Total Pageviews

Search This Blog

Friday, May 23, 2014

Current Events: Recommendations Concerning HD-981 Vietnam-China Maritime Dispute

Earlier this May, China National Offshore Oil Corporation moved its Haiyang Shiyou HD-981 oil rig to within 120 miles of Vietnam's coast southeast of the Paracel Islands. The HD-981 Vietnam-China dispute is the latest in a series of territorial disputes involving China and its East and Southeast Asian neighbors. The intent of the manufactured crisis is to bring about a change in the status quo within the South China Sea, of which more than 80% China claims as part of its nine-dash line:

“Each step is designed by China not to provoke conflict, of course, but to change the understanding of the status quo, so that if they get away with it in Vietnamese waters, then they continue build these [oil rigs] in other waters and use the same tactic of claiming that this is really Chinese territory...China is across the board attempting to create a new type of understanding of the territory that is its own or over which it should have control.” - Michael Auslin, 2014    
China's decision to move the $1 billion dollar rig near the Paracel islands was a politically motivated rather than financially based decision as the prospect of hydrocarbon deposits within the area is questionable (Panda, 2014). Furthermore, the timing of the incident,  the rig was moved in place shortly after President Obama departed from his tour of Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Malaysia, suggests China is testing the resolve of the United States in its commitment to the pivot or Asia-Pacific rebalance (Fravel, 2014). Despite the strong historical animosity between China and Vietnam, the HD-981 incident is especially notable given that the governments of both countries have greatly expanded economic ties with one another in recent years and Premier Li Keqiang visited Hanoi in October of last year. 

Vietnam is not a treaty bound ally of the United States despite steady progress in mutual defense cooperation and exchanges since the 1990s. The Government of Vietnam is currently divided among those who want closer ties with the West and the United States and those who seek to strengthen ties with China:
"The Vietnamese do not see normalization with the U.S., nor their continued normalization with China, in zero-sum terms. They realize that engaging more with the U.S. does not necessarily entail engaging less with China. Vietnam continues to acknowledge the critical importance of an effective, friendly relationship with China, even in the midst of exacerbated concerns regarding Beijing’s efforts to make its influence felt in the region. This means that the Vietnamese will not risk damage to their relationship with China in order to strengthen their relationship with the U.S...For this reason, the U.S. has little to gain from portraying its interest in improved strategic relations with Vietnam as focused exclusively on the extent to which enhanced defense and security cooperation between Hanoi and Washington can impact China’s strategic calculations." - William Jordan, Lewis M. Stern and Walter Lohman, 2012 
Given the somewhat limited extent of Vietnam-US defense engagement in conjunction with the aforementioned economic and political developments between Vietnam-China relations, Vietnam became the preferred candidate for another territorial incident. The PRC leadership astutely determined that the desire of Vietnam's Government to maintain robust economic ties with the PRC outweighed Vietnam's traditionally firm stance on maritime disputes. Because Vietnam desires close economic ties to China, its response has been limited to rhetoric and the deployment of its coast guard. 

Thus, the situation is more nuanced than prior territorial incidents involving stalwart US allies who are largely unified in their opposition of Chinese territorial claims such as Japan and the Philippines. This is not to say US interests are not at risk in the current crisis, but a hawkish US response will likely be undesired by Vietnam. Furthermore, a hawkish US response would undermine current efforts to promote greater military to military communication and the establishment of release mechanisms for US-China tensions. For example, the US recently concluded a series of high level military exchanges with China and is about to partake in joint exercises with People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels in RIMPAC. 

As part of the pivot, the US seeks to maintain its role in the post-World War II international order e.g. maintaining US influence through international bodies and institutions, freedom of navigation, and the diplomatic resolution of territorial disputes (Fravel, 2014). These traditional elements of US foreign policy are at risk by China's latest provocation as they constitute a clear violation of several established international laws and norms in which the US has helped to both develop and promote e.g. the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Therefore, the US response to the HD-981 dispute should be tailored to preserve US backed international maritime laws and established international norms such as of freedom of navigation while also accounting for the somewhat divided stance of Vietnam's Government with respect to China.   

Recommendations for the United States

Image 2: Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang with President Obama. Image Credit: Reuters, 2013.

