LCS Files: When Naval Innovation Reform Fails

by admin on April 11, 2014

1200px-Uss_lexington_cv2We can all hope CNO Greenert’s sequestered LCS(NEXT) Requirements Team is hard at work, leveraging all the LCS lessons-learned to date, plugging the info into a fancy matrix and boiling their findings into something that will, in time, provide the Nation with an ideal “Small-Ship-Of-The-Future”.

It’s just not bloody likely.

Sure, the CNO’s “Deep Thinkers” will do their best, trimming out overly-ambitious innovation, and making darn sure the LCS(NEXT) is more politically palatable than the dual Freedom Class and Independence Class block buys. And, yes, when the requirements are unveiled, the retirees in the Web-based peanut gallery will all cheer, Bloomberg’s hopelessly biased LCS-hating Tony Cappacio will write a fawning review, contracts will be let, and…in a few years, I’m willing to bet the Navy will hate what they get.

Here’s why: Overly hasty exercises in naval “innovation reform” often don’t end well.

Let’s be honest. The US Navy, in times of great technological change, has something of an imperfect record of quickly identifying the “right” lessons from a few rushed fleet-level prototype tests.

I sympathize. Trying to make a platform that satisfies demands to be relevant now, while also holding the potential to be relevant in a future challenged by new, rapidly changing–and likely unknown–technology is hard enough.

But it is a far easier task going forward from a “clean sheet”.

Look. When the Navy tasks a group to plot a course forward with multiple prototypes in hand–you’d think the task would be easier. Instead, the task becomes far harder, and, in the end, the real winners are those who are uncomfortable with the original innovations in the first place. At that point, it’s not about addressing the future, but about assuaging present-day concerns.

And that’s a mistake.

USS_Ranger_CV-4What you often get from these overly-hasty, reactive exercises in “innovation reform” is a platform that, while more immediately relevant, is rapidly outclassed by changing technology, changing doctrine and–sometimes–the very prototypes they were supposed to replace.

Misfires in “innovation reform” have happened before. Take, for example, aircraft carrier development. Here’s a cautionary passage out of Edward Arpee’s excellent book “From Frigates to Flat-Tops:

Experience with the Langley, Saratoga and Lexington convinced the Bureau of Aeronautics that the U.S. Navy should have at least five more aircraft carriers of approximately 13,800 tons each. This tonnage was arrived at after careful studies, and the arguments in favor were presented before congress in January 1928.

It was said that these ships would be harder to hit because they would be smaller targets. If either of the two carriers were disabled after its planes were in the air, the deck of the other carrier could be used.

This particular size of the ship seemed the most desirable in view of the considerations of treaty limitations, efficiency and budget. Since one plane can land or take off at one time, two fifteen=thousand ton carriers were preferred to one 30,000 ton unit.

Admiral Moffett enumerated the advantages of these small carriers over those twice as large: A. Collectively they could carry more planes. B. Collectively they could launch and land twice as many planes. C. the cost and difficulty of berthing and maneuvering would be far less.

lcs_2_frontSo out of that, we built the 14,000 ton USS Ranger (CV-4).

And the USS Ranger was a failure almost right out of the gate. A technological and doctrinal flop upon launch.

And despite all the hand-wringing about eking out maximum strategic gain while total carrier fleet tonnage was mandated by the Washington Naval Treaty limits (I think out of our 135,000 ton allotment, we had about 60,000 tons of carrier to play with), the fact remains—the Navy wasted time dithering with a small, relatively useless carrier when it could have let their original bet on a carrier of Lexington/Saratoga 36,000 ton displacement/capability “ride” for a bit longer, and thus marched a bit quicker towards the war-winning–and far more flexible–30,000 ton Essex Class.

But no. Facing a litany of LCS-esque concerns and complaints, naval tastemakers dialed back the innovation. And wasted precious time.

It is quite fun to draw historical parallels between the Lexington Class and the LCS.

