Surface Forces: LCS Rewrites The Rules of Surface Warfare


May 8,2008: The surface warfare module for the U.S. Navy's new LCS (Littoral Combat Ships) will contain an unusual collection of weapons. The only familiar item will be a MH-60R (a navalized Blackhawk) helicopter, armed with a 12.7mm machine-gun and Hellfire missiles (with a range of 8 kilometers). There will be three other aircraft, all RQ-8A Fire Scout UAVs. Each of these is a 1.5 ton unmanned helicopter, that will be armed with 70mm laser guided DAGR missiles. These 25 pound missiles have a range of six kilometers. There will be two 23 foot long Spartan USVs (unmanned surface vehicles), each armed with a 30mm auto cannon and a Javelin anti-tank missile (range of 2.5 kilometers). The 30mm cannon has about the same range, and both it and the Javelin are there to destroy small patrol boats, or any other hostile craft. The USV will also carry a net for fouling the propeller of ships and boats. This use of UAVs and USVs for surface warfare is new, and tactics and operating procedures have to be worked out.

Most of the firepower, however, comes in four metal canisters filled with a new U.S. Army missile system called NetFires (or NLOS-LS). This is still in development. This weapon is actually two different missiles, identical in weight and size, but different in how they operate. The LCS is using PAM (Precision Attack Missile). This is a 178mm diameter missile that weighs 120 pounds, and has a range of 40 kilometers. PAM attacks from above, with a 28 pound warhead. This enables it to destroy boats, and damage larger ships. PAMs are vertically-launched from what looks like a 4x6x4 foot (wide x deep x high) cargo container. Actually, it IS a cargo container. The missiles are shipped from the factory in this sealed container. Each one ton container holds 15 missiles and can be carried on the back of a truck, or a ship. Once you plug a PAM container into the wireless battlefield Internet, the missiles are ready to fire. the fire control officer on the LCS sends one or more PAMs against any enemy target that shows up on their screen (usually a larger flat screen.) The battlefield Internet is using aircraft, UAVs, satellites and ground sensors to pick up targets for LCS. When the fire control officer sees a target he wants to kill, a point and click will send the coordinates of the target to a PAM container on board, launch a PAM to the approximate location where the missiles own sensor will pick up the target and home in on it. The sensors will, most of the time, pick up the vehicle as destroyed and adjust the fire control officers screen accordingly.

The LCS features a number of major innovations. For one thing, it is highly automated, and has a crew of less than fifty. The LCS has a large cargo hold that can be quickly fitted with gear to turn it into a mine clearing ship, a surface warfare support ship, a submarine hunter, or just about anything (anti-aircraft, commando support, or even command and control.) The development of the LCS has been screwed up, with resulting delays and cost overruns. The same grief is expected in the development of the specialized modules.




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