Time To Consider A Low-End “Littoral Operations Variant” DDG-51?

by admin on April 22, 2014

web_010614-N-8894M-001If the Navy is going to spend time thinking about new frigates or pondering “up-gunning” the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), then America should also be thinking about developing a low-mix, austere DDG-51.

Look, if the U.S. Navy is looking for a low-end Destroyer, then why not use the excellent high-end DDG-51 as a starting point? Why are we just using an allegedly “flawed” LCS as the starting point? And is down-sizing the DDG-51 into a bare-bones, sweet-sailing and export-ready variant–a “Littoral Operations Variant” DDG-51-economically possible or operationally feasible?

A low-end DDG-51 might just work.

If CNO Admiral Greenert’s Small Surface Combatant Task Force decides current LCS variants can’t do the job without a major refit, then, heck, let’s just see what an austere DDG-51 will cost the Nation if converted into a Littoral Operations variant. (Look, I still like the conceptual foundation for the LCS, but an up-gunned LCS is not the cost-effective, low-end, civil-spec mix-it-up platform I had originally supported.)

We have, I fear, gold-plated the LCS–an interesting and much-needed “niche” anti-sub and anti-mine platform–to death.

So, yes, it might be time to just pull the plug on LCS if it needs major work to take the frigate–small destroyer–role. From my vantage point, every LCS up-gunning scheme or post-LCS frigate option comes with a real risk of turning into another controversial, high-risk and pricey kludge just as the Navy is desperately looking for money to buy, say, SSBN(X).

(And we’re going to decide on all this and commit to it even before LCS faces shock-trials? My goodness…)

DDG-81_Shock_TrialAt the end of the day, it has got to be far easier to take stuff off a big ship—a big ship that already meets all the Navy’s survivability and durability requirements–than to try and shoehorn all kinds of equipment onto a smaller hullform.

Even with the added expense of a somewhat larger hull, the hot production lines, the efficiencies that come from having a 75-hull DDG-51 fleet already in service (with, I might add, mature training, maintenance and operational protocols already integrated into the fleet), and absolutely no concerns about the platform’s fundamental viability, make a “Littoral Operations Variant” DDG-51 look like a good deal.

121031-N-RF968-004A bare-bones DDG-51 variant would be more lethal, more survivable, and more durable than the LCS. And trying out a “low-end” DDG-51 makes certain economic, operational and doctrinal sense—at least as much sense as some of the wild and crazy schemes that are, right now, being passed off as our “Post-LCS” future.

Conventional wisdom suggests a DDG-51 hull is too pricey at $1.8 billion. But I suspect an up-gunned LCS will be pushing into billion dollar territory anyway. So, if a bare-bones Littoral-ready DDG-51 variant has even a remote chance of being procured for a billion dollars or so, then let’s just do it—or at least discuss it a bit.

In my mind, the savings from platform commonality and shared training, maintenance and growth margin will pay for themselves in short order.

Let’s think about this.

The LCS Ain’t Small:

lcs_2_frontAs the LCS got increasingly gold-plated—and a press for blue water prowess grew—the lines between the mainstream DDG and the LCS became increasingly blurred. So if we’re looking for a tad less capable DDG-51, then let’s just do it.

But the DDG-51 is too big, you say? Yeah, well, look. Calling the LCS “Small” has always been a stretch. But calling the up-gunned LCS and their other likely competitors “small” is silly.

As a bit of an aside, it is high time to stop using the term “Small Surface Combatant” in relation to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) or in Fleet planning documents.  The term “Small Surface Combatant” has become less about volume than about smaller, less-complex mission-sets.

Look at the dimensions–the Arleigh Burke Class DDG-51 measures 154 meters. The most up-gunned variant of the Freedom Class LCS clocks in at 150 meters, the Spanish F-100 frigates are 147 meters, the Danish Iver Huitfeldts are 139 meters, old FFG-7s are 136 meters, while the Indy-Class LCS-2 is a mere 127 meters (but makes up for it with a 32-meter beam). The Huntington-Ingalls Frigates are also about 127 meters.

Image converted using ifftoanyWe’re talking a difference of 89 to 14 feet. One of the major selling-points of the LCS was that it could “go where the big ships couldn’t” to engage.  Well, let’s save that mission for the existing 24-ship LCS fleet, the JHSV fleet and, in time, an Offshore Patrol Cutter variant.

Displacement?  Sure. That’s where you get some real differences. DDG-51 clocks in at 6,800 long tons, while the F-100s are 5,800, the Iver Huitfeldts are around 5,800, the FFG-7 was 4,100 (also wise to keep in mind that the ship’s original displacement has grown). But I can only presume that the up-gunned LCS and NSC Frigates will weigh in at something like 4,000-5,000 tons.

So, to get all the Pentagon’s extra gear and survivability enhancements aboard, there’s only going to be about 1,000-2,000 tons in displacement differences between the current DDG-51 and the up-gunned LCS. Strip DDG-51 down to the bare bones, and I’ll bet the displacement differences will substantially narrow, while many of the ancillary risks/concerns over survivability, durability, long-term viability and so forth go away.

In the grand scheme of things, acquisition of the basic “Hull, Mechanical and Electrical” ship and ship systems can become relatively cheap if built in numbers. So why not take the savings from the hot Flight III DDG-51 production line and make it even hotter? Better yet, sell a few lead ships to, oh, say, the Saudis, and that’ll go a long way in helping to defray development costs.

web_050614-N-0000X-002Love the Space/Weight Reservations

The problem with any effort to build a frigate-sized ship is that the niche is already crowded with an array of mature, margin-pushing and highly-engineered platforms.

No naval architect I know can eke anything better out of the current generation of 4,000-ton-ish frigates. Until game-changing tech comes along, the smaller 4,000-ton, frigate-like ships are a developmental dead end. And every ship we build along conventional frigate lines will be facing a sea full of virtually-identical competitors.

But…even a modestly fitted-out Littoral Operations Variant DDG-51 gives the US Navy a substantial overmatch when put against any 4,000-ton frigate out there.

