Tag Archives: Littoral combat ship

The LCS Program continues to fail miserably.

The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program, while smaller than the Joint Strike Fighter program in dollars, is to my mind a bigger failure, from conception to execution.

The GAO was directed to review the deployment of USS Freedom to Singapore. It’s not a very pretty picture.


al.com also has a piece on the LCS program that drops this little bombshell:

Largely missing from the picture was the USS Independence built by Austal, which spent most of that time homeported in San Diego, Calif., according to the document. Navy officials indicated they had “notional plans to deploy an Independence variant LCS sometime before 2017,” according to the report. (emphasis mine-XBrad)

The LCS ships were built with a notional service life of 20-25 years (as opposed to a notional service life of 30 years for most service combatants). The USS Independence was commissioned in January of 2010. To date, she’s not made any deployments, and the best the Navy can offer is the possibility they’ll send her out before the next three years are up?

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It’s “Beat up on LCS Day” at CDR Salamander’s. First, we’ll steal a document from the good CDR himself about the origins of the Little Crappy Ship. Note the extensive use of subjective adjectives, vice concrete, measurable metrics.

Indeed, the only hard number in the document is the 50 knot speed, which drove so much of the design process that it overwhelmed pretty much any chance of a reasonable outcome.

Of course, in contrast, one of the comments links to this document on how the “design to cost” approach to the Patrol Frigate (which would become the FFG-7 class frigate” was quite specific on just what the ship would entail.

One of the strengths of the program management of the PF was a very clear vision of just what the ship was intended to do. That vision drove the decisions of which features to include. In contrast, the LCS document emphasized features such as “netted” and other rot. Just what the ship was intended to do in the mission areas was a tad vague. The inshore ASW portion looks a lot like an underpants gnome business model.

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Little Crappy Ship buy capped at 32

And rumor has it, the 24 already contracted is more likely to be the real final number.

Chris Cavas,

The office of the secretary of defense (OSD) has directed the Navy to limit its overall buy of littoral combat ships to a total of 32 ships, foregoing 20 more of the small, fast and controversial warships, Pentagon sources have confirmed.
The decision, in a Jan. 6 memo from acting deputy secretary of defense Christine Fox, came after the Pentagon received its final 2015 budget guidance from the White House.

With a hat tip to CDR Salamander, where the comments are always useful.

It’s actually something of a shameful indictment of our procurement system that we’ve got 24 of the damn things under contract, and here we are well over a decade into the program and one, ONE ship has made one, ONE deployment, which seemingly consisted mostly of pulling out from the pier to experience an engineering casualty, and spending a couple weeks keeping contractor maintenance teams employed.

You want to know what the replacement for LCS will be?

Nothing. The Navy had its chance to buy ships. The Bush administration was fairly tight fisted with construction dollars, but not utterly parsimonious. It’s the Navy’s own fault it didn’t come up with a good design to spend money on.

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A Notional Company Landing Team

URR’s post below (and the article it links to) are worthy of their own examination and discussion. By what caught my eye was the thought of company sized (150-200 man) elements deploying independently of the regular Battalion Landing Team that forms the heart of a Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU).

The concept of the Company Landing Team (CLT) has been knocked around for a couple years, and that got me to thinking, what type of ship should such a Team be deployed upon? Currently,  MEUs typically deploy spread across three amphibious ships, each with very different missions and capabilities. The LHA is the largest of these, and serves as the primary home to the Air Combat Element of the MEU, as well as the bulk of the manpower of the MEU. The LSD carries the majority of the MEUs vehicles as well as cargo for follow on resupply. The LPD serves to carry most of the tracked amphibious assault vehicles (AAVs) as well as offering significant aviation capabilities, with a limited ability to conduct independent operations.

Of the three, the LPD would be best suited to fulfill the mission of carrying and deploying an independent CLT. The problem is, LPDs currently cost well over a billion dollars, and the Navy can’t afford to buy enough to fill its current requirement to support MEUs, let alone enough for extra, independent company teams.

As for the suggestion that the LCS might serve as a future home, that’s been an idea kicked around since supporters of the program had to start scrambling for ways to justify the flawed shipbuilding boondoggle.

You probably could fit a platoon sized element aboard, even if you had to use containerized berthing units. Maybe even a reinforced platoon. But fitting a reinforced rifle company onboard just won’t happen. You’d need to field at least three LCS to lift a single CLT.

