Friday, July 24, 2009

A Quality All Their Own

Our Navy has too few but very good hulls to deploy around the world. We really do just about have a fleet of nearly all capital ships, as the concept has historically been understood.

One really good ship may be better than two mediocre ships but that one good ship really can't be in two places at one time. We really do need a high-low mix of ships to maintain numbers. The Littoral Combat Ship is our attempt to provide numbers:

With the world’s largest and most powerful fleet of aircraft carriers, destroyers and cruisers, the U.S. Navy absolutely dominates the deep water. But not so much in shallow waters — the so-called “littoral zones.” Close to land, a ship might face overwhelming numbers of shore-based guns and missiles, swarms of small attack boats, plus the occasional hull-destroying coral reef. It’s far too dangerous for a $2-billion destroyer, to say nothing of a $10-billion carrier.

The Navy’s solution is to build lots of smaller, cheaper ships. The heart of this effort is the 3,000-ton-displacement “Littoral Combat Ship.” LCS adapts commercial yacht and ferry designs — then adds weapons, sensors, and robots. When the ship was conceived in 2004, each copy was supposed to cost just $220 million — and the Navy wanted to build the first 13 by 2009. But after years of design changes and botched contracts, only two LCSs have been finished, each at a cost of over $600 million.

At $600 million a copy, they are still too expensive to risk in the littorals where shore-based missiles and cannons can rip them to shreds, but we do need the LCS for blue water missions so we can send a ship to multiple locations.

And if we need more numbers, we do have an option.