The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship is built to be modular. So far, the Navy has planned only for anti-submarine, anti-mine and anti-boat modules combining different weapons and robots, but lately the sea service has been hyping the potential for an amphibious-warfare module.
Skipper of the first LCS, Commander Don Gabrielson, told me in November that, with the right module, you could put a company of Marines on an LCS and deploy them using small boats and helicopters. In fact, there’s already a prototype for such a module — and Gabrielson had it on his hangar deck (visible at right at the 1:46 mark in the video). It was built to provide extra berthing for small ships such as the Navy’s catamarans.
Now Navy Secretary Donald Winter is singing Gabrielson’s tune:
[T]he combination of the air component capabilities [on the LCS], the fact you have a good-sized flight deck and hangar in both variants, as well as the ability to deploy small boats, gives you some tremendous potential from the standpoint of amphibious operations, which is a core Marine Corps interest area.
This is a great idea, and consistent with emerging Marine Corps “distributed operations” doctrine. At sea, that means breaking up the traditional battalion-sized landing team into smaller, independent teams capable of limited operations ashore. The new San Antonio-class of amphibious ships (“gators”) has helped propel this doctrine, as it offers sufficient storage, berthing and flight-deck space to support a small landing team all on its own.
“We’ve been able to execute a mechanized raid profile off the New Orleans,” Marine Colonel David Coffman said of San Antonio‘s sister ship. “[It’s] basically operating as an independent platform with our amtrack and tanks and LCACs [hovercraft] working off of that deck.”
LCS gators could work in groups, or with San Antonio-class ships, sacrificing the mass and major aviation capabilities of the old-school amphibious organization for speed and flexibility.