Is the United States’ littoral combatant ship (LCS) and follow-on small surface combatant (SSC) more survivable than larger combat vessels? Not according to Steven Wills. That’s because these vessels’ ‘operational profiles’ are defined more by weight limitations than anything else.
By Steve Wills for Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC)
Chief Pentagon Weapon Tester Dr. Michael Gilmore remains fundamentally dissatisfied with the survivability of the Navy’s littoral combatant ship (LCS) and its upgraded follow-on, the small surface combatant (SSC).
In an emailed statement described in a January 8th Bloomberg article, Dr. Gilmore stated, “Notwithstanding reductions to its susceptibility” compared with the design of the first 32 ships, “the minor modifications to the LCS will not yield a ship that is significantly more survivable.”
It remains to be seen, however, how the Navy can improve the other legs of the “survivability triangle” on a hull of 3000 tons displacement and less than 425 feet in length. Small ships have been historically unsurvivable. Modern small warships are not in any way the equivalent of the World War 2 predecessors. Every warship is a compromise in armament, endurance, speed, and survivability. This is especially true of the LCS, as its modular operational profile demands absolute adherence to weight limitations.
Small warships are historically unsurvivable in combat. They have a shorter floodable length, reduced reserve buoyancy and more likely to be affected by fire and smoke damage than larger combatants. In both World Wars, losses in ships below 3000 tons in displacement far exceeded those of larger vessels. In World War 2, for example, the U.S. lost a total of 71 destroyers and 11 destroyer escorts; all under 3400 tons displacement and less than 400 feet in length. By comparison, only 23 larger ships were lost. Part of that figure is undoubtedly due to their operational employment, but in simple terms of engineering and physics, larger ships are inherently more survivable than their smaller counterparts.
There are stories of small combatants, such as the famous Fletcher class destroyer, surviving severe damage and yet remaining capable of inflicting damage on opponents. This history perhaps influences the opinions of those who believe small warships can somehow be made more survivable than the LCS or the SSC.
Today’s weapon systems such as the 57mm gun on the LCS and SSC are much more fragile than the 5’38 caliber guns found on most U.S. Navy small combatants in the Second World War. Gun mounts became lighter and unarmored in the Cold War as the expansion of radars and mast-mounted communications equipment, among many improvements, forced warship designers to adopt lighter equipment to maintain ship stability. Current gun mounts are no longer manned to allow for a backup capability in the event of damage to centralized fire control capabilities. Many commercial off the shelf (COTS) components currently in use aboard Navy warships are much more fragile and more difficult to repair under battle conditions. (end of excerpt)
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