Littoral Combat Ships (LCS); Which is best?
Ok, this is a typical armchair warrior stats and concepts comparison. Different ships are built to different requirements and some people will defend
their favorite with diehard zealotry regardless of what anyone else says – so to that end I am not trying to convert nor bash anyone’s
sensitivities. Especially when I say that the USN’s LCS designs aren’t best in class.
Strictly unqualified amateur effort. Illustrations by me. Feedback on illustrations and analysis welcome.
What is a Littoral Combat Ship anyway?
Damn good question. The best answer is that it’s just the current US Navy jargon for an Expeditionary frigate
. Sure the USN’s LCS
specifications are specific to their perceived needs and so on, but it’s not like the US Navy is the first or only navy to be building warships to
operate in same basic operating environment fulfilling the same basic role. In fact the USN’s specifications are actually quite narrow (ironic since
they emphasize flexibility and interchangeable mission modules) compared to the scope of some other navy’s takes on the subject. My preferred
definition of an Expeditionary frigate
A frigate sized warship designed to operate off foreign shores in a light-amphibious or power projection role with a focus on close-to-shore
In fact the wider trend in “expeditionary warfare” seems to be amphibious warfare ships with dock capabilities ranging from 6000 tons up to about
20,000 tons. This generic category has been in existence for many years, but current designs are intended to be more modular, stealthy,
mission-flexible and generally have much better aircraft capabilities, often with a through-deck configuration. Variations between '___' (Landing Ship
Dock), LPH (Landing Platform helicopter) and glorified RORO (Roll-On, Roll-Off) ferries abound. Where the Littoral combat ships in this essay differ
from this category is that they are smaller and more closely resemble the Frigate category, but with an expeditionary fighting focus. Where they
differ from missile boats and patrol craft is that they are designed to transverse oceans to fight in other people’s back yards, not just your own.
In all this the word “Littoral” is the greatest misnomer. It’s just a word the USN chose to use really, and reflects their doctrinal perspective
and politically considered naming of a project. Littoral Combat Ships as Expeditionary frigates
are inherently blue-water capable in order to
get to someone else’s littoral back yard. Ok, enough of semantics, if you disagree with my classification of what is and isn’t a Littoral Combat
Ship then stop reading now, the rest will be lost on you.
Ok, I’m not here to bash USN, but let’s let the cat out of the bag… after a very straightforward comparison of loosely equivalent designs, I
suggest the following ranking of LCS vessels:
1. Absalon Class, Denmark
2. F-125 Class, Germany
3. LCS-2 Independence, USA
4. LCS-1 Freedom, USA
That is to say, all things being equal it’s better to have two Abaslon class vessels than two of any of the other types. So why doesn’t US just
buy a load of Absalon Class boats? – We’ll come to that later.
Introducing the contenders
F-125 Frigate, Germany.
. Yet to be built, these boats are designed primarily for support of light marine/SF forces and power projection in
low/medium intensity situations like peacekeeping. They were originally emphasized shore bombardment/strike but this requirement seems to have been
scaled back for financial reasons – their MRLS and 155mm guns removed from the specs. They are the largest and most expensive ships in this
Absalon class, Denmark
. The only contender actually in operational service, two of these serve in the Royal Danish Navy, with a follow-on class
of four similar warships planned (although these will be more like GP Frigates than LCSs). These ships are about twice as heavy as the USN’s LCSs
but are much more like a conventional frigate with logistics/special operations capability added. They don’t clearly out-do the others in every
regard, but they are definitely the most versatile and survivable, and almost certainly the cheapest of the bunch. Very impressive boats, who’d have
thought the Danes would have jumped ahead in Naval concepts for the first time since their heyday in the 1700s?
LCS-1 Freedom, USA
. The Lockheed Martin LCS-1 design tends to get overshadowed by the comparatively futuristic LCS-2, but the design is in fact
the best performer in some key areas. Having said that it is also the smallest, particularly in terms of logistics (“Mission specific”) volume.
LCS-2 Independence, USA
The ones I forgot….
A few honorable mentions to other designs that sort of fit the bill. The first is the MEKO CLS
(CLS = Combat Ship Littorals). This design is
still on paper but is being actively marketed by Thyssen-Krupp, the same shipbuilders as the F-125. At 2800 tons and 108m length the CLS is
approximately the same size as the LCS-1, and similarly armed. It also claims 45kt top speed and flexible mission modules.
Next up is the impressive but still paper-bound HSC N130
trimaran design from BGV in France. This design combines a high speed slender hull
with impressive troop/logistics capabilities: 416 troops and/or mixes of up to 16 TEU units. Deck space and hanger for two medium helicopters.
The M-80 Stiletto, USA
is a small multihull design with many conceptual similarities to the LCS designs. It is however experimental and lacks
the global reach of a true LCS. An interesting design that could arguably be scaled up to meet an LCS type role. I’m not sure why the builder
didn’t enter the LCS contest… or did they?
The FSC(X) Sea Fighter, USA
is another USN experimental type, this time using a SWATH design which provides exceptional stability – but at
the cost of comparatively deep draught.
And now the comparisons……
1. Defense against aerial threats
Operating close to an enemy shore invariably leaves you more accessible to their aircraft and missiles – as the Israeli and British navies can
attest. Therefore the ability to intercept aerial threats including missiles is key to survivability.
Firstly all four designs have excellent quality of point air defense/CIWS, and countermeasures. But the clear advantage is with the Absalon class,
with 36 medium ranged ESSM missiles. It’s a no-contest really.
1. Absalon Class
2. F-125 Class
3. Tie. LCS-1/LCS-2.
2. Offensive anti-surface warfare
The ability to engage medium/large surface targets other than self defense.
Another no-contest, with a whopping 16 Harpoon missiles, 36 ESSMs and a 127mm gun the Absalon out-guns all the others by some margin. The F-125 is
also potent, but the LCS-1/2 designs are markedly impotent in their standard fit. All designs can carry helicopters which could be armed with
anti-ship missiles. Again Absalon can carry larger helicopters (in sustained operation) which can generally carry longer ranged anti-ship missiles.
Both LCS craft can potentially mount up to 60 NETFIRE (aka NLOS-LS) missiles which have a modest anti-ship capability, similar in general regards the
the ESSM's, a far short of the Harpoon's.
1. Absalon Class
2. F-125 Class
3. Tie. LCS-1/LCS-2
3. Defensive anti-surface warfare
A major threat to warships operating near an enemy coast is small craft (speed boats, jetskis etc) carrying mines which are laid immediately in front
of the warship, ramming charges, small torpedoes or missiles. This is popularly called the asymmetric threat.
Although all four designs carry a formidable array of defensive weapons to meet this threat (unlike many other warships!), the most heavily defended
is clearly the F-125 which is bristling with remotely operated HMGs and autocannons. The 35mm guns on the Absalon and the 57mm guns on the LCS-1/2
plus the RAM missiles can all be used with great effect also. This one is close, frankly they are all well defended.
1. F-125 Class
2. Tie. LCS-1/LCS-2
4. Absalon Class
[edit on 8-6-2008 by planeman]