If we do explore the Littoral Operations Variant DDG-51, the real focus should be upon 1) stripping it down to the bare bones, and 2) making the ship upgradable. Forget modularity—in fact, the Navy should do everything they can to keep mission modules from becoming a program of record ever again–and use open computing infrastructures to help make rapid, bolt-on add-ins/upgrades a reality (and shunt the modular Mission Modules to JHSV/MLP/AFSB platforms with help from the Navy’s upcoming tug/salvage ship recapitalization, and, later, a militarized OPC).

All the Littoral Operations Variant DDG-51 needs is an agreement on what to scrimp on.

That won’t be easy, but a Littoral Operations Variant DDG-51 certainly could sail into contested waters without all the VLS cells that grace, say, a Flight II DDG-51. And a Littoral Operations Variant DDG-51 certainly could reserve the space/weight for a quick add-in of VLS cells and other weapons/sensors/pipes should conditions warrant.

Does DDG-51 need the SPY-1D? Could it not sail with a less complex, smaller Aegis radar? Or an even cheaper non-Aegis platform?

web_021213-N-0000X-001Flexibility would need to be paramount. The Navy would need to see what they could prune from the platform without interfering with the developments in naval warfare we see on the horizon—directed energy weapons, rail guns, ECM fittings, UAVs/UUVs, etc.. What else can we cut that would reduce the manning—yet still allow for the ship to safely “bulk up” with extra riders during times of tension?

Surely a Littoral Variant DDG-51 can harbor organic ASW resources and offer easy bolt-on support for Mine Warfare (Look at the photo and remember what the mine-hunting DDGs were rigged to carry)

The possibilities are endless.

In comparison, an up-gunned LCS is at real risk of loosing flexibility. Up-gunning essentially locks LCS into today’s weaponry. But with a bare-bones, austere DDG-51 Littoral Variant, the potential to integrate future weaponry remains a viable reality instead of a margin-shaving, difficult-to-near-impossible feat of naval engineering.


For years the LCS community has been flailing around, desperately floating schemes  to increase the amount of equipment common between the two different LCSs and, in turn, the rest of the fleet.

But it turns out that the answer has been staring us in the face:

The common component of the surface combatant fleet is the DDG-51 hullform. We probably never should have gotten away from that.

And then there are those fancy “extras” we’ve been struggling to put into place for our two new LCS variants. With a Littoral Operations Variant DDG-51, there’s really no need for a fancy new training pipeline, or new maintenance practices, or additional niche shiphandling expertise. It’s all already there, bought and paid for three or four times over.

Industrial Base:

Embracing a low-end DDG-51 helps protect Bath Ironworks and Ingalls, and may, by simply adding hulls, offer a means to protect the high-end Flight III DDG-51 by reducing total cost.

The LCS-producers don’t need to be left behind, either. Austal’s JHSV is strong contender to support many of the engagement-and-port-call activities, while Marinette could get ten new hulls from the Navy’s upcoming fleet tug and the salvage ship recapitalization effort (and frankly, all of these ships should be built to accept certain portions of the original LCS mission modules).

That leaves us with the OPC. USCG Admiral Papp put a lot of energy in getting a good, basic sea-keeper designs under contract. As the Coast Guard closes in on a contender, the Navy must engage to see how this interesting small ship can be militarized and, so doing, become a real “small surface combatant”. I think the OPC is the type of ship that could be distributed off to several smaller yards, and we could keep building them forever.


I am still an LCS guy. I’d love to see the LCS concept be given time to grow and develop.

I am also convinced that the LCS is the right test platform to have during this time of rapid technological change. But all the fleet in-fighting and moaning and groaning about the platform distracts from, what I think, is the real mission–providing a simpler, flexible and cost-effective platform capable of rapid projection of new technology, while, at the same time, freeing up valuable high-end combatants. In time, we may end up loving the base-model LCS–and want even more–but a big refit to take on a small-destroyer role will mean just another round of acrimony and fingerpointing just as the Navy is desperately seeking money for, say, SSBN(X).

But right now, a very low-end, austere DDG-51 variant can do all that “rapid technology projection and free up the high-end assets” work just fine. And everybody from Senator McCain on down would love it. So…CNO Admiral Greenert, why don’t you have your folks in the Small Surface Combatant Task Force take a moment and see just how much it’ll cost to get a low-end, austere Littoral Operations Variant DDG-51 into the fleet?

Follow NextNavy on Twitter

View Craig Hooper's profile on LinkedIn

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

hokie_1997 December 28, 2014 at 3:50 pm

“I am still an LCS guy. I’d love to see the LCS concept be given time to grow and

The LCS concept has been around since 2001. The memorandum initializing the program was signed in 2003. Production contracts were signed in 2004. Fast forward to 2014 and we’ve got four seaframes of two different classes. However – seaframes without mission packages are not true warships.

We’ll apparently get the first LCS with MIW package in 2015, with SUW and ASW packages in 2017. All of the mission packages have been drastically down-scaled from what was envisioned in early 2000s.

LCS will essentially have had a fifteen year development timeline measured from acquisition decision to full operational capability – and that capability will be a lot less than what was initially required.

So how much more time do you think we need until LCS is fully grown and developed? 2020? 2025? 2030? At some point it is going to have to take it’s place in the Fleet. I honestly can’t think of any program that has taken so long to mature – while the expectations for the capability it will deliver are continually lowered.


NextNavy December 28, 2014 at 10:04 pm

Weeeelllll I feel your pain. But. That said, how long was the DDG-1000 idea gestating? Pretty long time, if you ask me.


Risky Whiskey August 21, 2015 at 6:37 am

The LCS is a boondoggle program…..like an Osprey that floats….


otter357 December 27, 2014 at 9:26 am

Thanks for an interesteing and informative article!
one correction: “losing” not “loosing” when you write

“In comparison, an up-gunned LCS is at real risk of loosing flexibility”


Boyd Nelson December 19, 2014 at 12:58 am

The whole concept of the LCS was a terrible idea and it still is. These ships and their crews were expendable from day one and everybody knew it. The only legitimate role they ever had was for mine warfare and limited ASW. Everything else was a scam. The idea of changing modules for different missions was also bogus. In reality each ship would be assigned an initial configuration that would seldom if ever be changed out. This was recognized early on as the number of extra mission modules to be built was reduced time after time. The navy should have concentrated on building dedicated mine warfare and ASW vessels. Name me one area of the globe where LCS ships are absolutely necessary to win a naval war. The navy needs to concentrate its limited resources on building warships that are actually vital in winning a war. The LCS was always a waste of resources and is finally being recognized as the failure it truly is.