As I have written before, the USS Saratoga (CV-3) and USS Lexington (CV-2) were disparaged by critics–the Lexington conversion ran over budget (correct for inflation, and their budget overrun for the Lex conversion matches that of the LCS), Congress blanched at the cost of the carrier’s airborne “mission module” (heck, as an example, Congress had to be arm-twisted into funding the Ranger’s aircraft), folks didn’t like the peculiar requirements for berthing/sailing the big ships (If I recall correctly, the Sara ran aground a few times), and the naval tastemakers of the day thought they were too over-sized for the original “fleet scouting” mission.

Over-sensitivity to such criticism led the Aeronautics Bureau to ratchet back on what was an audacious–and ultimately winning–gamble with the large Lexington Class Carriers. Thankfully, the General Board limited the Aeronautics Board to a single Ranger Class carrier, doling out the available tonnage for new aircraft carriers in a slow, deliberate fashion.

I hope I am wrong, and that the LCS Star Chamber will come up with something great. There are certainly things I would change with the current LCS and LCS mission modules! But I worry that the Navy is being too quick to dial back innovation, and, because a bunch of retirees (and some spurned companies) are out there whining on the internets, the Navy is backing itself into something the Nation may well regret in the future.

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Craig Hooper April 17, 2014 at 10:21 am

Wise comments from ChrisA, a representative of a Navy that has made do with “make-do” for a long, long time.

ChrisA–Might email you directly, if that’s alright.

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ChrisA April 16, 2014 at 6:51 pm

The LCS is a new ship, with a new operating profile that is challenging a lot of old paradigms. It isn’t a Frigate. While I am not across the full depth of the program, I understand the operating profile of the vessel was never intended to be the same as that of the Perry class Frigates.

I have served on a number of new classes of ship over the years and every time there has been a vocal mix of enthusiasts and naysayers praising and lambasting the class in equal measure. In every case there have always been unforseen problems, and the vessel has never lived up to all of the hype. However, the vessels have always proven to sound effective vessels in their own right – once we had identified all of their strengths and weaknesses and learned how to use them properly.

In 10 years time you will have a generation of people who will not have known a Navy without the LCS and some of them will look back fondly on the LCS as the best ship they have ever served on. It is just a matter of time, experience and familiarity.

As unrelated point – We do ‘plug and play’ capability modules all the time. Depending on the mission profile boarding parties and law enforcement detachments; combat and utility helicopters; Medical teams and engineers could all be seen as modular capabilities. I have even seen technical training school elements embarked as self contained units in ships. Albeit these are not all war fighting modules, but not all of what we do is war fighting. Some of it is engagement and assistance and stabilisation. All of these missions have validity in the correct context.

In austere times we are all solution takers – I would suggest optimising the employment of the ship that you have rather than wishing it was something else.

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WireguidedMarine April 15, 2014 at 5:10 pm

A lot of good comments here.

I won’t rehash the WWII debate on carrier size and structure. There are still arguments made about British vs. American designs 70 years later.

What is germane is that the USN struggled with carrier as well as sub size up until Pearl Harbor. Part of that was learning that smaller ships, while an advantage under treaty class global tonnage limits, performed poorly. Yet the treaty was such a factor in warship construction that every new class designed after 1941 grew tremendously from their immediate predecessor. The Fletcher, Des Moines, Montana, and Midway (or use the 1945 fleet CV design) were all bigger for the most part because the treaty lapsed.

We almost went to the extreme of building a hybrid cruiser with 6″ guns forward and an flight deck aft in the 1930’s as a way to “game” the treaty system by getting flight decks in the fleet that wouldn’t count towards USN carrier tonnage.

The FFG-7 from the start had cost restrictions rigidly imposed by Zumwalt. The Perry was the “low” in his famous mix. That led to compromises like the single propellor, the medium frequency bow sonar, and the austere AAW systems.

LCS never had those restrictions like those from the 40’s or 70’s to deal with.

Getting back to the modularity. I never believed a ship could “plug n’ play” modules and crew. But like the Spruance class they could be upgraded relatively easily if designed right.

The DD-963 hull was built around one 8″, one 5″, ASW TT, two LAMPS helos, two Mk-26 launchers for Standard/ASROC, and the radars, sonars and systems to support it all.

The hull itself was conventional with only the gas turbines being new to USN large ship construction. But the Navy had mitigated the risk with earlier, smaller ships that made the leap in the Spruance manageable.

