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New Warship Gives U.S. Pivot Some Punch

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MC2 Sean Furey, US Navy

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, earlier this month.

TOKYO – The U.S. pivot toward Asia – and the potential for confrontation with China – became a little more real this week with the arrival of a new class of warship designed to fight in coastal waters.

The USS Freedom crossed into the Western Pacific Wednesday on its way to Singapore, where it will be deployed for the next eight months. Eventually, up to four of the new Littoral Combat Ships will operate continuously out of Singapore’s Changi Naval Base, close to some of the most hotly contested waters in the world.

China claims territory and resources over nearly all the South China Sea and is engaged in a tense standoff with Japan over uninhabited islands in the nearby East China Sea. Worries over China’s growing military capabilities and territorial ambitions are largely behind U.S. plans to build up, or “rebalance,” military forces in the region.

So far, little has moved beyond the planning stages. The Marines have boosted manpower in Okinawa from about 10,000 to 18,000, but that’s basically a return to pre-Iraq and pre-Afghanistan levels. About 200 Marines were sent to Australia for six months last year and a similar contingent will return this spring – symbolically important, perhaps, but negligible in terms of combat power.

The Freedom represents a significant new capability, though its actual effectiveness remains to be seen. The Freedom and its sister ships are designed to be fast, stealthy and relatively cheap. They are intended to operate mostly in shallow waters or close to coastlines, where carriers and other big warships are increasingly vulnerable to shore-based missiles and aircraft.

The new warships can be outfitted with different “modules” for minesweeping, surface warfare or anti-submarine operations.  The Navy plans to buy up to 55 of them, at about $420 million each, and plans stage most of them in the Asia-Pacific region.

Tetsuo Kotani, a maritime security specialist at the Japan Institute of International Affairs, in Tokyo, says the littoral combat ships represent a direct challenge to China. The new ships will operate largely in the narrow Strait of Malacca, though which passes 40% of the world’s trade (much of it bound to or from China), and in the shallow waters of the South China Sea, which China views at its own.

“The deployment of USS Freedom is not only symbolic but also substantial, given its combat capabilities. Asia’s future rests on whether China respects or challenges that deployment,” says Kotani, who toured the Freedom at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, last week.

The new littoral ships – of which there are two completely different designs — are not without critics. The first two vessels, including the Freedom, have been dogged by structural problems, construction defects and cost overruns.

Though built with high-tech materials and the latest electronics, the ships are thin-skinned and “not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment,” according to the Pentagon’s independent director of testing and evaluation.

That’s OK, says the chief of naval operations, since high-intensity combat is not where the new ships are going.

Littoral combat vessels are “not large surface combatants that are going to sail into the South China Sea and challenge the Chinese military; that’s not what they’re made for,” Admiral Jonathan Greenert said last year. Instead, the new ships will focus on exercises, port visits, anti-piracy missions, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

That will free up larger ships for other things – like confronting the Chinese, perhaps.

29 comments
MikeHavenar
MikeHavenar

Oh this sounds like another wonderful idea from the people who make money for designing and building ships and selling them to the US taxpayers, who don't get a vote on it. They aren't designed to survive combat, but no worries, they will only be showing the flag, and helping refugees and such. I suppose that is why they need armaments and minesweeping abilities. And if they are thin-hulled and not meant to survive real combat, what about the men and women who are on them? Does it matter, whether they "survive combat?"

atworkforu
atworkforu

Wow this poster has completly bought the Pentagon's Koolaid.  Bought several gallons of it in fact.  What, exactly, is the LCS going to "punch" with regards to China?

Theoretically the LCS would have some value against Al-shibab or Somali pirates.  Against the third(or forth, dunno how they stack up with the Brits) most dangerous military in the world?  All they have the potential to be is a trip wire... the LCS is hanging out in these disputed islands and you can't sink it without risking war with the US.  When the shooting starts, there are many places I'd rather be.

AndrewWhyte
AndrewWhyte

@atworkforu 

So it must be frustrating for you that he is the one getting paid to get something published.

crewjobs
crewjobs

This thing is a boondoggle and it is a sitting duck for submarines.   Who wants to serve on a Littoral Combat Ship that the Pentagon plainly states right up front is not expected to survive combat? The Virginia class fast attack submarine on the other hand, is designed for laying mines, sinking ships and sinking ships too  in deep- or shallow water.  The difference is the Virginia class can do all 3 missions  at the same time and does not have to be brought into drydock and "reconfigured" to be able to do a different type of mission.  As for "stealth" of this surface ship:  it is to laugh.  The Virginia class sub really is stealthy as in undetectable.  Not the LCS.  Then there is the ridiculously low 1100 F  melting point of the aluminum superstructure.   An Italian pizza oven gets almost that hot.

