Will US littoral combat ship become submarine killer?

China Military Online
Zhang Tao


BEIJING, Sept, 12 (ChinaMil) -- "The US Navy is working to develop lighter-weight anti-submarine technology designed to better enable its Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to track, locate and destroy enemy submarines – all while recognizing potential rivals Russia and China continue to rapidly develop new submarine weapons and technologies," according to the US website National Interest.

The US already has extensive and diverse anti-submarine approaches. Why does it install anti-submarine devices on Littoral Combat Ships? Will the LCS become the future submarine killer?

Zhao Zhao, associate research fellow at the Research Center of National Security and Military Strategy of the PLA National University of Defense Technology, told reporter that "the US Navy has established an anti-submarine system of complete equipment types, advanced technologies and cutting-edge combat capability in the world. But its anti-submarine approaches were mostly developed during the Cold War when the imaginary target was former Soviet Union's nuclear submarine force cruising in the ocean, so it's not easy for them to completely adapt to the increasing near-sea and shallow-water anti-submarine tasks. Based on overall considerations for the situation and equipment features on future battlefield, the US Navy chose to intensify the anti-submarine capability of its littoral combat ships as a countermove."

According to Zhao, there were three reasons for America's choice.

First, it will have a high survival rate on the battlefield. Compared with other main battle surface vessels in the US Navy, the LCS features small tonnage, high speed and full-size stealth design, and the consequent low detectability and high maneuverability give the ship a high survival rate even when it encounters the enemy's guided weapon on a battlefield where it has no air or sea advantages.

Second, it will have notable advantage in confrontations against submarine. Enemy submarine in confrontation with the LCS, either in the state of one-way or two-way discovery, will face a dilemma, while the ship, with a maximal speed of more than 40 knots, can easily get rid of enemy torpedo or other underwater attacks and quickly occupy a favorable position to attack or guide attack of the enemy.

Third, it will be easier for additional installation or adaptation. Both the Freedom and Independence LCSs reserved space for "anti-submarine package" when they were first developed. The US Navy only has to downsize the submarine searching device originally developed for ships larger than 4,000 tons to be able to "detect submarine over long distance".

It is learnt that another background factor for choosing the LCS is the continuous reduction of America's defense budget, so the navy has to seek an "economical and convenient" solution based on existing combat platforms, and the LCS designed under the concept of "mission module" is a good choice.

Open reports show that the anti-submarine modules installed on the LCS will include variable depth sonar (VDS), Multi-Function Towed Array system (MFTA), light anti-torpedo system, anti-submarine task management and command system (software), an MH-60R Seahawk anti-submarine helicopter equipped with light torpedo and sonar buoy, two MQ-8B Fire Scout UVAs that can scan the sea surface and transmit real-time video images via data link, and supportive and guarantee systems.

According to Zhao, although unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) technology has many deficiencies in such aspects as communication, control, power and energy storage, it has shown tremendous potential for anti-submarine combat, and we shouldn't ignore the possibility that the US military may use the LCS as the platform for UUV in future anti-submarine tasks.

It's also worth mentioning that when equipped with VDS and MFTA, the LCS will be able to pose a serious threat not only to regular submarines in shallow waters, but also to nuclear ones operating under the constant zone of subsurface temperature (about 350m under water).

"Once a sufficient number of the LCSs that are able to detect, search and counter submarines over long distance form actual combat capability around 2018 as scheduled, they will be a strong supplement to the US' existing anti-submarine approaches. At that time, the US military will have a better control of underwater space in near waters and on key sea routes around the world, and the underwater forces of its potential rivals will face a tougher confrontation environment," said Zhao Zhao.

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