Thus far, the US response has been limited to Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department criticizing the HD-981 incident as provocative. Kerry spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi about the incident but China has been unreceptive to the US narrative concerning the crisis. Chief of China's military, General. Fang Fenghui, responded to the HD-981 incident during his visit with US officials:

"We believe that the ones that are provoking those issues in the South China Sea [are] not China, but certain countries that are attempting to gain their own interests, because they believe that China is now developing its economy and the United States is adopting this Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy"

It is abundantly clear that current US statements to discourage China from challenging the territorial status quo in the South China Sea are insufficient. Despite the aforementioned caveats regarding the desire of Vietnam to maintain favorable economic ties with China, the HD-981 incident can still serve as the impetus for further US-Vietnamese defense cooperation. If the US can improve its defense ties with Vietnam as a result of the current crisis, the precedent would serve as a powerful deterrent for future Chinese provocations. However, the US should frame its new effort to improve relations with Vietnam in a manner that does not directly oppose China. Greater soft power engagement through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would greatly enhance US ties with Vietnam:
"By 2025, Vietnam would stand to gain nearly $96 billion or 28 percent of its GDP. This is largely due to exports increasing an estimated 37 percent...Exports and privileged access to the U.S. market benefit emerging Asia, as the terms of trade will favor them over trading partners not at the table. The U.S. and Japan could also act as an economic counterbalance to China [which is not part of TPP talks] in the region—helping the smaller, less-developed countries compete for export growth" - Samuel Rines, 2014
Greater US-Vietnamese economic engagement as a result of the TPP would allow Vietnam to be less dependent on China for its economic growth over the long-term and ensures Vietnam maintains a vested interest in pursuing relations with the US. Soft power measures over time could form the basis of greater military cooperation.

As part of its effort to grant greater flexibility to Vietnam, the US can also help diversify Vietnam's military cooperation with US allies such as the Philippines. Vietnam and the Philippines have already concluded a number of defense agreements and exchanges in recent years. Encouraging stronger Vietnam-Philippines engagement in the South China Sea is largely to the benefit of the United States as it provides a means to further develop both countries' military capabilities while allowing Vietnam flexibility by avoiding a one-sided US or China centric foreign policy.

Over the long-term, an agreement between the US and Vietnam similar to the current Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the US and the Philippines would greatly assist the pivot. In the short-term, US military planners greatly desire routine access to Cam Ranh bay, one of the best deep water ports in the Pacific, for fleet maintenance purposes. Vietnam has routinely expressed a desire for access to US arms exports, spare parts and restoration of its Vietnam era US equipment, and an end to US scrutiny regarding human rights (Weisgerber, 2012).

Image 3: Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visiting Vietnamese officials in Cam Ranh bay. Image Credit: Department of Defense, 2012.

The US continues to prohibit the sale of military equipment to Vietnam on the basis of human rights violations within the country. Given the stake of US interests in the region, it might be wise for the US to offer Vietnam some degree of flexibility on human rights issues. This would not entail a complete withdrawal of human rights concerns, but Vietnam's treatment in US arms sales is somewhat arbitrary. When the national interest is at stake, Washington has shown  a willingness to overlook human rights violations if it means hedging potential national security threats. For example, as part of its effort to contain Iran, Washington has not only overlooked human rights issues within its Gulf state allies but also has provided them with access to some of its most advanced arms exports including the THAAD and PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. Thus, the sale low-end items such as spare parts for Vietnam's fleet of UH-1 helicopters should be permitted especially since these requests do not violate existing foreign military sale regulations (Jordan, Stern & Lohman, 2012).      

If the sale of spare parts remains politically difficult in Washington, it is likely the parts could be delivered through intermediaries or US allies given widespread usage of the UH-1. Private contractors could also preform the restoration work on Vietnam's UH-1 fleet, many logistics and support specialized private military firms (PMF) such as MPRI provide aircraft maintenance services. The use of private contractors would be convenient as it would grant the US a degree of separation from being directly involved in the UH-1 restoration work, which is beneficial as it minimizes potential Chinese and domestic scrutiny. Depending upon the firm (e.g. a large PMF like MPRI), the extent of official US Government involvement would be limited to State Department approval. In exchange for the spare parts, the US Government should press Vietnam for greater access to Cam Ranh bay in the form of more allotted port visits per year and investment in port facilities for maintenance work.