NextNavy December 28, 2014 at 10:05 pm

Find me a FFG that isn’t expendable on the front lines of an active maritime confrontation. Their job is inherently risky.


Blacktail December 17, 2014 at 4:46 am

The the worst possible successor for the LCS is a ship that’s even *bigger* — the LCS itself was supposed to have been a Missile Corvette comparable to the Israeli Sa’ar V (which formed the explicitly-stated role model for the program), but as Incestuous Amplification took hold on the program, this 1000-ton design was gradually abandoned in favor of the bloated 3000-ton monstrosities that were actually built.

And you want to more triple the size of the vessel for the job? AGAIN?


NextNavy December 28, 2014 at 10:06 pm

Sure, why not? It’s already in production, and seems to be doing pretty well. Why not a low-end variant? And wait for the OPC?


Blacktail December 29, 2014 at 3:34 am

There’s another alternative to the Sa’ar 5 — the Ambassador Mk.III;

It’s only classified as a Missile Boat, but as you can see, it’s more heavily-armed than the LCS ships. It also costs only $300 Million apiece, and it’s made right here in the US.

In fact, it’s worth pointing out that the Sa’ar 5 is manufactured in the US as well. Few people are aware of these facts.


Matthew August 3, 2015 at 9:33 am

Because the entire program hinged around littoral warfare, Shallow waters, The DDG-51 and any variant of it are all deep draft thus not suitable to the shallow warfare in the Persian Gulf and South East Asia.

You mention in your article lengths and widths but leave out draft’s, The key factor in the entire program.


Rey Nowlin May 3, 2014 at 11:34 am

G Lof,

You make several good points. But the one point you make about the DDG51 hull being a poor choice for any other type of warship is not taking into account that the Spruance class dates back to the late 1960s. Talk about going “back to the future”. I do not think that going with the older Spruance class would be better than downgrading a Burke class.

Either we build something akin to what IS being built now or we update the present LCS, upgrade the National Security Cutter into a fighting warship, purchase the designs of a foreign warship or build an entirely new ship. These seem to be the options going forward. Any potential decision regarding a future small surface combatant seems to be rooted in the above four choices.

According to news reports and an excellent article in USNI News by Sam LaGrone, “Navy Asks Industry for Input for Follow-on to Littoral Combat Ship” ( http://news.usni.org/2014/04/30/navy-asks-industry-input-follow-littoral-combat-ship ) it would seem that the Small Surface Combatant Task Force is heading in this direction.

If this is indeed where the task force is headed, then I hope that they come up with something like an upgraded NSC. Because when we get right down to it any ship larger than this would not be financially acceptable to the Navy or the budget process. And I know based on other comments here on this forum, the NSC is not the perfect ship. But it could be.

Getting back to the Burke vs. Spruance debate, I have read that some of the reasons why the Navy wants to place the 11 Ticonderoga class cruisers in a reduced commission status is that their hulls are not holding up too well. These ships have taken a hard punishment for many years. Lets face it the Navy took an otherwise excellent designed destroyer and heavily modified it with the Aegis weapon system and all of the systems and other items associated with a ship becoming a cruiser and hoped that the hull of a destroyer would hold up well over a thirty-plus year career.

And according to some reports these ships are not holding up well. This is one of the reasons among many that the Spruance class was retired so early. If they were bale to hold up better, then there could still be Spruances being operated today. My feeling is that eventually all of the cruisers should be retired. A Burke class DDG can do many things that a Tico can, except of course that the Tico’s are excellent platforms from which to control the air-sea battle from.

Eventually, the Navy is going to have to come up with a worthwhile design for a cruiser-sized ship that will be able to duke it out with any future Chinese or Russian ship. And this ship will need to be in the neighborhood size of the last major cruiser the Navy designed, which was the Long Beach, CGN-9. Around 700′ in length.

I have seen the proposals for an arsenal ship and that might very well fit the bill. Much more automation and a much larger missile load could be accomplished. If this was the type of ship needed for a real ocean going carrier escort and a ship that could provide shore bombardment with advanced gun weaponry like what is on the new Zumwalt class, then that also could be the ticket.

But I think actually now that the task force is asking for industry input we are going to be looking at either an upgraded LCS, or the NSC. I don’t believe for one moment that a foreign built design will be acceptable to the Navy. That is why I maintain that a downgraded Burke would be the best option going forward.


El Sid May 2, 2014 at 12:52 pm

So many points to cover, but a few quickies :

Zumwalts aren’t CG’s, they’re a perfect fit for the old BM (or update to BMG, but surely G is a bit redundant these days?) Battle-Monitor designation.
AIUI the whole point of the SSC RFI is that they’re scoping out the trade space before setting any requirements, in an attempt to avoid that gold-plating of requirements with no heed to cost or practicality that otherwise leads to the EFV. So a bit of uncertainty at this stage is probably a good thing. But it looks like the SSC will be more bluewater than the LCS, with a limited number of VLS (12-32x Mk41, which will probably be mostly quadpacked with ESSM or – who knows – maybe even Sea Ceptor), a built-in VDS/MFTA and no Aegis. So no SPY-1F, it’ll be radars like the CEAFAR instead. No reason why the LCS can’t keep its ASW module for the littoral – after the original mis-step, the current one is based on well-established technology, the delays to it have been more about being at just the wrong stage for sequestration than anything else.

Basic problem with using the Burke hull is that steel may be cheap, but Burke-shaped steel is still $700m without any GFE. Even if you strip out 2/3 of the GFE, you’re still left with a Burke-lite costing over $1bn, and it seems that is more than the USN is minded to pay. I’m not sure I understand the drive to take VLS tubes out of the Burke – that’s one thing that is cheap, Mk41 are only $190k a pop, so 48 Mk41 costs just $9.12m. Admittedly the contents may cost a lot more than that, but you don’t have to keep them full all the time.

