Littoral combat ships - lessons learnt from the US

Parliament house flag post

Littoral combat ships - lessons learnt from the US

Posted 18/11/2013 by Nathan Church

Less than a fortnight after the 2013 federal election, the new Defence Minister David Johnston indicated that the protection of Australia’s exports through maritime security would be a major Defence priority. In order to achieve this, the Minister claimed that ‘our navy needs a suitable mix of high-end war-fighting capabilities’ and accordingly, consideration should be given to acquiring littoral combat ships (LCS). This article summarises the US experience of acquiring LCS and outlines some key benefits and challenges the US has faced.

The US LCS program

In November 2001, the US Navy announced it would acquire a fleet of new surface combatants, including LCS. The LCS would meet the Navy’s requirement to provide a high-speed, relatively cost-effective capability to engage in surface and antisubmarine warfare (SUW/ASW), as well as mine countermeasures (MCM). Unlike larger ships with a multi-mission capability, the LCS is essentially a framework which houses an interchangeable mission package, which can be swapped out depending on the mission requirement.

The Australian connection

The West Australian shipbuilder Austal opened a US-based shipyard in Alabama during 2001 (Austal USA), from which it bid to design and build the LCS in partnership with General Dynamics. The contract to build an initial allocation of LCS was jointly awarded to Austal/General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin, who would each build their own unique designs as part of a mixed-fleet of LCS.

The benefits…

The Austal-designed LCS has an aluminium hull, where reduced weight allows for greater speed and fuel efficiency. Its trimaran design also provides increased stability, while its wide beam (width) can support two helicopters. The LCS is also significantly cheaper and requires far fewer crew than larger surface combatants (such as air warfare destroyers) and accordingly provides a more flexible and agile capability. For example, LCS can perform a range of missions, varying from maritime patrols, countering terrorism, piracy and smuggling, humanitarian relief, search and rescue and other mission-specific combat roles through the ASW, SUW and MCM mission packages.

During the Senate armed services subcommittee hearings in May 2007 Admiral Michael Mullen declared that ‘the LCS program remains of critical importance to our navy’, while Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute has stated that ‘the need for the LCS is so obvious that only a fool could fail to grasp its value’.

…and challenges

With development lasting more than a decade, the LCS has faced frequent obstacles to becoming a reality. For example, one of the key criticisms outlined by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) in both a 2010 report and testimony to the House Armed Services Committee is that the Navy’s haste in procuring the LCS and adjoining mission packages has compromised appropriate development and testing benchmarks. The GAO has specifically stated that the Navy accepted the first two LCS in an incomplete and technically flawed state. Reference was also made to underperforming weapons systems—meaning the LCS would require a well-armed escort for anything more than low-threat operations—as well as potentially lengthy delays in swapping out mission packages within the LCS frame. Full testing of the LCS is expected to be completed in more than five years time, when the Navy would have already purchased more than half of its planned number of LCS. The argument by Navy officials that the fast-paced procurement is necessary to limit cost growth also seems to conflict with reporting that shows the LCS cost projections more than doubled from 2006–2010, to just under half a billion dollars per ship.

The first LCS, USS Freedom, is currently undertaking a nine month deployment operating out of Singapore, which follows former US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta’s statement in mid-2012 that the number of US Navy vessels in the Asia-Pacific would be increasing to 60 per cent of its total fleet. However, the USS Freedom’s initial deployment has suffered multiple mechanical setbacks, a situation possibly linked to insufficient testing prior to its deployment.

On Australia’s agenda?

Previous Defence White Papers (DWP) have canvassed various maritime requirements which the LCS could deliver. For example, the 2009 DWP indicated the Government’s decision to rationalise multiple capabilities into a fleet of approximately 20 Offshore Combatant Vessels. However, the 2013 DWP was less prescriptive and emphasised the need to acquire a proven capability—at least in the short term. The Abbott Government’s plan to release a new DWP within its first 18 months in office will provide a further opportunity to assess whether the LCS would be a suitable option for Australia’s maritime security and domestic shipbuilding industry.  

Thank you for your comment. If it does not require moderation, it will appear shortly.
Facebook LinkedIn Twitter Add | Email Print


