Can a New Missile Redeem the Navy's Failed Littoral Combat Ship?

David Axe

Key point: The LCS isn't good, but with a better missile it could use its stealthy features to sink an enemy ship. This upgrade is a long-needed step in the right direction.

The U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship USS Gabrielle Giffords fired an anti-ship missile at a target vessel during an Oct. 1, 2019 exercise off the coast of Guam.

The missile-shot signals an important, if greatly delayed, expansion of the LCS’s weapons capability. The two-variant class for years has come under fire for being lightly-built and under-armed for major warfare.

Gabrielle Giffords, a triple-hull Independence-variant of the LCS, launched a Naval Strike Missile at the ex-USS Ford, a decommissioned frigate, as part of a joint sink exercise, or SINKEX, that also involved the Republic of Singapore Navy.

The Naval Strike Missile is a new addition to the LCS. The 13-feet-long, sea-skimming missile weighs 900 pounds and can strike targets as far as 100 miles away, making it by far the LCS’s most powerful weapon.

An LCS can be fitted with two quad launchers for the Norwegian-designed missile. Giffords is the first of the 3,000-ton-displacement ships to carry the weapon, although it could become standard on the class.

“That’s a game-changer for LCS,” Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, told USNI News. “They still have their mission, they still have their focused mission and all the things that they’re going to do in the surface warfare world and in [anti-submarine warfare] and [mine countermeasures.”

But with Naval Strike Missiles in their arsenals, LCSs now pose a threat to even larger enemy surface ships, as well. “Now, every LCS that’s out there can’t be ignored,” Moton said.

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