Adapt­ing to the re­gion

The US Navy’s Lit­toral Com­bat Ship’s flex­i­bil­ity has made its de­ploy­ment in South-East Asia a cru­cial one.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Living - By DZIRHAN MAHADZIR star2@thes­

SINCE 2013, the United States Navy has been ro­ta­tion­ally de­ploy­ing a sin­gle Lit­toral Com­bat Ship to South­East Asia, op­er­at­ing out of Sin­ga­pore and con­duct­ing a va­ri­ety of ac­tiv­i­ties, many of which are aimed at en­hanc­ing se­cu­rity and co-op­er­a­tion be­tween na­tions in the re­gion.

Lit­toral com­bat ships are de­signed to op­er­ate in both shal­low and con­gested sea lanes, al­low­ing them to op­er­ate in ar­eas where ships re­quir­ing deep wa­ters and space can­not go or are con­strained by such, a sit­u­a­tion com­mon to the wa­ters of South-East Asia given the archipelagic ge­og­ra­phy of the re­gion.

The US Navy’s LCSs come in two dif­fer­ent de­signs, the Free­dom class with a con­ven­tional hull de­sign and the In­de­pen­dence class with a tri­maran hull de­sign.

LCSs are de­signed to be con­fig­urable based on the ship’s mis­sion, with the space to in­stall or re­move mis­sion mo­d­ule pack­ages which al­lows it to be con­fig­ured for sur­face war­fare, anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare or mine counter-mea­sures, thus pro­vid­ing flex­i­bil­ity com­pared to most ship de­signs which have sin­gle built-in con­fig­u­ra­tions.

The cur­rent LCS de­ployed to the re­gion is the In­de­pen­dence Class USS Coron­ado (LCS 4) with pre­vi­ous de­ploy­ments be­ing the Free­dom Class ships USS Free­dom (LCS 1) in 2013 and USS Fort Worth from 20142016.

The USS Coron­ado is con­fig­ured with the Sur­face War­fare mis­sion pack­age, com­pris­ing two 11m rigid hull in­flat­able boats (RHIB), two visit, board, search and seizure (VBSS) board­ing teams, two 30mm ma­chine guns, two NorthropGrum­man MQ-8B Fire Scout un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles and an MH-60S Sea­hawk he­li­copter.

The Coron­ado’s tri­maran de­sign al­lows it to have a larger flight deck al­low­ing it to carry out both Un­manned Aerial Ve­hi­cles (UAV) and he­li­copter op­er­a­tions off the deck at the same time with the Sea­hawk he­li­copter and Fire Scout UAVs.

The US Navy plans to de­ploy mul­ti­ple LCS op­er­at­ing out of Sin­ga­pore in the com­ing years.

Over­see­ing the LCS de­ploy­ments is the US Navy com­mand head­quar­ters called COMLOGWESTPAC/Task Force 73, which has a small staff in Sin­ga­pore. COMLOGWESTPAC/Task Force 73 con­ducts ad­vance plan­ning, or­gan­ises re­sources and di­rectly sup­ports the ex­e­cu­tion of maritime ex­er­cises be­tween the US Navy and its part­ners in its area of re­spon­si­bil­ity, which cov­ers South Asia and South-East Asia.

Re­cently, The Star had the op­por­tu­nity to speak to Rear Ad­mi­ral Don Gabriel­son, the com­man­der of Task Force 73 on the LCS de­ploy­ment to the re­gion and its fu­ture.

Gabriel­son in the past had served as the com­mand­ing of­fi­cer of the LCS USS Free­dom dur­ing its con­struc­tion and com­mis­sion­ing and thus is well versed in the unique ca­pa­bil­i­ties that the LCSs have over con­ven­tional de­sign ships.

He pointed out a num­ber of ca­pa­bil­i­ties that the LCS has which makes it strongly suit­able for the re­gion, among them the adapt­abil­ity of the LCS, due to the avail­able con­fig­urable vol­ume and mod­u­lar­ity of the ship.

“There is 60% of the USS Coron­ado’s vol­ume that is avail­able to be con­fig­ured. Mod­u­lar­ity plays into that be­cause of the stan­dard phys­i­cal and net­work in­ter­faces that are all there which en­ables us to up­date the ship con­tin­u­ously through­out its life to keep it rel­e­vant to the changes that oc­cur in the world,” re­vealed Gabriel­son.

Gabriel­son also said that be­ing de­ployed in South-East Asia not only al­lows the LCS to re­spond faster to any sit­u­a­tion in the re­gion, but also its avail­able con­fig­urable space al­lows it to carry ad­di­tional or spe­cialised equip­ment re­quired for the sit­u­a­tion it is re­spond­ing to com­pared to con­ven­tional ships which have lim­ited space and can­not be eas­ily con­fig­ured to meet a par­tic­u­lar re­quire­ment.

He drew at­ten­tion to the LCS’s suit­abil­ity to the ge­og­ra­phy of South-East Asia.

“From the Philip­pines to In­dia, there are over 50,000 is­lands and if you look at the port fa­cil­i­ties in terms of the deep draft re­quired, a de­stroyer or larger ship needs a depth of 10m of wa­ter just to float, and more to move, so they can only go pier­side in a dozen ports in the re­gion.

