Littoral Combat Ship: America's Secret Naval Weapon Against China Or Waste Of Money?

David Axe

Key point: In a wargaming simulation against China, the Littoral Combat Ship performed worse than expected.

The U.S. Navy in late 2019 or 2020 expects to select a shipyard to build the fleet’s new guided-missile frigate.

The 20 heavily-armed frigates will replace roughly half of the 50 or so Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) that the Navy had planned to buy before realizing that the lightly-armed LCS likely couldn’t survive in a major shooting war.

Just how vulnerable is the LCS?

In 2013 journalist Kyle Mizokami put the speedy, 3,000-ton-displacement vessel to the test. Booting up Command: Modern Naval/Air Operations -- a high-end computer war game -- Mizokami pitted simulated LCSs against a Chinese flotilla.

“The result isn’t good — and a harrowing lesson to be cautious about how we equip the U.S. military,” Mizokami wrote.

The mock battle raged near the Scarborough Shoal in the South China Sea. In real life, The Philippines and China both claim the shoal. In Mizokami’s simulation, a Chinese force composed of the destroyer Changde and the corvette Qinzhou ambushes and sinks a pair of Philippine frigates.

Two LCSs, Fort Worth and Freedom, are the first to arrive on the scene of the massacre. The American destroyer Halsey also is on the way.

“It’s a gamble because Littoral Combat Ships are not well-protected against anti-ship missiles, having only their 57-millimeter guns and Rolling Airframe missile launcher mounts,” Mizokami wrote. “I believe Qinzhou is out of anti-ship missiles. Changde might still have all of her missiles, but she’s also taken serious damage trading shots with [Philippine ship] Emilio Jacinto.”

From his piece: 

Moving at more than 40 knots, Fort Worth and Freedom begin closing the gap. Qinzhou and Changde both turn to face Fort Worth. Apparently they want to fight. I’ll oblige them. Both LCSs are under orders to engage the enemy as soon as they come close enough to fire their Griffin surface-to-surface missiles. Between the two of them, they have 30 Griffins.

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