As far as high-end arms exports are concerned, large scale support from Congress is an unavoidable prerequisite. Furthermore, Vietnam's military is predominantly a Russian military supplied force. The interoperability issues that would result from a mixed Russia-US arms supply would likely limit the effectiveness of the Vietnamese military in the short-term. It often takes decades to effectively switch between a Russian and US equipped force, e.g. Egypt after the Camp David Accords 1978. Thus, the problematic nature of operating a mixed US-Russia arsenal and the political difficulties in Congress make high-end US arms exports to Vietnam unlikely. Vietnam can still effectively deter future Chinese attempts at forceful resolution of territorial disputes with a combination of Russian arms exports and US militarily assistance in the form of military training exercises and providing opportunities for Vietnamese officer education and training.

The combination of these measures would assist Vietnamese forces denying China the ability to seize and control disputed territories in a similar manner as China's current anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy is situated against the United States. In essence, China would not be able to resolve existing territorial disputes effectively with the use of force if the aforementioned Vietnamese strategy was successfully implemented. In comparison to active power projection assets such as amphibious assault ships, which are used take seized island territory, an A2/AD strategy is much more economical and practical given Vietnam's circumstances. The basis for Vietnam's A2/AD strategy is already underway with the conclusion of several Russian arms purchases including: 6 Kilo-class submarines, SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missiles, Kh-35 anti-ship missiles, SS-N-26 Oniks anti-ship missiles, the S-300 surface to air missile system, Molniya/ Project 12418 fast attack craft, Su-30s, etc.

In conclusion, the HD-981 incident can serve as a means to enhance US-Vietnamese cooperation. Despite the desire for the Vietnamese Government to prioritize economic ties with China, its more than likely that Vietnam's Government wishes for a flexible economic and defense policy not directly situated with either the United States or China. Expanding US-Vietnamese defense ties remains plausible so long as the US offers Vietnam increased flexibility in both economic and defense terms via the TTP and expanded relations with US allies such as the Philippines. A strong Vietnam-US defense partnership would greatly benefit the pivot if the US can obtain increased access to Cam Ranh bay and other Vietnamese facilities as part of its "places not bases" strategy.


  1. Why Did China Set Up an Oil Rig Within Vietnamese Waters?, Ankit Panda, 2014.
  2. China's Oil Rig Gambit: South China Sea Game-Changer?, Carl Thayer, 2014.
  3. The Gift of American Power, Robert Kaplan, 2014.
  4. US-China To Set Up Video Hotline, Talk Of Joint Exercises, Colin Clark, 2014.
  5. Vietnam Frees Some Dissidents Amid TPP Trade Talks, Luke Hunt, 2014.
  6. The $1 billion Chinese oil rig that has Vietnam in flames, Adam Taylor, 2014.
  7. China Claims U.S. Is Encouraging ‘Dangerous and Provocative Actions’ in Oilrig Standoff, Sam LaGrone, 2014.                                                                           
  8. China's Big Strategic Mistake in the South China Sea, Ha Anh Tuan, 2014.
  9. At Pentagon, Chinese general warns US on territorial disputes, Chris Carroll and Jon Harper, 2014.
  10. The Battle for the South China Sea, Michael J. Totten, 2014.
  11. China’s Naval Modernization: Implications and Recommendations, Andrew S. Erickson, 2013.
  12. Is a Philippine-Vietnam Alliance in the Making?, Carl Thayer, 2014.
  13. The Limits to US-Vietnam Ties, Richard Pearson, 2014.           
  14. China and America Clash on the High Seas: The EEZ Challenge, Jeff M. Smith and Joshua Eisenman, 2014.                                                                                          
  15. Vietnam’s Russian Restocking, Defense Industry Daily, 2014.                                                    
  16. U.S.–Vietnam Defense Relations: Investing in Strategic Alignment, William Jordan, Lewis M. Stern and Walter Lohman, 2012.                                                                                                       

Sunday, May 11, 2014

America's Littoral Combat Ships: Part II - Small Surface Combatant

Image 1: Pair of Independence class LCS 

Under the direction of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, the Department of Defense has reduced its total LCS buys to 32 ships down from 52. The decision to limit LCS buys to 32 ships was influenced by scathing criticism from many Department of Defense officials, including former Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox, who argued the ship's lack of both the firepower and protection made it a "niche" platform with little relevance to the Pivot. 