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

Parliamentary Library Logo showing Information Analysis & Advice




refugees asylum immigration Australian foreign policy Parliament climate change elections women social security Indigenous Australians Australian Bureau of Statistics Employment Sport illicit drugs people trafficking taxation Medicare welfare reform Australian Defence Force higher education welfare policy United Nations Asia income management Middle East criminal law disability Australian Sports Anti-Doping Agency World Anti-Doping Agency United States federal budget health financing gambling school education forced labour aid statistics Australian Electoral Commission WADA emissions trading Australia in the Asian Century steroids detention Private health insurance OECD ASADA labour force transport Law Enforcement Australian Federal Police Industrial Relations people smuggling dental health National Disability Insurance Scheme Australian Crime Commission slavery Senate election results Papua New Guinea Australian Public Service International Women's Day corruption Afghanistan Fair Work Act child protection debt federal election 2013 parliamentary procedure poker machines ALP New Zealand Newstart Parenting Payment 43rd Parliament political parties Census constitution High Court skilled migration voting Federal Court terrorist groups Higher Education Loan Program HECS youth paid parental leave Aviation environment foreign debt gross debt net debt defence capability customs doping health crime health risks multiculturalism aged care Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling sex slavery sea farers Special Rapporteur leadership United Kingdom UK Parliament Electoral reform politics banking firearms public policy violence against women domestic violence mental health China ADRV terrorism social media pensions welfare ASIO intelligence community Australian Security Intelligence Organisation governance public service reform Carbon Pricing Mechanism carbon tax mining military history employer employee fishing by-election European Union same sex relationships international relations coal seam gas family assistance planning United Nations Security Council Australian economy food vocational education and training Drugs Indonesia children codes of conduct terrorist financing money laundering Productivity asylum seekers early childhood education Canada Population Financial sector national security fuel disability employment Tasmania integrity science research and development Australian Secret Intelligence Service sexual abuse federal state relations World Trade Organization Australia accountability housing affordability bulk billing water renewable energy children's health health policy Governor-General US economy export liquefied natural gas foreign bribery question time speaker superannuation expertise Senators and Members climate Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Department of Agriculture Fisheries and Forestry food labelling Pacific Islands reserved seats new psychoactive substances synthetic drugs UNODC carbon markets health reform Indigenous constitutional recognition of local government local government consumer laws PISA royal commission US politics language education baby bonus Leaders of the Opposition Parliamentary remuneration health system Australia Greens servitude Trafficking Protocol energy forced marriage rural and regional Northern Territory Emergency Response ministries social citizenship human rights citizenship Defence High Court; Indigenous; Indigenous Australians; Native Title ACT Indigenous education Norfolk Island External Territories emissions reduction fund; climate change child care funding refugees immigration asylum procurement Indigenous health e-voting internet voting nsw state elections 44th Parliament 2015 ABS Age Pension Death penalty capital punishment execution Bali nine Bali bombings Trade EU China soft power education Fiji India Disability Support Pension Antarctica Diplomacy by-elections state and territories workers Bills anti-corruption fraud bribery transparency corporate ownership whistleblower G20 economic reform innovation standards NATO Members of Parliament Scottish referendum Middle East; national security; terrorism social services Criminal Code Amendment (Misrepresentation of Age to a Minor) Bill 2013 online grooming sexual assault of minors ACT Assembly public health smoking plain packaging tobacco cigarettes Asia; Japan; international relations Work Health and Safety Migration; asylum seekers; regional processing China; United States; international relations fiscal policy Racial Discrimination Act; social policy; human rights; indigenous Australians Foreign policy Southeast Asia Israel Palestine regional unemployment asylum refugees immigration political finance donations foreign aid Economics efficiency human rights; Racial Discrimination Act employment law bullying Animal law; food copyright Australian Law Reform Commission industry peace keeping contracts workplace policies trade unions same-sex marriage disorderly conduct retirement Parliament House standing orders public housing prime ministers election timetable sitting days First speech defence budget submarines Somalia GDP forestry world heritage political engagement leave loading Trade; tariffs; safeguards; Anti-dumping public interest disclosure whistleblowing Productivity Commission regulation limitation period universities Ireland cancer gene patents genetic testing suspension of standing and sessional orders animal health live exports welfare systems infant mortality middle class welfare honorary citizen railways disciplinary tribunals standard of proof World Health Organisation arts international students skilled graduate visas temporary employment visas apologies roads Italy national heritage NHMRC nutrition anti-dumping Constitutional reform referendum Rent Assistance competition policy pharmaceutical benefits scheme obesity evidence law sacrament of confession US presidential election international days DFAT UN General Assembly deregulation Regulation Impact Statements administrative law small business Breaker Morant homelessness regional engagement social determinants of health abortion Youth Allowance Members suspension citizen engagement policymaking federal election 2010 workplace health and safety Trafficking in Persons Report marine reserves hearing TAFE Victoria astronomy resources sector YMCA youth parliament alcohol Korea rebate Australian Greens presidential nomination Racial Discrimination Act entitlements political parties preselection solar hot water Financial Action Taskforce Horn of Africa peacekeeping piracy Great Barrier Reef Stronger futures political financing Hung Parliament political education social inclusion Social Inclusion Board maritime early childhood National Quality Framework for Early Childhood Education and Care Murray-Darling Basin Iran sanctions Norway hospitals

Show all
Show less
Back to top