The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments had a study with recommendations for improving the US Navy surface ships. It appears that one of the recommendations that was made is being followed. The recommendation was to upgrade a version of the LCS to fill the Small surface combat ship role.

In 2001, the Navy planned a new approach to surface warfare supported by a family of new ships: the CG(X) missile defense cruiser [cancelled], DD(X) land attack destroyer [only 3 Zumwalt destroyers], and sea control-focused littoral combat ship (LCS). This new family of ships was intended to conduct “network-centric warfare,” where the surface fleet would counter growing threats by having each ship specialize in a small set of missions. The fleet would maintain the ability to conduct a wide range of operations by connecting ships via a dense communications network. Each of those 2001 ships is now canceled or its program truncated, leaving the Navy without a coherent surface fleet architecture or a clear central concept for surface warfare.

The Navy should modify one of the LCS variants to be the follow-on SSC to leverage the learning curve already established with those ships and enable the new ship to promptly reach the fleet. Some of the modifications used in the follow-on SSC (such as a VLS magazine), should be back-fitted into selected “Flight 0” LCS.

The Navy chose to beef up the weapons, armor and sensors on its two existing classes of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in an answer to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s call for a tougher Small Surface Combatant (SSC), the Navy announced in a late Thursday briefing with reporters.

The two variants of the ship will replace the last 20 ships in the initial plan for 52 Flight 0 Lockheed Martin Freedom-class and Austal USA Independence-class LCS hulls as part of the SSC directive the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) outlined to the Navy in a January memo.

A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class. US Navy Image

The two hulls will feature an unspecified 3D radar upgrade, an over-the-horizon surface to surface anti-ship missile, include a multifunction towed array sonar and displace less than the Flight 0 variants, according to information from the service.

The Freedom and Independence variants were designed to be modular hulls and conform to different task by swapping out different mission packages — mine counter measures (MCM), surface warfare (SuW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

The new SSCs will keep an element of modularity focused on the ASW and the SuW mission packages, with the ASW SSC package adding the variable depth sonar of from the existing ASW package.

Absent from the new concept is a significant air defense capability in the form of vertical launch system capable of carrying the Navy’s family of Standard Missiles but Stackley said the SSC would be able to operate independently.

By the mid-2020s the following should happen

The third flight of Arleigh Burke DDGs will begin arriving in 2021 to replace today’s Ticonderoga-class CGs and Flight I Arleigh Burke-class DDGs. The characteristics and capabilities of these new DDGs will be determined no later than FY 2016;

• All the Navy’s Ticonderoga-class CGs will retire by 2029 unless the Navy can implement a phased modernization plan starting in FY 2015;

• The first of a new class of “frigate-like” SSCs will deliver in 2023, whose concept and specifications will be determined in FY 2016; and

• The Navy will field several next-generation surface fleet weapon and sensor “payloads” in the mid-2020s whose specifications and host platforms will be established in the next two years, including high-energy solid-state lasers, electromagnetic railgun (EMRG), Long-range Anti-ship Missile (LRASM), Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 3, and Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR).

Large Ship Recommendation

Large Surface Combatants: The Navy should equip some Flight III Arleigh Burke-class DDGs with lasers for defensive AAW (anti-aircraft warfare) and change the mix of VLS (Vertical Launch System) weapons they carry to favor shorter-range defensive weapons such as the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) and long-range offensive weapons such as SM-6s or Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASMs). To gain the defensive AAW capacity possible with EMRGs, the Navy should install them on ships such as a joint high speed vessel (JHSV) that have space and weight available for associated power and cooling systems. The Navy should also explore the incorporation of a strike-oriented EMRG (electromagnetic railrun) on one of the three Zumwalt-class DDGs.