LCS Fort Worth Completes Test as Congress Cools on Program

LCS Fort WorthNavy officials told reporters Thursday the third Littoral Combat Ship recently completed a successful operational evaluation of its surface warfare technologies days after Congress slowed down the production rate for the vessel.

The USS Fort Worth, the Navy’s third LCS, engaged in scenarios involving swarms of small boats, engagements with its 57mm gun, and search and seizure exercises, said Rear Adm. John Ailes, LCS Mission Modules.

“We destroyed all the targets and the crew’s performance was excellent. It was a great event and we are pleased with all facets of the surface warfare mission package,” Ailes told Military.com in an interview.

The House Armed Services Committee Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee has proposed legislation that slows the rate of purchase for the LCS from three to two per year.

The subcommittee supports the LCS program and the development of a new small surface combatant, but priorities such as refueling the USS George Washington and ensuring that the Navy can operate an 11-carrier fleet took precedence in the budget, said a congressional staffer close to the subcommittee.

The mark up is the latest in a series of setbacks for the controversial LCS program, which was truncated from 52 ships down to 32 by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in January of this year.

Formal results and grades from the commander for the operational test that took place at the Navy’s Point Mugu test range in California are expected within 90 days, Ailes added.

The operational evaluation was designed to further develop the LCS’ increment 2 of its surface warfare mission package. The LCS is engineered to accommodate specific mission packages to include surface warfare, mine-countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare.

The LCS has two variants, the Freedom ships built by Lockheed Martin and the Independence ships built by Austal, US.

The LCS’ mine-countermeasures, or MCM, mission package is slated for end-to-end testing this summer and its own operational evaluation in 2015, Ailes said. The MCM testing, to take place with the USS Independence, will assess a handful of technological upgrades to the mission package to include a new radio, he said.

“We’ve upgraded the radios to allow us to do multiple vehicles at the same time and we have a radio system that is a high bandwidth radio which we call the multi vehicle communications system. The new radio is a network radio. You could think of it as Wifi,” he said.

The centerpiece of the MCM mission package is a remote minehunting system, or RMS, which consists of a semi-submersible remote vehicle operating with a AN/AQS-20A variable depth mine-hunting sonar. The sonar is designed to detect, classify, identify and locate bottom and moored mines in shallow and deep water, Navy officials said.

Overall, the Navy has worked closely with RMS-maker Lockheed Martin to improve the reliability of the system.

“We made vehicle upgrades that would allow the system to operate with much less overall maintenance. We made design changes to allow the system to operate in a minefield. This reduces the sailors workload and increases operational availability of the system,” said Steve Froelich, director of remote minehunting systems, Lockheed.

Also, data collected from the remote minehunting system is intended to work in tandem with an airborne mine neutralization system on board an MH-60 helicopter, Ailes explained.

Prototypes of the third mission package for LCS, called an anti-submarine warfare package, are slated to go to sea this summer aboard the USS Freedom, or LCS 1, he added.

The ASW package uses what’s called Variable Depth Sonar, or VDS, and a Multi-Function Towed Array, or MFTA.

“Variable Depth Sonar allows us to put the sound down where the submarine is. If you look on current destroyers, they have a hull-mounted sonar on the bow. It turns out that there are acoustic layers based on temperature and pressure that bend the sound up. A submarine can dive below this layer and there is a lot of attenuation and signal loss from a hull-mounted sonar,” Ailes explained in an interview last year.

The Variable Depth Sonar allows sailors to place the sonar “beneath this layer,” he said.

MFTA is a towed array sonar system, tethered to the ship, that is able to receive and transmit signals, including sounds and signals emerging from the VDS, Ailes explained.

The VDS and MFTA, working in tandem, are able to detect submarines deeper and at further ranges than hull-mounted sonar systems currently on Navy cruisers and destroyers, Ailes added.

Ailes also said the ASW package technology can successfully detect submarines while traveling at high speeds.