The aviation facilities can carry two H-60 class helos, so lift would be available, if a little light. But aside from small RHIB craft, no landing craft could be used to move the company. In sh0rt, the entire company cannot be moved from ship to shore in a single lift, which is generally considered a key element of success for a landing.  Basically, the LCS might prove useful for some very small special forces detachments, but it is a non-starter as an amphib.

There are some good precedents for landing craft sized to carry a company. The first to come to mind is the LCI, or Landing Craft, Infantry.



Sized to carry 200 troops in addition to its crew, it would beach itself, and discharge its passengers via ramps at the bow. But for our notional CLT, it has some pretty severe drawbacks. First, it was designed almost wholly with the idea of the cross Channel invasion of Normandy in mind. It was one thing to carry its load for 24-48 hours. That could be stretched to 72-96 hours in a pinch.  But it was completely incapable of supporting that passenger load much beyond that. Perhaps a more important disadvantage to the LCI is that it had no capacity to carry vehicles.

The other purpose build World War II era ship that immediately springs to mind is a far better fit- The Landing Ship, Tank, or LST.  At around 327’ long, displacing about 3800 tons full load, the wartime LST had a crew of about 110, and normally had berthing for about 140 embarked troops. More importantly, it was purpose built to carry large numbers of tanks and other combat vehicles.


In practice, LSTs routinely carried a larger number of troops. As for vehicles, the design was capable of carrying 1500 tons on ocean crossings, but was only designed to beach with a maximum of 500 tons of cargo. Of course, the Army quickly figured out that most beaches would actually allow beaching with loads of 1000 tons, and routinely overloaded the LSTs allocated to them.

The wartime LST was also a surprisingly inexpensive ship. Not cheap, or crude, but not gold-plated, either. And stunning numbers of them were built, over 1100 in just a couple years.

In fact, the only real shortcoming of the World War II LST was its deplorably low speed, with a maximum of around 11 knots, and a convoy speed of 7-8 knots. The low power of the installed diesel engines were part of the reason speed was so slow, but the flat-bottom design and the bluff bow section were the real reason the LST was a Large SLOW Target. Later variants with much greater shaft horsepower were somewhat faster, but still nothing to write home about, especially given the expense and complexity of their steam plants.

The Navy eventually took upon a radically redesigned LST, the Newport class, the did away with the traditional bow doors, and instead used an enormous ramp over the stem of the ship.


This allowed a respectable speed of 20 knots, but the additional complexity and resultant cost, coupled with the ability of modern LCAC landing hovercraft to move vehicle cargo quickly meant the Navy eventually allowed the LST type to pass from service. The trend has been for decades, fewer, larger, more capable, more complex and more costly ships.

So let us design a hypothetical modern version of the WWII LST. Our requirement will be for a troop lift of 150-200 troops, and roughly 20 armored vehicles, generally of between Stryker sized and AAV-7 sized. We should plan on another ten to fifteen 5-ton FMTV type vehicles as well, to carry the support for the CLT. We should figure 7-14 days of offloadable consumables for the CLT once landed, including POL, ammo, rations and spares.  Only the most limited command and control facilities, and austere self defense suite are needed.

The guiding principle for the design of the ship is to cut construction costs. You’ll hear various people tell you this feature or that will reduce lifetime operating costs. Maybe, but operating costs on a platform you didn’t buy because it was too expensive is zero. Cutting up front costs (and keeping the ship extremely austere) is the way to reduce costs.

What other requirements must our notional ship have. Not, really would be nice, but must.

And let’s take a look at the Company Landing Team itself.

I’ve found myself looking at a Stryker Infantry Company as the core in my mind (though I’m certainly open to suggestions to the contrary). Any independent CLT would almost have to be a mounted force simply because it would need organic transport to get off the beach. Organic helicopter support isn’t an option, since that would vastly increase the complexity, manning and costs of any solution. Our notional CLT would also need the organic firepower a mounted force has lest it be defeated by even the most marginally equipped opposing force. Equipping with heavy mech infantry such as the Bradley would similarly increase the size and cost of the CLT, and would actually reduce the numbers of dismount infantry so valuable in so many low intensity conflict situations.

