Comparing The Patrol Coastal (pc) To The Littoral Combatant Ship (lcs)

Discussion in 'Naval Warfare' started by sherkhan, Jun 2, 2015.

  1. sherkhan

    sherkhan Regular Member

    Jan 20, 2010
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    LCS 1 and 2 (USNI)

    A 30 April Reuter’s article makes the claim that the U.S. Navy might better serve its operational and financial needs by purchasing more Patrol Coastal (PC) type warships at the expense of the Littoral Combatant Ship (LCS) currently in serial production and its projected frigate (FF) derivative. The article also suggests that purchasing 10Sentinelclass PC’s at a total cost of $70 million dollars would be a better choice than buying 10 LCS and would save taxpayers $3 billion dollars. While perhaps financially attractive on the surface, such a change would be an extremely poor choice for the United States Navy.

    The Cycloneclass PC’s have served the nation well since their introduction in the early 1990’s, but their lifespan is nearly complete, and their limited capabilities not sufficient in even low threat environments. Few geographic regions support their extensive use. Neither the PC, nor its proposed Sentinel class patrol boat replacement, has the range or overall endurance of the LCS. Neither patrol craft can rapidly or economically deploy to remote locations in the absence of escorts or heavy lift capabilities. Finally, while the PC’s have been admirably adapted for a number of missions, they were never designed as combatant warships similar to vessels of similar size constructed by foreign navies since the end of the Second World War. The LCS, on the other hand, is capable of assuming all of the PC tasks and missions; is more survivable; and is rapidly re-deployable as required by national command authority.

    PC History

    Patrol Coastal (PC's) at Sea

    The Cyclone class patrol coastal ships were proposed in 1990 as a replacement for the Navy Special Warfare (NSW) Command’s aging MK III patrol boats for insertion of SEAL team members.[1]The ships also met an earlier requirement for a more capable coastal patrol and interdiction asset for future escort missions like the 1987 tanker escort missionEarnest Will.[2]They were originally to be unnamed, but Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Frank Kelso decided, with the approval of the Secretary of the Navy to make them commissioned assets as NSW had never operated as big a patrol craft as the planned PC’s.

    They were placed under control of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), but crewed by qualified sailors of the regular Navy under NSW control. The PC's were later deemed too large for their original mission of SEAL insertion. Some were transferred from NSW to Atlantic and Pacific fleet commanders while five
    were assigned to service with the Coast Guard, where they proved largely uneconomical to operate.[3]All PC’s, with the exception of the first that was transferred to the Philippine Navy, have since returned to U.S. Navy control. Ten of the thirteen remaining PC’s are forward deployed in the Persian Gulf in a variety of patrol and interdiction roles.[4]

    The class was originally designed for 15 years of active service, but by 2010 all but the last unit of the class, the much newerUSS Tornado, had “frame buckling and hull damage” consistent with “a full service life of operation, including the effects of corrosion and severe operating conditions.”[5]The Patrol ships have received a service life extension to correct the 2010 faults keep the ships theoretically in service into the decade of the 2020’s at a cost of $13 million dollars a ship, according to one estimate.[6]The ships have also received new weapons in the form of two, stabilized MK38, Mod 2 25mm gun systems, as well as the Griffin missile, which extends the PC’s engagement range beyond that of its guns to 4.5 kilometers.[7]

    Inherent PC Limitations

    PC's Deploy via Heavy Lift Ship in 2013 (Breaking Defense)

    While these improvements have made the Patrol Coastal a more capable ship since its introduction in the early 1990’s, they do not offset the PC and any replacement patrol boat’s inherent weaknesses as part of a globally operational U.S. navy. The endurance and sea keeping characteristics of the Cyclone class generally favor relatively calm waters like the Persian Gulf and to coastal areas with established bases. It cannot be rapidly or efficiently re-deployed to another global area in most cases without heavy lift support or escorts.