“The Variable Depth Sonar puts the sound out, the Multi-Function Towed Array receives it. We take the data coming out of the Multi-Function Towed Array and run that through digital signal processing techniques,” he added.

The Navy is planning a competition to procure a new, smaller VDS in order to lower costs and decrease the size of the hole needed to be cut through the door, Ailes explained.

The MFTA, called the AN/TB-37, is currently fielded on 30 US Navy cruisers and destroyers

The ASW mission package is also configured to work in tandem with UAS such as the Fire Scout and airborne torpedoes on-board the Navy’s MH-60R helicopter.

The MH-60R can also lower active and passive sonar sensors using a sonobouy device; in fact, the MH-60R can make use of a dipping VDS which drops into deep water from the air, Ailes added.

An operational evaluation is slated for the ASW mission package in 2016, Ailes said.

About the Author

Kris Osborn
Kris Osborn is the managing editor of Scout Warrior.
  • blight_

    We’d be insane to use anything but MCM and ASW.

    At some point using drones to separate the VDS and the MFTA will increase the power of the ASW system…

    • blight_

      We can’t predict which types of small boats we will encounter, but hopefully LCS is ready for small, medium and large.

      We need torpedo boat, ahem, Missile Boat Destroyers. Emphasis placed on neutralizing anti-ship missiles before they hit the valuable targets, and the firepower to dispatch them with missiles. But missile boats are actually larger than the “small boats” we seem to preoccupied with, and far more dangerous.

      Going back to the Soviets, they made the older Komar, the larger Osa and the larger Tarantul. The Tarantul is in the 500 ton range, about the mass of a corvette or fast attack craft. The Osa is in the 200 ton range, the Komar in the ~80 ton range.

      Iran’s littoral fleet seems distributed in this fashion. There’s a number of small ~100 ton craft with missiles and I suspect the stereotypical boghammars are even smaller (10-50 tons?), and perhaps armed with recoiless rifles or ATGM’s. Then there’s bigger things closer to 100 tons, then the 300 ton and the 500 ton range.

      For the smaller boats that can’t reach out very far the LCS is probably well-suited to defeating them. The SW module’s 30mm guns and the 57mm will outrange a fifty-cal and anything you can put on a small boat. And a single ATGM might be counterable from long range, and a recoiless rifle is comparatively short range and will require getting close.

      Hard to say how well LCS will do against larger classes of small boat. Presumably an attacker of LCS would have to open up with anti-ship missiles at the edge of range, and could only count on whatever made it through defenses, if any, to damage the LCS. LCS’ option at range beyond the 57mm is limited by whatever missiles are eventually procured, and the use of the helicopter and drones. Then there’s an inner zone of 57mm range. We assume attacker using anti-ship missiles in a small platform sacrifices medium range capability for the use of missiles on a small boat. In which case, it may be a wash for LCS.

      What may be of greatest concern is a surface combatant of ~500 tons designed to combat missile boat destroyers. Attack missile boat destroyers with weapons intended to outrange it, along with a heavier gun (since anti-LCS is hunting for frigates and corvettes, instead of LCS hunting for smaller, more numerous targets). LCS is quite fast, so it’s probable that gun-hunting an LCS requires some degree of fire control.

      The messier alternative is to try and get into gun range, but the surface warfare package throws in some 30mm’s to make it interesting: beyond the range of the 30mm’s the LCS will only really have the Bofors.

      Effective attack strategies will be adjusted to weapons at ranges greater than the 30 and equal to the Bofors, and those with ranges beyond the Bofors and in missile territory, probably equal to the LCS’ next missile, whatever form it takes.

      At some point LCS will be dispatched against a Navy, and it’ll expect to fight small Boghammars with a fifty-cal (which it can presumably do so with ease), or a 20mm, or a 23mm, or maybe an ATGM (which it can outrange with the 57’s)? and it’ll encounter something like a Komar or a boat with C-801’s. Or something in the Tarantul size.

