Video Above: Navy Connects Air, Surface, Underseas Drones
Beneath the visible enthusiasm and widespread discussion about several of the Navy’s new platforms such as the DDG 51 Flight III and DDG X destroyer program, the service is quietly continuing to produce and improve its growing fleet of Littoral Combat Ships.
Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Production
The Navy has already commissioned as many as 23 Littoral Combat Ships and 35 have been awarded or put on contract, according to published Navy data on the LCS fleet. LCS production therefore, while it may seem somewhat beneath the radar, is consuming a massive amount of Navy priority attention.
Navy data says beyond the 35 on contract, three more are pre-delivery, five additional LCS are under various stages of construction and four are in the pre-construction phase."
“We're continuing that strong drumbeat of production, we're still tearing through a lot of the ships that are in post delivery, making sure that we're finishing those up strong, and we are making sure that we continue to incorporate lessons learned,” Capt. Andy Gold, Littoral Combat Ship Program Manager, told an audience at the 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium.
With 35 already awarded and more on the way, it might seem easy for some to forget about the sheer size of the LCS fleet. The overall plan continues to be to build and deploy a strong, large fleet of LCS’.
“Our big focus remains on strong production and sustaining the great efforts of industry and Navy folks who oversee this. Started fab already and laid the keel for the Augusta and launched the Nantucket in Santa Barbara. We've christened the Marionette and have done builders trials and acceptance trials on Canberra. We are just tearing through maintaining a very, very strong pace of all the production things, even through COVID,” Gold said.
“We still have a lot of important ships to deliver. We still have ships going on deployment and the fleet is sending us good lessons learned back. So we're taking a lot of that working with our counterparts in the in service program, and incorporating those into both variants and making sure that we're making the ships more reliable, more sustainable, and making sure that they're able to do even better things out on deployment,” Gold said
Gold stressed that continued LCS production is heavily focused upon implementing lessons learned from ship deployments and making “fixes” and “adjustments” as needed.
“We're not done when we deliver ships, we have to get them out to the fleet. We transitioned Indianapolis and Oakland To the fleet. So that's a rigorous process where we go through everything we know on the ship and get them over in the hands of the sailors so they can go do the good things that they do,” Gold said. Gold cited several instances wherein lessons learned from deployment which are now impacting ongoing maintenance and construction efforts.
“Taking things from deployments that are coming back, and learning about areas where we can focus on particular items like water jets, or diesel engines and improve the reliability to help the sailors figure out how to maintain them better. Maintenance execution teams are trying to help them be able to support and repair their ships when they come back into port,” Gold said.
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Surface-to-Surface Mission Module (SSMM) HELLFIRES
The US Navy Littoral Combat Ship will soon be firing deck-launched HELLFIRE missiles from the ocean into land targets as part of the service’s fast-paced development of its Surface Warfare Mission Package integrated onto the ship.
The HELLFIRE-firing component of the Surface Warfare Mission package, now integrated onto LCS ships, is an attack system known as the Surface-to-Surface Mission Module (SSMM).
For most of its existence, the SSMM was primarily thought of as a counter-drone, aircraft and helicopter weapon able to track and destroy air and surface threats in ocean warfare engagements. Now, not surprisingly given the multi-domain focus of current Pentagon strategy, Navy weapons developers are thinking about firing the SSMM’s HELLFIRES at land targets.
Capt. Gus Weeks, Program Manager for LCS Mission Modules, said that during an upcoming exercise, the service will fire SSMM-launched HELLFIRES at land targets. Weeks said the demonstration is “going to be an exercise to determine whether or not we can utilize the SSMM to engage a stationary land target…..we’re trying to see if we can employ it a little differently,” speaking to an audience at the 2022 Surface Navy Association Symposium.
The Navy ship, engineered and up-gunned to use speed and its shallow draft to access ports, coastal areas and other high threat regions less accessible to deeper draft ships. While initially conceived of as a “littoral” platform, the Navy has in more recent years added lethality to the platform with things like the Naval Strike Missile, an over-the-horizon, deck-launched offensive strike missile.
The concept is to of course leverage the ship’s capacity for littoral operations such as countermine missions, surveillance or close-in combat, while simultaneously help ensure the ship can contribute to major maritime warfare operations on the open ocean in “blue-water” conflict.
The land attack mission is well suited to the LCS as it is a ship which can operate close to shore and potentially be in position to attack high-value land targets. A HELLFIRE missile is known to operate with a general range of about 8km from a helicopter, which means an LCS could get within a four-mile range of a given land target for attack.
The SSMM is fundamental to air and surface defense for the Navy as it has upgunned the LCS such that it can destroy enemy aircraft, ships or small craft on the move with laser spotting and helicopters. Now, the Navy is building upon this to ensure that the weapon can also support land operations.
This could be of tremendous consequence in the event of an amphibious attack, for instance, as Marines landing on a beach head to secure ground could advance with help of heavy incoming HELLFIRE attacks from off-shore LCS ships reaching inland toward the areas they are advancing toward. T
his would be extremely significant in an environment where air superiority was not established so enemy long-range guns, air defenses or troop fortifications would need to be targeted from land or surface ships like the LCS. Along with the SSMM, the LCS Surface Warfare Mission Package also includes 30mm guns, a 57mm gun, .50-cal Machine Guns and a defensive interceptor missile called SeaRAM.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest and President of Warrior Maven - the Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.