Tony kopacz

Challenging the LCS Program, Does 50 Knots of Ship’s Speed Matter to a Locked-on Missile? [OP/ED]

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May 31, 2012

Written in response to Rear Admiral Rowden’s article, US Navy Littoral Combat Ships – Revolutionary, Vital

By Captain Tony Kopacz, USN (Ret), Director of Operations, General Atomics

Tony kopaczI was around when the LCS concept began to take hold, when the buzz words were “Asymmetric Warfare”.

Looking back on it now, we had no idea what asymmetric warfare meant and how Naval forces would be employed; all we knew was we had and understood current OPLANS, and that they weren’t working in contests that were not mass on mass, I thought then, wow we’ve been here before and don’t remember the lessons from Vietnam.

Then we invented a brown-water Navy that did a bunch of stuff, but was only marginally influential when the majority of war material was carried on the backs of men and animals. The enemy simply went where we weren’t and waged his kind of war. And by the way, not inconceivably creating a diversion that kept a good portion of forces tied down on riverine operations…asymmetric warfare.  I cite this only because the innovation some talk about is only in part about budget constraints and platforms, but in reality more so about integrating grand strategies with operational strategies, operations, and tactics.

Because we have service-driven sacred turf, we begin our mistakes by not seriously challenging the individual precepts.

For example, do we think that with proper application of our investments in precision weapons, surveillance, and command and control, we will ever need a seaborne beach invasion to the degree that special ships and modules will be required to clear mines when we can, with the support of our technological investments, lift and drop at will, where the enemy is not?

Why, in a joint and combined effort can we not do force build-up in an asymmetric theater?

Why must we violate one of the primary principles of naval warfare by giving up sea room and putting a ship in an area where we know the enemy, with his investment in technology has about an equal opportunity of successfully engaging an at sea asset?

I realize that to do full-blown real war logistics one must have unfettered access to the sea, but that doesn’t have to happen on day one, and it never has…it is highly unlikely that we will ever do a Normandy, Iwo Jima, or Inchon landing again. But again, this goes back to, what is our grand strategy and in what conflicts are we likely to participate?

China, NOT

Iran, NOT

Syria, NOT

Pick somewhere where there is an undefended or lightly defended coast that warrants sending a ship under the enemy’s guns. There just aren’t many worth fighting over. And in the event one pops up these ships will not be on the front line until the enemy is cleared by other means.

Then why a costly, lightly defended, offensively impotent, platform that for all its speed has no teeth and 40 or 50 knots makes no difference to a locked-on hostile missile?  Five to fifteen knots will do for the planned capabilities.

Additionally, our investment in extremely capable amphibious platforms and UUVs coupled with our strike groups and amphibious groups and their planned longevity make this platform seem unnecessary unless we are intending to simply replace the FFGs.

Lastly, if it is the case, given the overall operational employment concept employs pre-deployed civilian maintenance crews, with a two crew manning concept, the tooth to tail ratio has no promise of a positive return on investment. Not to mention the negative return in the gambling odds against the loss of human life operating in a technologically advanced asymmetric warfare environment.

CAPT Anthony (Tony) Kopacz is Director of Operations at General Atomics, Electromagnetic Systems Group in San Diego, CA.  He served on active duty in the United States Navy for 40 years – 11 enlisted, 29 while commissioned as an officer.  

He spent his enlisted years on board diesel and fleet ballistic missile submarines followed by officer tours as DESRON, OPNAV, Joint Staff, Commanding Officer of two frigates and an Aegis cruiser, Chief of Staff – Third Fleet, and graduate, CNO chair, and instructor at the National War College.  He also holds a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering.

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