  • The Independence was just here in Humboldt Bay getting ready to do some testing off the coast of CA, OR and WA

  • hank

    What about reliability????

  • hibeam

    LCD. Littoral Combat Drones. There is no good reason to go into shallow waters to mix it up with the tiny boat swarms. Take them on with helicopter drones.

  • tiger

    The PHM’s 30 years ago cost less, were just as fast & actually had firepower to kill something. As for the drone/ Mh-60? What about when it can not fly? The LCS does not even have anti sub torpedo to shoot. Detect subs at high speed? Then the sub can hear them as well.

  • Deuterium2H

    Breaking news headlines from Breaking Defense dot com:

    “Ready, Set, Go! Navy Gives Industry 21 Days For LCS Alternatives”.

    Here is the direct link:

    http://breakingdefense.com/2014/04/ready-set-go-n

    Looks as though the USN has a crash program underway to solicit RFIs (Request For Information) pertaining to LCS alternatives. The gist of the RFI involves a platform that is more in line with a frigate class, both in offensive and defensive capabilities. One possibility mentioned is the modification and “upgunning” the Coast Guard National Security Cutter (built by HII). While they will be entertaining proposals from HII and other usual suspects, the USN will be exploring existing solutions already in service with our allies. Sounds like the LCS goose may finally be cooked…we can only hope.

    • Nadnerbus

      Naw, they are playing the game to make congress happy, the same way they had another carbine competition even though everyone knew they had no plans to actually adopt a new carbine. They will probably use whatever results they get from the RFI to show congress that it will be too expensive to start a new program. I hope I’m wrong, but I’d be surprised.

  • jacob c

    I love how these defense company’s will rush a milestone only after they’re under the threat of sequestration.

  • MCM and ASW are necessary functions and a fleet of cheap vessels that is versatile and can be reconfigured like the LCS is necessary. Not every vessel need be a surface to surface strike craft.

  • Dfens

    Sure, kill this program now. Lockheed will laugh all the way to the bank with their “cancellation fees” in hand. Or don’t kill it and Lockheed will make a profit on every day they can drag out the production of this crappy ship. They win either way and you lose. Oh, and don’t forget, the next program will be better. We will do it right next time.

    • oblatt22

      We didn’t pay compensation to the mafia when we shut down their gin stills. There are tens of thousands of cases of fraud and racketeering on the books against Lockheed. Send in the FBI and shut it down just like any other organized crime group.

    • voodkokk

      Yea, they may laugh, but I guarantee you that if they are disbarred from all future government contracting they will not be laughing.

  • Big-Dean

    Oh great, another LARGE crappy ship………China is laughing……an so is Putin…….

  • voodkokk

    The USS Fort Worth, the Navy’s third LCS, engaged in scenarios involving swarms of small boats, engagements with its 57mm gun, and search and seizure exercises, said Rear Adm. John Ailes, Program Executive Officer, LCS.

    What were the small boats armed with?

  • Rich

    I won’t pretend to be very knowledgeable about these ships; however, the biggest complaint I’ve gathered is concerns about the ships armor or lack there of. I just hope that they don’t throw the baby out with the bath water, because I think these ships close to shore capabilities, speed, and other modern features would make them gold for service with the Coast Guard.

  • Each LSC cost about $450,000,000.00 plus mission module of about $90,000,000.00. Stop LCS production at 24 ships and reduce the # of mission modules to 24 total and use the money to refuel the GW.

  • Rob C.

    Hopefully the modules will function properly, i’m not so keen on them now being able to work.

    Anti-Submarine weaponry is going be interesting. Will there be modules mounted so they can slide a door aside launch torpedos? Towed sonar seems most likely, aside from helicopter support.

    VLS Astroc is still the best but Freedom and definately not the Independence with narrow bow can mount them.