Ten years ago, the U.S. Navy set about building a new class of small, cheap, numerous Littoral Combat Ships meant to dominate dangerous coastal waters. But after a decade of politics and design-by-committee, the LCS has turned out to be anything but small, cheap and numerous. LCS is the “wrong ship at the wrong time,” retired Navy Cmdr. John Patch wrote.
On the other side of the Pacific, the Navy’s biggest maritime rival, faced with the same requirement for small, cheap, numerous ships, quickly produced exactly that. The result is the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s triple-hull Type 022 missile boat, a “thoroughbred ship-killer,” according to Patch.
To some observers, the PLAN missile boat — or, more to the point, packs of these boats — poses yet another major Chinese threat to U.S. power in the Pacific. Eighty-three Type 022s firing more than 640 anti-ship missiles in quick salvos represent a “serious cause for concern,” according to retired Navy Cmdr. George Root.
To others, the diminutive Type 022s look like mere juicy targets for American helicopters and submarines. They cite the extremely poor combat record of small-missiles boats doing battle with larger vessels and aircraft.
One thing is indisputable. The Type 022 is “a potential success story on how to field small combatants,” Patch wrote. Its merits in combat remain to be seen, but at least the ship exists to perform a combat role. The same cannot be said of the huge fleet of LCSs the U.S. Navy thought it would have by now.