The Shocking Strategy That Dooms the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)

by admin on January 28, 2014

080816-N-6031Q-213Over the years, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program has overcome all kinds of threats. But now, with the Department of Defense (DOD) folding under the pressure of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation’s (DOT&E’s) constant anti-LCS hand-wringing, LCS haters may have finally seized upon a weapon capable of sinking the LCS Program–a test and trials “instrument” called a shock trial.

As Chris Cavas reported earlier this month, DOT&E’s friends at DOD ordered a cut to the LCS buy. Only after a direct appeal by the SECNAV did the DOD “relent”:

Reportedly, LCS is being put on something of a probation: The buy would be limited to 26 or 28 ships — the exact number couldn’t be confirmed by press time — but the ship will need to pass evaluation by the Pentagon’s Office of the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) before further ship buys can proceed, according to multiple Pentagon sources, who stressed that no final decisions have been reached.

OK. Any casual procurement-watcher might believe that this deal was just another minor hiccup as the LCS program picked up momentum.

But that would be a mistake. If DOT&E is now the arbiter of the LCS’s future, the LCS is in real danger.

Exploitation of the shock trial should have been expected–after all, the anti-LCS GAO report from mid-2013 gave us all a real hint of where DOT&E was going when the authors, in a 56-page report, used the word “survivability” sixteen times and “shock” six times.  But now the gambit is crystal clear–DOT&E is setting the stage for a controversial spectacle that will likely kill the LCS program.

DDG-81_Shock_Trial

What’s a Shock Trial?

For those who don’t know, a shock trial is a live-fire test that, via a set of underwater explosions, evaluates ship resiliency in “near combat conditions” after, say, a mine detonation or “near miss”. Shock trials are important demonstrations of ship durability, and every new class of surface combatant (or major platform re-design) is mandated to endure a set of these ferociously expensive tests (The tests are quite costly–For DDG-53, shock trial expenses added five percent to the procurement cost)

So, after the boom(s), what happens?

Well, things aboard usually break, so the ship goes into the yard for awhile to get fixed. Then DOT&E writes up a report, and ostensibly, the lessons-learned flow back into the ships or inform future building programs.

LCS Shock trials are set to be carried out upon mid-production LCS hulls–LCS-5 and LCS-6. Despite DOT&E’s oft-articulated concern that construction awards for the two ten-ship block buys will have already been granted before the LCS shock trials and survivability tests are complete, DOT&E did agree to put off testing until LCS-5 and LCS-6 were available.

But–as is somewhat typical these days–DOT&E likes to forget certain things.

First-in-Class Ships Are Rarely Shocked

For all the whining DOT&E has made over the Navy’s failure to shock LCS at an earlier stage of the program, shock trials are routinely delayed. Over the last thirty years, shocking the “first-in-class” ship has been the exception rather than the rule.

These days, standard operating procedure is to wait until most of the ships in a block production run are safely contracted (and, in some cases, under production(!!)) before subjecting a later-stage production model–a good representative of the class as a whole–to the tender mercies of some real, honest-to-goodness live-fire tests.

070708Subjecting a “first-in-class” ship to a shock trial is increasingly rare (For me, personally, the earlier the shock, the happier I am). The first FFG-7 was shock tested. So was MCM-1 in 1988 and the MHC-51 in 1995.  For the Navy, shocking the first ship has got to be a headache–a shock trial pulls the ship offline just when the service is struggling to debug the platform, the tests are expensive, jacking up the overall program cost, and program opponents, particularly when there are no other ships of the class out there to offer a counterpoint, can easily use the trial to beat up the Program Office and the Program’s supporters.

To avoid that messy situation, the Navy started testing later ships. The Nimitz Class “shock platform” was the fourth in the class, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71). Those shock trials took place in 1987, some twelve years after the first-in-class Nimitz had been commissioned.

Type I Burkes were not shocked until the third ship of the class, DDG-53, was available. By the time that shock trial took place in June 1994, the Navy had contracted through DDG 75.

Representing the Type IIA Burkes–a substantial modification of an existing DDG-51 platform–was the USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81). It was shocked in May 2001. DDG-81 was the third of the Type IIA Burkes, and by the time the Churchill was shocked, we’d contracted some twenty ships–through DDG-101.

For the infirm LPD-17 Class, a worried Navy had already contracted up through LPD-25 and, heck, the keel of LPD-24 had already been laid before the Navy allowed LPD-19 to go through shock trials in August 2008.

It should be obvious to everyone that Shock Trials–as they are done today–offer little short-term benefit to the manufacturer. By the time shock trials are planned, completed and fully analyzed (a years-long process), production of the “Class” has advanced to a point where adding in all the Shock Trial “lessons learned” is impossible. Most shock trial fixes flow into the class incrementally, during refits, while major design changes–if needed–have to wait until a later production flight.

