Jul 16, 2010

Future of the US Light Surface Combattant Fleet

Between good and catastrophic idea’s…

+/- 58 FFG/MCM/PB’s, expected to be replaced by 55 LCS

30 Oliver.H.Perry class ASW Frigate (Now OPV)
(McInemey, Boone, Stephen W Groves, John L Hall, Jarrett, Underwood, Crommelin, Curts, Doyle, Halyburton, McClusky, Klakring, Thach, De Wert, Rentz, Nicholas, Vandegrift, Robert G Bradley, Taylor, Gary, Carr, Hawes, Ford, Elrod, Simpson, Reuben James, Samuel B Roberts, Kauffman, Rodney M Davis, Ingraham). Effective ASW frigate during late cold war, 51 originally build. The remaining frigates on US hands will have been converted for OPV use. Commissioned by 1979/1989, with 30 year service life expected, all to be retired by 2019 and replaced by some LCS.

14 Cyclone class patrol boats
(PC-1/14: Cyclone, Tempest, Hurricane, Monsoon, Typhoon, Sirocco, Squall, Zephyr, Chinook, Firebolt, Whirlind, Thunderboldt, Shamal, Tornado). 350+ tons patrol boats. Commissioned by 1993/2000, with probable 20/25 year service life expected. But current US Navy plan probably expect to retire +/- prematurely this class by early 2010’s (some likely to be transferred to foreign navy). To be partially replaced in the US Fleet by some LCS.

14 Avenger class Minewespeer (US MCM capabilities likely to rise by early 2020’s ?)
(Avenger, Defender, Sentry, Champion, Guardian, Devastator, Patriot, Scout, Pioneern Warrior, Gladiator, Ardent, Dextrous, Chief). 1300 tons, commissioned by 1987/1994. With probable 25+ year service life, all to be retired by 2012/2019 and replaced by some LCS fitted with MCM modules (24 MCM modules officially expected).

In fact, these 3 class of ships (30+14+14= 58 ships) are scheduled to be replaced by a single new common modular class of 55 ships, the LCS…

Up to 55 Littoral Combat Ships, or the fatal error…
Early 1990’s/2001: A initial great idea or the return to the naval littoral warfare !
In the aftermark of the cold war, with some new kind of conflicts around the world, the concept of littoral warfare resurfaced (especially the “Street-fighter” concept, a 500/800 tons fast, stealthy craft intended to dominate enemy littoral’s) rise up.

2001/mid 2003: Very trendy, many design study and some hope for a smaller 300/800 tons design…
By mid 2001, some US warships study look for a 500 tons design. The LCS is intended to be a cheap (220 $ million max), fast (40+ knots) and +/- light (up tp +/- 2000/3000 tons), hightly automated (40/75 sailors) surface combatant that is to be equipped with modular “plug-and-fight” mission packages. The LCS’s primary intended missions are antisubmarine warfare (ASW), mine countermeasures (MCM), and surface warfare (SUW), particularly in littoral waters. Others missions include peacetime engagement/partnership-building operations, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations, maritime intercept operations, operations to support special operations forces, and homeland defense operations.

By late 2002/early 2003, severals designs were seriously studied for the LCS concept :
- A +/- 120 meters, 3000 tons Trimaran hull design, from Bath Iron Works/General Dynamics/Austal. Gibbs & Cox.
- A +/- 115 meters, 3000 tons advanced 3000 tons semi planning monohull design “Sea Blade” from Lockheed Martin. Marine Systems.
- A 72+ meters, 640 tons monohull stealthly design derived from the Swedish “Visby” corvette design, offered by Northrop Grumann/Kockums/HDW.
- Textron Systems offered this Hybrid Catamaran Air Cushion (HCAC) craft.
- A 47+ meters, 275+ tons, +/- similar to the Norwegian “Skjold” stealthly craft, offered by Raytheon.

Late 2003/2004: First (bad) design choices, growth in size, toward the disaster, and pathetic hopes for up to 82 ships…
By mid 2003, three preliminary designs were selected: The 3000 tons Trimaran hull from General Dynamics; the 3000 tons semi planning monohull hull from Lockheed Martin and the HCAC design from Textron Systems. By may 2004, the 2 final contenders selected was The Trimaran hull and the semi planning monohull, with the main goal to build up to 4 demonstrators ships before any final design choice.

