The Littoral Combat Ship: A Good Reminder that Small is Not Always Beautiful

By Media Team

The Littoral Combat Ship always seemed a concept beyond operational reach.

The best option from the outset would have been to build a frigate, and perhaps simply taking a variant of the USCG National Security Cutter and simply built a large number of these hulls and adapted them to either USCG or US Navy missions.

But a ship not designed for blue water operations or high sea states never made much sense for the navy.

And a recent article by Thomas Newdick and Tyler Rogoway published on The War Zone provides a good overview of where we are today with the two type LCS fleet.

The U.S. Navy’s supposedly inexpensive Littoral Combat Ships have added another item to their apparently never-ending list of problems with the revelation that the cost of operating the vessels is far higher than planned, comparing unfavorably even to a wildly more capable Arleigh Burke class guided-missile destroyer….

Then there are ongoing concerns relating to the long-awaited mission modules that give each of the LCS vessels a purpose.

Originally, it was planned that these mission modules could be switched out rapidly while in port before that idea was abandoned. Each ship now has a single mission module installed relatively permanently, but the anti-submarine warfare and mine warfare mission packages will still not be available until next year. 

Against this backdrop, the Navy is still realistically trying to figure out the mission for these warships, despite already having bought dozens of them.

Part of this has involved optimizing the crew concepts for the vessels and reassessing maintenance requirements.

It’s alarming that, despite all this, and the fact that these ships were built to rule the littorals, the LCSs have still not yet ventured into Central Command’s littoral-dominant area of operations. 

For many, the LCS has become something of a poster child for what’s wrong with defense procurement, but the fact that these ships, envisioned to be cheap and ready to operate, cost as much to keep in the fleet as a destroyer, while struggling to even deploy on patrols, has taken that notion to a whole new level.  

The whole LCS experience gives pause to any rapid rush into the Commandant’s Plan for small ships operating to move Marines around Pacific islands, or for flotillas of maritime autonomous vessels operating with the fleet.

Just because you can have more of them does not remove the challenge of sustainment, logistics or mission relevance.