The Buzz

Why China and Russia Should Fear What Comes After the Littoral Combat Ship

The Navy's new Frigate, to be operational by 2023, will be armed with a wide range of new weapons to include long-range missiles. electronic warfare ability and anti-submarine technology.

The Navy is now finalizing the weapons, sensors and technologies it plans to engineer into a new, more survivable and lethal Littoral Combat Ship variant designed to perform anti-submarine and surface warfare functions at the same time, service officials said.

“You will be able to employ both of those mission areas simultaneously,” Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer, Frigate Program Manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview months ago in 2016. “This provides the fleet with flexibility because you can employ those ships in multiple ways and multiple venues.”

The new ship, called a Frigate, will be integrated with anti-submarine surface warfare technologies including sonar, an over-the-horizon missile and surface-to-surface weapons such as a 30mm gun and closer-in missiles such as the Hellfire.

“You will be able to have both the long range over-the-horizon missile and the Hellfire on board at the same time,” Brintzinghoffer said in a special discussion with Scout Warrior several months ago. 

Some of the over-the-horizon missiles now being considered by the Navy include the Naval Strike Missile by Kongsberg, a modified Tomahawk missile, a Harpoon, Extended Range Griffin Missile or the Long-Range Anti-Ship missile, or LRASM made by Lockheed and the Pentagon's research arm, DARPA.

It is not yet known whether the Frigate will be engineered with Vertical Launch Systems to fire larger, longer-range missiles such as a Tomahawk or Standard Missile 6, among others. However, that could be a possibility depending upon emerging Navy requirements for weapons on the ship, developers have said. 

Alongside ongoing efforts to specify weapons for the emerging Navy Frigate, the service is also hoping to integrate additional weaponry on the LCS itself. As a result, weapons development for both the new Navy Frigate and existing LCS are distinct, yet also interwoven initiatives. 

For example, some of the weapons such as the Naval Strike Missile, however, are able to fire from a specially configured LCS deck-mounted launcher and will therefore not need vertical launch tubes. Lockheed is also in the early phases of desiging an LCS deck-mounted launcher for its LRASM. 

In fact, the Navy plans to deploy two seperate long-range over-the-horizon missile weapons aboard its Littoral Combat Ship later this year as part of an effort to better arm the vessel and give it an ability to attack longer-range land and ocean targets than it is currently configured to do, according to industry sources familiar with the ship's development. 

The Kongsberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile will soon deploy with the flat-bottomed "Freedom" variant LCS and a Harpoon Block IC missile will deploy 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 and Frigate with the emering Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile or a laser-guided Extended Range Griffin Missile. 

A formal competition among industry is expected at some point in the future, per Navy statements which indicate that no formal decision regarding which weapon will ultimately be integrated onto the ship has been made. 

In September 2015, 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 ethality 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 Navy is in the process of researching and defining requirements for a shipboard anti-ship missile.  Competition will absolutely factor into any acquisitions strategy to ensure that we fulfill the requirement at the best value to the government," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Kara Yingling told Scout Warrior in an interview. 

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" 

While the Navy is, perhaps more th While the Navy is, perhaps more than ever, still committed to freedom of navigation and working to ensure safe passage in strategic areas in international waterways, the new strategy is aimed at ensuring the entire fleet is engineered with the sensors, computer technology, radar, communications gear and weapons systems to over-match any potential near-peer competitor such as Russia or China. The strategy seeks to ensure the U.S, Navy retains its technological advantage amidst a fast-changing global technological landscape. 

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