperek

So even Admiral admits that LCS can handle at best 2 ASMs, while each chinese 40 million $ boats  carries EIGHT,  and they can launch them well outside of the Griffins range...

I rest my case.


In a one on one fight, the Houbei, shoot ten Houbeis, would be detected and destroyed by the MH-60R carried by the LCS long before it/they ever even knew the LCS was in the area.  But then, ships don't fight one on one, they fight as task groups and as part of an overall armed force.  But don't let reality stop a good rant.  If you had continued to read, the rest of the quote continues: 


or leakers that get through fleet area and short-range air defenses when operating with naval task forces.Read more:

you would have seen that  

Paweł Kasperek
Paweł Kasperek

what about conditions when helos cant fly? enemy fighters present in the area? SAMs on the shore?


I think you are expecting LCS to be more than was planned.  It's supposed to be for littoral areas in low/mid conflict areas.  It is not designed to operate in areas of SAM coverage or enemy fighter coverage, at least not without traditional blue navy assets.


 Really - so what does the MH60 R carry that can sink, or even provide "mission kill" on anything bigger than a pirate skiff (or a tank) ?  Laser guided 70mm rockets and Hellfire ? Do you still have Penguin in service, if so then fair enough, but I thought it was out of service.



Weapons amp; Upgrades

Weapons: Initial MH-60R armament will include a wide range of systems, from Mk.46 or Mk.54 lightweight torpedoes, to Penguin anti-ship missiles, Hellfire anti-armor missiles, DAGR laser-guided 70mm rockets, and machine guns.

Upgrades: Lot I-II production MH-60R helicopters were equipped with SysConfig 19.9 software, as well as all of the advanced equipment originally planned for the type. Part-way through Lot III (6 helicopters), after around 10 production helicopters, the software leapt ahead to SysConfig 46. Those helicopters added IMDS prognostics in key mechanical areas, along with updates to the ALE-47 countermeasures. These are MH-60R Block 1.

Subsequent MH-60Rs upgraded to next-generation SysConfig 58 software, and add an array of new equipment. These “Block 2” [DID reference] helicopters will add the DoD-wide Joint Mission Planning System, improved internal wireless, satellite, and radio communications, and:

A Ground Proximity Warning System (GPWS) with audible alerts like “roll left,” “pull up!” etc. Link-16, for a common tactical picture shared with other ships and aircraft;

A “SAASM EGI” Embedded GPS Inertial Navigation System with better resistance to countermeasures;

Upgrades to the Identification, Friend or Foe (IFF) system via Mode 5 IFF’s much improved algorithm, encryption, range, and civil compatibility. It also adds “lethal interrogation” as a must-respond last chance, and the ability to see individual aircraft even when they’re close together. The further addition of Mode S assigns a discrete ‘squawk’ which is unique to that aircraft. Together, they improve combat identification and enable unrestricted flight in civilian airspace.

Upgrades planned after 2010 include electronic surveillance capabilities (Copperfield 2 ELINT and Dragonfly COMINT), integration of conventional 70mm and APKWS-II laser-guided rockets into MH-60R and MH-60S Block 3s, and other improvements in their anti-submarine capability.


I understood these ships, one of which I toured on the ways, were built to ABS standards, not SUPSHIP.  Meaning they were not built under USN supervision and to USN standards of strength and survivability that is not intended to go in harms way.  Is this correct?


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