grp000
grp000 like.author.displayName 1 Like

@crewjobs A Virginia class submarine costs $2.6 Billion in 2012 dollars vs. $440 million for the Freedom class littoral ship.  You could buy 6 of these Freedom class littoral ships for the price of a single Virginia class submarine.  There are certainly overlaps in their mission capabilities since they are both designed for littoral operations, but there are differences. The Freedom class littoral has a surface configuration to combat a swarm of smaller attacking vessels, something the Virginia class submarine doesn't have.  It's also designed for anti-submarine warfare so I wouldn't think they be 'sitting ducks' against submarines.  They also have a draft of 12.8 feet and could operate in rivers and inlets. I doubt that you'd see a Virginia class submarine operating at such a shallow depth, in a river or confined area.  The Freedom class littoral ships also have a speed about twice that of the Virginia class submarine.  They can be operated with a crew as few as 15 (40 being the normal complement) vs. 135 for the submarine.  The operation costs are much lower than the submarine.  So, instead of a single Virginia class submarine you could have 6 Freedom class littoral ships operating in an area, all electronically 'linked', and they all could be configured differently and have a crew complement smaller than that single submarine.  I would think that would be more affective capability.  Of course that requires that they actually live up to their design specifications, of which there is some doubt.

DeweySayenoff
DeweySayenoff like.author.displayName 1 Like

@grp000@crewjobs "The Freedom class littoral has a surface configuration to combat a swarm of smaller attacking vessels, something the Virginia class submarine doesn't have."

While I stopped reading here because I couldn't breathe (I was laughing too hard), I might point out that the Virginia class sub actually DOES have a defense against small surface ships.

It can dive.

If the LCS was facing any number of ships actually able to destroy a Virginia class sub, it wouldn't survive anyhow.  Oh, and as for the antisubmarine aspects of the LCS, that's a "package".  It's not "standard equipment".  If the thing hasn't spent 30 days in dry dock being reconfigured as an ASW ship, it would be particularly vulnerable to subs, hence why there are critics.  So while it's fighting off a bunch of small surface vessels, a sub can sneak in and blow it out of the water.

A Virginia class sub wouldn't be caught unprepared for either problem.  It's not a matter of reconfiguration.  It's a matter of weaponry - a much less expensive and considerably faster remedy to the issue.  I would rather have one sixth fewer ships that can do the job than six times the number that can't.

crewjobs
crewjobs like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@grp000  Agreed you could buy 6 littoral combat ships but then those 6 you bought  would still would not have the war fighting capability of 1 Virginia class submarine.  The difference is, the Virginia class is a warship.  It is designed to go into combat, alone, and win.  The LCS on the other hand has no armor, is armed with a popgun.  Not like the Tomahawk cruise missiles, Harpoon anti ship missiles, torpedoes and sea mines of the submarine.  As for ability to combat a swarm of smaller attacking vessels that is not a threat faced by Virginia class submarines in the first place. There are none that can.    That is a hazard a surface vessels must face though.   I would be more impressed if the LCS claimed it could defend against 1 lone enemy frigate but have never seen such a claim made.   You mentioned a speed advantage but the regarding maximum speed of the Virginia class, nobody who knows the actual top speed is going to be talking about that.  What we do know is that the LCS at its "sprint speed" has a maximum range of 1,500 nm and at 20 knots the range is still only 4,300 nm.  The range of the Virginia class is essentially unlimited since the nuclear reactor has a 33 year life span and never needs refueling.  They regularly go on deployments where they travel 40,000 nm during that deployment.

The shallow depth is indeed a kind of gee whiz spec on the LCS  and I agree you could send an LCS up river in 10 feet of water but would it be wise?   I hope the lightly armed and armored LCS is not going to be sent up rivers where ground forces on the riverbank can take easy pot shots at it in a confined area.  The LCS is not going to be tooling around at 40 knots on the river either.   It might be interesting to chart out areas that the Virginia class with 33 ft draft could not go and what would be the combat relevance of that.

grp000
grp000

The cost of these ships, $440 million per ship, is about the same price as a SINGLE F-35 fighter which is currently running about $396 million per aircraft and that cost is likely to rise. 

grp000
grp000

I forgot to mention that the cost of a SINGLE B-2 bomber is about $2.25 BILLION per plane.

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

@grp000 A single F-35 could sink 6 of these with nearly zero risk. Heck the AIM-9x sidewinders a F-35 carrier are capable of engaging AND sinking one of these ships. 