In fact the Burke-lite takes out all the good bits of the Burke and leaves behind all the worst bits. It’s a 30-year-old hull that is manpower-intensive, not particularly quiet, and has little spare electrical power for new toys like fricking-laser-beams.

This is where the whole domestic shipbuilding thing falls down. Faced with a fixed budget, you’re going to end up building expensive, sub-optimal hulls in the US and filling them with cheap electronics from overseas (like CEAFAR). A Martian might think it better to licence in a modern design from overseas like the GCS(Type 26) or just get the Koreans to build you some KDX-IIA hulls cheaply, and then you can afford to fill them with expensive and more capable US electronics like SPY-1F.


Lazarus April 26, 2014 at 8:41 pm

As for the “vulnerability” issue, ALL of the U.S. Navy’s current combatants, including the Zumwalt’s, are essentially destroyer variants. We haven’t built a real “cruiser” since 1945. The governing ethos for US Navy surface combatants built since 1945 is defensive, not offensive. They were conceived as a cross between a DD and a light cruiser to perform ASW and AAW defense of the carrier. ASCM’s were just an add-on in the late 1970’s. Tey are all destroyers (CG to LCS) and all equally vulnerable.


Lazarus April 26, 2014 at 8:37 pm

The bottom line is that LCS is the only surface combatant (besides the DDG 51) currently in production. The current budget situation makes it questionable if the DDG 51 Flight III, the FF(X) or any other platform will be produced. While crew size may change, the 3-2-1 crew concept will keep more LCS and crews forward deployed for longer periods. Transits to/from forward deployments are hell on smaller ships. We’ve already done this with PC’s and MCM’s.
The world has significantly changed since 2001 when LCS was conceived. We don’t need a ship that operates like a fighter plane and is “expendable”. There is no CG(X) or large force of DDG 1000’s to fight the big battles while LCS mops up the remnants. LCS must perform now as both a blue and green water platform. It must be successful or the Navy is unlikely to have much Congressional support.


WireguidedMarine April 26, 2014 at 6:28 am

Others have already stated this, but it’s worth repeating: hull steel is a relatively cheap part of modern warship design.

Building a ship a little bigger than absolutely necessary is a good thing, especially if that leads to a better protected vessel. That’s something that really bothered me about LCS, the low damage tolerance compared to a destroyer or even a frigate.

I agree that economies of scale and production will help with making a Burke class littoral, or “destroyer light”. Training, support, etc. all benefit from a common design. I just think we’re looking at this the wrong way.

The Flight III will soon be “the” production surface combatant for the USN.

Instead of building new austere destroyers, why not take the older Flight I’s and downgrade them? Give them the full HM&E upgrade as planned, remove the aft VLS for a hangar (I remember reading somewhere that was an option built into the original design), swap the SPY-1D for the -1F. I think the CIWS should be the latest -1B and the Mark 38 Mod 2 RWS for the 25mm. The main gun needs replacing; either a 5″/62 or a 76mm super rapid.

Depending on Fleet needs the towed array, bow sonar, and other systems can be removed; however the option to restore them remains. But there is a decent main gun, CIWS, 25mm, Harpoons, and 32 strike-length VLS forward for ESSM, VL-ASROC, or whatever we need.


G Lof April 26, 2014 at 3:32 am

And now for something completely different.

There is too much to cover in your posting to cover in one go, therefore I will split my comments up into two parts.

You are correct that the driving force behind most of the critic of LCS is they desire for a less than DDG-51 class to provide escorts ships. They see ocean warfare in terms of previous wars, and not current needs. Yet they do have a point, as in the future we might need such a vessels, as other nations are developing stronger navies.

Where I disagree with you is your choice of the DDG-51 as the base fro such a ship. The design of the class was intended for only one thing, to serve as a platform for the AEGIS weapons system. The result was a ships suited only for that one mission, even if we tried to patch that design over the years hangers and other addition. When it comes down to brass tacks, the DDG-51 design would make poor choice for any other type of warship.

Fortunately we do have an alternate design that can be update to surpass the DDG-51 as the base for future warship, the Spruance class.

For those who do not know, the Spruance class destroyer were conceive for the beginning as a platform for numerous other types of ships. In fact it was use for three class of ships and several sub classes after modifications. And while the last version, the AEGIS cruiser we have today are somewhat overloaded, they are still better than the Burke class that replaced them.

I would suggest that by using the final version of the AEGIS cruisers as a starting point and upgrading that ship propulsion and support systems to modern standard we have a far better starting point for future warships. Some upgrades might include adopting the hybrid drive from the USS America, with it’s mix of gas turbines/ Diesel electric, using Intergraded Power Systems and automation from the Zumwalt class, and along with other improvements developed since the 1980’s. We can also make smaller changes to hull design to correct problems identified since the original ships were built, the strength of the hull around the forward missile launcher for example or further increasing the hull width to provide more room.

The result would be a hull able to carrier up to 128 Mk 41 VLS tube, two 5in guns, at least two SH-60 size helicopters for a land attack destroyer, Or were can go with a new aviation version with 64 MK41 tubes, one 5in gun, hangers space for up to 6 SH-60s size helicopters for a sub hunter.

There is one other point I like to make here, commonality for the sake of some perceived cost saving is dangerous. It result in retaining old technologies long after usefulness is over. Like the sails on the ABC cruisers, using old tech result in weakening the future vessels. And it is how we got to the need for today DDG-1000 program with it complete redesign of your ship design.


Rey Nowlin April 24, 2014 at 9:48 am

Dr. Hooper,
I agree. I think CNO Admiral Greenert is doing a great job, especially in these Sequestered times. But he and his staff have to be even smarter going forward about the types of ships and which weapon systems are going to be needed in the future. They have to be very careful what they spend their money on.

Especially when you consider the albatross that is looming over the horizon as far as budget matters are concerned. And that would be the next boomer class of SSBNs. These ships alone have the ability to ruin the Navy shipbuilding budget for years to come. And the costs that are being floated around Washington are useless. Lets face it the Navy has not been very good at presenting hard budget numbers when it came to telling the world about shipbuilding costs. Just look at the LPD-17 class AND the LCS.