The Navy wisely knew they would not get many (or none) of the DDG variant up front. But with the outstanding ASW DD in service, it would be possible to upgrade at a later date.

Had the Aegis DDG variant failed the Kidd class would be easy to extend to all Spruances. As it was there was plenty of room for VLS later, turning the DD into a hybrid ASW/ land attack DD for little cost.

I don’t see that idea done with LCS. The one class (Independence?) has too shallow a hull for tactical-length VLS to be installed. There is no room for a bow sonar and no torpedoes other than dropped from a helo. And while it approaches the FFG in displacement, it has a smaller gun and exact same point defense (CIWS/SeaRam).

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Chris April 15, 2014 at 8:57 am

The CVEs and Ranger/Wasp were only alike in that they were all small displacement aircraft carriers; in most cases, the CVEs were smaller than Ranger or Wasp. Ranger and Wasp sacrificed resiliency and speed, not altogether that different from the merchant hull conversions. Ranger and Wasp were unsuited for Essex-class missions, but the CVEs, in their role as assigned and designed, they did well.

It is less conjecturable to believe that the Yorktown-class, absent intervening steps, would not have had expensive “lessons learned” a.k.a. design flaws built-in than to believe the ships could have leapt fully formed, as we know them in history, straight from imagination to steel. Many of the early carriers required expensive modifications as lessons were learned. Ranger had an island added during construction. Akagi, was built with three superimposed flight decks. HMS Furious, in its fourth aircraft carrying iteration, finally received an island. The Yorktowns, as built, had catapults on the hangar deck.

The cruiser conversions were lengthy, but feasible because of capacity. On the subject of the LCS’ capacities, from Breaking Defense (US Navy Needs Fast Missile Craft — And LCS — in Persian Gulf), “However, due to weight concerns and design limitations, the Navy’s staple 76mm cannon and Harpoon SSM were not included in the LCS’s current configuration.” Defense Industry Daily, “USS Freedom has faced persistent reports of weight and stability issues, however, which required additional bolt-on buoyancy fittings at its stern.” GAO, “Littoral Combat Ship: Additional Testing and Improved Weight Management Needed Prior to Further Investments.” You may be aware of some other sources that project much greater capacity.

Unfortunately, it seems the Navy does not regard/plan for module swapping to be an easy evolution. I know you disagree with the CONOPS, but the Navy’s logistical exercises reportedly state that without OCONUS module storage a module swap requires 30-60 days of planning plus the swap time. If the ship is going to retain its module for life it is not acting that modular. There seems to be no intent/desire any longer to switch the individual ships back and forth between mission areas.
I suspect the LCS program would have been better served if the module loads had been determined based on the mission prior to sizing the ships. Big Acquisition is not an admirable process, but the half-baked requirements analysis that spawned the LCS does not constitute best practice either.

I am not a Street Fighter partisan in the vein of Wayne Hughes. I was articulating that a test of Street Fighter would have represented more of a paradigm shift than the LCS. Such an experiment would have been less risky than committing to 55 untested ships without any mission modules actually available. You are quite correct that the logistical implications of the Street Fighter concept are routinely glossed over, as well as the sea keeping/crew habitability issues for small platforms in the big ocean.

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ChrisA April 14, 2014 at 11:23 pm

Unfortunately, I believe we have now lost the opportunity to take a truly modular approach to capability acquisition.

When senior officers were using analogies of applications on a smart phone, I thought we might be coming around, but no. Sadly, militaries do not do innovation well, uncertainty makes us uncomfortable and failure is generally punished. Innovation is both uncertain and prone to failure.

If the approach to modularity was more closely aligned with software design, ie designing and building a platform with capacity to host any module that meets specific design and interface parameters, the development risk could have been shifted to private industry. Who knows what innovative ‘plug-and-play’ capability solutions may have been developed that we don’t even know we need.

I think it is also a missed opportunity for defence industry. While there is good money in tying militaries to through life support contracts for small numbers of bespoke systems, I suspect there could also have been money to be made from owning the IP for the interfaces, licensing the designs, and endorsing modules through administering the testing and acceptance regimes of compatible modules.