2006/2010: The beginning of the joke !
Unfortunately, with the building of the first 2 demonstrator’s ships, some weakness (some even severe), begin to appear:

- Cost of the first 2 demonstrators ships rise even DRAMATICALY: LCS 1”Freedom”, from 220 to 637 $ million (+ 289%); LCS 2 “Independence”: from 220 to 704 $ million (+320%). This tremendous cost forces the US Navy to delayed/postponed the 2 others “demonstrators ships from 2007 to 2009. With this, one of the main advantages of the LCS, the affordability, disappeared….

- Delays, cost-overruns and even much worse (NLOS-LS) for some “combat modules”.

- The monohull design was clearly over-powered : 113 000hp for the LCS 1 “Freedom; but only 60 000hp for the LCS 2 “independence” (this difference were due to the better efficiency of the Trimaran hull design). Although with a sufficient range for littoral warfare, unfortunately a very too shorter endurance for effective long oversea deployment (1150 miles at 15 knots, 3350 miles at 18 knots for the LCS 1; and 1940 miles at 46 knots and 4300 miles at 20 knots for the LCS 2……..to compare with 4200 miles at 20 knots or 5000 miles at 18 knots for a O.H.Perry FFG).

- Some serious concerns about survivability in littoral environment (again supersonic or even future hypersonic cruise missile, very fast rocket propelled torpedoes, advanced mobile mine, improvised naval mine, suicide frogmen with limpet mine/charge, suicide midget submarines, suicide small fast crafts, improvised rocket). Don’t forget that the first 2 ships failed during shock hardening tests (ability to keep operating following an nearly underwater explosion) and even more worse, LCS-1 could be easily swamped when fully loaded.

- With too fewer crew, serious doubt rise about the capabilities for this very small crew (40 sailors + 35 max others with combat modules), to conduct efficient battle damage repairs on a +/- 120 meters, 3000 tons warship.

From 2010 to late 2020’s……
Although usually a mass warships building reduce the unit cost, growing warships cost and inflation will most likely keep the cost per furthers LCS above 600+ $ million, without combat modules…A final choice about the “winning design” (to be mass built) will be taken by mid/late 2010 by the US Navy.

In Fact the US Navy expect to build 55 LCS and 64 LCS mission packages (16 ASW, 24 MCM, 24 SUW). The current LCS shipbuilding program (incorporate the US Navy 30 year shipbuilding plan 2011-2040) is this :

2 LCS (LCS 1-2) ordered by FY 2005/2006, commissioned by 2008/2010, to be retired by 2032/2035.
2 LCS (LCS 3-4) ordered by FY 2009, commissioned by 2012, to be retired by 2037.
2 LCS (LCS 5-6) ordered by FY 2010, commissioned by 2013, to be retired by 2038.
2 LCS (LCS 7-8) ordered by FY 2011, commissioned by 2014, to be retired by 2039.
3 LCS (LCS 9-11) ordered by FY 2012, commissioned by 2015, to be retired by 2040.
4 LCS (LCS 12-23) ordered each year through FY 2013-2015, commissioned by 2016/2019, to be retired by 2041/2044.
3 LCS (LCS 24-35) ordered each year through FY 2016-2019, commissioned by 2019/2022, to be retired by 2044/2047.
2 LCS (LCS 36-45) ordered each year through FY 2020-2024, commissioned by 2023/2026, to be retired by 2048/2051.
1-2-1-2 LCS (LCS 46-58) pattern each year through FY 2025-2033, commissioned by 2028/2036, to be retired by 2053/2061. With the first 2 newer LCS(X) (LCS 56-57) ordered by 2032 and commissioned by 2035/2036.
2 LCS(X) (LCS 59-72) ordered each year through FY 2034-2040, commissioned by 2037/2043, to be retired by 2062/2068.

In fact, it is clear that despite the official 55 goal vessel requirement of the U.S. Navy, this reach, AT THE EXTREME BEST CASE (if any future budgets cuts/delays/cost overruns occurred during…….2012-2032……………), only around +/- 53 ships. Because with the current plan, the 55th LCS will be ordered by FY 2031 and commissioned by +/- 2034 (at the same time as the 1st LCS will be retired).