What supporting arms should our Company Team have? For organic fire support, is the 81mm mortar enough, or should we poach a battery of the Marines 120mm EFSS? Or simply used the Army 120mm mortar system? Would the Stryker Armored Gun System be sufficient direct fire? What about engineer support, logistical support, maintenance, air defense, intelligence, signals? How do we balance between having sufficient combat power, and keeping the size and cost of a force within a manageable scope?



Eaglespeak and PSVs.

Eaglespeak, our favorite sea-lawyer, jumps into Corvette Week at CIMSEC with some thoughts.

As former Under Secretary of the Navy Bob Work emphasized during his recent appearance on MIDRATS,  the Littoral Combat Ship is such a truck–a vehicle for delivering unmanned weapons system.

This post is meant to take that concept and cheapen it.

What is a corvette? Something smaller than frigate but larger than a patrol boat, I guess. The LCS in either of its variants is large at about 380 feet in length and displacing 2800 tons. A Gearing-class destroyer from post WWII measured in 390 feet and 3400 tons.  The Perry-class frigates are over 440 feet and 4100 tons.

Seems we have a lot of size and space to play with.

It occurs to me that we need to take the thinking that developed the WWII escort aircraft carrier (CVE) and model it down to a ship that is a “drone” carrier (and by “drone” I mean unmanned vessels of any type- surface, subsurface and aerial) – like the LCS only in the smaller economy version.

After all, if the real weapons systems toted by the LCS are its drones, then virtually any vessel capable of lowering said drones into the water or into the air and hosting their command and control system can be a “drone carrier,” too. Such a ship becomes a “mother ship” for the drones.

Are drone carriers are really “war ships?”  Remember, “payload over platform.”

We’ve long felt that the Navy could use Platform Support Vessels for any of a number of roles. PSVs, designed to support offshore oil drilling platforms such as those in the Gulf of Mexico or the North Sea, are something like the pick-up trucks of the maritime world. Relatively small, sturdy ships, their ability to carry a wide variety of loads is their true utility. PSVs typically have large tanks for carrying various liquid cargoes for the platforms, and a large open work deck that can either carry containerized cargo, drilling equipment, or any manner of general cargo. They’re also typically equipped with robust cargo handling equipment.

As Eaglespeak argues, relatively inexpensive second hand PSVs could serve as the motherships for offboard payloads such as Mine Counter Measures (MCM). In fact, this would be a very good fit for them.

PSVs could also serve as tenders for other small, forward deployed warships, either our own, or those of partner nations. Repair and maintenance facilities could be containerized and placed aboard, tailored to the specific ships supported. They would also provide logistical support for fuel, fresh water, food and ammunition to any supported flotilla.

If we were to embrace an substantially more involved modification of a PSV, we could even see one used to provide hangar and maintenance for helicopter detachments in support of MCM, Anti-Surface Warfare, or Anti-Submarine Warfare. Fitting a towed tactical sonar array for deeper water ASW in conjunction with embarked helicopters should not prove too daunting.

With good seakeeping and long endurance, PSVs could be fitted with light self defense weapons, a robust small boat capability and provide high endurance on-station assets in waters plagued by piracy such as off the coast of Somalia or near Singapore.

To be sure, PSVs are not warships. But the US Navy has a long history of adapting merchant vessels to fulfill auxiliary roles. Quite a few Liberty ships were commissioned into the Navy not as transports or cargo ships, but modified as repair vessels, and even as experimental minesweeping ships.

Any such low cost answer to the challenge of providing sufficient numbers of ships for the fleet would need to recognize that these ships would not be suitable for placement in the line of battle. Nor could they operate without support from other fleet assets or land based assets. But the purpose of such ships would be to free the high value assets of the Navy to fulfill their primary functions, while still enabling the Navy to execute the full range of missions in areas of maritime interest.

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It’s Corvette Week at CIMSEC

And Chuck Hill has a nice piece to start us off with, asking (and answering) the most basic question- just what is a corvette?

Classification of surface warships as cruisers, destroyers, frigates, or corvettes, has become like pornography. There are no generally accepted definitions, but “I know it when I see it”–except that everyone sees it a little differently.

Since this is “Corvette Week” what are we really talking about?