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Jim April 14, 2014 at 2:51 pm

“Going to payload and modularity…LCS has plenty of displacement margin! And regarding the conversions from guns to missiles? Do know how many months it took to convert those ships? LCS may not change a module in 48 hours, but it can change mission capabilities fast enough to give an opponent/rival fits.”

With the caveat that I’m a civilian who likes to read about
Naval things, and doesn’t have a lot I experience…

Isn’t it true that they had to add something to the stern
Of the freedom class to improve flotation? That sounds
Like a margin issue to me, am I missing something?

Independence might be quite different.

As tithe mission modules… As far as I can tell they
Hve one that works, isn’t very powerful, and two tht don’t.
And this is for a ship in production.

What role is the LCS goin to play? It can’t fill the roles
The FFGs had when new, and I still think that’s a needed role.
It’s modules for ASW and MH aren’t working. Who knows
When they will or how well they will do.

These are 3000 ton ships that will be adept at fighting
Pirate boats, but are being built to replace MHC’s and FFG’s.
Jobs they can’t presently do, and with the history
Of the program I don’t know of they will be able to do it.

I guess I’m a bit dismayed at the Navy right now. ASW
Capability seems to be waning, our AShM’s are old and not even carries
Much. Our mine countermeasures are dwindling. The hornets are aging,
And who knows what is going to happen to the f-35? Or if it will
Even work well on a maritime environment.

I could see a future fleet with little to no combat power,
Old planes, and little money.

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Craig Hooper April 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

Hi Chris–

Wholeheartedly agree with your last sentence! Requirements creep is a platform killer.

Going back to your note….CVEs? They were a totally different animal from the Ranger–UK-inspired, built on merchant hulls, relatively civil-spec platforms–I’ve used them when arguing in favor of JHSVs and MLP/AFSBs–two programs who (eventually) had program managers of iron, who resisted “helpful” changes.

Going back to the Ranger, many of the vessel’s problems stemmed from displacement. It’s conjecture to believe that if we put aside Ranger and went straight to a vessel of Yorktown-type displacement, that platform would offer Ranger-like performance (and vice versa, of course). Would there be “lessons learned”? Sure. But I still think it would have been more valuable and useful than the Ranger diversion.

Going to payload and modularity…LCS has plenty of displacement margin! And regarding the conversions from guns to missiles? Do know how many months it took to convert those ships? LCS may not change a module in 48 hours, but it can change mission capabilities fast enough to give an opponent/rival fits.

Totally disagree about the Street Fighter concept–neat concept, sure, but the guys promoting it totally disregard the Streetfighter’s logistical requirements. Supporters say that these ships are Cheap! Effective! Low-cost! Those who have studied the training and fleet train for, oh, say, PT boats…know that there are substantial investments that need to be made to make the Streetfighter concept effective. And supporters consistently disregard ’em. To me, LCS was a pretty good compromise!

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Chris April 14, 2014 at 8:44 am

Craig,

You are dismissing the small displacement carriers too quickly. The most numerous carrier type built by the USN in WWII was the escort carrier. These small carriers did yeoman’s work providing anti-submarine, close air support, and logistical support for the fast fleet carriers.
With respect to your hypothetical, it disregards the historical context in which carriers developed. Ranger, as the first keel-up US carrier, was not the waste you seem to believe. Important lessons in carrier design were discovered through it. Following your line of reasoning would have created three larger ships with similar design deficiencies. The Yorktown-class design was not self-evident. There were many ideas and approaches to carrier design percolating in the time period. The British carriers were much more heavily armored. The Japanese very lightly built with deficient damage control arrangements. The US opted for wooden flight decks and like the Japanese also explored a second launching deck on the hangar deck. The aircraft carrier was a paradigm change, the key difference between carrier development and the LCS.

