Politics: The US Navy's much criticized Littoral Combat Ships could soon pack a punch

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The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) operates in the waters off Southern California.

The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships have been repeatedly criticized for its lack of firepower and numerous mechanical failures.

  • The US Navy's Littoral Combat Ships have been repeatedly criticized for its lack of firepower and numerous mechanical failures.
  • Mission modules that could be applied to each individual LCS for specific roles have been delayed.
  • The modules will be have operational capability or be in the operational testing phase in the next three years.

The US Navy's Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) have long been criticized and complained about.

Plans to make the Navy's next frigate a larger version of the LCS are in doubt, and the Government Accountability Office has said that LCS are “not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment.”

Sebastien Roblin described the LCS' flaws in the National Interest, writing that the ships “don't have the firepower to hit anything more than a few miles away” and they're “unlikely to survive being hit by anything in return.”

“They cost more than twice as much as promised, and require 75 percent more crew to operate than planned for,” Roblin writes. “The modular-mission capabilities that were a key selling point had to be abandoned. And they're breaking down constantly.”

The Navy has defended the LCS in the past, and it looks like they may finally catch a break. Navy leaders announced Thursday that long-delayed mission modules for the vessels will be in operational testing phases in the next three years.

LCS were meant to operate in the littoral zone of enemy territory. They were designed to excel in three potential combat scenarios — fending off small fast attack craft/suicide boats like the ones used by Iran and Houthi rebels in Yemen, anti-submarine warfare, and mine clearing.

Modules will make the LCS more powerful

The module for fending off fast attack craft will arm an LCS with AGM-114 Hellfire missiles, the same missiles used by the AH-64D Apache Longbow and various drones for strike operations. The USS Detroit successfully tested this concept last March.

The anti-submarine warfare (ASW) module will equip an LCS with a Variable Depth Sonar (VDS). The VDS has an advantage over previous ASW sonar systems because it can be raised and lowered depending on how deep an enemy submarine is, allowing for greater coverage.

The mine clearing module will equip an LCS with a myriad of anti-mine countermeasures. These include the the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System, which locates mines near the surface of the water with a laser, the Airborne Mine Neutralization System, which uses helicopters to blow up detected mines, and a Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle, an underwater drone that can find mines or detonate them.

The LCS will serve as the Navy's main minesweeper, with no other ship outfitted for the task.

The Navy is also expected to choose a new Over The Horizon (OTH) anti-ship missile by this summer. The missile will be able to be added onto any LCS, giving it the ability to attack enemy vessels miles away.

If the LCS mechanical issues get sorted out and all goes according to plan, the LCS should finally become the capable support vessel it was always meant to be.