That’s certainly not an optimal solution for the DOD’s testing community, but it should put DOT&E hand-wringing about the absence of first-in-class LCS shock trials in some perspective.

But, as with many things regarding DOT&E, there’s more here than meets the eye.

 The Navy has never shocked a “one-hit-and-done” ship.

In a typical run-of-the-mill, old-school Level II survivable combatant, the post-shock performance goal was pretty simple–The platform should still be able to fight after the test.

That’s about it.

USS_Avenger;ShocktrialIt’s a simple test: Either the ship can still complete parts of the ship’s mission (i.e. fight) or it can’t. With that metric in mind, and despite having a goodly amount of grey area available to eke out a favorable conclusion under the worst of circumstances, there still was a pretty clear, easily-identifiable line between a shock trial success and a shock test failure.

For LCS, the successful outcome of a shock trial is, well, somewhat murky.

Nobody really knows what it is.

Has anybody sat down and defined a successful outcome?

Take T-AKE–a logistical ship meant to be operating well outside the battle zone. DOT&E acknowledged that a shock trial would simply cause too much damage to be economically feasible to repair, and gave the platform a pass. So one might think LCS–given that it essentially shares a similar low survivability rating–would get a pass too, right?

No way.

So what is DOT&E going to prove with LCS?  Remember…the LCS survivability goal is to avoid a hit or, if a hit is unavoidable, the stricken LCS–as a minimum–is meant to basically stay afloat long enough to let the crew evacuate, and maybe–just maybe–survive to be able to withdraw safely after.

How do you test that, exactly?

I’ll wager that DOT&E and the rest of the Navy doesn’t quite know either. That means the shock trials are going to be subject to a bit of a negotiation with the Program Office, which, I am sure, DOT&E will soon start screaming about to Congress, Bloomberg and whomever else.

How does one test the premise that the ship must save the crew?

Kinda hard to do if you think about it. Do you sink it? Disable it?

What’s the test?

USS_Theodor_Roosevelt_shock_testIn the end, DOT&E holds all the cards. Even if the shock trials are wildly successful and the LCS survives relatively unscathed, DOT&E can still make the LCS Program miserable. There are plenty of  options….DOT&E can simply reach into their grab-bag of recalcitrance to 1) downplay successful findings, 2) slow the trial analysis to a crawl to delay/prevent a second block buy, while, 3) leaking all the sensational negative tidbits they can.

Crew Growth Is A Killer:

But survivability is just one piece of the LCS-killer’s arsenal. By also screaming long and loud about crew size, DOT&E has, in essence, doubled down on failing LCS at the shock trial. Why? Well, it’s all in where you put the extra LCS crew.

First, if you grow the crew by 20-30 sailors, there are more opportunities for somebody to get hurt in a shock event. Second, some of those added sailors are likely to be assigned to do things that were, in the original LCS manning scheme, done by other means. Normally unmanned spaces may get a flesh-and-bone watch-stander. Things that were once done remotely now may get a flesh-and-bone sailor, who now must be granted a measure of protection. Finally, if the Navy demands to put a new crew member into a complex space, full of gear and pipes and so forth, then the taxpayer may be looking at a lot of (costly!) changes to shock-harden the space and protect that extra crewmember.

It’s one of those pesky consequences that flow from a big mid-production shift in requirements. And it certainly makes the shock trial harder to pass.

Conclusion:

614px-J._Michael_Gilmore_DOD_photoDOT&E has gamed the LCS and the Navy quite well. By forging a temporary alliance with the Navy’s resident LCS-haters, DOT&E must be absolutely giddy about the prospect of strangling the LCS Program after the first block buy.

Nothing validates a tester more than a program kill.

But even though many in the Navy will cheer the DOT&E’s decapitation of the LCS Program, those who cheer now  will risk having to pay later for empowering DOT&E.

Do we really want to use LCS to fuel the DOT&E’s ascension in the Pentagon hierarchy? The Pentagon’s test and trials directorate is already out of control, and rather than being content with their vital and important testing mandate, DOT&E seems far too ready to move beyond mundane platform tests and begin dictating how the Navy is to be run by evaluating and testing–the Navy’s future strategies and operations.

Mark me. After a week of watching a perfectly-timed drip-drip-drip of DOT&E-sourced negative stories on the F-35, P-8 and LCS–all key platforms that enable the U.S. pivot to the Pacific–I cannot help but wonder if those leaks were indicators of how the DOD’s newly-empowered DOT&E is already positioning itself to influence the Navy’s operational strategies and stake a claim in approving–or just “testing and evaluating” the Navy’s larger strategic re-alignments.

If DOT&E’s boss, Dr. J. Michael Gilmore, is allowed to sink LCS, he will likely try to expand his directorate’s influence at the cost of the Navy. It is a path that could end up marginalizing both the CNO and SECNAV.