As far as the LCS “revolution”, I do not see the ships being particularly revolutionary, not in the same league as the carrier. From the Congressional Research Service, “The LCS’s originally stated primary missions are antisubmarine warfare (ASW), mine countermeasures (MCM), and surface warfare (SUW) against small boats (including so-called “swarm boats”), particularly in littoral (i.e., near-shore) waters.”
Performing these primary missions from a surface ship is not a paradigm altering mission. Warships have always had a degree of “modularity”. Weapons and sensors could be replaced or upgraded with varying degrees of difficulty. The carrier is probably the most flexible ship. Change the air wing and you change the mission. Relief mission off Haiti, load Army helicopters. Fleet air defense, load more F-14s. The key to accommodating the changes has not been how “modular” the design was, but whether the ship had the growth margin to support the usually heavier equipment. USS Midway or HMS Ark Royal did not stop being suitable aircraft carriers until they could no longer support the latest carrier aircraft. The post-war gun cruiser to missile cruiser conversions were possible because the ships had the displacement margins, not because it was an easy “module swap”. I am by no means disparaging making ships easier to upgrade, but the ships must have the payload capacity, something the LCS, by all accounts do not. If anything, I suspect the LCS fiasco will set back to some degree efforts to increase the modularity of future ship designs.

Revolutionary, or at least informative, would have been to spend some money testing the Street Fighter concept in the real world. Hopefully, you are wrong about the outcome of the FFG(X) work underway now. Perhaps the Navy, like the Army after the MBT-70 train wreck, will realize it cannot afford to screw up again. To succeed the Navy will need a disciplined program office to resist requirements creep with high level protection from outside “help”.

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Craig Hooper April 13, 2014 at 10:56 am

Interesting comment.

Chris reinforces the primary thrust of the argument above, that, “The US Navy, in times of great technological change, has something of an imperfect record of quickly identifying the “right” lessons from a few rushed fleet-level prototype tests.”

I gamed the tonnage restrictions as I wrote the piece, but didn’t discuss. Not to get too hypothetical, but I think it would have been very interesting had we gone with something bigger (i.e. like the Yorktown) that pushed the upper tonnage limits, and then, in ’34, ordered three more effective carriers that were spirals off my “theoretical Yorktown” to round out the limits. Instead we got three Yorktown Class, and then the failed Ranger and the easily-sunk Wasp.

Is the LCS as revolutionary as the carrier? Don’t know. But I think it is underestimating the original goals of the program to dismiss it as a mere “corvette, mine-hunter, ASW” platform. Certainly much of the Navy rhetoric suggested more, and, well, I agree. I think the platform has more revolutionary potential than Chris currently believes!

Chris is right in pointing out that the LCS procurement effort has been a disaster. It has.

Take the Dutch modularity effort and the ships they’ve produced. They’ve been quite successful–and not just in their module work, either. I think they made a GREAT decision to make the Absalon Class largely civil-spec. Had we held to that, and not changed course mid-production, we’d be in a very different place with the LCS program.

The mission modules have been a disaster. If Open Architecture is actually a reality, I’d have been far happier buying stock, off the shelf stuff already optimized for the primary missions and then put the extra money into developing new, more advanced kit, in smaller, more effectively managed programs. Whomever talked the Navy into condensing everything mission-oriented into a huge, sprawling, impossible-to-manage mission-module omnibus is a freaking genius–who has made their company a lot of money on the backs of the taxpayer and the humble sailor.

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Chris April 13, 2014 at 9:42 am

