The United States Navy has, in the past decade, made a major shift in its shipbuilding program. The Navy has to continually build new ships to replace older ones that wear out. In the past, the Navy built both surface combat vessels and nuclear submarines. The surface craft include the Aircraft Carrier, Cruisers, Destroyers, and Frigates. The submarines include both Ballistic Missile Submarines and Attack Submarines. And, of course, to project land power, the Navy also builds a number of Amphibious Warfare ships. But now, this has changed.
In the last decade the Navy has built two Aircraft Carriers, one of which, the Gerald Ford, doesn’t work (see earlier post on this debacle). It also built 12 Destroyers, 12 Attack Subs, and 10 Amphibious Warfare Ships. It completely stopped building Frigates, building 11 “Littoral Combat Ships” (LCS) instead. The LCS now represent about a quarter of the decade’s new US Navy ships. And since the Navy has only built four Destroyers since 2011, the LCS will be an even greater percentage of the Navy’s new ships.
The “L” stands for “Littoral” which means “along the shore”. For hundreds of years, navies have known to stay away from any part of the land where fortress guns could shoot at them. Forts were made of stone on land, whereas ships were made of wood and could sink into the sea. Now the US Navy thinks that sending ships along the coast is somehow a good idea. The problem is the land is even more dangerous nowadays. An average tank could shoot at and sink an LCS with ease. The LCS’s don’t have the weapons to adequately defend themselves against missiles launched from trucks. Plus coastlines are great places to set up minefields.
Not only is the LCS improperly armed to defend itself, it is inadequately armed to attack anything on land. Its single gun fires a six pound shell, whereas a tank typically fires a fifty pound shell. The LCS is too small to incorporate the Vertical Launch System (VLS) found on Cruisers, Destroyers, and even Subs. The VLS is how ships fire cruise missiles. Instead, the LCS is armed with a number of very short ranged anti tank missiles. I cannot tell you how lop-sided the battle between a $4 million tank (which doesn’t sink) and a $400 million LCS would be. Let’s just say that it’s a laughable waste of money for the LCS builder/owner.
Unfortunately, the LCS has other problems as well. They break all the time. And not minor things either. I am talking about major engine failures and damage to propeller shafts and the like. These kinds of problems can take up to a year to repair.
Half the LCS are built as triple hulled catamarans (see the picture for an example). They are actually too wide to operate in restricted waters. They can’t carry enough fuel to cross the ocean without refueling, so would have difficulty escorting convoys or a Carrier on patrol.
In short the US Navy has wasted BILLIONS on ships that have no realistic mission, and cannot possibly take over the missions now performed by aging Destroyers and Frigates. The Navy had already put too many eggs in the Carrier group basket. Now it is literally building worthless lemons. LCS is a “Little Crappy Ship”
What to Do
The Navy needs to make a major change to its ship construction program NOW. Frankly, it should abandon the LCS’s that are even partially built and throw them on the scrap heap.
Naval warfare radically changed with the development of increasingly sophisticated anti ship missiles. The future of naval warfare in now UNDER the sea, not on it. The Navy should greatly expand its submarine building program. It should also look into building Destroyers/Frigates with greatly improved anti missile capability.
As for warfare against enemy coastlines, the answer is drones, both in the air and underwater. They can go after fast and lightly armed enemy patrol boats and the like. And at a fraction of the cost of an LCS.