And that, my friends and readers, will be a real big shock to the system.

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(Disclaimer: Before I went to industry, I was a big fan of DOT&E, and supported them from this bully pulpit. But, after a few years, I am convinced the U.S. Test and Trials system is in need of a refresh….I’ll discus my reasons in a later post.)

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Geoff February 3, 2014 at 3:34 pm

“which takes a 1/2 to 3/4 billion dollar ship and makes it Holy Crap expensive.”

Last thing I’ve read being talked, is operating LCSs as 3-ship squadrons for mutual support…so you’ve effectively taken your 1/2 to 3/4 million dollar ship and turned it into $1.5 – 2.25 billion dollars worth of ships that, Holy Crap, still can’t survive or “shoot over the horizon”. Maybe with 3 together, they figure 1 will survive to pick up the survivors from the other 2.

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Geoff February 3, 2014 at 3:22 pm

Jim…I’m not even totally sold on the “modular” business. A decent working bay, that can be re-purposed, yes. Redundant and standardized power/cooling connections, yes. But spending $500 million on a “modular” hull to do jobs that a $250 million fully equipped purpose built ship, built with some excess capacity, can do…no. It sounds great, but look at the ASW/MCM packages…for the most part, they’re remote systems launched off the ship or the embarked helos, or bolted to the mission bay deck. I suspect for the most part, other than control units/processors, these standardized containers of which they speak, are just that…the shipping containers the hardware, maintenance/spares/tools, and mission specific ordnance is being shipped/stored in.

JHSV is “big enough” I think, with more load capacity and a larger mission bay than the LCS, at 2/3 the size. Can’t imagine a VDS not fitting, look at the size of bay/ramp.

Light ASuW…something built around the JSJ. Small, fast, long legs, reasonably stealthy, extremely maneuverable, enough payload to carry a very decent weapons loadout. Or, the JHSV with 650 tons load, could carry ALOT of guns, launchers, and sensors, and, I suspect, an ASW suite at the same time. Not pretty, sexy, or stealthy…just club them to death from a distance.

One more for your list of requirements would be stealth, or at least some degree of stealth. The harder it is to find and fix, the more survivable it is, and the more use speed would be…speed to evade detection, speed to get out from under the hammer.

Here’s a question…why are we building very expensive ships that can’t operate or survive unsupported anyway? Can’t imagine why we’d be hunting mines, subs, or “swarms of speedboats” in a non-threat environment. Will anything less than an Aegis equipped ship be capable of operating independently in a hostile (Asian) environment? Even one that falls short of full scale war? That is what got me thinking of the AFSB/MLP, tenders, and forward bases. Roll it all up into one relatively cheap, integrated, mobile, Aegis equipped package that would allow us to make all these littoral working boats individually smaller, cheaper, more stealthy, more mutually supportive, and more survivable. Without putting a gazillion dollar radar/combat management system on each one.

Why, other than economics and resources, is China grabbing all those rocks? Sensor platforms for one thing, to make the ocean that much smaller, push our carriers out that much further. Control of a considerable chunk of the worlds most important trade routes for another…trade routed critical to China especially. In any environment short of total war, can we afford to let them push us out to mid-ocean? Control those trade routes? The resources in those waters? If we don’t have forward bases in those areas, we’re going to have to bring our own. For that matter, lets make them spend the money to project power too…rather than just ceding it to them.

Guns…with the advances in gun ranges, I expect to see naval guns making a resurgence. 76/67 systems with 40 mile range, firing guided/unguided rounds? 80 RPM? 127/155mm with ranges out to 60-100 miles? With drones out there spotting? Quite a few very common ASuW missile systems just became fairly obsolete I think. And they give the LCS a crappy 57mm mount.

Bolt on launchers/cannisters are still out there. Anyone marketing the missiles, are going to be selling a way to launch them from a variety of platforms. Don’t see them much, I think, because the USN seems to have gotten out of the ASuW business other than subs, and all their focus has been on big ships with integrated VLS systems. Pretty stunned the LCS ASW module doesn’t have a bolt on SUBROC launcher. With subs launching anti-air missiles submerged these days, having all your offensive capability on your helo is probably not a good thing. Though if you’re within SUBROC range, it’s probably too late for you anyway…

VLS systems are out there, in just about any configuration down 2-cell boxes, or at least I seem to vaguely recall seeing specs for them.

“really hull piercing integrated weapons systems”…AFAIK, no. You need mounting points, power sources, a means for your systems and the weapons to talk to each other, and the software to integrate them.

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Jim February 3, 2014 at 12:08 pm

I like it as a cheap support ship. I don’t know if I think it handles the ‘What the LCS was supposed to be’ role though. Its not much of an surface warfare combatant in the littorals.
But, it might work as a bigger, better, cheaper platform than the LCS for the LCS’ MH and ASW mission modules in the littorals (although I don’t know if the VDS would fit). Especially if they try not to ‘biggerize’ it by adding a bunch of stuff.