This is another funeral dirge from an LCS salesman. The Navy’s predicament in the 1920s and 1930s developing aircraft carriers is far different from the circumstances it found itself in developing the LCS. The aircraft carrier was a new type of ship that had only been created in WWI. Its roles and missions were still uncertain. As originally conceived by the British, and all carrier navies, the carrier was supposed to be a scout and spotting platform for the battleship. The carrier’s position as the capital ship of the future was not self-evident. Through most of the interwar period the airplane lacked the performance to carry a ship-killing payload, despite what Billy Mitchell fantasized.
Another significant operational problem was that radar had not been invented so air defense was limited to the Mk I Eyeball. This contributed to the idea that having more decks was better from a survivability standpoint. Exercises both at the Naval War College and at sea demonstrated that the single larger carrier was better operationally. Wargames showed that a single pulse of firepower, i.e. a large carrier strike, was more effective than smaller ones.
The carrier’s size evolution was a result of experimentation not “over-sensitivity to criticism” and increased aircraft size/performance. The Washington Naval Treaty in addition to the 135K carrier type tonnage limit restricted individual carriers to 27K tons. Lexington and Saratoga were specific exemptions, weighing in as they did at 36K-tons. This provision enabled the Navy to recover some of its sunk costs since the ships were already building. Experience and treaty restrictions led to the Yorktown-class, standard displacement 20k-tons (16k-tons less than the Lexington-class), which was incidentally followed by 15K ton Wasp to finish off the Navy’s 135k treaty tonnage quota. The Essex-class was designed post-treaty, i.e. without a displacement limit, and in light of lessons learned from the Yorktown-class.
The LCS, on the other hand, is/was supposed to be a frigate replacement/corvette/mine hunter. None of these missions are new or revolutionary. The LCS’ vaunted, heralded, over-hyped modularity has been done as well, better and cheaper in the Danish case. This should have been easy, but instead a disaster. A decade and billions wasted on under-armed, oversized patrol craft.
The LCS is an example of failure innovation and acquisition malpractice. The Navy created a bastardized hybrid of Art Cebrowki’s Streetfighter concept and a traditional frigate. Real innovation would have purchased or built small combatants (as Streetfighter envisioned of less than 100-tons) and experimented with them to see how they did or did not enhance the fleet or bring the fleet greater tactical balance. Grafting some aspects of the concept onto a corvette-sized frigate replacement has been a failure, the fewer of which are built the better.

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Craig Hooper April 13, 2014 at 12:34 am

Wireguided–

Great comment. Lots to unpack, so bear with me!

Lessee here…I agree about the carriers, and the design spiral–my point is that we would have been a bit farther down the design spiral to the Essex had we gone and built–from scratch–a carrier in the 30K ton range. And I think we knew that the larger carriers were more useful before we even completed the Ranger–we were, in essence, making a snap decision on the basis of a lot of criticism and not enough testing/wrong lessons-learned.

I think we share similar frustrations about how the procurement went forward. We’d be in a very different place right now had we had the cojones to downselect to one hull. It’d have been far easier to moderate the pace of fleet entry. But then again, the political types were eager to inject some stimulus into the economy–same reason we went and built the Yorktown, Enterprise, Wasp and Hornet. They were raw economic stimulus and part of the recovery package.

Mission modules is a crappy concept that, the moment they became a Program of Record, just grew into a happy-fun engineer’s paradise of a design project. We should have been focused more on enabling a wide-ranging grab-bag of “kit” and let the sailors (rather than contractors) wrestle with the mix of off-the-shelf stuff they wanted, and then spiral that as needs warranted.

I agree with you about the utility of testing and trialing UAVs/UUVs off of larger ships. But the LCS can do it too–There’s a lot of space. Lot of room in LCS-2 for bigger UAVs. Lot of room below the hangar. Plenty of space to work, store tools and so forth.

The FFG-7s were awarded pretty fast too. And there were a lot of complaints…I’ll dig into your discussion on the various weapons-sets, but, rest assured, the ships could have a lot more conventional capability–but it wasn’t adopted. Pressure to see the ships meet at the lowest common denominator of performance was intense, i presume.

Anyway..What I do mull over is the amount of research and development that went into the FFG-7. Not only was the Navy well-acquainted with small ships (having built a ton of them over many decades), but there were entire ships set aside as test platforms for FFG-7 systems. LCS didn’t have the luxury to indulge in all that up-front analysis–LCS was the first small ship we built in decades, and we had to learn fro scratch.

Interestingly enough, the “well rounded” FFG-7 was not liked, and despite having prototype tests and so forth, many still thought the FFG-7 was too weak/fragile/etc for its own good. (It wasn’t till the fleet got some assistance from the FFG-7’s helo(s) that they started to like the FFG-7 Class.) So I feel like LCS has done pretty well getting to where it is now…and we might even discover that LCS got to the same controversial, tempest-tossed “fleet intro” point for far less than FFG-7. (Wild guess, I know, but…it’d be fun to test the hypothesis!

Anyway…forgive the rambling response. I’m grappling with this stuff, just like you guys!

