A top Navy official said the service is experimenting with using Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to support the Marine Corps’ Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO) mission as they add new weapons and capabilities.

Last week, Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, commander of Naval Surface Forces, said what he particularly likes about the LCS is its well deck, flight deck, especially the version on the Independence


The Navy can launch Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs) from the ships, “and if I can put more weapons on it, I think it’s really good. I think it’s a good support for that whole EAB Marine logistics direction that we would use in the first island chain,” Kitchener said during a phone roundtable with reporters on Jan. 7 ahead of the Surface Navy Association annual symposium this week.

So, yeah, I think having something like that, LCS-like in our tool bag is something that we should pursue.”

The first island chain refers to the chain of islands and archipelagos east of the East Asian Pacific coast and runs from Japan through Taiwan, the northern Philippines islands and Borneo.

Kitchener clarified he sees the LCS as a complement to the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) under development by the Navy and Marine Corps. The LAW is intended to support the Marine Littoral Regiment by each transporting up to 75 Marines at a time up to 3,000-4,000 miles while also holding extra fuel and cargo. The service expects it to be 200-400 feet long with particular speed, draft and beachability requirements.

“I think they complement each other very well. LAW, as we see it, is going to be able to move people and things around. LCS can do that but LCS can also move and be in different places with different packages that are tactically relevant whether it’s UAV, UUV or be somewhere we it can employ [Naval Strike Missile, NSM] alongside of those Marine Regiments that are employing the NSM from their positions where they’re bedded down.”

The Navy plans to put NSMs on each LCS, focusing on ships heading to the Indo-Pacific region first. The Marine Corps is also testing basing NSMs from a modified unmanned Joint Light Tactical Vehicle to target land and maritime targets. Last April, the Marine Corps successfully completed a live fire test of a NSM from the modified JLTV against a sea surface target (Defense Daily, April 30, 2021).

Last month, Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger said this ground-based anti-ship missile capability should start coming online in 2023 (Defense Daily, Dec. 14, 2021).

Kitchener noted the Navy has been experimenting with using the LCS for EABO operating in 7th Fleet exercises off the coast of California, particularly an exercise called Steel Knight, which combined amphibious vessels, unmanned assets and the Marine Corps passing information back and forth for fire support.

“In Steel Knight, where we’re passing data from Marines to ships, ships to Marines – that focus on controlling [sea lanes of communication], is kind of what we’re doing there to get right at it. So I do think it is going to become a viable platform to support those kind of missions as far as – alongside a LAW.”

“I think you kind of need a little bit of both, one, the LAW can help Marines move their gear around, LCS is going to give them a little bit of a punch working alongside them. And so I think those are the things we’ve been working out in 7th Fleet, some of the things we’ve been working off the coast here,” Kitchener added.

Kitchener said adding the Naval Strike Missile to the LCS is one of the most important capabilities to add to the LCS, while other walk-on capabilities and the ability to do targeting will be important in the future.

“The UAS, UUV stuff is very key to their mission. I think that’s going to give them more lethality.”

He said his command has talked to Navy commandos nearby in California and “there are some things we’ve worked with them on and we’ll continue experimenting and make it more lethal.”

Kitchener also acknowledged LCS still has to perform missions Congress tagged it for, like mine countermeasures (MCM).

He said the Navy “deployed a couple of the ships out there this time, have the aviation MCM capability and we should be finishing up the surface capability this year.” 

“And so I think that combo, and I’m always looking for other things to put on LCS, and so it’s great, with that big mission bay, there’s a lot of things you can do…but it’s got a great role out there in that EABO mission and 7th Fleet continues to experiment with it.”