    A 2008 RAND study found the PC to be at the lower end of patrol ship capabilities in comparison with foreign counterparts, and their endurance (2500nm at 12kts) has been rated considerable lower than foreign warships of similar size and mission.[8]Its 11 day endurance limits its deployability beyond immediate logistical support. The smaller size and 5 day endurance of the proposed Sentinel class patrol boat replacement does nothing to offset these disadvantages.[9]PC’s and/or Sentinel’s would be hard-pressed to withdraw from contested littoral areas if required by reversals in the state of a conflict. A number of U.S. Navy small combatants of the Asiatic Fleet, similar in size and endurance to the Cyclone class attempted to flee the Philippines in the wake of the December 1941 Japanese attack. Nearly all were sunk by combination air and surface attacks to which their meager armament could offer only limited resistance. A global Navy demands ships that can advance or retreat across considerable ocean space if required. Neither the PC nor the Sentinel meets that requirement.

    A current PC might be built for 70 million dollars, but the Navy would need to purchase many more than 10 to provide the same global coverage currently envisioned for the 52 LCS/FF ships. Ten modern PC’s might replace those currently assigned in the Persian Gulf, but similar flotillas would need to built and based in multiple locations in order to gain the same world-wide deployment of assets. Unlike almost all other fleets, the U.S. Navy is a globally-deployed force that must retain the ability to shift units as needed in support of national security commitments or replace battle losses. Such movements are expensive when ships cannot rapidly move by the own power. Two Mine Countermeasures ships were moved from the Ingalls yard in Mississippi to Kuwait after the First Gulf War for $3.5 million U.S. dollars (USD). In 1997 the U.S. Military Sealift Command (MCS) chartered the heavy lift ship MVAmerican Cormorant for 59 months at a cost of $59 million USD. The damaged USS Cole was returned from Aden, Yemen to the United States for an exclusive charter price of $5.1 million USD in 2001.[10]The U.S. Navy does not want to depend on such costly assets to move large numbers of small combatants around the world in either peacetime or war.

    LCS Advantages

    The Littoral Combatant Ship was purposely constructed to replace the PC’s which had originally been scheduled to start retiring in 2002.[11]Both LCS types (Freedom and Independence) are faster than the PC and have nearly double the Patrol Coastal’s operational range at a higher average speed (18 knots for the LCS verses 12 knots for the PC). The LCS has double the patrol endurance (21 days vice 11) of the PC and four times that of the Sentinel. LCS can deploy in the absence of a heavy lift and dedicated escort, a process that has taken upward of 40 days from loading on the US Gulf Coast to arrival in Bahrain.[12]Both LCS designs are more “survivable” than the PC in that they are physically larger, have a more extensive defensive armament and have a greater range for onboard, non-networked sensors due to their greater height above the waterline. The LCS’ flight deck and hangar enable it to embark manned and unmanned rotary wing aircraft that extend the ship’s surveillance and weapons engagement zones. LCS is a self-deployable, theater-based platform that can “get to the contested area without the need for scarce open ocean transport or the support of an ever-present mother ship.”[13]The PC and any replacement craft will be dependent on such assets outside its immediate regional operating area.

    The Commissioning Crew of USS Shamal (PC 13) in January 1996

    The author served as Weapons/Supply Officer
    The PC’s have been an excellent investment since their beginnings in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. They have remained in service long after their anticipated retirement date and now boast weapons that make them much more capable than when first commissioned at the dawn of the post-Cold War era. They have served as a vital training ground for a generation of young commanders; at least two of whom have reached flag rank (Admirals Charles Williams and Brad Williamson). They continue to perform vital maritime interdiction operations in the Persian Gulf in support of national interests. All this said, the PC’s are aging, short-range platforms operationally chained to the region where they currently operate. Their improved armament makes them more effective in patrol and interdiction operations, but they remain vulnerable to cruise missiles, aircraft and subsurface weapons. They are not a substitute for the globally deployable and more capable LCS class’s now entering service.

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