"...we need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and firepower to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific.  If we were to build out the LCS program to 52 ships, as previously planned, it would represent one-sixth of our future 300-ship Navy." - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, 2014

As part I discussed, the purpose of the LCS is not to engage high-end surface combatants in the South China Sea. Rather, the LCS is intended to preform Phase 0 & I such as providing training opportunities for US allies, routine maritime patrols, anti-piracy operations, etc. These basic peacetime duties are much more suited to $400 million dollar LCS ships over $1.8 billion dollar DDG-51 Destroyers. The use of LCS ships to fulfill routine peacetime duties near Africa and South America frees high-end surface combatants such as Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers to transfer to the Pacific (Greenert, 2012). 

Even with these considerations, the decision to limit LCS procurement to 32 vessels is largely merited as it is a sufficient number of ships to free up high-end surface combatants for the Pacific and it allows the Navy to pursue a more heavily armed replacement to support the Pivot. The Small Surface Combatant (SSC) task force has been assigned with evaluating proposals for a more heavily armed surface combatant with capabilities consistent with a frigate. The task force would evaluate existing ship designs, upgraded LCS designs, and new designs with respect to the venerable Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate (Cavas, 2014).  The task force's initial findings are due by the end of July. 

SSC Role,Objectives, and USN Needs 

Image 2: USS Taylor FFG-50 

In many respects, the existing LCS designs do not fully replace the Oliver Perry-class frigate and they notably are not integrated as part of carrier strike groups. Because the SSC task force will compare SSC proposals to the Oliver Perry-class frigate, understanding the role of the Oliver Perry-class frigate provides some basis of what can be expected from the SSC. The following is from Global Security

"These ships were originally conceived as a low-cost convoy escort (hence the original 'PF' hull number for the prototype). They are particularly well suited to be a convoy escort and are Link 11 capable...PERRY-class frigates are primarily Undersea Warfare ships intended to provide open-ocean escort of amphibious ships and convoys in low to moderate threat environments in a global war with the Soviet Union. They could also provide limited defense against anti-ship missiles extant in the 70's and 80's. The ships are equipped to escort and protect carrier battle groups, amphibious landing groups, underway replenishment groups and convoys." - Global Security, 2011

The future SSC needs to be able to fulfill the traditional escort and patrol role of the Oliver Perry-class in addition to providing some fleet defense capabilities for carrier strike groups within a hostile anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environment

Relevant Capabilities Needed to Support the Pivot:

Anti-Surface Warfare: (ASuW) The SSC should be capable of engaging low and medium-end surface combatants such as the Type Jiangkai-class (Type 054A) and Type 056 corvette. Thus, the SSC needs VLS cells with capable long-range anti-ship missiles such as NSM, Tomahawks, or LRASM. VLS cells could be supplemented with two quad packs of Harpoon anti-ship missiles. A 76 mm main gun is standard for frigates of this size.

Image 3: The RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) serves as a medium range anti-aircraft and cruise missile weapon. The inclusion of the Mk 25 Quad-Pack allows four RIM-162 missiles to fit inside a standard MK 41 VLS cell. Thus, an SSC with 16 MK 41 VLS cells could provide effective air defense out to more than 27 nautical miles with 64 ESSMs. The quad pack configuration allows US carrier groups to field the large number of anti-cruise missile interceptors necessary for protecting a carrier group in an A2/AD environment. 

Anti-Aircraft Warfare (AAW):  The US Navy (USN) will deploy between 80 to 97 high-end surface combatants dedicated to fleet air-defense between FY 2015 – 2044 (O’Rouke, 2014). These ships will be supplemented with E-2D Hawkeyes, Aegis baseline 9, F-35Cs, F/A-18Es and 100 nm + capable SM-6 surface to air missiles. Thus, it would be cost prohibitive and redundant to spend money procuring heavy anti-air warfare frigates equipped with Aegis and ~48+ VLS cells. A limited fleet defense capability with quad packed RIM-162s and SM-2s supplemented with a SPY-1F would likely be sufficient to augment existing (and extensive) fleet AAW. The remaining cells could be filled with anti-ship missiles or anti-submarine weapons.        

Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW): The rising threat of People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) diesel electric submarines remains among the most serious threats to US carrier groups in the Western-Pacific. The SSC could supplement destroyers and cruisers in ASW role with towed sonar array and anti-submarine weapons (e.g. RUM-139 ASROC) in VLS cells. Torpedoes such as the MK 54 could be added for additional ASW and ASuW capabilities.   

Extended range and endurance: long range needed for transit between US Pacific facilities e.g. Naval Station San Diego, Pearl Hickam, Naval Base Guam, United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, etc. 

Image 4: FFG-37 USS Stark after being hit by two Exocet missiles 

Survivability: A2/AD environments are extremely hostile toward surface combatants, especially within the first island chain. The PLAN has 100,000 sea mines and thousands of anti-ship cruise missiles (Freedberg, 2014). A built-in survivability standard of Level II is required at a minimum (destroyers, cruisers, and carriers are built to Level III while minesweepers and replenishment ships are built to level I). Oliver Perry-class frigates demonstrated the value of Level II survivability when the USS Stark was hit with two Iraqi Exoset anti-ship missiles in 1987 (above) and in 1988 when Samuel B. Roberts was hit with a 500 pound Iranian sea mine. In both cases, the ships managed to stay afloat despite the damage. The aluminum hull of the independence-class LCS and the aluminum-steel hull of the freedom–class LCS limit the ships to Level I+ survivability status (O’Rouke, 2014). The SSC’s survivability can be augmented with SeaRAM, close-in weapon system (CIWS), and decoys but ensuring the SSC has a robust built-in survivability standard should be a non-negotiable requirement given the expected A2/AD environment.

It is important to note that definitions of ship survivability have changed overtime and fixating on the Level I, II, and III levels themselves is not necessarily constructive. Lazarus from the Information Dissemination blog wrote an article, Following in the Wake of the Frigate; Remarkable Continuity in the Postwar US Surface Combatant Force, which concludes the US warships have relied on defensive weapons, advanced sensors, and communication equipment over heavy armor since World War II:

"The Ticonderoga class cruiser, the Freedom and Independence LCS sea frames and even the large Zumwalt class DDG 1000 are differing examples of the same design ethos [operated by a small crew, reliant on on stealth and self defense weapons rather than armor] that has dominated U.S. surface combatant design since 1945. Any discussion of surface combatant 'survivability' must take into account this basic similarity among U.S. surface warships." - Lazarus, 2014

The argument for substantial built-in survivability measures within the SSC design is largely pragmatic as Level II survivability would serve as a fail-safe against threats defeating active ship defenses. In both the cases of FFG-37 and  FFG-58, the defensive weapons (e.g. CIWS) and sensors employed by the ships failed to neutralize the incoming threats. New technology, such as advanced ship defense weapons, should be employed in tandem with proven passive survivability measures like placing armor over key areas of the ship. 

Growth margins – A service life of 30 years requires the SSC design to be easily upgradable.  Ideally, the hull should be able to accommodate a larger displacement over its service life to allow for upgrades. A capable power plant is essential toward the accommodation of new systems such as solid state lasers, rail guns, or a more powerful radar. A hybrid-electric drive (HED) would ensure the SSC has adequate growth opportunities for the remainder of its service life. 

"Littoral Combat Ships have plenty of onboard power, plus accessible free space for capacitors etc. Switching the 57mm forward gun for a railgun, and adding laser weapons for air and surface defense, would give an LCS with the 'EM weapons' package unique Naval Fire Support and air-defense roles within the fleet." - Defense Industry Daily, 2014

Likely Candidates for SSC

While the task force is evaluating a number of designs, the most likely candidates will be upgraded variants of existing LCS models and Huntington Ingalls' patrol frigate submissions. Congress is highly unlikely to permit the purchase of a foreign design for political reasons (Cavas, 2014). European navies have increasingly procured 6,000 tonne plus high-end AAW "frigates" equipped with 48 VLS cells and powerful radars (e.g. the German Sachsen class, the Spanish Álvaro de Bazán-class (F100), and the British Type 26 Global Combat Ship). These ships have largely replaced the role of fleet defense destroyers within these countries or are intended to supplement a reduced destroyer force. Even if political calculations were not part of the Navy's procurement process, European frigate designs are in excess of US needs given the large number of more capable Arleigh Burke-class destroyers deployed by the USN. Given the constrained fiscal environment of sequestration, it is also highly unlikely for any completely new designs to be seriously evaluated. 

