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Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship: “Big Bucks, Little Bang”

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The Navy’s newest ship, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), is woefully inferior to comparable ships, according to an article written by John Sayen for Time magazine’s Battleland blog.

Sayen, a Marine Corps veteran who has written extensively on the military, says that the LCS “cannot match the combat power of similar sized foreign warships costing only a fraction as much.” Even with its mission modules, which won’t be fully finished or tested for years, it compares poorly with similar ships in foreign navies. Sayen provides several examples (excerpted below with permission of Time):

The new Russian Steregushchy-class frigate, for example, is (at 2,200 tons) about 30% smaller than an LCS and cost only 20-25% as much. Yet, it carries a 100mm automatic gun, 14.5-mm machineguns, close-in defense “Gatling gun” systems (AK-630), medium range surface to air missiles (S400 series), SS-N-25 anti-ship missiles (sub-sonic and shorter ranged than the US Harpoon but far more capable than the Griffin), 533-mm (21”) torpedoes, 324mm anti-submarine torpedoes and a helicopter. The ship is not only in production for the Russian Navy but also for the navies of Algeria and Indonesia. A version is also being built for China.

The Swedish Visby-class corvette was one of the models on which LCS was based. It carries the same 57mm gun plus antisubmarine rockets and torpedoes, anti-ship missiles, a radar-deflecting hull, and a helicopter pad (but no hangar, apparently). It can also reach 35 knots but it is only a fifth as large.

The Chinese have more than 80 Houbei-class fast-attack boats in service. Each costs only $40 million to build and displaces only 220 tons (one-fifteenth as much as an LCS). Yet they carry C-801 series anti-ship missiles that greatly outrange any weapon the LCS has.

About the only threat the LCS might handle is the “swarms” of Iranian machinegun and RPG-carrying speedboats in the Persian Gulf. Apart from the fact that the Iranian crisis will have been resolved for better or worse before most of the LCS fleet can be built, these Iranian small craft lack weapons big enough to menace any serious warship.

In short, the LCS costs more, yet brings less firepower to battle than comparable ships that aren’t riddled with cracks, corrosion, and failed equipment. Sayen makes the critical point that, even if you believe the Navy should be doing the missions the LCS was designed for, they can still be done at a fraction of the cost.

In this fiscal climate, the Pentagon can’t afford to keep throwing more bucks after less bang.

Read Sayen’s full article on Battleland.

By: Ben Freeman, Ph. D.
Investigator, POGO

ben freeman At the time of publication, Ben Freeman was an investigator for the Project On Government Oversight. Ben's work focused on national security and the influence of foreign lobbying on the U.S.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Defense, Littoral Combat Ship, Wasteful Defense Spending

Authors: Ben Freeman, Ph. D.

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