Did Russia actually get its LCS right?
America's Littoral Combat Ship program has generated more than its share of controversy. Despite a promising SOUTHCOM deployment by USS Freedom (LCS 1) in 2010, it is more in the news for engine problems than for its potential.
The ship's armament has been criticized for being too light. Heck, the Navy couldn't decide between the two designs (it should be noted, both had their strong points).
Life may have gotten worse for the LCS. According to NavyRecognition.com, Russia's Derzky-class combatants are on the way – and the Russians may have gotten the concept right.
Concept photo of Russian Projekt 20386 littoral combat ship. (Photo from Thai Military and Region blog)
Officially known as Projekt 20386, the 3,400-ton Derzky has a single 100mm gun, two eight-cell launchers for the Redoubt system, two four-cell launchers for the Kalibr anti-ship missiles, two quad torpedo tube mounts, and two AK-630 close-in weapon systems. It also has the ability to carry a helicopter, a multi-mission bay, and a top speed of 30 knots.
What does the LCS bring to the table? A single 57mm gun, a RAM launcher (either the Mk 31 or the SeaRAM), and a few .50-caliber machine guns. The Freedom-class LCS displaces 3900 tons, the Independence-class, about 3,100. They both have top speeds in excess of 40 knots (44 for the Independence, 47 for the Freedom). Both can also carry two MH-60R helicopters. Earlier this year, the Navy test fired both the Harpoon and NSM anti-ship missiles from USS Coronado (LCS 4). The Navy's Small Surface Combatant program is slated to add heavier armament to either the Freedom or Independence design.
The Russian vessel is packing a lot more firepower into a hull that is a little smaller than the LCS. The Derzky gives up anywhere from 14 to 17 knots of speed when compared to the LCS, but the LCS cannot outrun the Kalibr anti-ship missile. The LCS has more helicopter capacity, but the MH-60s are only equipped with the AGM-114 Hellfire anti-ship missile (older SH-60Bs had the AGM-119 Penguin). Some off-the-shelf systems could make the LCS a much closer match for the Derzky.
The good news is that the Russians will not get the Derzky until 2021, and they are only planning to buy 10 of these vessels. By then, the United States will have most of the Flight 0 littoral combat ships in service and those ships will have some upgrades.
The bad news for the United States is that Russia may have built the better LCS.