Toward a new LCS(X) design by earlier 2030’s
With a 25 year expected service life, the 55 currently planned LCS, to be commissioned around 2009-2034, was expected to be retired by 2032/2057 and progressively replaced (doubtfully at one by one basis) by a new generation of LCS(X) by early 2030’s (or a other replacement concept ?). There are probably 2 solutions:

A newer LCS(X) (a batch/Flight II or a improved design)
A radically different concept, maybe turned to the more valuable mother ship concept

In any case, the cost per copy for a future LCS(X) will be around 700+ $ million per copy (2010 estimates), but I think that by late 2020/mid 2030, final cost (with shipbuilding cost increase/inflation) reach around 1+ $ billion or even more…

Ocean Cutters (Ocean Patrol Vessels), down from 12 to only 8 by late 2010’s
12 Hamilton class national cutters
(WHEC-719/726: Hamilton, Dallas, Mellon, Chase, Boutwell, Sherman, Gallatin, Morgenthau, Rush, Munro, Jarvis, Midgett). 3250 tons cutters, Commissioned by 1967/1972. Originally with +/- 25 years of service, extended through the 1990’s to 35/even 40+ years. Now totally worn out and expected to be partially replaced by only 8 new Bertholf class cutters by 2009/2020.

8 future Bertholf class national cutters
(WMSL-750/757: Bertholf, Waesche, Stratton, Hamilton, others not yet named). 4500 tons cutter/frigate design. Flaws discovered during the construction of the first 2 ships (hull fatigue). Price: 4,7 $ billion for 8 ships (= 580+ $ million per copy, 2009 estimates), 30 year service life expected, This class, same as LCS, suffered from cost-overruns. Commissioned by 2008-2017.

Up to 28 Modular ships (toward a great improvement in naval warfare)
2 Demonstrator’s ships
Sea Fighter (FSF 1), 80 meters, 950 tons SWATH hull. Commissioned by 2005. Likely to be used extensively for trials and patrol boat purpose for +/- 20 years. To be retired maybe by 2025.

Swift (HSV 2), 98 meters, 1600+ tons full loaded, Hybrid catamaran. Commissioned by 2003. Likely to be retired during 2010’s and returned to civilian use.

A nearly similar but older ships (Joint Venture HSV-X1), was used for trials around 1998/2004 and retired from US Service and returned to civilian use. A another +/- similar ship (Westpac Express, HSV 4676), were loaned up to 2011. These 4 ships have served (or still serve) for extensive operational testing use. Following these tests, it was decided to acquire a standard class of more than 28 new JSHV.

Up to 28 JSHV (Joint High Speed Vessel), up to 28/41 by mid 2020’s.
Modular catamaran design, able for transport/logistic/and even patrol use, relatively cheaper (+/- 160/200 $ million per ship). With 20 year service life expected, to be commissioned by +/- 2013/2025, to be retired by 2033/2045 and replaced by a JSHV Block II (improved design) or maybe ? by a newer JSHV X design (procurement begin in FY 2030).
1 ordered each year through FY2009/2012; 2 ordered each year thought FY2013/2022, for a total of 24 JSHV (+ 5 others ordered by US Army). For a total of 41 JHSV procured over the next 30 year.

13 Ice capable ships, some concerns about their future…
2 Polar class icebreaker
(Polar Sea, Polar Star), 13200 tons, commissioned by 1976/1977.

1 Mackinaw class lake icebreaker
(Mackinaw), 3500 tons, commissioned by 2006

1 Healy class icebreaker
(Healy), 16 000 tons, commissioned by 1999

9 Katmay Bay tug icebreaker class
(Katmai Bay, Bristol Bay, Mobile Bay, Biscayne Bay, Neah Bay, Morro Bay, Penobscot Bay, Thunder Bay, Sturgeon Bay), commissioned by 1979-1988.

27 Medium OPV (1000/2000 tons range), grow in size and down in number by late 2010’s/early 2020’s
13 Famous class Endurance cutters
(WMEC 901-913: Bear, Tampa, Harriet Lane, Northland, Spencer, Seneca, Escanaba, Tahoma, Campbell, Thetis, Forward, Legare, Mohawk), 1800 tons OPV, 270 foot (82+m), commissioned 1983-1991. With probable +/- 30 year service life expected, to be retired around 2013/2021. Likely to be replaced by the later new 3200 tons Offshore patrol cutters.

