In Forbes: A Small Rant On The Littoral Combat Ship

by Craig Hooper on June 29, 2021

It is really annoying to publish a story where Navy PR sources tell me that on-land testing of the Freedom Class gear is still underway, only to see another part of the Navy, barely twenty-four hours after I posted this, trot out Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener, the commander of naval surface forces, to tell a select group of reporters that, in part, land-based testing of the Freedom Class combining gear is complete!

Okay. That kind of speaks to a bit of a structural problem within the Navy, no?

In his brief, VADM Kitchener was clearly not ready for prime time. Despite big news that the Navy’s budget proposal suggested retiring a four more Littoral Combat Ships–on top of the two leaving the fleet this year–the Admiral was not apparently aware that the LCS fleet size was likely set to slump to 29. Instead, he was out there, in public, saying, “If you look at 2026, and that’s a number that I keep in my head: that’s when we’ll have 31 ships available.” That’s quite a gaffe for the commander of naval surface forces. Even if he thinks the suggested retirements of LCS 7 and 9 are just some sort of pawns in a budgetary game of “chicken”, it’s not smart to deep-six a budget proposal like this in public.

Anyway, the gist of the Admiral’s message was that the Navy was focusing on solving the most troublesome parts aboard the vessels. That’s good, though subsequent reports from others in the LCS community appear to be gently hinting that VADM Kitchener may be a little out of touch or focusing on the wrong metrics. Given Kitchener’s slip-up on LCS fleet size, I’d, frankly, not be surprised that there’s some distance between the deckplates and the HQ staff.

To me, the frustrating thing is that the Navy, again, lumped the “Littoral Combat Ship” Classes together, in an effort to…make both appear equally messed up. That fact is that the Freedom and Independence Class vessels are different ships. The two classes are showing very different performance profiles, and they need to be treated as such. It is long past time for Admirals on down to stop indulging in this false equivalency.

In the meantime, despite Admiral Kitchener’s comforting noises, it looks like the Navy is conceding that the Freedom Class combining gear fixes are not going to be tested out and completed until early 2022 at the very earliest. Last week, Lake Superior Magazine noted that leaders of LCS-21, the test vessel for the fixes, said that:

“The Freedom-class Minneapolis-St. Paul LCS21 (littoral combat ship) is likely to arrive for the ceremony next May, executive officers of the vessel said today at the Soldiers and Sailors monument…A specific new date in 2022 will depend upon spring weather conditions, Alfonza said. Until then, it will remain in a pre-commissioned status.” 

That tells me the Navy does not expect to get testing completed until the Great Lakes open for navigation sometime around March of 2022. And while that’s embarrassing to wait, the Navy is doing the right thing in taking its time to test out Industry’s proposed solution. I’m no fan, but, if the Freedoms are to be kept, let’s take the time to get it right.

Meanwhile, a couple of Independence Class LCS are working in the deep Pacific, and doing well, and more are on the way. It’s high time the Navy dropped the forced equivalence between LCS Classes, conceded the point that the Freedoms are not working out, shed the Freedoms and then put some of the Freedom savings in on upgrading the Indys. In fact, I think the Independence Class should be reclassified as a surveillance frigate, and you can read about my suggested upgrades over at Forbes, Here.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Hooper July 16, 2021 at 7:47 am

There’s a lot of new EW gear that the Indy variant could leverage–and yes, some of it’s even airborne!

There is a lot even a sub-optimized LCS can do out there in a combat situation. Don’t let the quest for enhanced lethality underestimate the ultimate utility of less-lethal combatants.


James O'Keefe July 16, 2021 at 4:07 pm

Totally agree. Considering how much we paid, it should perform both roles.


James O'Keefe July 1, 2021 at 8:37 pm

A surveillance frigate would be a good role for the Little Crafty Ship. It will be called upon for more traditional warship role and without longer range off-ship sensors, there is no way one or several are going to survive against a pack of Type 022/Type 056s. Better radar is good, especially for identifying aircraft (which the LCS cannot engage), but the horizon still limits what an LCS can see at sea level. Adding some of the EW tools they are putting on the Burkes would give LCS’ more surveillance capability than an improved radar.

The main asset of the Independence-class, and to a lesser extent the Freedom-class, is the size of their flight decks and their mission space. An LCS with a flock of 20 V-BAT 118s (or something with a longer range) that can network with one another to identify targets and phone home with what they see, would give the LCS a better picture of what it faces. A V-BAT swarm would keep corvettes and possibly destroyers at bay, while the LCS uses its NSMs to deal with them. With the right payload, V-BATs could attempt an EW/cyber attack, pretend to be a US SAG or even be suicide drones. The LCS’ have some useful assets already, we just aren’t using them to their full potential.


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