(Note: unless otherwise specified, lengths are over all and displacements are full load)

My Combat Fleets of the World, 16th Edition, which I have used here extensively for reference, defines Corvettes as, “Surface Combatants of less than 1,500 tons but more than 1,000 full load displacement–essentially, fourth rate surface combatants.”  but goes on to note that “…the designation as used here essentially refers to smaller frigates and does not correspond to the European concept of corvettes as any warship larger than a patrol craft but smaller than a frigate.” I feel to confine the definition within a 500 ton range is too restrictive. in fact it would have excluded the Castle class corvettes of WWII as too large, and other corvettes as too small.

I’ll just note that in our Navy, typically the smallest surface combatant we’ve built in peacetime is the Frigate or (as designated prior to 1975) the Destroyer Escort.

Our Navy currently is pretty well stocked with Destroyers, with some 62 of the excellent DDG-51 class in service. But our Frigates of the FFG-7 class are nearing the ends of their service lives. The LCS is being built, but since day one, Big Navy has denied the LCS is a replacement for the Frigate.

And to a great extent, that’s true. Our Frigates, while always general purpose warships, have been optimized for the open ocean Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)  role.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the blue water ASW mission has declined greatly. But there is still a pressing need for a numerous class of warships to fulfill missions that don’t require the capability of a multi-billion dollar DDG-51.

Is there a place for a low-end corvette combatant in our Navy? What roles and missions would it perform? Where is it likely to serve? How should it be armed?

Hopefully, the Corvette Week series at CIMSEC will provide answers to those questions.

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NatGeo actually did a special on the both the “first in class” Littoral Combat Ships.

You’ll notice they spend a lot more time with stuff broke than with stuff workin’.

I’ll say this, CDR Thein is a hoot.

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LCS Failure- Part…. I dunno, I’ve lost count of how many times the damn thing has broken down on its maiden deployment.

Rather blatantly stolen from H_K at CDR Sal’s.


“As more people crowd coastal areas amid less stable global weather patterns, the need for humanitarian and disaster relief operations is increasing, especially in Southeast Asia. Ships rotationally deployed in Singapore will be poised to use their speed and proximity to respond during the initial stages of a disaster when assistance is desperately needed.”


Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom is in need of yet another set of repairs in order to leave its Singapore pier and get to sea, U.S. Navy officials say.

The ship has been plagued by problems during its first Western Pacific deployment.

Speaking Nov. 11 about the most recent incident, Lt. Cmdr. Clayton Doss says that “while USS Freedom (LCS-1) was pierside in Singapore on Nov. 10 conducting steering checks in preparation for the next day’s underway, the port steerable waterjet feedback cable stopped sending signals to indicate the waterjet’s position. Until repairs are accomplished, the crew cannot steer the port waterjet remotely from the bridge.”

“These checks were conducted two days earlier without any issues,” he says. “The system appeared to be working properly up until this problem occurred. The ship has requested technical assistance to replace the damaged feedback cable.”

Flawed concept, no mission modules, overly complicated engineering in the quest for speed of dubious tactical value, and a terrible maintenance concept.



Expeditionary Maritime Security Operations in the Littorals

In the immediate aftermath of military operations in a nation with significant coastal area, smuggling of weapons, fleeing militants and demonstration of presence are all important missions.

It’s a mission we’ve seen performed in Iraq after the initial 2003 invasion. And maritime security and presence operations are a key role for the Littoral Combat Ship.

Let’s take a look how the Coast Guard performed this mission in 1983-84 after the October 25, 1983 invasion to remove the Cuban installed Marxist government.

The U. S. Coast Guard was the logical service to fulfill these missions. As an armed service, it could deploy quickly and integrate fully into the joint command structure. As the nation’s seagoing police, it had developed great expertise in coastal surveillance and interdiction in the fight against illegal drug traffic. And its image as a humanitarian organization with a history of protecting lives and property at sea made its arrival less politically sensitive to both sender and recipient.

A squadron of four cutters, three 95-foot patrol craft (WPBs) and one support unit, was chosen. These were manned by a little more than 100 men and women. All four vessels were chosen from the Seventh Coast Guard District in Florida because of their proximity to the operating area and their familiarity with Caribbean waters, vessel types, and traffic patterns. The squadron commander was assigned from the Atlantic Area staff.