Huntington Ingalls' Patrol Frigate 4501 & 4921

Image 5: Pair of National Security Cutters (NSC) 

Huntington Ingalls has been actively marketing modified versions of its NSC for Navy's SSC. The base NSC has been constructed to 90% military standards, has a unit cost of $638 million dollars and features a 57 mm main gun (O'Rouke, 2014). Two modified variants of the NSC have been offered, the PF 4501 and PF 4921. The PF 4501's greatest asset is its range of 12,000 nautical miles and an endurance of 60 days compared to the 3,500-4,000 nautical mile range and 21 day endurance for existing LCS vessels. The design requirements for long range policing and endurance for the base NSC make it well suited towards traversing between distant US and allied facilities in the Pacific. The design philosophy behind the PF 4501, to limit cost increases above the NSC, limits the ships armament to only a 57 mm main gun with machine guns and defensive weapons. The limitations of the PF 4501's armament largely limits its prospects as a viable SSC candidate. 

The PF 4921 sacrifices 4,000 nautical miles worth of range on the base NSC for a heavily increased armament:  

"...the PF 4921 is a light frigate for executing anti-air, anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare...Armament is a 76 mm main gun, a vertical launch unit for the evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM), a Phalanx  or SeaRAM CIWS, and six crew-served as well as remotely operated machine guns. Mounted aft are two quad packed Harpoon surface-to-surface missile launchers and a triple torpedo tube launcher. Sensors shown on the concept ship include a CEAFAR radar system, a hull mounted sonar and a towed array sonar system." -  Mrityunjoy Mazumdar, 2012

Sources differ on the number of VLS cells carried on the PF4921, either 12 or 16 (LaGrone & Cavas, 2014). The combination of the aforementioned weapon systems and sensors in conjunction with a 8,000 nautical mile range and 60 day endurance makes the PF 4921 a viable candidate for the SSC. The only outstanding issue for the PF 4921 is its built-in survivability standard given the base NSC was designed for seakeeping not combat against capable surface combatants. (Cavas, 2014). The PF variants of the NSC have been enhanced to meet Navy standards but to the extent in which the ships feature higher survivability, in terms of Level I, II, III, etc., remains unclear. 

Austal USA & General Dynamic's Independence International Variant

Image 5: Independence-international 

As far as the aforementioned required capabilities are concerned, the Independence international variant features a substantially improved armament when compared to the existing domestic variant. The international variant has been marketed with several different configurations but many include: two eight VLS configurations for 16 VLS cell total, two quad harpoon mounts, torpedo launchers and a medium caliber gun (either 57 or 76 mm). With these weapons, the Independence-class would be more able to engage PLAN surface combatants. A major advantage the Independence-class vessels have over existing Freedom-class LCS boats is its more expansive mission module area which can in turn be used to house more equipment and armament for the SSC program. However, the major limitation of the Independence-class domestic variant is still present in the international variant, its aluminum hull. 

"The original concept for LCS was a ship whose damage resistance could save the crew, but not the ship, in the event if a significant strike. That was upgraded slightly to potentially saving the crew and the ship, but not continuing to fight while doing so. As the Exocet missile strikes on the HMS Sheffield (sank) and USS Stark (survived, barely) proved, even steel warships designed to keep fighting after a strike may find it challenging to meet their design specifications...The LCS-1 Freedom Class uses an aluminum superstructure, while the LCS-2 Independence Class is primarily an aluminum design. While both ships have had to certify to the same fire-proofing standards asked of other ships, aluminum conducts heat very well, and melts or deforms easily. If the ancillary fire-fighting systems, resistant coatings, etc. fail, or cannot handle a given situation at sea, structural integrity problems and secondary fires could become fatal concerns very quickly." - Defense Industry Daily, 2014

The argument that the LCS did not need high survivability to fulfill its intended mission legitimate, as discussed in part I. But, Level 1+ survivability is not acceptable if General Dynamics and Austal USA intend to market the international variant in a traditional frigate role. Therefore, the Independence international variant should not be pursued as a viable SSC candidate given its limited built-in survivability standards. 