So if the Navy were to stop production of the LCS at 24 ships, NOT 32, they could still use the LCS for Littorals and mine warfare. Those two purposes would be enough to justify the cost of the LCS. Place a squadron in Bahrain for mine warfare, littorals and a squadron in Key West for Drug enforcement, or other duties elsewhere in the world.

Then the Navy could focus on a downgraded non-Aegis DDG-51 for gunfire support or other duties that a fully capable air-warfare destroyer is being used for today. I could really envision a DDG-51 with the AGS onboard or at least several 5″ guns to help with gunfire support and still have enough of a missile compartment to help protect itself and fight over the horizon enemies.

And they could still have a helicopter detachment. All for what? Between 1/2 and 1/3 the cost of a DDG-51 Flight IIA? And then we are not looking at having to train a new crew on the new capabilities since the ship has been built for the past twenty plus years. Yeah, I could see this happening. Lets hope that Admiral Greenert sees it too.


Rey Nowlin April 24, 2014 at 9:35 am

Thanks. I appreciate your comments. The longer I think about the wastefulness that has become the LCS, I sit here and wonder about other programs within the Navy that could possibly be curtailed at some point in the near future. And why am I thinking about this? Well, the LCS has caused me to think about the twelve years this program has been in development and all of the money that has been poured into the program by the Navy who at one time though the entire fleet was going to transform itself into a fleet of LCS type warships.

Just think where some of the money that has been spent on LCS could have been spent on. Lets face it, in many ways the Pegasus class hydrofoils were a more potent weapon system than the LCS has become. The Navy could have spent it’s money on an upconverted / larger version of this older PHM. Or how about an upconverted Cyclone class patrol ship.

But the Navy always wants it’s ships to have a helicopter role. And this fact alone presents yet another costly venture every time the Navy builds a new warship.

Don’t get me wrong, I think having a helicopter detachment aboard a warship is a good thing. But every destroyer-frigate type warship has to have a helicopter? The whole purpose for having a smaller, stealthy and fast warship is to be able to go in harms way close to the shore. Having a helicopter flight deck is just adding more space and weight for a vessel intended to travel up rivers or patrol near the coastline. This is where I think the Navy got the LCS all wrong.

They should have procured an updated Pegasus or Cyclone. And why the speed of 40-plus knots? Is that really necessary for the littorals? Out in the middle of the ocean, maybe, but close into shore? That is one area I have never fully understood was a reason for a littoral fighter to have, unless it was to speed away from pirate ships in retreat because the weapons you had were not powerful enough to use against the enemy.

As far as the LCS program is concerned, how much do the latest ships cost, without any of their so-called mission modules? What is their cost? Somewhere between $400 to $600 million dollars? Add a mission package and the cost zooms all the way up to $475 to $700 million dollars? That is a lot of money for a ship with no clear mission and worse than that the mission modules are not supposed to be ready until 2018 or 2019. Is this not correct?

So in effect we have two different warships with two different manning requirements because the two ships ARE different and then the ships only have a 57mm pop gun, a SeaRam CIWS, and a helicopter detachment. Plus a few smaller caliber guns. Why wasn’t a triple torpedo tube set included as part of the ship’s normal weapons? When they designed the Independence class, did they not think that they were never going to be able to fit a 76mm gun on it’s forecastle? Or how about a smaller VLS? There is no room whats so ever for these types of weapons up front on the bow of these ships. So in effect why continue to build the Independence?

The Freedom class has by all accounts enough room to add some of these weapons. And what gives? No Harpoons at all? Clearly someone goofed at the Navy department when they designed these warships.

And the Navy wanted to use these ships to replace at least two types of warships? The Perry class, and the MCM class? ASW, Mine warfare, and surface warfare modules were all to be developed and ready for use long before 2018/19. And yet here we are sending these warships out to the western Pacific where they can not even defend themselves.

This is quite the story.


Craig Hooper April 23, 2014 at 11:46 pm

Wow. Great comments.

Rey—If I am looking for strategic guidance about how the Navy is going to be used, I find myself turning to the CNO’s Sailing Directions more and more. Some people scoff at CNO Admiral Greenert as a political guy, but he hit the strategic nail on the head with the Sailing Directions (.pdf here: http://www.navy.mil/cno/cno_sailing_direction_final-lowres.pdf )

I’ve marched through the QDR and the Defense Guidance and all that stuff, and I think Greenert has done the best job of any of the service leaders in balancing the priorities that have been pushed to him from higher authority with those of his Service. And, in reading the Sailing Directions before i published the piece above, I came to believe that while the Flight 0 LCS aligns with some of his priorities, a bare-bones DDG aligns with far more.


I’d love to have something interesting to fight in the littoral, but jeez, right now we’re totally lacking in ships that can merely influence and secure a relatively peaceful littoral–those JHSVs can’t come fast enough!


ChrisA April 23, 2014 at 9:36 pm

I think you have hit the nail on the head Rey, arguments about what capabiities you need on a ship, or the numbers and size of the ships, need to be framed in the context of what you want your force to do, and where they are going to operate.

My personal view, based on my experience base and individual biases, is that at least part of your force needs to able to stabilise and secure littoral regions. It may not be the main game, but some bloke once said what we do at sea is to influence events on the ground. I think he could have extended further to say what we do at sea is to influence populations. If we have seen nothing else over the last decade or so, if you put boots on the ground you need to at least consider the human security problem. In the maritime context I believe it requires a physical presence in and around the littoral to secure the people, the resources and the economic well being of those who you eventually want to develop a relationship with.


Rey Nowlin April 23, 2014 at 8:25 pm

I agree with your statement that you possess unsubstantiated opinions on all topics regardless of background knowledge. I am in that category and quite possibly may not have but a yeoman’s knowledge of combat ships and other military matters.

The reason I think a modified DDG 51 type of warship to take the place of an LCS is not because of the littorals, but in spite of the littorals. Why has Hagel decided to hold production at 32 units? Is there a rethinking going on at the Pentagon that finally has taken hod and that is we do not belong in the littorals? Based on many of our allies in different areas of the world, why would we even invest this much capital on a warship like the LCS, when most of our fleet is a blue water navy?

