Monday, October 26, 2015

Littoral Combat Ships to Deploy With Harpoon and Kongsberg Strike Missiles

The US Navy’s push to increase the lethality of the littoral combat ship (LCS) is getting a major and somewhat unexpected boost with word that an over-the-horizon (OTH) surface-to-surface missile will be installed on-board the next LCSs to deploy.

Rear Adm. Pete Fanta, director of surface warfare at the Pentagon, issued a directive on Sept. 17 calling for the installation of an unspecified OTH missile aboard the Freedom and the Coronado, the next two LCSs scheduled for deployment. The Freedom is to deploy to the Western Pacific during the first quarter of calendar year 2016, while the Coronado is to follow in the second or third quarter.

“The objective is to install the OTH missile system aboard all in-service LCS deploying to forward operating stations starting in fiscal year 2016,” Fanta wrote in the directive, “as well as on all under-construction LCS prior to their commissioning ceremonies.”

The LCS has been without a surface-to-surface missile since the cancellation in 2010 of the Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) missile, a program managed by the US Army that would have provided LCS with a significant weapon. Ever since, the service has been searching for a suitable replacement. A shipboard launch system for the Hellfire missile is being developed for smaller targets, but that weapon is unable to inflict significant damage on larger ships -- a role the OTH is meant to fill.

An OTH weapon is to be included in the LCS frigate variant now under development. The Navy has issued a request for information to industry for the frigate missile, and a request for proposals is expected later this year, but no missile has yet been chosen.

Fanta’s directive does not mention a specific missile, but it’s understood from sources that the missiles for the initial installations will be the Boeing Harpoon and Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM).

The idea, sources confirmed, is to try out both kinds of missile on both LCS variants, each ship deploying with only one model of missile installed.

The Harpoon is a tried-and-true weapon that has armed most US warships since the late 1970s. It is a normally mounted in launch canisters, usually grouped in a quad pack. Most ships carry two quad packs, for a total of eight weapons – the maximum number of weapons per ship specified in Fanta’s directive. Boeing has been at work to improve the weapon, in particular to give it longer range.

The Norwegian-built NSM, by contrast, is not a US program of record and is not in service with any US platforms, although it is in service with the Norwegian Navy. It is the only naval strike missile to be fired from an LCS, however. In a simple demonstration test, a single missile box launcher was loaded aboard the Coronado and fired on Sept. 23, 2014. The launcher sat on a rudimentary platform exhausting over the ship’s flight deck, and the missile was not integrated into the Coronado’s combat system.

Fanta’s directive, in fact, notes that “full integration with the LCS combat system is not required. A stand-alone console or computer terminal capable of consummating an engagement is sufficient for initial fielding.”



russell1200 said...

I have a hard time wrapping my head around what the littorals are supposed to be doing. For something that sounds sort of like a gun boat/coastal battle ship with a desire for some monitor capabilities, the discussions I have seen surrounding them are odd.

Will Baird said...

They are supposed to be corvettes. Small, light, fast ships that hunt pirates and smaller ships. Think barracuda, not shark.

This made 'some' sense if we were going to be only facing the post cold war era from the 1991 to 2011. However, that generation of after the USSR's fall is over and China is rising and Russia is seeking to reassert itself. The strategic situation has radically changed and those ships are not really as useful as they would have been 20 odd years ago.

I can hope the naval brass planned ahead and made it easy to drop in new capabilities. However, the performance of the modules to date is not encouraging. And the SSC - the frigate coming out of the LCS program - is going to be too anemic still.

The Saudis have the right idea to add VLS. We ought to take it further and add in more capabilities. The Independence class has an ENORMOUS internal volume that can be taken advantage of.