Now that the decision on an acquisition strategy for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has been taken, the Navy is moving out aggressively to address outstanding issues with the program. One of the most important of these is making sure that mission modules will be available for the ships as they start to be built. The mission modules are the heart of the LCS. They provide the critical systems and capabilities that, along with trained personnel and helicopters, allow the LCS to conduct missions.
Right now the Navy is building mission modules for surface warfare, mine warfare and anti-submarine warfare. The first delivery will be for two surface warfare packages to the Navy within the next 15 months. Another package for mine countermeasure operations is also on track to be delivered by the middle of 2013. The Navy also requested a third surface warfare package and one anti-submarine warfare package in its FY 2011 budget.
The mission modules are works in progress. For example, the plan for the mine warfare mission module initially consisted of nine distinct systems intended to find and neutralize sea mines. Now the Navy is thinking about simplifying the module by eliminating one system, the rapid airborne mine clearance system which was intended to destroy shallow water mines and using the airborne mine neutralization system to not only neutralize bottom mine but also shallow and surface mines.
Similarly, the Navy had to scramble to fix a major problem with its surface warfare module when the Army canceled the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (essentially a clutch of surface-to-surface missiles in a box). The Navy has settled on the Griffin system, a relatively short-range system, but whose range can be extended. One of the issues with the surface warfare module is whether it and the naval guns deployed on all LCSs will be adequate to meet the threat posed by swarms of small gun and missile boats, hostile corvettes and frigates and even shore fired artillery and missiles. Still heavier firepower may be needed in the future.
These changes demonstrate the value of one of the LCS program’s fundamental conceptual principles: modularity. Because the LCS was designed from the first day to carry a variety of mission modules standardized into twenty-foot containers, the ships will be able to shift their missions from surface warfare to mine hunting to anti-submarine warfare rapidly. As discussed above, the equipment carried in the mission modules can be rapidly changed as new technology is developed or even if some critical piece of equipment breaks. As a result, the technology refresh and repair processes become relatively rapid and lower cost affairs. Modularity really works. Perhaps the Navy needs to consider how to make future classes of ships more modular.
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