I am not aware of why the Navy decided to build the LCS in the first place unless the thought was that we needed a fast, somewhat nimble warship to take on pirates and other so-called low threats within the littorals. We have to remember that the original mission of the LCS was: “envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats in the littorals.”

Now we have people in both the civilian areas of government and the military saying things like the ship was never meant to sail in harms way without a larger surface combatant backing them up. So which is it?

My fear is that from a purely budgetary reason the Navy will want to build an upscaled version of the LCS, concentrating on one hull featuring more weapons and possibly more crew. But can we afford this?

I think the Navy should stay a blue water navy, and leave the littorals to our allies who have better equipped ships to deal with those types of threats. Can you imagine the first time we send an LCS in to battle an Iranian or Chinese gunboat and what happens when it is reported that we have lost our first $400 million dollar gunboat? I can see a lot of angst in Congress and whomever is in the White House.

A downgraded DDG-51 warship mounting a VLS with Asroc, ESSM, SM, and the next generation Harpoon all WITHOUT Aegis, possibly one or two 5″ 62 caliber guns or the AGS with a single 6.1″ gun, triple torpedo tubes, and one to two helos would be a formidable warship. Even if we decided to have a downgraded non-Aegis DDG-51 with fewer missile loads and possibly equipped with two 6.1″ AGS guns then the Marines can stop complaining about not having gunfire support.

Of course all of this is purely speculative. I only wish that the Navy follows the wishes of some in Congress like McCain and cancel this program once and for all.


ChrisA April 23, 2014 at 6:11 pm

Please excuse the long winded response. I reserve my constitutional right to express unsubstantiated opinions on all topics regardless of background knowledge.

Firstly, the common hull is a sound concept for savings if done correctly, it cuts down on design work and the associated technical risk, and it amortizes non-recurring engineering costs across a larger fleet of vessels. A larger hull has greater potential to add systems if necessary later on. I imagine increasing the build numbers has a whole bunch of political benefits as well. However, each change you make to the design will reduce the cost efficiencies, and as soon as you start making changes you will start getting scope creep and cost increases. You acknowledge the problem wit the gold-plated LCS, and there have been a number of other projects across the other services that have been killed recently due to the cost of overly ambitious requirements.
Steel is cheap, air is free – but people cost a lot of money. You will probably find if you build the watchbill from the ground up and take a disciplined approach to operating profiles, rather than start with with the assumptions and routines of the parent class, you could reduce the complement substantially potentially in the order of 40%.

Secondly, in the context of littoral operations my concern with the DDG 51 hull is its draught. There are a whole lot of tactical benefits, and operational flexibility to being able to operate a ship with a decent gun inside the 10m contour – especially if your focus is the littoral regions and more importantly the people who live there. If you have a bunch of other ways to deliver ordnance this may not be a concern. Operating in the 10m contour is navigationally more complex but another benefit is that it can also reduce some of your ASW problems.
That said the draught issue is not insurmountable. Where we keep falling down is trying to have all of our capabilities on one platform. The ‘Deathstar’ approach to capability acquisition. If we can distribute the capabilities across a larger number of cheaper platforms we would achieve a number of real benefits. There are a bunch of different concepts proposed over the years along a similar theme. However, in the navy we can’t get past the romantic idea of the bold frigate captain operating independently against the enemy. I am a big fan of Patrick O’Brian, but it just doesn’t work in the littoral. You can only be in one place and you can’t see too well around corners.
Operations in the littoral are complex and congested. You can’t set broad exclusion zones without destroying the livelihoods and the economy of the people you are there to help. That makes you vulnerable, and makes the operation more analogous to stability operations in an urban setting, than our usual blue water comfort zone. So perhaps what is needed is a combined arms approach to the problem. I am mariner, so those of a greener persuasion please feel free to shoot me down if this is dumb or incorrect use doctrinal terminology.
Let’s assume that if you have warships in the littoral, you already own the airspace, and you have a good grasp on the submarine and mine threats. Yes, I am assuming away the submarine and mine threats – the cheapest and most effective way to neutralize these threats is to avoid them if possible, deal with them if necessary at as great a distance as possible.
What you then need is a balance of patrol surveillance and response capabilities, that also provide the persistent physical presence that builds confidence and security. As far as the response elements go a combination of attack helicopters and patrol boats should have sufficient punch and persistence for most low level threats. These will provide the secure environment in which to operate you more valuable, more capable and scarcer fleet units to support the operations ashore.
The threats will be more varied, attacks will initiate a lot closer and will happen a lot faster. There is a high likelihood of attrition. Taking a distributed approach to your capabilities will allow the over all capability of the TG to degrade slowly with attrition rather than potentially losing it all on one throw.of the dice.


Rey Nowlin April 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm


I am not techie enough to know all of the perimeters of the LCS vs. an HII. I’ll leave that to more qualified researchers. All I was getting at is that there has been plenty of hand wringing in the halls of Congress over the years as to why the Navy was placed in the LCS box to begin with and why on earth were they talked into full funding for an untried LCS program? The same argument can be made with the F-35 program which is yet another costly boon doggle that we are going to be paying for years to come.

Many still remember the questions John McCain and other spending hawks were raising about the affordability of the program and why more was not being done to increase the weapon suites on these ships. Or cancel the darn thing before it got completely out of hand. Now we have U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear recently conceding the LCS only ‘partially’ satisfies his operational requirements in the Pacific.

John McCain himself rose to the Senate chamber April 9th to deliver some straight talk on the failure of the LCS and the call to cut the Navy’s buy to only 24 ships. Personally, I would cut the program now even IF it meant cutting up defense contracts to do it. Here is the link to the Proceedings article which includes text of the speech:


If I were in charge of planning for the Navy I would do several things as far as shipbuilding was concerned. I would cancel the LCS now. Do not spend any more money on this failed program. And then I would go ahead and construct a warship based on the Burke class without the expensive Aegis system. Or at least take a closer look at some of our allies and the escort ships they are building. We can then adopt US Naval standards to those vessels and still come out ahead as far as capability and usefullness.

