The Buzz

The U.S. Navy's Master Plan to Turn the Littoral Combat Ship into a Super Weapon

The Navy is considering at least three over-the-horizon missile weapons for its Littoral Combat Ship -- Harpoon, Naval Strike Missile, Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile and an Extended Range Griffin Missile.

The Navy will soon launch a formal industry competition to acquire a new, over-the-horizon offensive attack missile for its surface fleet as a way to increase the striking range of  weapons for Littoral Combat Ships, Frigates and possibly other vessels -- to better prepare the service for near-peer warfare on the open seas.  

Service officials tell Scout Warrior that a formal Request for Proposal for the weapon will likely emerge in coming weeks; possibilities include the integration of a Harpoon, Naval Strike Missile or Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile. 

Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces, said this month that that he is relying on an over-the-horizon missiles to “increase offensive firepower on surface warships by continuing to modify existing over-the-horizon surface weapons by expanding procurement of improved anti-ship, anti-air antisubmarine and surface strike missiles.” Rowden, speaking at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium," emphasized that increasing attack technology for the surface fleet was vital to the service's future strategy. 

Cost, production possibilities, attack effectiveness and near-term availability are all key factors as part of the calculus informing the Navy's decision. The Navy is looking at both developmental weapons as well as closer-term off-the-shelf available options. 

The Kongsberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile has been tested on the flat-bottomed "Freedom" variant LCS and a Harpoon Block IC missile has been tested on the Navy's trimaran "Independence" variant of the ship; the idea is to further assess each weapon in an operational setting as a way to better determine the ideal over-the-horizon weapon for the ship's future. 

At the same time, the Navy is also weighing the prospect of arming the LCS with the emering Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, a high-tech DARPA-Lockheed-Office of Naval Research developmental effort with semi-autonomous guidance technology. 

 Navy officials emphasize to Scout Warrior that no formal decision regarding which weapon will ultimately be integrated onto the ship has been made. 

In September 2015, then Director of Surface Warfare Rear Adm. Peter Fanta directed the installation of a technologically mature, over-the-horizon capability across in-service littoral combat ships to support the Navy's distributed lethality concept. Priority was given to Coronado and Freedom as ships preparing to deploy in fiscal year 2016. 

Distributed Lethality: 

The Navy's distributed lethality strategy involves numerous initiatives to better arm its fleet with offensive and defensive weapons, maintain a technological advantage over adversaries, such as the fast-growing Russian and Chinese navies, and strengthen its "blue water" combat abilities against potential near-peer rivals, among other things. 

Arming the Littoral Combat Ship, and its more survivable and lethal variant, the Frigate, is designed to better equip the LCS for shallow and open water combat against a wider range of potential adversaries, such as enemy surface ships, drones, helicopters, small boats and maneuvering attack craft, at beyond-the-horizon ranges.

The LCS is already equipped with 30mm and 57mm guns to destroy closer-in enemy targets such as swarms of small boats and the Navy plans to deploy a maritime variant of the HELLFIRE Missile aboard the ship by next year to destroy approaching enemy targets from "within the horizon" 

The development of these LCS-launched over-the-horizon missiles entirely consistent with the Navy’s emerging “distributed lethality” strategy which seeks to better arm the fleet with long-range precision offensive and defensive fire power.

Part of the rationale to move back toward open or “blue water” combat capability against near peer competitors emphasized during the Cold War. While the strategic and tactical capability never disappeared, it was emphasized less during the last 10-plus years of ground wars wherein the Navy focused on counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and things like Visit Board Search and Seizure. These missions are, of course, still important, however the Navy seeks to substantially increases its offensive “lethality” in order to deter or be effective against emerging high-tech adversaries.

Having longer-range or over-the-horizon ship and air-launched weapons is also quite relevant to the “distributed” portion of the strategy which calls for the fleet to have an ability to disperse as needed.  Having an ability to spread out and conduct dis-aggregated operations makes Navy forces less vulnerable to enemy firepower while. At the same time, have long-range precision-strike capability will enable the Navy to hold potential enemies at risk or attack if needed while retaining safer stand-off distance from incoming enemy fire. 

Navy officials said requirements for a ship-launched weapon of this kind were still being determined. 

Harpoon: 

Littoral combat ship USS Coronado successfully executed the first live-fire over-the-horizon missile test using a Harpoon Block IC missile, July 19, during the Navy's Rim of the Pacific exercise.

RIMPAC is a biennial multinational exercise that provides a unique training opportunity that fosters sustained cooperative relationships critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world's oceans.

Navy officials told Scout Warrior that part of the rationale for the live-fire Harpoon exercise was to assess the ability of the LCS to withstand a deck-firing of the weapon. 

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