14 Reliance class Endurance cutters
(WMEC 615-630: Reliance, Digilence, Vigilant, Active, Confidence, Resolute, Valiant, Steadfast, Dauntless, Venturous, Dependable, Vigorous, Decisive, Alert), 2 others already retired (Courageous, Durable); 1100 tons OPV, 210 foot (64m), commissioned by 1964-1969. Ageing vessel to be replaced by 2010’s by the early new Offshore Patrol Cutters

up to 24 new Offshore Patrol cutters
3200 tons, expected to be commissioned around +/- 2017/2028. With probable +/- 30 year service life.

Training ship
1 Eagle class sailing training ship (Eagle), commissioned by 1946 (ex german ship)

16 Juniper class Buoy tenders
(Juniper, Willow, Kukui, Elm, Walnut, Spar, Maple, Aspen, Sycamore, Cypress, Oak, Hickory, Fir, Hollyhock, Sequoia, Alder), 2000 tons, commissioned 1996- 2005.

120 Mid Shore Boats (20+ to 40 meters range), toward 129 by late 2010’s.
49 Island class built
110 foot (34 meters) (WPB 1301-1349), currently 41 still in service. 8 more in reserve (after a attempt to rebuild/enlarge them failed) and unlikely to return at sea. To be replaced by 46 new Fast Response Cutters (FRC-A), around 200 tons and 12 New Fast Response Cutters (FRC-B) (Sentinel class) Sentinel class, 350 tons, 46+ meters (154ft)

71 Marine Protector class
87 foot (27 meters), (WPB- 87333-87319), commissioned through 2000’s decade.

+/- 300 Small boats (12 to 20 meters)
117 (a total of 200 planned) MLB 47 (14 meters) foot class:
18/20 tons, commissioned 1997 to mid 2010’s

+/- 172 UTB 41 foot (12 meters) boats:
since 2008 these ageing small boats will be progressively retired and replaced by the Response boat medium (47 foot, 13+ meters) through 2008-2018 As mid 2010, 28 to 96 boats delivered, 180 expected

+/- 1200 Very Small Boats (4 to 11 meters)
The Coast Guard operates a grand total of +/- 1,400 small boats, defined as any vessel less than 65 feet (20 meters) in length (the shortest is 12 feet (4 m)) which generally operate near shore and on inland waterways. This 1200 very small boats include:

33 Long range interceptor:
(11 meters RHIB) expected Many 25 foot (8 meters) transportable port security boats, commissioned since 1997.

91 Short range prosecutor:
(7 meters RHIB)

500 response boat small:
(25ft), since 2003, (470 for USCG, 20 for department of homeland security and 10 for US Navy).

US Riverine Force (estimations)
Currently 3 squadron with a total of +/- 36 RHIB, small boats.

- 27 HC-130
- 3 Casa HC-144A
- 1 Gulfstream

- 35 HU-25A Guardian
- 35 HH-60J
- 102 HH-65
- 8 MH-68


My personal opinion about a future US light surface combatant fleet (US Navy & US Coast Guard), better to have:

+/- 40 Oceanic Patrol Boat (light frigate, 200+ miles and beyond, long overseas deployment capable, for sea presence):
2 possible hull designs:

A +/- 3500 tons monohull design built on civilian standard with great automation (to save procurement/operational cost), for excellent seakepping quality and long endurance (for excellent overseas deployments). Armed with a 76mm gun fore, one or two 20 or 25mm gun (Phalanx or Mk 38) aft, up to six 12,7mm machines guns, with hangar for 1 helico. With a self defense capability againt aerial/submarines asymmetrical threats (4/6 short range SAM manpads AAW missile, a cheaper sonar and special weapons againt midgets submarines). Capacity for 2/3 RHIB and 12/15 commandos/special forces. Likely to cost around 150/200 $ million.

Or a more flexible 3000/4000 tons catamaran design (improved JHSV design), likely slightly more expensive (+/- 200/300 $ million) than a conventional monohull design but with a greater modularity. Able to be used as Oceanic patrol boat, small logistic ship, small helico carrier, mothers ship & so. With a combat module fore (for a 76mm gun or 20/30mm gun or self protection missiles, with up to six 12,7mm machines guns around the hull, with a large helipad aft for 2/3 helico/UAV. A vast Internal hangar for 2/3 dozens of vehicles or 2/3 helico/UAV, capacity for 3-4 RHIB or UUV/SUW unmanned vehicles.

