Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Don't Throw Out the Modular Baby with the LCS Bathwater

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) failed. It will be replaced with a frigate:

The Navy expects to field its new frigate in 2024 while it sustains the small combatant industrial base with an additional littoral combat ship (LCS) order in 2018.

Which is a shame because the LCS concept had promise.

The idea of a basic hull with a lot of room that could be reconfigured with system modules in shipping containers to turn the ship alternately into mine warfare, anti-ship, anti-air, anti-sub, or special forces missions was innovative.

It inspired my modularized auxiliary cruiser idea that finally so the light of day as "The AFRICOM Queen."

What sank the LCS was cost overruns on the basic hulls (there were two types of LCS).

What sank the LCS was a failure to build the modules quickly enough and at an affordable price.

What sank the LCS was a combination of poor protection in case of being hit and a bizarre notion that the ship would fight in the littoral green or--god forbid--brown waters close to shore (where all manner of nasty things normally useless against ships in the blue waters far from shore could shoot at the ill-protected ship).

We will still have a number of LCS in the fleet. I hope we can make them work for the simple fact that we can't afford to count any hulls out of the fight.

Pulling the LCS from the littorals will make them more survivable. Perhaps the ships can be upgraded with better armor and redundancies to improve survivability.

Perhaps more anti-ship weapons can be added to the basic hull.

And most important, perhaps a commitment to making systems in boxes that can be put on modularized auxiliary cruisers, shore bases, or the LCS will drive down the costs of the system modules and give the Navy more experience in how to quickly adapt the LCS by swapping out the modules.

Hopefully the expensive lessons of building the hulls that can accept mission modules won't be forgotten if the concept is resurrected. 

Maybe then, the next ship class we build with the concept of a basic hull that can be reconfigured for different missions will work better and be done more inexpensively.

It's always good to learn from mistakes. But don't learn that a good idea is bad.