I have a couple of honest questions from the layperson point of view.

With these small combatants the desire always seems to have a few main points:

A) cheap
B) modular
C) low draft
D) a decent amount of ‘legs’.
E) speed

I can see with these why the designers went with alot of foreign based commercial hulls. I think some of these requirements were based around the old ‘streetfighter’ idea where we’d have a few small ships to fight off other swarm small ships. But the direction we went in was… interesting to me.

LCS is a BIG ship for what she does. JHSV is big as well. That isn’t necessarily bad, and is likely needed for range, but it does make the ship more expensive. I guess what I’m thinking is that what they want out of an LCS is really two mission types that don’t blend well. For a ship that can deploy around the world, and can do ASW and MH stuff on station for some time, you want a bigger vessel. For a ship that can fight small swarm boats, you want something smaller like the cyclone. I wonder if it might not be cheaper to have a cyclone squadron and a tender abroad then buy a couple more LCS’ outfitted to fight small swarms.

Also, as to the modularity, it seems that alot of the older ships in the fleet that underwent SLEP’s, etc. had a certain ‘backwards’ modularity, if I understand the weapons system correctly.

One of the big knocks on the LCS (and I’ve made it too) is that it doesn’t have the ‘reach’ to box with other opponents its size that have AShM’s and bigger guns. Also, SeaRAM is nice, but it has a smaller range than ESSM. But whenever anyone talks about fixes, it always seems ‘It needs VLS’ or even ‘This thing would be great with a small SPY system…’ which takes a 1/2 to 3/4 billion dollar ship and makes it Holy Crap expensive.

But ‘Back in the day’ they took ships and added, IIRC, a SeaSparrow module. Or an ASROC pepperbox. Or Harpoon cannisters. You didn’t have to pierce the hull and put in a gazillion dollar new radar system.

Why can’t we do that here? What happened to those ‘Bolt on’ launchers? Or am I mistaken that they were really hull piercing integrated weapons systems?

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Geoff February 1, 2014 at 4:39 am

JHSV…reading up on it, see why you like it. What’s not to like as a cheap support ship? 600-650 ton payload, 25% larger mission bay than the LCS, berths/facility cubeage for 120 paxs, 5600nm (!!!) self-deployment range, high speed…it’s everything the LCS was supposed to be. Except pretty and stylish…and it doesn’t have a cool paint job.

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admin January 31, 2014 at 12:32 am

Geoff–I like where you are going with that JHSV talk. Will revisit this.

J Kies–Always a pleasure to see your wise counsel here. I’ll shoot you a note offline, but, I would say, going off of what you are saying above, is that DOTE is sorta naturally positioned to tend towards histrionics over test results. The defense contractor in me also really likes the idea of paying for design quality…but that’s so easy to turn into a cash cow, right? The opportunities seem endless….

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J_kies January 30, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Not a fan of DOTE – however – they aren’t brain surgeons; if your program sucks hard enough to get on their ‘kill list’ plenty of warning shots occured before that.

CAPE is the basic predator of bad program concepts, if you get past them, one of two things occurred 1) You had a reasonable story as to the program providing value for the cost estimate, or 2) the CAPE was leashed and told to ‘shut up and color’ by the political forces. I am betting on #2 re LCS.

DASD/SE, R&E, DT&E are the next line of OSD oversight in the design / validation phases, to date they have been wimpy but the 2009 WSARA law might grow them into stronger design and systems engineering assurance. Best would be for the oversight process to score the contractor design and development work for fee, if you want quality designs – pay for the quality of the design.

By the time DOTE gets its shot, its too late to save much – its like firemen saving the building foundation.

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Geoff January 29, 2014 at 6:30 pm

Craig…me? Just an outraged and concerned citizen, my opinion and a $1.50 buys a cup of coffee.

But, JHSV…@$200 mil per copy, as a troop/cargo mule, does nothing actually useful a WW2 era landing craft didn’t/can’t do for a $1.98. Yes, it’s faster. Yes, it has a space for “mission planning”. Yes, it can carry a helo. But, unless they’re planning on doing the naval equivalent of a short field assault landing at a contested port, is speed all that important? Otherwise, where’s the billion dollar fire? Mission planning while en route…at a plt./company/Bn. level, I’ve did ad hoc mission planning lying on my belly, under a poncho, innumerable times. These days, at that level, a wireless command net, a notebook, and a relatively quiet corner should do just fine. Every requirement doesn’t, and shouldn’t, require a mega-million dollar solution.

“far more successful in flowing useful modular capability forward”

Ok…in the JHSV, you’ve got a relatively cost effective hull with a useful payload capacity, that is just begging to be re-purposed. What can you do with it?