“The LCS, with its shal­lower draft, al­lows it ac­cess to a thou­sand ports in the same area and be­cause of that, you have ac­cess to thou­sands more in­ner land lo­ca­tions where the ship can get in and help peo­ple, help con­trol the sea space, help pro­tect your in­ter­est, op­er­ate with part­ners, and get the job done com­pared to larger ships with deeper drafts,” he said.

The LCSs also have a much higher speed than con­ven­tional ships in the re­gion. The USS Coron­ado has a speed of over 40 knots (74km/h), mak­ing it faster than the av­er­age con­ven­tional navy ships’ speed of 25 knots (46.3km/h).

Gabriel­son pointed out that the LCS’s higher speed al­lows it to re­spond faster to any sit­u­a­tion.

“If you need help, you want that help quickly and ev­ery knot mat­ters in a ship’s speed and the de­sign of the LCSs al­lows them to main­tain high speeds in wa­ters that much larger ships would not be able to do.”

With South-East Asia be­ing of­ten struck by nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, mil­i­tary forces in the re­gion have been in turn mo­bilised to con­duct Hu­man­i­tar­ian As­sis­tance and Dis­as­ter Re­lief (HADR) op­er­a­tions in re­gard to such oc­cur­rences.

Gabriel­son touched on the LCS’s suit­abil­ity for such mis­sions given its unique char­ac­ter­is­tics com­pared to other sur­face ships.

“If you go to any other war­ship such as frigates or de­stroy­ers, first of all, they have prob­a­bly a 7m or greater draft com­pared to the 3m-4m of the LCS.

“That’s a big dif­fer­ence. The nonLCS ships may have a he­li­copter hangar that you can put some things in if you re­move the he­li­copter, so it’s a very small amount of space by com­par­i­son to an LCS so you have lim­its to what you can do with the non-LCSs ship which are less flex­i­ble.”

In Novem­ber 2013, the LCS USS Free­dom de­liv­ered re­lief sup­plies to the Philip­pines in the wake of Ty­phoon Haiyan.

The USS Coron­ado’s air as­sets of two Northrop-Grum­man MQ-8B Fire Scout un­manned aerial ve­hi­cles and an MH-60S Sea­hawk he­li­copter al­low it to cover a large area by air in con­trast to most ships which only have a sin­gle em­barked he­li­copter.

This makes the LCS ideal for maritime search and res­cue op­er­a­tions which re­quire vast bod­ies of wa­ters to be sur­veyed rapidly.

In De­cem­ber 2014, dur­ing its de­ploy­ment to the re­gion, the LCS USS Fort Worth was dis­patched from Sin­ga­pore to the Java Sea to take part in the search for In­done­sia AirAsia Flight 8501 that crashed on Dec 28. The ma­neu­ver­abil­ity and shal­low draft of the de­sign al­lowed the ship to ef­fi­ciently con­duct its search task­ing in the shal­low and con­gested wa­ter en­vi­ron­ment there.

A sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of the LCS ac­tiv­i­ties in South-East Asia re­volves around co­op­er­a­tion ac­tiv­i­ties with other navies in the re­gion such as port vis­its, par­tic­i­pa­tion in re­gional ex­hi­bi­tions (the USS Coron­ado re­cently took part in this year’s Langkawi In­ter­na­tional Maritime and Avi­a­tion ex­hi­bi­tion) and mil­i­tary ex­er­cises.

These ac­tiv­i­ties all con­trib­ute to­wards strength­en­ing the ties be­tween the US Navy and South­East Asian navies.

“The de­mand for these ships in the re­gion is well off the charts; I can­not get more of them here fast enough.

“The navies of the re­gion recog­nise the value of the LCS; ev­ery­where I go, the first ques­tion I hear from them is, ‘when is LCS com­ing to visit be­cause we want to op­er­ate with it, and we want to un­der­stand what the US Navy is do­ing with it so that we can learn from it’,” said Gabriel­son.

The Lit­toral Com­bat Ship USS Coron­ado un­der­way in the South China Sea. The tri­maran hull de­sign gives it great speed and al­lows it to travel through shal­low wa­ters more eas­ily than a con­ven­tion­ally de­signed com­bat ship. — Pho­tos: US Navy

Rear Ad­mi­ral Don Gabriel­son (left), Com­man­der, Task Force 73, greet­ing an of­fi­cer from the Royal Thai Navy dur­ing the open­ing cer­e­mony of the South­East Asia Co­op­er­a­tion and Train­ing (SEACAT) 2016 ex­er­cise at the Changi Naval Base in Sin­ga­pore.

An MQ-8B Fire Scout un­manned aerial ve­hi­cle pre­par­ing to land prior to the launch of an MH-60S Sea­hawk he­li­copter aboard lit­toral com­bat ship USS Coron­ado

The lit­toral com­bat ship USS Free­dom (fore­ground) and the Royal Malaysian Navy frigate KD Je­bat dur­ing an ex­er­cise in 2013.

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