WPBs are seaworthy, fast, well armed, and small enough to steam along the coast, yet large enough to self-deploy across the Caribbean. Since their routine patrols include drug interdiction, law enforcement, and search and rescue missions, their 15-member crews are well versed in interception, boarding, searching, and seizing procedures. The WPBs chosen were the USCGC Cape Fox (WPB-95316), USCGC Cape Gull (WPB-95304), and USCGC Cape Shoalwater (WPB-95324).

Planning for the worst case, no support from ashore, a support cutter was included, in this case the USCGC Sagebrush (WLB-399). The 180-foot seagoing buoy tender (WLB) was an excellent choice. Designed and built more than 40 years ago to resupply offshore lighthouses, WLBs can carry a large amount of fuel, water, and provisions. Capabilities integral to a WLB not found in a WPB are a heavy lift cargo boom, a large forward cargo deck, a machine shop, welding facilities, and electronics repair.

Additional WPB support was included by embarking a special support team of senior enlisteds in supply, electronics, and engineering rates and WPB spare parts on the Sagebrush. This team was drawn on short notice from a WPB shoreside support group, an experimental concept at Coast Guard Base, Miami Beach. The group was part of a multi-crew, multi-hull program. Designed to exact the maximum underway time from hulls without exhausting crews, the program used three crews to man two hulls. The support group provided additional maintenance during the hull’s short in-port periods.

A squadron of three seaworthy patrol boats supported by a sizeable bouy-tender to extend their deployment time. Not a bad little concept of operations.

The article goes on to mention not only the successes of the operation, but some of the challenges and shortcomings as well, logistics and communications being the biggest, not surprisingly for a scratch team.

It wasn’t all that long ago that many types of US Navy deployments were supported by dedicated support ships –tenders- specifically charged to support the maintenance and logistics of forward deployed assets. While the Navy still has a handful of submarine tenders, in the past there were tenders for PT boats and other small craft, seaplanes, and even oceangoing combatants such as fleet destroyers.

Typically, a tender would be moored nearside or in an anchorage of a forward base.  Rather than spending time and money to build infrastructure forward, the Navy simply moved a ship into position. And as operating areas moved, so to did the tenders.

Not so today.  The LCS-1 Freedom is forward deployed to Singapore, where it is dependent upon a small team of US Navy personnel acting primarily as contracting agents for both US contractors (flying over as needed for specific taskings) and host nation facilities.

That’s all well and good in peacetime, but who is to say that Singapore might now bow to diplomatic pressure to deny port rights to US ships in a future incident?

Three  other geographic regions come to mind when we think of littoral regions that could benefit from US maritime security operations using less than major combatants.

First, the Caribbean. Long considered a “territorial sea” by the US Navy, it still today sees quite a bit of US naval activity, primarily in suppression of drug smuggling. But the dwindling numbers of low end frigate type combatants is making it harder and harder to support tasking there.  Other ships make occasional deployments there in support of US national interests, but generally as a break from the normal routine of deploying as a part of a Carrier Strike Group or Amphibious Ready Group.  The LCS is seen as likely to spend considerable time on the Caribbean station. The Coast Guard’s 154’ Sentinel class Fast Response Cutters are probably the smallest craft that could profitably be used in these operations, and Key West based cutters will likely do so.

Second, the Persian Gulf, specifically, the Straits of Hormuz. This is possibly the critical shipping chokepoint in the world. A large percentage of the world’s oil transits the Straits. Iran is on one shore, with the UAE on the other. Oman and Saudi Arabia also are close to the chokepoint. All three of the states on the southern shore have small combatants dedicated to patrolling the waters, but the US Navy has long had a presence in the region, and military operations such as Operation Praying Mantis have flared up from time to time.

A large part of the peacetime requirement for Maritime Security Operations is boarding and inspecting vessels, ranging from massive supertankers to tiny fishing boats.  While larger ships can dispatch a ship’s boat to do so, it makes little sense to tie up a billion dollar destroyer to haul around an 11m rubber boat.  Smaller patrol vessels (even something as small as the old 50’ PCF Swift boat) could profitably be used for such a mission, and supported easily by either shore assets or a very inexpensive tender as done in the cited article. Again, the Sentinel class cutter would be quite suitable.  Of course, in a shooting situation, small craft would have very limited utility, and would require greater support, but any shooting war there would call for a fairly large scale US Navy response anyway.