– “What if” they were married to a variant of the Alaska class AFSB/MLP, one that retained bunkerage to refuel light surface combatants?
– “What if” you developed useful modular mission ASW/MH/ASuW/fueling packages for the JHSV, based on existing, proven systems, backed by the resources aboard the AFSB/MLP?
– “What if” you put an Aegis system on the AFSB/MLP, networked to its supported warfighters, VLS cells, and point defense?
– “What if” the AFSB/MLP provided tender/repair/crew support as well as refueling?
– “What if” the AFSB/MLP acted as a “lillypad” for F35Bs, drones, and minewarfare/ASW helos?
– “What if” you parked the AFSB/MLP and its supported JHSVs someplace strategic? Wouldn’t you pretty much own the water, air, and shore for hundreds of miles in every direction in pretty much any environment short of full scale war?

You could do all that, and more…for what the LCS program is costing. And have a real littoral capability. A littoral capability that could be tailored exactly to the specific requirements.

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Craig Hooper January 29, 2014 at 4:04 pm

G-thoughts on JHSV?

I mean…don’t get me started on the mission modules (starts banging head on desk)…my sense is that the JHSV (unencumbered by a mission module “program of record” will be far more successful in flowing useful modular capability forward than LCS.

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Geoff January 29, 2014 at 3:55 pm

The original LCS concept was a no-kidding Good Idea. Problems…the ships are costing 2-3x what they should, and for capability that we’re gaining, even in a “best case” scenario. Money spent should equal capability gained. Money wasted equals capability lost. Forever. My own feelings are that time is getting short, and we’re going to bitterly regret every wasted dollar and day spend on this boondoggle.

Mortal sins…are what the LCS and LCS modules are exposing, are not solely the LCS programs fault. A totally dysfunctional procurement process. The mind-numbingly skewed priorities of our Navy leadership. Mine warfare capabilities decades out of date. Sonar systems sadly out of date. ASuW missile systems with amazing, stupifying, and baffling capability gaps. Who’s been minding the store at Navy for the last couple of decades, that the basic building blocks of a modern navy have been ignored? Frankly, building a modular multi-functional class of support ship really should be a case of (mainly) plugging in existing mature systems, then testing/integrating the resulting package. Sadly, it’s not, and not only are they building the ships “while under weigh”, they’re being forced to do the same with the mission packages.

All this talk of “presence” instead of capability. Are the Chinese going to be impressed by the “presence” of an LCS? Doesn’t gunboat diplomacy require a big stick? The LCS doesn’t even HAVE a stick. Can you see the Viets, Phillipinos, or Japanese heaving a big sigh of relief, “The LCS squadron is here!!!”?

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Jim January 29, 2014 at 2:44 pm

Sounds good! I appreciate your feedback.

I agree, totally, on the idea of trying to exploit something a bit different. To borrow an old phrase you want to be the guy to eat your own lunch rather than have your opponent do it for you.

But I guess I’m conservative enough to feel you have to also keep your own gaps minimized, and I don’t see that our Navy is doing that. Or at least have that transformational technology give you that ability.

I guess I need more convincing that the LCS is that transformational ship. When I think of ships like that, I think of things like the ironclads, or the CV’s. They had their questions ( seagoing ability, lack of conventional firepower) but when used appropriately they had huge advantages vs. their opponents. Ironclads were nearly invulnerable to their wood hulled brethren. CV’s had had their weapons system (the airplane) show that it could detect ships at long range, and then sink those ships at long range. Far longer than the conventional BB’s that currently held reign. The CV’s could reach out and beat BB’s, or CA’s, or CL’s, etc. etc. etc. long before those ships came into range. And those ships had little or no answer to them.

The LCS isn’t transformational so much in that way. Its modularity is a great idea, IMHO, and could have a huge impact on future ship designs. But the modules were never intented to carry anything that gave it a huge advantage over other ships that it would likely meet in trying to ‘dominate’ a littoral environment and provide access. Iranian missile boats have a *significant* range advantage in the littorals from what I’ve read, even if you consider the LCS deploying with its original netfires. Its ASW modules and MH modules have had problems in development. those problems aren’t mortal sins in and of themselves, but its a problem for an instant major ship class.

I don’t want to be Debbie Downer on the LCS per se. As a presence craft, you’re correct, a ship like it is likely a great idea. As a technology development class of 3-5 ships used to hammer out the idea of modular weapons systems, its a fabulous idea. Especially if it leads to LCS II that can make its enemies cringe by its ability to field various lethal weapons and be built in large numbres. But as a presence craft replacing multiple ship types while also working out the kinks on modular designs, I think its a bad idea. Especially in an era when we are short on money , have seemingly dumbfounding procurement and development issues, and have significant gaps in our naval arsenals ability to deal with those other countries challenges.

Just my $0.02

As I said, I’m a Civilian and a layman. So take all that into account.