Thanks again for the comment!

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Jon April 12, 2014 at 12:31 pm

Nice rant too, and far more polished. Hilarious, snide, condescending with a side order of insulting…all at the same time. Congrats!

And yes, after 13 years (?) all that’s wrong with the LCS (other than a few minor issues needing “correcting”) is for all of us wrathful internet fossils to just leave it alone, STFU, and quit rocking the boat. Because, hey, we need to keep buying half a billion dollar flagpoles RIGHT AWAY! So let’s just keep firing honking big money rounds downrange RIGHT NOW, hoping we hit something useful RIGHT THIS SECOND. It could happen. Defense dollars, they’re out there growing on trees TODAY.

Got it.

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WireguidedMarine April 12, 2014 at 12:13 pm

The history of aircraft carriers and the LCS program have some similarities. But here is what I learned from the Langley to Essex.

Experiment: The Langley tried several ideas, such as arresting wires arranged fore-to-aft, smoke stacks that folded down during flight ops, no superstructure above the flight deck, and so on. And the Navy used the equivalent of a T-AO today to do all this on.

Opportunity: The Lexington and Saratoga were half-finished battlecruisers cancelled by treaty obligations. The Navy took a gamble and went big with hulls about to be scrapped. The advantages were testing in the real world naval aviation concepts like large deck-load strikes on ships with high speed and large aircraft capacities. The disadvantage was an inefficient design that was much larger than it needed to be for its aircraft complement.

Generations: Build, use, improve upon, repeat. The Langley and Lex were the first generation and conversions. The Ranger was the first purpose-designed American carrier. And it had numerous faults like no torpedo stowage and originally no starboard island. But it gave naval designers something to start with. The Yorktown and Wasp would be better; the Essex even more so.

Where has any of this been done with the LCS?

If the LCS was a single converted Spruance or an old LPD that would be one thing; a 21st century Langley analog. One ship’s weapons and systems in limbo is not a big deal.

But the Navy has ordered at least 32 ships with three already in commission. That would be like skipping all the CVs from Langley to Hornet and ordering the Essex as the first carrier. Yet the only reason the Essex was the “Goldilocks” carrier of WWII was because of the earlier classes being too big or too small; no island or huge islands; 8″ guns or only machine guns.

The LCS proponents at one point said that the ship could do a mission with one module set, race back to a friendly port and swap out modules dockside, and return quickly with a whole new capability. Now the Navy admits the LCS ships will most likely serve without ever changing mission modules and only a few extra sets will be bought.

On top of all that the modules’ schedule keeps sliding to the right.

Not too long ago the Navy admitted the MH-60 was unable to tow the one sled that would be used as part of the MCM package. Incredible that it took as long to figure that out as it did.

The ASuW package has a small primary SSM that keeps changing. First it was NLOS, then Griffin. Now it will be Hellfire.

And I’m not the only one who wonders how a ship designed for 40 knots with diesels and waterjets will handle ASW in spite of the self-noise.

For the record I’m not a retired salty dog or a reactionary. I believe we as a nation need to use technology as best we can. The module idea is an excellent one, but I never understood why it HAD to be placed in a brand new 40 knot aluminum ship.

The same goes for unmanned platforms. The LCS was made out at times to be an unmanned mothership. Yet all the UUVs, UAVs, and USVs are growing in size. The MQ-8 is a good example; the -8C is based on a Jet Ranger!

This doesn’t mean I’m anti-drone. Ultimately unmanned is the way to go. I just think an old ship like the Ponce or Trenton would have had ample room for all the drones and the supporting infrastructure of technicians, comm gear, and handling equipment.

What really bothers a lot of people like myself is that a good general purpose design like the Perry is being retired with nothing comparable replacing it. Yes, the LCS can conduct anti-piracy and counter-drug ops just as well as the Perrys. But the Perry was designed to also handle ASW with bow and towed sonars and AAW with a MR SAM. It even had limited Harpoon ability.

Now I know the ASW and AAW threat has receded since 1991. And defenestrated Perrys lost their missile capability several years ago. But that doesn’t mean we need to design their replacement with no organic sonar or medium sized missiles right off the bat. Right now, a Perry can do better ASW than the LCS. And as designed with the Mk-13 it would contribute more to a CSG or convoy’s AAW or even heavy ASuW than the LCS.