+/- 28/38 pure Littoral combatant ships (much smaller/cheaper/effective than the current LCS……):
A +/- 500/800 tons (50/80 meters) monohull or catamaran modular design (with “plug in” combat modules, similar to the Danish STANFLEX concept). With high speed (45+ knots), high agility/manoeuvrability, shallow draft, enough small to be carried by much bigger ships (on LHD/LPD/LSD well decks or on deck aboard big auxiliary logistics US ships or civilian ships loaned, as “mothers ship concept”) near the operational aera. Able to be reconfigured very quickly (few days) in 2 versions:

- Surface warfare : heavily armed with one 76mm gun fore, one 20 or 25mm gun aft (Phalanx or Mk 38 gun), up to four 12,7mm machines guns, central module for up to 4 SSM Harpoon, up to 15 small anti-ships missiles (similar than NLOS-LS), up to 6 short range SAM missiles manpad, aft small helipad for small UAV use, aft modular internal room with capacity for 2 RIHB (10/12 commandos/special forces) or 2 SUUVW.

- Under-waters Warfare (ASW, Mines): with one 20 or 25mm gun fore (Phalanx or Mk 38), up to four 12,7mm machines gun/gatlins, aft modular room with capacity for sonars/UUV vehicles/MCM devices/ASW torpedoes.

+/- 45 off-shore patrol boat (OPV, for up to 200 miles US EEZ aera patrol’s):
A +/- 1000/1800 tons monohull design, built on civilian standard with great automation (to reduce drastically procurement/operational cost). Armed with a 25/35mm gun fore (Mk38 or others), with up to six 12,7mm machines gun, hangar for 1 light helico and UAV, capacity for 2/3 RHIB and 10/12 commandos/special forces.

+/- 130 Mid Shore patrol boats (MPV, up to 60/100 miles patrol’s):
A +/- 300/400 tons monohull design, built on civilian standard with great automation (to reduce drastically procurement/operational cost). Armed with a 25/30mm gun fore (Mk38 or others), up to four 12,7mm machines guns, very small UAV capable, capacity for 2 RHIB and up to 10 commandos/special forces.

+/- 350 Coastals Patrol Boat’s (CPB, up to 12 miles patrol’s):
A +/- 18/25 tons monohull design, built on civilian standard with great automation (to reduce drastically procurement/operational coast). Capable to carry one or two machines guns and 1 RHIB with 5/8 commandos/special forces.

+/- 1000 Inshore/Waterways patrol’s boats Massive use of RHIB.

Next editorial (likely around early september): Future of the Canadian Navy.

It may be that in my opinion, I forgot programms ? (or made few mistakes ?), then said it ! Feel free to comment and give your opinion !


  1. Mike, IRT what you called the midshore patrol boats. There will be no FRC-A boats, instead the plan is to purchase 58 47 meter Sentinel class, based on the Damen 4708, 353 tons, one Mk38mod2 25mm stabilized mount, 4 .50 cal.28 knots. Initial contact has been let with options to cover the first 34. First keel laid in April, delivery expected 2011.

    Names for all eight National Security Cutters are:
    WMSL 750 Bertholf, 
WMSL 751 Waesche,
 WMSL 752 Stratton
, WMSL 753 Hamilton, 
WMSL 754 James, 
WMSL 755 Stone, 
WMSL 756 Midgett, 
WMSL 757 Kimball

    Displacement of the Offshore Patrol Cutters is not yet determined. First delivery is not expected until 2019 (Project is still in the "market research" stage, I would hope they can speed that up).

    The long range interceptors are very capable ship's boats intended to operate beyond visual range from their parent ship.

    Those interested in Coast Guard procurement programs may want to check out the acquisition directorate's web site:http://www.uscg.mil/acquisition/

    We have also had extensive discussions here: http://cgblog.org/

  2. Thanks "Chuck Hill" for this more accurates data about future USCG programs.

  3. Mike, you claim regarding LCS that "the first 2 ships failed during shock hardening tests." I haven't seen anything reported about shock testing on the first two ships, can you provide a source?

  4. One of the source:

    Sorry, I lost the others...