The third region that occurs to us is off the eastern coast of Africa, where piracy off the coast of Somalia has plagued shipping for the past decade. While an international coalition of nations has maintained a significant anti-piracy patrol in the region (with some fairly odd bedfellows- both the Chinese and Iranians have staged anti-piracy patrols there) and greatly suppressed recent pirate activity, there could be cheaper ways to do so. Again, something smaller than a tender supported squadron of Sentinel class probably wouldn’t work. And given the large area of concern, significant support in terms of land based patrol aircraft and ship-based helos are needed, but again, tying up billion dollar destroyers doesn’t seem terribly efficient.

The Coast Guard currently plans to buy 58 Sentinel class  cutters. An additional buy of 12-24 for the Navy to operate in choke points would hardly be a massive burden to the shipbuilding budget. Nor would the modest crews of the ships be an undue burden on the Navy.

As for a tender to support forward deployed assets?  Rather than building a ship from the keel up, the Navy could very easily buy any number of fairly large Platform Supply Vessels on the used market. These ships are sturdy, and already built to carry large volumes of liquid and dry cargo, often to include provisions and spare parts. Containerized workshops for limited repair facilities would be easy to provide.

The small political and infrastructure footprint of this scheme makes it more palatable for host nations to allow operations, and facilitates partnership operations with less developed nations. Further, such smaller craft have an inherent ability to support special operations warfare assets in inshore waters.

At very modest costs in money and manpower, the Navy could support important Maritime Security Operations in critical areas while freeing up expensive assets of the battleforce to focus on their primary warfighting missions.



Bigger And Better: MQ-8C Takes To The Skies

The Fire Scout system has proven itself in numerous and diverse operational deployments, supporting troops on the ground in Afghanistan, completing weapons Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC) testing with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), continuing deployments on Guided Missile Frigates (FFG) class ships, and now preparing to welcome a new air vehicle to its ranks. This week the newest Fire Scout variant, MQ-8C Fire Scout, will take to the skies for the first time.

via Bigger And Better: MQ-8C Takes To The Skies.

I still have some lingering doubts about the Fire Scout program in general. Unmanned helicopter operations from small US combatant ships have a surprisingly long history, dating back to the QH-50 DASH program of the late 1950s. They also have a history of very high attrition rates. There’s a reason the DASH program gave way to the LAMPS manned helicopter program that continues to this day.

Having said that, it would seem the MQ-8 FireScout program is here to stay. And the potential of an unmanned off-board sensor system is great. The ability of a warship to control sea space is primarily a function of the reach of its sensors. Further, in this age of limited warfare, discrimination of targets is critical. Radar can detect targets at fair ranges, but even now it generally requires electro/optical sensors on a target to determine if a potential target is in fact a target. And so the Fire Scout gives a commander a set of eyes that can quickly view objects of interest, even far over the horizon.

One of the selling points of the MQ-8B FireScout was that it used a relatively cheap airframe, based on the civilian Schwietzer 333 helicopter. It’s relative low cost and small size meant that a Littoral Combat Ship could carry one manned MH-60 series helicopter and up to three MQ-8B’s.

But along the way, the Navy began to realize that a big part of the FireScout system was not tied to any particular airframe. The investment in the semi-autonomous control system, and the sensor and networking package was the heart of the program.

And end-users began to ask for more and more endurance. And so the MQ-8C FireScout was born. As an indication that the payload was the heart of the program, rather than the platform, the same MQ-8 designation was applied to an entirely different airframe, something we can’t recall ever before.

The MQ-8C uses essentially the same payload, but he airframe is the tried and true Bell 407, an evolution of the decades old Bell JetRanger helicopter.

When the use of the 407 was first floated a couple years ago, I scoffed that the Navy had managed to take an essentially 50 year old helicopter design and simply unload the pilots. My first thought would have been that it would be cheaper and easier to simply fly manned Bell 407s (or OH-58Fs) from ships.

But then I saw the one critical difference in performance between a stock 407/OH-58 and the “Charlie” FireScout.


Most manned helicopters give an endurance of about three, maybe four hours tops.

But by using all the payload capacity that would formerly have been applied to squishware* instead to fuel, the “Charlie” has an incredible endurance of up to 15 hours. That’s roughly four to five times what you get from a manned helicopter, and roughly twice what the earlier MQ-8B had.