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Freedom is a bum ship. -some quotes
--The problem with the LCS is it's still a ship without a mission. It corrodes in water, can't see to save itself, and its mission modules are unfinished and as of yet, have no date for scheduled deployment.
--$440 million per vessel
--One of the issues with the Freedom is that it is six percent overweight and therefore more likely to sink if damaged. This seems to have been caused by design changes during construction.
--the LCS was built without galvanic corrosion protection, something we’ve thoroughly understood since the 1800’s
--the ballooning LCS construction costs caused the Navy to try to save money by ordering that future ships be built to commercial standards.
-- its firepower falls far short of foreign ships one-fifth the size. Its RIM-116* lacks the range to protect other ships. Its 57mm gun is short-ranged and cannot support troops ashore.
--We’ve got the least capable 3,000-ton warship in the world.
--The ship is not expected to be survivable in that it is not expected to maintain mission capability after taking a significant hit in a hostile combat environment
--"USS Freedom Drifts Towards Guam" - the Freedom experienced three power outages during the ship’s transit from Pearl Harbor to Guam en route to Singapore
--the Pentagon’s top weapons tester has found problems with its abilities to find and withstand mines — which is a big problem for a ship that’s supposed to be the Navy’s minehunter of the future.
--In her limited time at sea, Freedom has been "plagued by flawed designs and failed equipment since being commissioned, has at least 17 known cracks
--Report: Navy 3-star wants to reevaluate littoral ships

ValSor
ValSor like.author.displayName 1 Like

Highly sinkable, expensive, certified cannot withstand battle, and being sent to a hot region. Why ias US Navy suicidal?

AlanDeanFoster
AlanDeanFoster like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Let's see: one $440 million LCS that doesn't seem to work too well, vs. 440 super-fast stealthy small boats that fire ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore missiles and cost less than one million apiece.

Which wins?

SwiftrightRight
SwiftrightRight

@AlanDeanFoster Give me $150k and ill give you a civilian speedboatarmed with a shoulder fired anti tank missiles that is capably of getting a single shot kill on these pos's

vegaseller
vegaseller like.author.displayName 1 Like

Brilliant, lets send a ship that is more expensive than most destroyers, with the size of a frigate, less armed than most missile boats, to one of the most dangerous regions of the world. 

AndrewWhyte
AndrewWhyte

As a New Zealander I can't but help wondering why the U.S.Navy is deploying ships with no combat capability to the South China Sea? Why not build a modified version of the British Type 26 Frigate for about the same price?

atworkforu
atworkforu

@AndrewWhyte You clearly have no idea how the modern military industrial complex works.  I envy you.

AndrewWhyte
AndrewWhyte

@atworkforu @AndrewWhyte 

So who exactly are you selling your expertise to? Given that you have just stated that you have an idea of how the modern military industrial project works. Hang on a moment why are you given away your expertise for free? Anyway how is it that the USMC is operating a modified version of the Harrier?

AndrewWhyte
AndrewWhyte

@atworkforu @AndrewWhyte 

Because if you really were selling your expertise why are you hanging around here? Chances are you are just another pathetic obnoxious little man living in his mothers basement that is a big man when he is hiding behind the keyboard but would never have the nerve in real world face to face conversations. I don't find anything about you exciting at all just irriatating and tragic. You are just another tragic personification of someone who resorts to anonymous comments to make them feel better about their lives rather than doing anything real.  Didn't you learn in High School to debate the issue and not to resort to petty and childish little attacks.   

atworkforu
atworkforu

 @AndrewWhyte @atworkforu Can't tell you who I'm selling my expertise to.  I do find it exciting that you are interested enough in me to reply multiple times to each post of mine. 

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon

"The new ships will operate largely in the narrow Strait of Malacca, though which passes 40% of the world’s trade (much of it bound to or from China), and in the shallow waters of the South China Sea, which China views at its own."

The US has said that it wants no part of territorial disputes, which is good news, so the expensive, vulnerable and unreliable  LCS will help defend China trade in the Strait of Malacca?  Makes no sense, particularly when money is short. But all things considered it's better to help China than fight it. I do hope that China appreciates it.

Don_Bacon
Don_Bacon like.author.displayName 1 Like

The expensive ($440m) Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is not only staggeringly overpriced and chronically unreliable but — even if it were to work perfectly — cannot match the combat power of similar sized foreign warships costing only a fraction as much.

The main problem with the LCS is it's still a ship without a mission. Also it corrodes in water, can't see to save itself, and its mission modules are unfinished and as of yet, have no date for scheduled deployment. The Pentagon’s top weapons tester has found problems with its abilities to find and withstand mines — which is a big problem for a ship that’s supposed to be the Navy’s minehunter of the future.

The USS Freedom, briefly lost and then regained power March 16 while en route to its first Asian deployment to Singapore.

JamesVetzel
JamesVetzel

I'm not defending the LCS class of Naval Warships, but don't forget, IT'S A NEW CLASS and as such it will have many months (perhaps years) to work out the bugs that comes with every new ship class (Plank Owner, USS Knox (DE/FF-1052))

AlanDeanFoster
AlanDeanFoster like.author.displayName 1 Like

@JamesVetzel Precisely...and by the time the bugs are worked out, the Navy will be requesting an entirely new class of ship to replace the then-obsolete LCS.


JamesVetzel
JamesVetzel

We keep them for 20 plus years before we sell/give them away to other Gov'ts. Bugs (Major) are worked out in the first five years (that's how long it took to repair "Shock Trials" damage/bugs).


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