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Craig Hooper January 29, 2014 at 12:43 pm

Jim– Really appreciate the comments. Lots to discuss of course, and we’ll chat about it in the coming days/weeks.

Here’s few things to consider. If everyone is building the same type of platform, does it make more sense to try and outbuild ’em on a one-for-one basis? Or does it make more sense to exploit the time we have in trying something a little different that, at the same time, helps build up the industrial base a bit (an industrial base that we’re going to need should things get tough at sea)?

Some of the most significant strategic setbacks have come from the fact that we didn’t have anything nearby. China grabbed islands in the South Pacific when we were not there. Having a platform available–even a modest one–can be invaluable in discouraging over-reach…

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Jim January 29, 2014 at 10:22 am

I guess one more thing about the LCS that bugs me isn’t the ship itself. It is that it is symptomatic of what seems to me, a layman and civilian, a lack of Naval strategy.

From what I’ve read the potential peer and near peer opponents are coming out with some impressive weaponry. The Chinese submarines are getting better and more numerous. The Iranians are buying more Kilo’s, which are nice boats, to defend themselves. The Kirov’s are going to be back. Chinese surface assets are carrying very capable AShM’s on more blue water platforms, and they are developing carriers of their own with good long range fighters. On top of that, they have the DF-21 which, while I don’t think it a slam dunk magic BB, is a threat of concern to our capital ships.

Against that we have a smaller SSN force, and one that still has alarming issues (the anechoic coating on the Virginia’s still hasn’t been addressed as far as I can tell). Our CVN force is using decent aircraft ( I like the Superhornet. Its not going to ‘clear the skies’ of enemy Sukhois without losses, but its no slouch, and it delivers alot of value with its carrying capacity and maintanance record). But that aircraft still doesn’t have great legs, and isn’t all that fast. Further, we don’t have much in the way of onboard tanking anymore to help with that.

We’re going to be retiring FFG’s (Blue water ASW) for LCS (littoral ASW, MH, and very limited ASuW). DDG’s don’t seem to be doing much training on blue water ASW. And our long range high loiter time ASW aircraft are gone, While the increase in submarines is starting to become a major threat. I believe we’ve already seen Chinese SSN’s playing cat and mouse with our CVN’s.

Our surface fleet has an AShM that is decades old, hasn’t been upgraded recently to face new challenges, and isnt shipped on most of our surface combatants. That same AShM can be fired from Hornets, but do we have enough of them to get the swarming attack we need to defeat modern AShM defenses on peer and near peer rivals? Especially considering its age?

On top of all that, the CVN’s are going to be deploying in fewer and fewer numbers. The LCS’ in greater and greater numbers.

The biggest new class of ship we have coming on line might be a dandy one to fit into a fleet that doesn’t have so many gaps. Its kind of like a PHM without a hard punch, but with better endurance and sensors.

Having it be there with FFG’s able to do ASW for the fleet or convoys, with those FFG’s having some sort of over the horizon Anti ship capability (Harpoons or LRASM) might make a heck of a team if you could network them.

And then you’d preferrably have some of their bigger brothers (Tico’s or DDG’s) a bit farther out, closer to the carrier to handle more serious anti-air stuff. With finally the CVN able to concentrate more on its role of sea dominance with a good Hi-Lo mix of fighters.

We also have to remember that we’ll need to have some sort of fleet logistics to support all this.

But what I see with the decrease in the CVN deployment is that in a crisis situation you are going to see LCS’s and DDG’s on their own more and more. They’ll have to be to provide the ‘presence’ the Navy wants, or ISR in a wartime situation.

To me that spells alot of relatively defenseless US ships that are playing out of the element for which they are designed. And one that will guarantee alot of pain on our side should something break out. It wouldn’t be that hard or risky for an enemy in its own littoral back yard to send several missile boats out to lob AShM’s at the LCS, at ranges where the LCS couldn’t respond. Or shoot them from shore. Eventually, that SeaRAM box will run out of missiles, even if it is very accurate.

In a situation where things are tense and those missile boats come speeding towards the LCS its wise choice is to use its speed to run.

That’s not LM’s description of ‘Dominating the battlespace’.

It has me worried.

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Jim January 29, 2014 at 9:52 am

Please excuse the above typos. It was written on my phone. 🙂

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Jim January 28, 2014 at 10:54 pm

I did read it. I will read about the endurance.

But my concerns still stand, and the FFG comparison
Didn’t help.

For the same tax adjusted dollars, the FFG’s had
Far more inherent capability. The mission modules
For the LCS just aren’t working out so far as I can
Tell. The surface warfare module really doesn’t compare well
To the Perry’s load out.
The ASW is a very unproven, especially in blue water.
And the hull isn’t as durable. And the mission modules
From what I’ve read will take the Lcs beyond the tax
Adjusted price of the FFG’s.

Also, the FFG’s weren’t going to make up nearly
1/4 of the surface fleets combatants, like the lCS is
Planned to.