These so-called solutions I offer might be pie n the sky, but it is more than what the Navy has been doing these past twelve years in trying to develop a warship without a clear mission.


Craig Hooper April 23, 2014 at 3:17 pm

Yep. But I think we’re finding that the operational savings that the LCS concept was supposed to yield us were a tad oversold. It’s a numbers thing. But then again, remember the old adage, there are “lies, damned lies and statistics!” But that said, it’s always healthy to occasionally re-validate things that have been accepted as “hard truths” for far too long.

I guess we’ll see just how hard Lockheed has been working over the Navy’s guys working the numbers on SNEP II, eh?


admin April 23, 2014 at 2:04 pm


Just an aside here about the HII offering. First, all this baloney about longer range is bull-puckey. I could cruise almost forever at 2 knots. The eye-watering range of the HII NSC Cutter derivative is a product of what they call “optimal speed”. If you dig a little bit, that “optimal speed” is adequate for the cruising speed of a plodding MLP, but the HII NSC variant’s range drops precipitously when you need to escort the big boys at higher speeds. The Indy variant (once the efficient water jets are installed and the Navy stops tinkering with the layout) will, at around 20 knots, come pretty close to matching DDG-51 range..


admin April 23, 2014 at 1:48 pm

DAN WINS THE INTERNET. Civil spec stuff can be fought pretty darn well by professionals. Just give ’em a chance. And gag the folks who are so risk-averse they can’t step out of San Diego without air cover.

There’s one thing that really burns me up about the current LCS debate. There’s always a healthy tension between the guys who have the ingenuity and drive to develop a weapon that fits in an available platform (oh, say the 10 by 10 now-empty box-o-rockets), and those who would like the box to be built to fit their existing product. That’s where LCS is right now–a lot of folks want the LCS to accept existing products (and they can make a good case for it, too), while any effort to fit weapons to the platform will take some time. I think, right now, with technology in flux (and a relatively peaceful sea AND a massive measure of superiority at sea) this is the time to leverage that margin for innovation rather than to harness the margin too tightly to status quo weaponry.


Rey Nowlin April 23, 2014 at 1:46 pm

Mr. Hooper,
A fine article about the usefulness in adopting a present design that not only has been working for years but also taking the design down a few notches would not only create additional budget reductions but would also allow the Navy to operate these ships outside the usual littoral operating areas where many “high end” DDG-51’s operate now.

As a regular reader of the Proceedings, and a viewer of ShipBucket.com, I have become intrigued by the myriad proposals put forward by regular everyday citizens concerned about the future of the Navy and what ill-advised plans the Navy has had forced upon them in the last ten years or so. Why the LCS was ever envisioned is beyond me. Why not just continue building the superb FFG-7 class with modifications of weapons and sensor systems?

But for some idiotic reasoning the Navy brass insisted that they needed a fast littoral ship to conduct operations close to shore. This made no sense to me considering if you were to operate close to shore you’d want a slower ship especially in shallower waters.

But here we are. A modified or a reduced Burke class ship would be in my estimation the route to go. As Shipbucket attests there have been plans floated about that would represent this type of ship quite well.


Yes, the ship would still feature ASW helicopters and a hanger, and a 5″-62 cal. gun, but it would also feature a VLS supporting ESSM, Asroc, and whatever future land / ship attack missile is developed that is to replace Harpoon. Such a ship could cost about 1/3 less than a standard Flight II ship and be able to be produced in larger numbers to help offset retiring FFG-7’s and the far-less capable LCS.

We really do not know what is happemning within the Defense Department, and especially with Hagel. Is he not satisfied with the performance and cost associated with the LCS? Or is this new study group just a ruse and in reality he and the department might be considering the Huntington-Ingalls Coast Guard variant as a worthwhile substitute for the LCS? Bigger, longer range and potentially larger missile footprint at possibly a cost just slightly more than the most recent budget figures for the LCS. If this were to happen smaller shipyards would continue to support the Navy missions.

But I like your idea better and wonder why the Navy just does not go ahead and proceed with that. They could lower the overall cost and by doing this the Flight III’s would cost less. And the Navy would be getting a strong ocean-going vessel, capable of taking hits and continuing to fight after absorbing those hits. Add to this, the ship would have space for a 48 cell VLS upfront housing the aforementioned missiles, and also be equipped with either the 5″ or 6.1″ AGS. With this type of ship in service without Aegis, these ships would be in service for longer periods of time and would substantially allow the Navy to continue to fund and operate upscaled versions of Flight II’s and III’s.

Hopefully someone at the Pentagon is studying this possibility.


admin April 23, 2014 at 1:40 pm


That’s what I’m asking the CNO’s group to consider. I am sure somebody’s got old studies they can dust off…Or they can raid the DDG-1000 files and see how they do it.

In reference to Lazarus’s comment above, I agree with him. Increased manning leads to increased costs. It’ll be hard to ramp down the current 300 or so to a number palatable to the beancounters.

But what, pray tell, is an LCS crew, really? It isn’t just the guys on the ship. Mr. Lazarus has forgotten that an LCS crew includes the guys in the other one (or two) crews ashore, in training. A two-crew rotation is about 150 folks. (I can hear the cries of “noooo! we’ll run a 3:2 crew:hull mix!” Well, we’ll see how that works…but I’m no optimist where optimal manning is concerned)

Optimal crewing has been a bullshit bingo topic since before I was born, and we are still not being realistic. Yeah, UUVs and UUAs never sleep, but If, say, an LCS is out hunting an SSK, a “optimally-crewed” LCS is going to turn into an amphetamine-fueled nightmare really darn quick–unless you’ve got a bunch of guys in Los Vegas fighting the ship from afar (a possibility). At least with something the space/weight margin of the DDG-51, you’d likely have room to put more riders if you needed ’em. It’s far easier to unlock a bunkroom than to suddenly adjust to the fact that that the warfighting LCS SOP is raid your training pipeline for people and then to hot-bunk and probably ration water for the duration aboard a crowded ship.