Lockheed Martin's Multi-Mission Surface Combat Ship

Image 6: Multi Mission SCS proposals 

Lockheed Martin has proposed a series of major alternations to the existing Freedom-class LCS hull as part of the multi-mission surface combat ship (SCS). SCS proposals range from the current 118 meter variant up towards a 150 meters combatant with a SPY-1F radar, 48 VLS cells, and Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability. The high-end variants of the SCS are in excess of US needs similar to foreign heavy air defense frigates. Furthermore, the proposed high-end Aegis equipped SCS variants would cost around $1 billion dollars each making them unfeasible in the current fiscal environment (Cavas, 2014). However, a mid-range variant of the SCS with either 16 or 32 VLS cells, two quad harpoon missile launchers, a 76 mm main gun, SPY-1F radar and torpedo launchers would be sufficient to adequately meet most conceivable ASW and ASuW needs. As with the Independence-class LCS,  built-in survivability remains a serious concern. 

The Freedom-class LCS uses a combination of steel and aluminum as opposed to the all aluminium hull like the Independence-class LCS but it still has received a Level I+ rating. However, Lockheed’s vice president of littoral ship systems, Joe North, recently claimed that the international variants of the Freedom-class LCS had higher durability than the Level II Oliver Perry-class frigates

“Folks understand our hull, our structure...The analysis done by the American Bureau of Shipping told us our structure was stronger and more survivable than a FFG 7 [Oliver Perry-class frigate]. ” - Joe North, 2014


If the SCS does have a higher built-in survivability standard as the Oliver Perry-class than it would likely become the front runner in the SSC selection process given its flexible design, significant armament, capable sensors, and the lowered developmental risk due to its commonality with existing Freedom-class ships. The PF 4921 is also a viable option for the SSC but it is likely the Navy has an institutional bias against adapting cutters in frigate roles: 

"Ingalls has dual challenges. Like the LCS builders, the company needs to show it can make the PF a creditable warship. But many naval officers and officials balk at considering a 'white hull' ship designed for the Coast Guard and not to the Navy’s more exacting combat standards.  Getting people to overlook those preconceptions and take a closer look at a design’s capabilities will be as much as challenge as fitting in more missiles and bigger guns." - Cavas, 2014

While the LCS' original concept remains valid, capping procurement at 32 ships is justified as it will allow the Navy to forward deploy more capable surface combatants to the Pacific. The Navy can further support the Pivot by procuring the SSC to support the Pivot in ASW, ASuW and AAW roles as part of conventional carrier strike groups.

Author's Note: I will continue to publish articles into the summer. About 1/2 of the article "Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft Part II - The American Approach" is completed and I'm in the process of working on articles relating to the DDG-51 Flight III & DDG-1000, US-Philippine defense ties, potential expansion for US-Vietnam ties, Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft - The Chinese Approach, as well as some other other topics. 

Sources (In addition to Part I)

  1. ‘Is China Enemy No. 1?’ Debate Erupts at Marine War Game, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 2012.
  2. Raytheon RIM-162 ESSM, Andreas Parsch, 2004.                                          
  3. Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD)   Program: Background and Issues for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke, 2014.                                                                                                         
  4. US Destroyers Get a HED: More Power to Them!, Defense Industry Daily, 2012.
  5. RIM-162 ESSM Missile: Naval Anti-Air in a Quad Pack, Defense Industry Daily, 2014.
  6. Patrol Frigate Concepts from Huntington Ingalls Industries Gain Traction Internationally, Mrityunjoy Mazumdar, 2012.                                               
  7. Single Cell Launcher  Flexible and Adaptable for Today’s Navy, Lockheed Martin, 2014.
  8. Lockheed Outlines Freedom-Class Improvements, Dave Majumdar, 2014.
  9. US Navy Task Force Seeks Industry Ideas, Christopher Cavas, 2014.
  10. CNO: Group Will Study New LCS Designs, Christopher Cavas, 2014.
  11. Ready, Set, Go! Navy Gives Industry 21 Days For LCS Alternatives, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr., 2014.
  12. Following in the Wake of the Frigate; Remarkable Continuity in the Postwar US Surface Combatant Force, Lazarus, 2014.                              
  13. Ship Study Should Favor Existing Designs, Christopher Cavas, 2014.