Retiring Frigates, Building Littoral Combat Ships

When I began writing again I thought I would focus on climate, energy, food and water security, and their influence on geopolitics. As situations evolve I find I am being drawn into the policy implications of these changes. Once policy is made it has to be implemented, and military doctrine is shaped by the need to enforce policy when diplomacy has run it’s course. Functional doctrine requires the appropriate equipment, so here I am again, ready to write about acquisition and life cycle issues for military systems.

This being said, let’s have a look at our retiring frigates and the littoral combat ships that will replace them.

USS Oliver Hazard Perry FFG-7

This is the Oliver Hazard Perry FFG-7, the first of fifty one such ships acquired by the U.S. Navy between 1975 and 2004. Our cruisers, destroyers, and frigates are all classified as escort ships, meant to protect our carriers and amphibious assault ships from a wide spectrum of threats. They have carried systems meant to handle everything from attacking aircraft to mines. As they have aged they have given up some of those duties, first losing anti-ship missiles and they lack the Aegis Combat System found on our cruisers and destroyers, which reduces their integration into the rest of the escorts.

These ships have little cargo space and their helicopters are limited to anti-submarine warfare models.

USS Freedom LCS-1

USS Independence LCS-2

The Independence Class (above) and the Freedom Class (below) are the first of fifty five planned littoral combat ships. They are almost as long as the Oliver Hazard Perry, but only half to three quarters the displacement, and they are described as a heavy corvette rather than frigates. Both of these are historical terms from the era of sail and their meanings are malleable.

The LCS differs from the capabilities of the frigate in the following ways:

  • Crew of forty to fifty, as opposed to 176 for the frigate
  • 44 to 47 knots, frigate’s top speed is 29 knots
  • 57mm main gun, frigate has longer range 76mm gun
  • 57mm gun has smart shells, proximity fuses for air targets
  • Rolling Airframe Missiles rather than Phalanx anti-missile system.

The LCS is less capable against aircraft and other ships, it’s less heavily built than the frigate, but it’s speed and weapons are ideal for dealing with small, fast boats, from local high speed patrol craft to the gasoline powered skiffs favored by pirates in the Gulf of Aden.

 

The LCS payload differs dramatically from the frigate:

 

  • Two SH-60 Seahawks instead of two smaller SH-2 Seasprite helicopters
  • 11m and 12m boats via Freedom class
  • Four lanes of Strykers or MRAPs via Liberty class
  • Multiple 20′ ISO ‘mission package’ containers

Mission packages can be swapped in order to reconfigure the ship for a different mission in a short period of time, giving a Combatant Commander a uniquely flexible response to changing warfighting requirements. Package reconfiguration can occur in homeport or overseas, using pre-positioned mission packages or mission packages transported into theater by air or sea and staged near the LCS operating area. To achieve this flexibility, the Navy is developing and procuring mission packages to meet the Joint warfighting requirements. The quantity of each mission package type differs based on an analysis of projected operational needs; therefore, mission packages are developed and procured separately from the LCS seaframes. Currently, the Navy plans to procure 55 LCS ships as well as 16 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) mission packages, 24 Mine Countermeasures (MCM) mission packages, and 24 Surface Warfare (SUW) mission packages. This allows the LCS warfighting capability to quickly adapt to evolving threats using improved technology. This concept also helps to reduce the overall cost of the LCS and will allow a smaller crew who continuously operate and maintain the seaframe and its core systems.

 

Wikipedia is usually a good source of information on military systems, but this doesn’t hold for the LCS. Only five of the planned fifty five are built and it appears that there is an influence campaign at work that focuses on the alleged deficiencies of the larger Independence class ships. Even with this, the changing doctrine is clear. These ships are lighter, faster, more flexible, and tuned for much different threats than the cold war era escorts that make up the bulk of our naval inventory.

These ships will enter service between 2010 and 2020 and they will remain in service until 2050 or 2060. A conservative post peak oil estimate of a 2% annual production decrease means we’ll have just 32 million barrels of oil a day instead of the 80 million we have now. Our world will be a few degrees warmer and the swath of problems we see stretching clear across Africa now will be the new normal. Small, flexible, efficient ships that can be easily repurposed will continue to serve long after larger, more capable vessels are broken up for scrap because they’re too expensive to operate.

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One thought on “Retiring Frigates, Building Littoral Combat Ships

  1. Jwhall

    The ships are expensive, the mission modules don’t really work yet, and the efficiency is very highly questionable. At speed these things suck their tanks dry quickly. Further, they aren’t as durable as the FFG’s. given that we have had major corrosion issues on one, and major hulk cracks on the other, the life expectancy is fairly optimistic. I honestly think our Navy would be better buying a corvette or Frigate from Europe and building it u der license than continuing down this path.

    Reply

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