That isn’t to say that there are ways to move the needle on personnel. We just haven’t found them yet.

As far as what to cut, I dunno. Not my wheelhouse, but I do think that the Navy might benefit from having an MSC bubba sketch out his or her idea of how the ship might be manned. JHSV is rocking along with a base crew of what? 30ish? Have we worked through and tested things like surge crewing from a base set of MSC/civilian operators?

Good stuff. Thanks for these great comments!


dan wiswell April 23, 2014 at 1:36 pm

Perhaps todays upper levels of the Navy have forgotten the “Jeep” or baby flat tops of World War ll which proved to be an excellent weapons platform. It close the mid-Atlantic Gap to German U-boats and supplied/resupplied the larger CVAs with replacement aircraft. They performed well during the Korean War also.


J_kies April 23, 2014 at 11:07 am

Ok; if you’re trimming down the fancy sets of bells and whistles – what elements drive the manning of a ‘skinny’ DDG-51 to big numbers? No AAW emphasis / no AN/SPY or AMDR means no “Alpha Whiskey” and entire sets of posts go away.

What would the manning requirements of FLT II be without AAW? What additional automation could reduce minimum manning (without losing DC or rational watch-standing). What are the viable ranges for manning -51’s to different mission areas?


admin April 23, 2014 at 10:49 am


I quite liked Junge and Smidt’s Proceedings article (well, OK, the classical names for the two models were a little over the top, but, hey, we must presume they were doing their best to conform to the academic environment over at Newport!), but the prospect of getting the cash for new hulls was, in my mind, a stretch. But if you layer their idea on existing hulls, it gets more interesting.

I don’t know what the experts would recommend to preserve the surge capacity of the ship, but if there was a way to quickly grow the platforms’ ability to contribute to higher-end combat, it would be a real benefit.

I’m committed to modularity, but the moment I mention modularity, everybody goes “mission modules”. WE HAVE GOT TO GET AWAY FROM “MISSION MODULES”. I’d rather enable the commander to equip the ship with stuff that is needed for the mission at hand–in time they’ll crystalize around a set of gear that works. Instead, we’re wasting a lot of money and time on some of the fun! research! projects! that were hidden away in the mission module program of record omnibus. (With LCS, I’d have, say, given a minemen a list of off-the-shelf NATO gear, and said, “get what you need to clear mines’ and then, after that was integrated aboard ship, I’d have turned to ’em and asked “what gear they need for tomorrow” and go after that piecemeal.) Anyway. I’d simply force the Littoral DDG-51 to adopt the standard interfaces for whatever Open Computing System appears to be the emergent standard…and then open it up to industry to develop pieces/parts that actually contribute..


Lazarus April 23, 2014 at 9:27 am

Dr. Hooper seems to retain an “early 2000’s” concept of the LCS. The class was conceived as the “low end” component of SC 21, but besides the 3 DDG 1000, it’s the only remaining component. As the FFG’s, MCM’s and soon PC’s retire, LCS is needed for a host of blue, as well as green water missions. Most of those “littoral” operations LCS was intended to conduct have become more dangerous than they were perceived in 2003. The “gold plating” is actually required to keep the ship reasonable survivable in a more threatening littoral space. The recent NWC war game that explored a variety of blue water missions for LCS is a step in the right direction.
As for the DDG-51 as a “frigate variant”, the personnel costs of such a ship (long term) outweigh the benefits Dr. Hooper suggests. The Navy is interested in cutting people costs and choosing a DDG with even 170 people is not as good a choice as an LCS with an augmented crew of 60-75. LCS (with appropriate modules) can conduct the traditional ASW, escort, and show the flag missions once conducted by the FFG-7’s at less cost than a DDG variant.


J_kies April 23, 2014 at 9:08 am

Best suggestion I have seen in a while –
Along with the ‘open computing’ look at the electric drive systems –

Consider, serious Sonar / ASuW optimization – ditching the entire top end AN/SPY radar suite, given the modern BMD mission is dominated by ‘engage on remote’ serve as a VLS magazine for the NIFC-CA.

Consider a Naval fires optimization – again ditching the top end AN/SPY and doing the Zumwalt gun with some appropriate magazine. Carriage of the VLS tubes provides magazine depth for other VLS launched weapons.

I have been told that the cheapest things the Navy buys are steel and empty space, reducing the jack-of-all-trades push and re-specializing a bit to master one seems sound.


USS_Fallujah April 23, 2014 at 8:42 am

The primary issue in my mind remains the lack of a clearly defined role for the new SSC platform and cooresponding change in the role for existing LCS. (and if we could change the LCS to a FF designation and DDG-1000s to a CG that would, you know…make sense, please?) Is this new SSC a convoy escort (ie limited area-AAW), blue water ASW platform? If so then what are the LCS going to be doing, just MCM and Pirate/Swamboat SuW? (isn’t that the role they sold congress on in the first place? Exactly what is the Littoral sub threat and which platform is going to address that threat (if either). The new SSC committee is meeting to address changes to a mission role that isn’t clear (and never was) and is already evolved outside their box anyway.


Chris April 23, 2014 at 7:36 am


I like the logic being applied here. Utilizing the DDG-51 hull in the manner you describe reminds me of the Proceedings “A Modular Warship for 2025.” In that article the authors advocated a common hull or two; although, they had not given up on modularity.

The irrepressible fiscal pressures could make a DDG-51-lite the best option for recovering hull numbers. The combat suite could be severely scaled down on such a ship depending on how confident you are in a cooperative engagement capability (CEC). With CEC you may not want to remove VLS cells as the ships could be used as magazine space for a Flight II/III, a micro-arsenal ship as it were. A less capable DDG-51 variant could also provide a surge capacity if you needed to generate higher end warfighting capacity relatively quickly. Existing hulls could probably be converted to full up DDG standards faster than you could build a new hull.

I think you are also correct that the mission module business needs to be re-thought. The Navy should start with defining the interfaces that equipment will use to communicate with an open architecture combat system. Perhaps the open computing architecture used on the Zumwalt could be applied to the lite version as a starting point.

Commonality and capacity are a good combination for lower O&M costs and “future proofing.”


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: