Magazine article National Defense

Littoral Combat Ship Troubles: Opportunity for Small Boat Companies?

Magazine article National Defense

Littoral Combat Ship Troubles: Opportunity for Small Boat Companies?

Article excerpt

WITH THE COST OF THE NAVY'S littoral combat ship skyrocketing and its funding in peril of repercussions from Congress, some say the sea service ought to give serious consideration to acguiring cheaper boats that could complement a reduced fleet of larger surface combatants.

"The Navy's really trying to think, 'do we need a vessel in between the LCS and the riverine,' and I think in the end, they're going to say, yes they do," says Robert Work, senior naval analyst at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

For the past two decades, naval forces have been mostly engaged in the littoral or shallow waters near coastlines, including combat operations in the rivers and estuaries of Iraq, the oil fields in the Persian Gulf and high-volume traffic areas such as the Horn of Africa and the Malacca Strait, says Lt. Bashon Mann, spokesman for the Navy.

"The number of Navy vessels that can operate most effectively in these areas, however, is relatively small, as most large and medium combatants - destroyers, cruisers, aircraft carriers and even frigates - are designed for deep water operations," he says.

The littoral combat ship was conceived to bolster the Navy's capabilities in shallow water environments. It plays a significant role in the service's future 313-ship fleet. But these ships are under construction and will not become fully operational until 2009 at the earliest.

The Navy owns a small fleet of patrol coastal boats that are in use in the Persian Gulf to protect oil platforms. The Coast Guard is operating five of the 180-foot boats, though the Navy reportedly is attempting to reclaim them for near-shore missions. Once thought to be obsolete, the PC boats have renewed relevancy in current operations, say analysts. But others say a new type of vessel is needed.

"We look at the PC as what's wrong with the current fleet of coastal boats because the PC is essentially just a miniature destroyer, and it doesn't perform its mission as well as it could because of that," says Bill Burns, president of M Ship Co., based in San Diego. "Rather than just trying to take a blue water ship and shrink it down for the green water or brown water, you really need to rethink what the objectives are and what the missions are and where the boat's going to be operating."

In conjunction with the Defense Department's Office of Force Transformation, Burns' company built Stiletto, an 80-foot boat with a carbon fiber composite hull designed to operate in the littoral and riverine environments. …

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