By Craig Hooper Defense Tech Naval Warfare Analyst
One of the more thankless contributors to America's "National Fleet" is the U.S. Army's Logistic Support Vessel (LSV). The 8 General Frank S. Besson Class LSVs are next-generation LSTs--an expendable, beach-able, plodding, "fill-with-what-you-will" vessel.
The LSV is a perfect example of defense "humbletech"--a technical asset so mundane it gets completely overlooked by the wiz-bang gadgetry of modern defense technologists.
LSVs are unexciting--they are cheap, slow, and built by VT Halter Marine--an entirely off-the-DC-radar shipbuilding company. That is probably why the national role of LSV advocate has been assumed by Chief Warrant Officer 3 Michael W. Carr--and not some high-profile member of Congress or a two-star Powerpoint Ranger skippering a desk in Crystal City.
CW3 Carr just sails on the thing, after all--a perfect humbletech kind of guy. But the CW3 makes some salient points in the "Professional Notes" section of the July 2010 issue of Proceedings, saying that the Army, in particular, should use the $32 million dollar LSVs to:
"regain it's roots in amphibious operations, reinstating in its maritime-training curriculum the many valuable lessons and skills learned during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam relating to oceanography, waves, beaches, tides and currents. Increased training should be provided for worldwide amphibious operations, with a focus on Africa..."
Think what you will about that strategic goal, but, as far as the platform goes, an LSV--with its slow speed, tiny draft, mid-sized crew (a core of about 30) and long legs (5,000 miles) would be a perfect "presence" tool for Africa and the Pacific Islands. Capable of carrying the equivalent of 28 Abrams M1A tanks, the LSV can bring a lot of stuff to a lot of places. But that's not all.
CW3 Carr appreciates the flexible "get-it-done" nature of the platform, and, in a June 2006 issue of Proceedings, he advocated for using the LSV as a Special Operations platform or an Unmanned Vehicle carrier:
"An LSV's well deck, fitted with 70,000-pound working load cloverleaf tie-down fittings, staged at 6-foot centers, is highly flexible and adaptable. Combinations of boats, people pods, recompression chambers, and remotely operated vehicles can all be supported.
Unmanned aerial vehicles could be launched and recovered using the bow ramp. With modifications a retractable roof could be installed over the well deck and a dedicated helicopter pad added to the stern. Even as presently configured the LSV is an ideal platform for supporting special operations missions."
That's how to leverage cheap tech.
For low-threat presence and long-standing, watch-oriented pirate/anti-smuggler missions, the LSV is a cost-effective way to get modest capabilities to the field. But...why aren't these cheap assets being used?
Let's get these humble platforms out into the field, and perhaps, after giving them a chance, the experience might start getting us to think a little harder about how a handful of cheap, specialized LSVs (read up on the helicopter, semi submersible and troop carrying variants) might contribute to U.S. security.
Let's talk stimulus. LSVs are simple--not even Northrop Grumman's Avondale Yard could mess them up. They are cheap enough to be made in numbers, used hard, and then handed out to friends. Take the Philippines--two helicopter-ready variants are currently serving in the Philippine Navy--the BRP Dagupan City (LC-551) and BRP Bacolod City (LC-550). For regions struggling to field a navy and patrol a long coastline, U.S. built LSVs--cheap pieces of humbletech that they are--might be the right way to go.