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admin April 12, 2014 at 11:50 am

Sir–

Nice rant. I do agree that there are things that are wrong with LCS that could bear correcting. But are we going to correct them (like we corrected a stable of similar problems on FFG-7 back in the day…same for, ah, subs too), and let one (or, god forbid, both!) LCS hullforms develop into a mature platform? Or are we going to stop, and try something new yet conventional that, oh, supports existing, mature weapon systems, maybe?

That’s my question for the thinkers on LCS(NEXT).

I suspect those guys are going to come up with something nice and comfortingly retro. I’d rather correct and work to mature what we have–though I probably wouldn’t argue with something with a little more capability to operate in the Arctic/Antarctic regions.

I’d love to have a good mix of old and new–sort of what you have on the DDG-1000. But small ships can’t have both–there just isn’t enough room. So, rather than wet my pants about capability RIGHT NOW, I’d rather make do with the modest organic gun/self defense/helo and get hulls out there TODAY. As the most powerful Navy out there, we don’t need capability RIGHT THIS SECOND. What we do need RIGHT AWAY is presence (to tend our friends out there) and a viable platform for testing and, ultimately, projecting future capability (which we don’t quite have a good grasp of what that’ll actually be). Might be good to try and move beyond the VLS straitjacket.

You underestimate the power of the internet in shading opinion, influencing tastemakers and so forth. The Navy has historically been overly sensitive to criticism. And, given that the LCS is one of the first major “competed” naval ships to enter service in the Internet Age, criticism has been everywhere. Anti-LCS rants by the uninformed–or those imbued with the past–take their toll. Things get repeated enough, they’ll be ingested and held as fact.

SMEs are worth listening to, of course. But SMEs have rice bowls, too. Think about it. Why, once, back in the day, sailmakers were considered the acme in naval propulsion SMEs. And, yes, they pointed out all kinds of flaws in those nasty boilers and paddlewheel propulsion schemes. And guess what? Their criticism was correct–those first propulsion efforts were balky! Unreliable! Heavy!

The Navy listened and responded to those SMEs. And–guess what? Technology marched right on past ’em.

I think that’s where we are at today with the LCS. Do we–and does CNO Greenert–have the guts to continue or not in the face of a wrathful host of Internet critics? We’ll see.

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Jon April 12, 2014 at 6:18 am

Nice that you credit all of us “retirees in the Web-based peanut gallery” with enough clout to flip a multi-billion dollar, 52 ship program on its head. If any decision makers are actually listening to “a bunch of retirees”, it’s probably because they’re making more sense than the Navy leadership on the subject. If we had that kind of clout…they wouldn’t be cutting our retirement, or intent on forcing us off Tricare.

Track the debates, on this or that subject…and you can generally see the sharp people who actually are SMEs, with intelligent, practical, and informed opinions float to the surface of the internet turd bowl…and those guys, are the people worth listening too. Not that anyone is. The rest of us; noise in the machine, and tuned out, even by each other (Is this mike turned on? Hello?).

The LCS? The Navy isn’t listening to “a bunch of retirees”. And it’s not auguring in because of our “whining”, that’s a cheap cop-out to shift blame and play “shoot the messenger”…it’s collapsing under the weight of its own abject and continued failure. Exactly as numerous smart, informed “whining retirees”, who have outlined its flaws and failures in excruciating detail, forecast…for oh so many years.

The LCS isn’t “innovation”…it’s a poorly thought out, poorly designed, poorly executed punt. But all us crusty old farts just don’t get it, because hey, it’s “innovation!”, and our poor tired minds are just too ossified to “get it”. Hot news flash, we were “innovating!” when you were sucking your mothers tit. All that mature hardware out there, the best weapons systems in the world? You’re welcome.

Even at this late date, the best the Navy can come up with to justify the LCS is “we need hulls in the water to make up numbers, so we can wave the flag”. Flags, don’t win wars. Capability does, and that’s exactly and precisely what the LCS doesn’t have.

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