One of the key innovations of the Littoral Combat Ship Program was to be a series of plug-and-play modules that would tailor the ship’s capabilities to a given mission. Much as adding pods and armament to an airframe can change an airplane mission set, the goal was to have a bare bones seaframe that could accept modules that would fulfill one of three common surface warfare missions- Anti-Mine Warfare (MiW or MCM for Mine Counter Measures), Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW) or Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). The concept of operations originally called for these modules, and the specialist crews for them, to be forward deployed to advanced bases. Modules and personnel for one mission would be swapped out for the modules and crew of another in as little as 24 hours. Alas, certain programmatic failures have precluded that from happening, but the basic idea of mission tailored modules endures.
In a smart program management world, the PM would have noted that virtually every module set includes new, untried technologies still early in development. And the smart PM would have developed prototypes of each component for each module, and then sent those prototypes to sea on existing platforms, such as Perry-class FFGs, or Burke-class DDGs to identify strengths and weaknesses, as well as previously unforeseen challenges. Having prototyped and tested the components, prototype modules could then have been sent to sea for a similar evaluation. Having developed a level of technical maturity, the PM could then have solicited designs for the ships optimized to carry and employ these modular weapon sets.
But that’s not what happened in the LCS program. Instead, the Navy laid down very ambitious (and largely unjustified) requirements for what the seaframes could do, and set aside seemingly arbitrary requirements for power, cooling and space for modules, which the PM office seemed to simply assume would proceed through development with no major issues.
We’ve written enough times about the LCS seaframes themselves (and likely will do so again). But we’ve paid scant attention to the development of the modules that will (in theory) make the LCS more than an overly large patrol boat.
The beating heart of both variants of the littoral combat ship (LCS) is the series of three mission packages the Navy is developing to handle some of the service’s most dire needs in the littorals.
The modular ship is a marked departure from the past in the way the Navy develops capability for its surface fleet. Sailors often liken the LCS to a video game system—with the mission packages being the actual games. But instead of “Halo” or “Call of Duty,” sailors will try their hands at mine countermeasures (MCM), surface warfare (SuW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).
On paper, the new capabilities and updates of existing functions will greatly increase the Navy’s ability to rapidly undertake some of its most dangerous jobs.
However, the mission packages have experienced delays of up to four years in fielding because of design problems, cost overruns, and manufacturing delays, according to the Government Accountability Office.
A July report from the GAO said, “a pause is needed” in the acquisition of the mission packages pending further review of the total LCS program.
“Navy has a great deal of learning to do about the ships, the integrated capability that they are intended to provide when equipped with the mission modules, and how the overall LCS concept will be implemented,” the report concluded.
On Aug. 8, USNI News interviewed Capt. John Ailes, program manager for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Program Executive Office Littoral and Mine Warfare’s (PEO LMW) LCS Mission Modules, for an update on the embattled mission package program.
Ailes acknowledged past failures in the program but painted an optimistic picture of the way forward for the mission packages.
“It’s a wondrous time to be the mission package guy today compared to three years ago because you can point to the successes,” he said.
Starting next year, the Navy will test the packages in a series of operational evaluations (OPEVAL) as a final examination before moving the new capabilities into the fleet.
Read the whole thing. There will be a quiz later. Oh, and take note of that last paragraph in the quote above. The first two LCS ships have been in commission for years. And LCS-1 is currently on its first deployment. And yet, we’re still a year out from OPEVAL, let alone fleet introduction, of the modules.