Despite a significant investment, the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has garnered its fair share of detractors, and it would seem the Navy has now decided to move on from the design it touts as “the future” of Naval warfare.
According to a Request for Information (RFI) posted by the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research, the Navy is now on the market for a new frigate design, tentatively called FFG(X), or Fast Frigate, Guided (Experimental). This request comes only days after Lockheed Martin launched the latest LCS to take to the water, the LCS Billings, on July 1st.
The Billings is the eighth LCS to be launched, with four already commissioned and in service dating back as far as 2008. Problems with the ship that was once intended to be the future workhorse of the Navy began surfacing almost immediately. The USS Independence had to return to dry dock after only a year in the water due to expansive corrosion issues, the USS Coronado was forced to cut short a planned deployment due to mechanical issues, the USS Freedom needed a new diesel powerplant after only a few years on the water, and the USS Fort Worth was left to sit idle in Singapore for months as they worked out mechanical problems.
And those mechanical issues aren’t the LCS’ only problems. In conjunction with the ship’s high-profile reliability issues, it is also meagerly armed, with only a single 57-millimeter bow-mounted gun and a pair of 30-millimeter light cannons. The ships were intended to be armed with anti-ship missiles, but no plan to actually do so has yet to come to fruition. As a result, many in the Navy have called the LCS a failure, but with nine ships already launched or under construction and a standing order for 31 more, the Navy may finally be willing to reconsider the feasibility of the LCS in a geopolitical climate where naval strength is growing in importance.
The new RFI calls for a frigate that is capable of integrating into carrier strike groups, serve on independent missions, and relieve some of the workload currently placed on the over-tasked Arleigh Burke-class destroyers during “operations other than war.” These operations likely include humanitarian assistance and disaster relief as well as missions that require a U.S. presence for diplomatic or security cooperation efforts.
The Navy expects the new frigate design to be based on existing platforms, and hopes to integrate the “Aegis-derivative COMBATSS-21 combat management system, a C4I suite, an Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR), Mk53 Decoy Launching System (Nulka), a SeaRAM Mk15 Mod 31 in addition to a UAV and an MH-60R helicopter.” The Navy also specifically requested descriptions of launcher types and cell quantities for Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block 2 ship defense missiles.
This shift in strategy likely comes as a result of a shift in potential combat operations in the years ahead. While the LCS was intended to serve in the periphery of the war on terror, offering a quick response in shoreline areas, the current political climate dictates that America’s Navy could find itself squaring off with well-armed vessels flying a Chinese or Russian flag. In either event, the current LCS would find itself hopelessly outgunned.
According to the RFI, the Navy hopes to begin awarding construction contracts for its new frigate at a rate of one ship per year as soon as 2020, with an order expected to grow to two ships per year in the years that follow.
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