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The US Marines Have Big Plans for the Littoral Combat Ship

Littoral Combat Ship
(Aug. 19, 2015) The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) assembles in formation with ships from the Royal Malaysian Navy as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia 2015. CARAT is an annual, bilateral exercise series with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joe Bishop/Released)

The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Could be the Fire Support the Marines Dream of: Though the class has not performed as well as the Navy hoped, they could be revived as a Light Amphibious Warship escort.

Gone are the long grinding land campaigns that defined the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. Instead, the United States focus’ is not on non-state actors but instead on near-peer rivals and the Indo-Pacific.

Amid this shift eastward, perhaps no other branch is undergoing as much institutional change as the United States Marine Corps. Doctrinal shifts have resulted in the divestment of all tank battalions and much artillery and tube mortars.

Central to the Marine Corps’ evolving strategy is the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) mission. Like the Corps’ Word War II-era island-hopping strategy, EABO would see small, decentralized groups of Marines flitting from island to island throughout the Indo-Pacific, striking targets of opportunity, denying areas of land or sea to enemy forces, and supporting other naval elements.

And one naval commander thinks the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships armed with potent anti-ship missiles — could play an essential role in the Marine Corps’ strategy.

Littoral Combat Ships, Armed to the Teeth

“We looked at lethality and adding [Naval Strike Missile] and then some of the experimentation we’re looking at, particularly in the area of finding, getting targeting data and things like that,” Naval Surface Forces commander Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener explained during a media call, as reported by USNI News.

“We think that LCS out in the first island chain and supporting EABO with the Marines and littoral warfare – [is] a very potent hull. And we continue to work it and we’ll continue to find better ways to get it more reliable and more sustainable.”

The Littoral Combat Ship has experienced a renaissance of sorts, as qualms about the class’ reliability have subsided and given way to questions about how to best leverage the ship’s high speed, mission flexibility, and, in the case of the Independence-class, the ship’s low radar signature.

Armed Escort

Though not yet in service, the Marine Corps’ workhorse at sea will be the Light Amphibious Warship, essentially a low-cost, low-signature shore-to-shore transport with the endurance to transport Marines and equipment throughout the Indo-Pacific. And that is something the LCS could be a part of. 

“We see it [the Light Amphibious Warship] as going to be able to move people and things around. LCS can do that, but LCS can also move and be different places with different packages that are tactically relevant, whether it’s a [unmanned aerial vehicle], a [unmanned undersea vehicle], or be somewhere where it can employ NSM, alongside of those Marine Regiments that are employing NSM from their positions where they’re bedded down,” Vice Adm. Kitchener explained.

The Light Amphibious Warship will also “help the Marines move their gear around. LCS is going to give them a little bit of a punch working alongside of them. And so I think those are the things we’ve been working out in 7th Fleet and some of the things we’ve been working off the coast here.”

The Littoral Combat Ship Might Have An Important Future Afterall? 

Despite the Navy’s disappointment with the Littoral Combat Ships’ previous performance, there may yet be another application for the ships parallel to the Marine Corps.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

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