During the 1980s, the United States had a small squadron of vessels intended to work close to shore. These ships gave good service, and proved to be decent at not just their primary purpose. Yet when the peace dividend came, they got retired, and most were scrapped. One has been saved as a museum.
Meet the Pegasus-class missile-armed patrol hydrofoil. They were 255 tons. They could go up to 48 knots. They had a 76mm Mk 75 gun and eight RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles.
That was a lot of firepower on a small vessel. With a crew of four officers and 17 enlisted, these were not very manpower-intensive ships.
The Pegasus patrol boats never did have to carry out their primary mission to take out enemy ships. But GlobalSecurity.org notes that these ships did prove very valuable in other missions, including the drug interdiction role.
The “Seventh Edition of Combat Fleets of the World” notes that the ships were very steady weapons platforms for their size. Since they were based out of Key West, Florida, the patrol boats could keep an eye on Cuba.
Original plans to base them in the Med were scrapped, according to the “Thirteenth Edition of The Ships and Aircraft of the United States Navy.”
Think about what these ships could do with 255 tons. Now, let’s look at the Littoral Combat Ship.
What do we get for the 3,500 tons on a Freedom-class LCS? Well, we get roughly the same top speed (47 knots). We get a hangar with two MH-60 helicopters (primarily for anti-submarine warfare, but they have Hellfire missiles, which don’t do jack against anything larger than a Pegasus). We get a 57mm gun (the Mk 110), a Mk 31 RAM launcher … and a few .50-caliber machine guns.
While there is some improvement in air-defense (matched by the DART round for the 76mm gun), it’s weak when it comes to the anti-ship side of things.
Looking at the LCS, while it has had its shining moments — particularly USS Freedom’s 2010 Southern Command deployment — it has also had problems galore.
Perhaps the Navy should have gone back to the proven Pegasus design while it got the LCS right.