Finally, and most damning, I don’t see an answer
To the LCS being able to accomplish it’s intended mission.

We love in a world where the LCS is going to become a major class
In the navy. But the navy is only planning on having two deployed carriers.

There likely will be more and more situations where the LCS will
Be deployed alone or at least without major aircover.

It doesn’t have the power to “dominate the battle space” as LM says it’s
Supposed to.

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Geoff January 28, 2014 at 9:54 pm

“Geoff–DOT&E certainly was helping maintain the gold-plating drumbeat.”

No, DOT&E has been consistently throwing the BS flag through this entire debacle as the original actually-pretty-decent-concept has morphed into building the ship while under weigh, without testing, without prototyping, with ever-changing goalposts, no clear cut metrics, hideously ballooning costs, and “arming” (using the term loosely) them by pre-buying components systems for the mission packages that have individually failed developmental testing repeatedly, do not meet the requirements (and it’s questionable if they ever will), and have never been tested in an integrated package.

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admin January 28, 2014 at 6:55 pm

Fred–Always glad to see somebody from IDA here. Funny, but I didn’t see you guys complaining about the LPD-17, a far more expensive platform that is still struggling to become the survivable and operationally effective/relevant platform it was advertised to be.

Geoff–DOT&E certainly was helping maintain the gold-plating drumbeat.

Jim–The Patrol Ship HMS Endurance showed us in the Falklands that even modest platforms can offer substantial contributions on the battlefield. She did great with ISR and deception. Her helos helped sink a sub, and moved troops around the battlespace. I’d suggest that you look here: http://nextnavy.com/the-ffg-7-the-lcs-of-the-seventies/ and then get back to me with your thoughts.

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Geoff January 28, 2014 at 5:22 pm

It’s DOT&E’s fault the “Good Idea Fairies” at Navy took the initial concept of an inexpensive, expendable, modular, littoral support ship built cheaply and quickly from civvie based designs, and magically turned it into an hugely expensive, non-expendable, non-survivable turkey?

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Jim January 28, 2014 at 3:15 pm

I guess my concerns with the LCS are threefold:

A) Its replacing the FFG’s, but it doesn’t seem to have the same blue water ASW capability that the FFG’s had. Nor does it have the survivability. Now the second may be a debatable point in an attrition unit. But it does raise concerns in that it would seem logical that the LCS is going to be asked to pursue FFG roles.

B) According to the website from LM Its mission is to: “defeat growing littoral threats and provide access and dominance in the coastal water battlespace.”. In a littoral battlespace its going to be facing corvettes, small missile boats, and likely frigates. All of these vessels most likely outgun the LCS in its ASuW package. They have bigger guns and longer ranged missiles. Further, in a littoral environment, it may well face land based air and AShM’s. Heck. In the ASW role it may or may not do well. I’m hoping so. But it still faces the above threats. SeaRAM will help, but it doesn’t have a huge range either, from what I understand. So I don’t see this vessel as capable of defeating current, let alone growing, littoral threats. Nor do I see it being able to go into an area of anti-access and forcing the issue with the weapons it has on hand.

Finally:

C) For all this, and for it being an attrition unit, its still bloody expensive.

Now alot of these complaints may well be that the ship and the mission aren’t matched. THis could be a hell of a ship combating drug running in the Caribbean. It might do well, in a peaceful environment, delivering SEAL’s to a foreign shore. Its MH module may be great. I just don’t know.

But in an age when we have greater and greater blue water submarine threats, and seemingly less capability to deal with them (DDG’s are now mostly anti-air and rarely practice ASW. The vikings are retired since what, ’90? The Frigates which might be put into that role are old and going away) I think having the LCS replace three classes of ships is a mistake. And one that isn’t all that economical to boot on a per ship level.

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Fred January 28, 2014 at 2:37 pm

What a hatchet job. The Navy is pushing forward two poorly designed and outfitted ships as one class. That is the first red flag. After 5 years, the LCS 1 ships are only now being tested to see if they can perform their mission. The LCS 2 is still floundering as it tries and fails at doing mine countermeasures while its core systems go untried and untested. You should be asking the Navy to explain why they continue pouring millions into these failed ship programs. It is DOT&E’s fault the ships are junk, it is the Navy’s fault.

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admin January 28, 2014 at 11:24 am

Great comment.

I hesitate to disagree with the CNO, but I do believe that the original concept was for LCS to be a relatively expendable, civil-spec ship. Only after things got underway did the Navy have second thoughts, so now we have a sort of non-sacrificial sacrificial ship. Hence the dilemma.

