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Sturgeon's House

An easy way to improve the LCS program?


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I'm not terribly impressed by the Saudi ships honestly, because as usual the article talks all about the toys added into the hull without talking about operating range.


It's relatively easy to load a small hull to the gills with various toys and weapons so long as they're only meant to operate very close to your coastline. The Israelis already did it with the Sa'ar V and what nobody ever points out about these boats is that they've never operated far beyond Gaza and their operating range (and crew endurance) is a lot of theory. 


Moreover I really have to question the utility of most of the added toys to begin with. A launcher with 64 Sea Sparrows sounds really nice except that the Sea Sparrow is really short-ranged and can never replace an AEGIS as an air-defense platform (and this is before we get to the fact the real solution to an air superiority problem is to deploy a carrier - SAMs are just a stopgap).


Despite what the article claims, the Sea Sparrow realistically is just a self-defense system with an overly excessive ammunition count, since Sparrows aren't fire-and-forget and need shipborne guidance (limiting the number of missiles in the air). If faced with a really heavy air attack, the Saudi LCS won't be able to put up enough guided missiles into the air to survive. When faced with a small air attack, it may be sufficient but renders most of the high ammunition count pointless. Indeed, I'm extremely leery of a VLS missile system that can only engage enemy targets 30 miles out - an Exocet can travel that distance in about 2 minutes and needing every intercepting missile turn mid-flight before engaging the vampire is probably going to end with the defending ship blown up.


It's also telling that they repeat the same mistake as the Israelis - who also installed a 64 missile SAM pack on the Sa'ar V (Barak missiles). Despite this impressive theoretical defensive capabilities a missile still got through in 2006 and nearly sank one of the Sa'ar Vs. The LCS actually makes a lot more sense just having a much smaller number of RIM SAM onboard for CIWS. Had the Saudi boat gotten a CIWS gun system on top of the RIM, I'd be more impressed - because that would make much more sense for a boat capable of self-defense against low-intensity surprise air attacks.


Most of the other ASuW capabilities are kinda meh. Harpoons are kinda old and I doubt that they can go through the missile defenses of the combatants deserving to be fired at by one of them (e.g. a modern Chinese Destroyer). A lot of smaller missiles like the Hellfire actually made more sense because the LCS didn't have delusions of surface vs surface actions against major enemy surface units; it was always meant to pick on smaller craft. The bigger gun is more interesting, but there hasn't been an abundance of scenarios requiring the navy to use its guns to begin with.


ASW capability was improved, but without a proper towed sonar array like in the bigger destroyers and cruisers it will have limited detection capability and adding those six anti-submarine torpedoes are pretty much a complete waste of weight as no surface vessel wants to get within torpedo range of an enemy submarine. The helicopters are there for a reason - they can hunt subs without risk of retaliation - and that's the one capability the LCS has.


In short, the Saudi LCS is trying way too hard to be a mini Oliver Hazard Perry; which sounds really good for an underdeveloped export market that has no real navy yet and wants all the shiny new toys on their ships. Problem is the OHPs were meant for a pretty specific Cold War scenario - which is blue-water convoying of merchies across the Atlantic in the face of Soviet submarine and air threats - and the Saudi LCS is only as good or even worse compared to the OHPs in virtually all regards. Worse, it doesn't recognize that the OHPs were deeply flawed ships in an age of supersonic anti-ship missiles where the tiny range of the SM-1 (even with upgrades) simply doesn't give it enough time to engage and shoot down the vampires. What you need is really long-ranged and accurate fire control radar on top of longer-ranged missiles. Only AEGIS and maybe the Horizon/Daring class gets you that in the West (and the Russians theoretically have this also on the old Kirovs).


So why didn't they just get actual frigates to begin with (I'm pretty sure the Saudis have the money for them) that would have resolved all the shortcomings and maybe fit an actual good air defense system?


The problem with the LCS program is that people keep trying to make these ships into full frigates or destroyers. That's not what they're for. All you really want from the LCS is that they get somewhere (accounting for the long distances the USN has to travel), and deploy its mission-specific helicopter. If it gets into trouble it has the minimum needed for self defense and evasion - not to stand up there and try to fight it out as though it was an Arleigh Burke (the Burkes would probably run too anyway). Bringing all of the other stuff like air defense when you're just fighting Somali pirates is a waste of resources. Every non-essential system removed adds to reaching its cost-effectiveness objective; even if it leads traditional thinkers to worry that they won't have a SAM system to defend the ship with "just in case".


This is why the most important stat and benchmark of the LCS had always been operating cost - which is the bulk of the USN's cost. It was always about making the ship as cheap as possible to do the mundane jobs that didn't require an AEGIS (of which the USN has eighty-four in service - a mix of Ticos and Burkes - and anyone telling me there is a shortage when there are at most 19 US carriers on the roster including the Marine mini-carriers is crazy). And the jury is still out on that - if the operating costs end up being very high then and only then can the program be considered a waste.


Oh, and I still have no bloody idea what the hell the 40 knot speed is actually for.

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Uh, obviously the 40 knot speed is so that it can dart in and out of the enemy's radar horizon.

(Pretty sure I once saw that seriously said somewhere)


xthetenth mentioned it but we're both rather skeptical of the idea. Honestly I'm much more inclined to believe the ZOOM ZOOM explanation wherein some speed freak naval officer managed to harangue the requirement into the design.

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