Changes to Littoral Combat Ship components may speed reassignments of the multimission vessel
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
The Navy is assessing the feasibility of a change to the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) that would substantially increase its flexibility and time on-station while at sea.
The LCS is specially designed for multimission operations in shallow, or littoral, waters where it would perform in antimine, antisubmarine and surface warfare roles. As the ship is being developed and built, the Navy also is developing three “mission modules” contained largely in Comex boxes — similar to cargo containers — that would be placed on and taken off the ship, depending on its current mission. In addition, elements of the mission modules — some sensors and weapons — will be fitted to unmanned vehicles to be launched and controlled by the LCS.
However, changing missions and modules is a cumbersome, time-consuming process that requires the LCS go to a port, swap out the modules and report to its duty station, which could be many miles away. As a means to speed that process and keep the LCS on-station, the Navy is looking at the possibility of standardizing some major elements of the modules, enabling sailors to do the module swap at sea.
“By avoiding a port stop to change packages, LCS can stay on-station and in the fight longer,” said Capt. Walt Wright, the Navy’s program manager for LCS mission modules. “[It] would allow faster mission turnaround and thereby increase the contribution LCS makes to the objectives of the joint force maritime component commander.”
Each mission module is comprised of about a dozen components such as weapons, sensors designed to detect mines or report on water conditions, and communications gear to convey data collected by the sensors and link the LCS to other military units. All modules include components to be deployed on unmanned vehicles. For example, the surface warfare module may have a 30mm automatic gun mounted on an unmanned surface vehicle to conduct armed reconnaissance or to counter fast boat attacks from over the horizon. The mine warfare module will include a towed minesweeping system called OASIS, mounted on an unmanned surface vehicle.
Each of the three mission modules includes unmanned vehicles that are similar, but uniquely configured to the purpose of the module. For example, each will have two unmanned surface vehicles based on modified 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs). Two of the modules — antimine and antisubmarine warfare — will include unmanned underwater vehicles called Remote Minehunting Vehicles (RMVs). Originally designed solely for minehunting, the RMV’s role is being expanded to include antisubmarine tasks.
The Navy plans to standardize these unmanned vehicles so they can carry any of the planned applicable sensors or weapons. This would enable sailors to swap out the mission modules at sea, substantially diminishing the time and complexity of outfitting the LCS for a change of missions. The standardization should not be difficult, experts said, because of the vehicles’ inherent similarity.
The Navy will begin the standardization effort this year.
Other unmanned vehicles destined for the LCS, such as the small Sculpin underwater vehicle that searches for mines, would not be affected by the standardization. The Fire Scout unmanned helicopter already is standardized for its multiple roles.
To further simplify the LCS program, Navy officials are giving some thought to scaling back on the surface warfare module, Wright said.
LCS officials are dealing with budget constraints, he said, and it is possible to move two systems from the surface warfare mission module to the ship itself. These are the 30mm automatic gun and the Non-Line-of-Sight, a vertical launcher that can fire 60 missiles to a range of 40 kilometers.
“We may not go to the trouble of putting them in a RHIB,” Wright said. In the future, the RHIBs may serve solely as intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platforms.
The mission modules are complex. Each contains numerous systems including helicopters; sensors, weapons, launching and recovery systems; and command and control systems; all manned and operated by detachments of personnel not permanently assigned to the ship’s crew. The Comex containers that house most of these components are situated in the ship’s cargo bay. Surface and undersea vehicles are deployed from a stern ramp or a portal on the side of the ship’s hull.
A precursor of the unmanned surface vehicles planned for the LCS — the Spartan Scout RHIB — was tested in surface surveillance and force protection experiments in the Persian Gulf in 2003 by the cruiser USS Gettysburg. As the LCS is built, the RHIBs will be used in additional roles such as submarine surveillance and attack and minehunting. The components of the mission modules are not set in stone, however, and Navy researchers continue to test them.
They are experimenting with deploying a dipping sonar, normally used only by helicopters, on a manned RHIB, Wright said. This year, he is working on controlling the deployment and recovery of the sonar, and ways “to tell it when to ping, when to shut off, how long it should ping for. We are heading to an unmanned variant.”
The Navy also is considering fitting an unmanned surface vehicle with a lightweight antisubmarine weapon, still to be determined. In February, an unmanned vehicle is being tested with the OASIS towed mine-warfare system.
Rear Adm. William E. Landay III, the former program executive officer for Littoral and Mine Warfare, said electro-optical sensors mounted on an unmanned surface vehicle are being considered for surface surveillance.
One industry official familiar with the program foresees a looming explosion of requirements that will be laid on the LCS by its Navy operators as the ship demonstrates its versatility. His list includes disaster relief, mobile hospitals, noncombatant evacuation operations, Special Operations Forces insertion and extraction, maritime interdiction operations, and the deployment of marine mammals such as dolphins for force protection and mine reconnaissance.
“They have no idea how much flexibility they’re going to have,” the official said.
According to Wright, “There is a lot of discussion of that because you’ve got this cargo bay or mission bay. Everyone wants to see what kind of gear they can build.”
However, Navy officials, including Vice Adms. Terrance Etnyre, commander, Naval Surface Forces, and Paul Sullivan, commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, told Seapower they will maintain stringent standards for any add-ons to the LCS.
At least one additional module is forthcoming. Etnyre told the Surface Navy Association in January, “we are we rapidly pursuing a robust [global war on terror] mission module that will allow LCS crews to make an immediate impact.”
A Navy official said the details of this mission package have not been defined but that there likely would be “a lot of crossover” between it and the surface warfare packages.
The Navy in January selected a module integrator for the LCS. Northrop Grumman was awarded a Naval Sea Systems Command contract potentially worth $159 million for integration of the LCS modules.
The Navy has ordered two ships each from Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics, but still must decide on the future structure of the fleet. It originally planned to procure as many as 56 LCS hulls.
no phalanx? only ram?
that GD design is pretty sexy
Just wait until they upgrade those things with the new standardized naval rail gun
Mach 9 steel jacketed depleted uranium anyone?
No Phalanx. They will have the 30mm turret from the USMC's AAAV, like the SAN ANTONIO-class.
RAM and ESSM are better options against ASMs.
I'm really impressed by the 57mm gun. 220rounds per minute. Uses one round that can be programmed for 6 different uses. Has a 17,000yard range. Quite a good little gun.
The GD verion is friggen huge. Two helo ops capable, just HUGE!
I always had a picture in my mind that an LCS would be more like the USS Monitor. The hull is shallow draft, but more pointed and narrow for higher speeds and stability. The superstructure wouldn't stick very low above the water and it's topped by a stabilized gun turret that can shoot in all directions. The top of the hull is dotted with the covers for vertical launched Hellfire missiles. Since it's pretty much flat, the helicopter can just land and winch down to be stowed in a hanger that's half buried below the waterline.
I like the GD version. Seems to have a better layout as far as changing mission modules/containers. Can't get easier than rolling a semi in and dropping one off. It also looks to have superior small boat facilities, and that module bay looks roomy.
I'd like to seem add a second ram launcher (move the one from the center line to one side, put on the other side).