I do think we need to think hard about battle damage. At some point, for a small combatant, it just doesn’t make sense to go through the expense of hardening it. There’s no clear-and-fast line, but it’s somewhere in the CG/DDG/FG/LCS neighborhood. I mean…Repairs to the Stark cost @150 million dollars. For a ship that originally was procured for @160 million…yeah, ok, it was repaired for less than procurement cost, but accounting for the age of the ship, it probably would have been better to scrap the damaged ship and build a new one.

If we build an expendable ship, let’s be honest about it, commit and proceed apace.

Now, I do think testing the LCS is appropriate, as long as DOT&E and the Program folks agree on what, precisely, they are testing. The old Level II standard is not what LCS was built to, but, what, pray tell is this Level 1+ standard (a standard that nobody really knows what exactly it is anyway)? How do you test that?

I do want a rigorous test, but I think it is wrong if the testing people are biased against LCS. A test is one thing; a biased test is something totally different. And wrong. Even if you hate LCS, the crew deserve a fair shake (pun intended). (For the record, giving T-AKE a pass was a mistake; these “non-station” resupply ships are increasingly critical components of the carrier strike group, and they’re taking on more front-line roles as well.)

Regarding crew size, I think you need to remember that there are two ships here. One or the other may be more wearing on the crew than the other. However, given that we’re still trying to cram the ships into the same CONOPS, the two ships are likely gonna have same-sized crews. So aside from the fact that you have more fragile brain-pans to worry about getting hurt, you also have the likelihood that the larger crew will be stationed in places that were not originally meant to be manned.

Hope that gives you some fodder to think about. (oh, and yes, airline-like evac drills are done on these ships, btw. With volunteers, even!)

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Chris January 28, 2014 at 10:22 am

Why shouldn’t the LCS get a pass on shock testing like a logistical ship did you ask? How about because the LCS is not a non-combatant. It is supposed to go in harm’s way. “We believe that they should be built to operate and, if damaged in combat, to survive and then to withdraw, if you will. That’s the design from the very beginning,” ADM Greenert (CNO) said. “They have been built and tested to that level, and so far, I’m satisfied with that.” If ADM Greenert is right, there should be no problem with a test. As you pointed out, in-production versions of other ships were tested. So, what exactly about shock testing a non-prototype LCS is so wrong and unfair?

Planning to not get hit is not a good strategy for a warship. The Army had a similar fantasy for its Future Combat System. Having perfect awareness of the battle space, especially in littoral waters, is a pipe dream, especially if there is opposition. Furthermore, no defensive system is infallible. Building a combatant to not get hit is just whistling past the graveyard.

As far as survivability levels go, OPNAVINST 9070.1, SURVIVABILITY POLICY AND STANDARDS FOR SURFACE SHIPS AND CRAFT OF THE U.S. NAVY, the governing instruction at the time LCS cranked up, stated:

“Warships are expected to perform offensive missions, sustain battle damage and survive. As such, the total ship, comprised of combat systems and vital hull, mechanical and electrical components, must be sufficiently hardened to withstand designated threat levels.”

The same instruction defined Level I as:

“Level I represents the least severe environment anticipated…In this category, the minimum design capability required shall, in addition to the inherent sea keeping mission, provide for EMP and shock hardening…”

According to the Congressional Research service, “The Navy decided to design the LCS to what it calls a Level 1+ survivability standard, which is greater than the Level I standard to which the Navy’s current patrol craft and mine warfare ships were designed, but less than the Level II standard to which the Navy’s current Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class frigates were designed.”

Somewhat ironic that the LCS, at level I+, is supposed to operate in dangerous littoral waters where we dare not send expensive ships like DDG-51s and CG-47s. Least protected in the most dangerous waters, but don’t bother testing it?

The benefit of shock testing is not for the manufacturer, such as Austal, but for the Navy. The cost of changes to vessels already under contract would be borne by the Navy, so little downside for Austal or Lockheed. Unless the ships are so lightly built that they cannot survive shock testing to even the minimum standard. People might notice that.

The crew growth actually reflects the Navy’s real world experience operating these ships. According to VADM Copeman, commander of naval surface forces, “The additional people let us have a 4-section versus a 3-section watch bill. That gave the crew more rest — fatigue has been a problem in the past. It also gave the ships more ability to do corrective maintenance.” I might add that extra bodies will be useful in damage control, in case you get hit. If you are familiar with the Stark or Samuel Roberts incidents, saving a ship is an exhausting challenge. The Stark burned for almost 24 hours and the Roberts’ keel was broken. Both ships survived. Tough little ships with crews of 176. It should also be noted that the Roberts retained its ability to fight after the mine explosion.

BTW, as part of the certification process, aircraft manufacturers are required to demonstrate that an aircraft, at max capacity, can be evacuated in 90 seconds using only half of the total number of emergency exits. Fewer exits simulates damage and 90 seconds because tests have shown that, in a post crash fire, conditions conducive to flashover are unlikely to occur within that time span. Manufacturers actually run a test with volunteers. No smoke, fire, or casualties, but it is a test.

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