What Work wants, he gets: The lesson of the LCS Unselect

by Craig Hooper on November 12, 2010

The lesson of the LCS “Unselect” is this: What Undersecretary Robert Work wants, Undersecretary Robert Work gets.

(A corollary lesson is that Sean Stackley (perhaps atoning for his role as LPD-17 Program Manager from 2001-5) is the guy who actually does Work’s dirty work, but more on that at in a later post..)

It’s worth taking a look at the record. Undersecretary Work, back when he was a private citizen, was quite clear about wanting a squadron of each variant–and reminding us all that the Essex Class carrier came out of twenty years of experimentation. Why should we expect anything different from this new platform?

Take a minute and read Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work’s essay from 2004, “Naval Transformation and the Littoral Combat Ship,” where he says:

“…the Navy would be advised to build at least two different operational prototypes. However, choosing two different prototypes will not completely resolve many of the operational issues. It seems clear that only by testing squadron prototypes will the Navy be able to fully resolve some of the outstanding issues surrounding the LCS and its support structure…”

and:

It seems clear that only by testing squadron prototypes will the Navy be able to fully resolve issues such as the best squadron organization; the best way to employ the ship in Divisions or Squadrons; whether or not individual or squadron ship mission reconfigurations are worth pursuing, and whether the overhead costs associated with battle modularity are worth it. Among other things, squadron operational testing would allow the Navy to examine different ways of conducting forward theater ship mission reconfigurations (e.g., from tenders, at forward staging bases, or at sea), to determine which method was the cheapest and most effective. Accordingly, the Navy should consider building two operational squadrons, composed of a common number of Flight 0 LCSs, and a number of supporting mission modules (perhaps 2 mission packages per hull).

Undersecretary Work is also on record as wanting to ramp up to building four LCS hulls per year. Read Work’s “Strategy for the Long Haul: Charting a course for tomorrow’s Fleet ” CSBA Paper:

Assuming the LCSs perform as expected, the Navy should instead consider ramping up to a maximum of four LCSs per year, and sustaining that rate even after reaching the 55-ship TFBN target.

And he spells out why–it is easier on the industrial base, offers greater options for foreign sales, and other things.

With the LCS “Unselect”, Robert Work gets his 4-hull target and two squadrons. It’s as complete a bureaucratic win as anybody could ever expect to get in Washington DC.

Stackley: The man behind the man behind the podium…

So, rather than join the rest of the crowd and shout that this was some sort of crafty White House-inspired jobs program, I sense the selection strategy–at least the Navy’s abrupt reshuffling of RFP priorities from “capability” to “cost”–was a little more rational and strategically sensible than most of us naval-gazers ever quite realized. (And let’s not be stupid–If the Littoral Combat Ship actually was jobs program, then this dual-yard, 20-hull buy from both shipbuilders would have been announced before the November election.)

In retrospect, the Navy’s acquisition strategy endgame was perfectly played.

First, the final “flawed” RFP scared the shipbuilders. The Navy’s abrupt–and inexplicable– shift to what was little more than a “cost shootout” forced both companies out of their comfort zone–slicing profit margins, improving the production viagra 50mg process and tinkering with management–to find cost savings.

Second, the final RFP was, in itself, a poison pill. If Congress fails to approve the dual buy, then the Navy will move to downselect according to the final, flawed RFP, and, predictably, the loser will protest, bogging the entire program in a disastrous litigious mire. It would probably lead to a re-compete, which, frankly, is something that every sensible person in this business wants to avoid. Nobody wants a naval variant of the KC-X tanker debacle.

With the Littoral Combat Ship, America simply cannot strategically afford to delay. A lame-duck Congress may think otherwise, but, really, these twenty hulls–even if, as I suspect, LCS-1 turns out to be a completely unworkable “dog’s breakfast” of a platform–will be extremely useful in the years ahead.

Congress needs to get with it, get this thing approved and let the Navy’s two new shipbuilders get busy building.

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