That kind of endurance gives a ship’s captain a great deal of time on station and persistence in his ISR** organically that he could never achieve even with support from manned long range platforms like the P-3C or the new P-8A.

And while the Charlie is a good deal larger than the Bravo, if they can fit two Charlies in the space allocated for three Bravos aboard an LCS, that will be a net positive in time on station, especially given that the Charlie won’t have to cycle back to Mother for gas as often.

Currently, most DDGs and FFGs capable of operating helos only carry one MH-60, even though they have hangar space for two. Will the second hanger be utilized for an MQ-8C? If not, why not?

To be sure, there will be challenges in the FireScout program. And some failures. But a program I was deeply skeptical of at first is starting to win me over, slowly.


**Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance

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A Good Primer on the Mission Modules for the Littoral Combat Ship Program

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.

Anti-Submarine Warfare Package. Government Accountability Office Graphic

USNI News hase a great overview of the status of the mission modules.

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.

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Freedom Experiences Two More Power Outages

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom’s first overseas deployment to Southeast Asia has been marred by two more power outages, the U.S. Navy says.

The most recent two this week — including one March 21 — brings the outage total to three, all during the ship’s transit from Pearl Harbor to Guam en route to Singapore, says U.S. Pacific Fleet spokesman Darryn James.

The outage problems appear to be similar to those the ship suffered during a deployment in the Atlantic when the vessel was first pressed into Navy service, a source intimately familiar with Freedom operations says.

The first Pacific outage, as the Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) reported, occurred March 16 (AWIN First, March 20). That outage lasted between 10 and 12 min., says Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, director of Navy staff and head of the special LCS Council of service admirals convened to make the Freedom’s deployment and the overall LCS program a success.

The power loss may have been due to water getting into the exhaust system of one of the ship’s diesel engine generators, or SSDGs, possibly creating a pressure difference, Hunt told AWIN March 20 during an exclusive interview about the program.

via Freedom Experiences Two More Power Outages.

In the time it’s taken to lay down, build, launch, commission and this deploy ship, the Navy built, commissioned, and fought 175 Fletcher class, 58 Sumner class, and 99 Gearing class destroyers (not to mention the hundreds of Destroyer Escorts), finished the war, and put most of them into mothballs.

But the Freedom, far from being a warship, despite flying its commissioning pennant for nigh on five years, still can’t make it across the pond without significant engineering casualties. Sounds like it’s trying out not for the US Navy, but Carnival Cruise Lines.

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Is the Navy finally taking a second look at its insane LCS policy?

Interesting news from Defense News about the future of the surface Navy.

A recommended re-evaluation of the next flights of LCSs — beyond the 24 ships now delivered, under construction, on order or with contract options — is only part of a classified memo, “Vision for the 2025 Surface Fleet,” submitted late last year by the head of Naval Surface Forces, Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert. The Navy’s current plans call for building 52 littoral combat ships, so if the service opted to go in a different direction it would essentially cut the LCS program of record in half.

VADM Copeman, in effect the senior Surface Warfare Officer, has a slew of good ideas.

The entirety of the LCS program is deeply flawed, right from the conception that the Navy really, really needed a ship that was virtually unarmed, yet could sprint at 45-50 knots speed, and yet be large enough (~3000 tons) to self deploy world wide. That mismatch of capabilities drove hull shape choices, power plant choices, limitations on construction standards (which directly influences both damage control ability, and useful ship lifetimes), sensor and weapons suite capability, and multi-role function.

Having chosen a flawed concept, the Navy double down on its insanity. The original idea of prototyping two competing designs, each with different hull forms, combat suites, manufacturing and support efforts and power plants, all pretty much never used before, had a lot to recommend it. The idea was that one or two of each competing design would be built, deployed, tested, and then the design best suited for the Navy would be put into serial production, and the other design shelved.

The problem was, both designs were so awful that the initial ship in each class has been complete for years now, and only this month has one of them even been able to finally depart on its first deployment. No real information on the abilities and liabilities of either design been accumulated.

But the Navy is desperately short on ships, a condition that is only getting worse.  So the idea of downselecting to one program was tossed out, and both ships were ordered into production. One suspects a good deal of corporate rentseeking was at work here. Both design teams have spread around contracts to numerous congressional districts with powerful representatives, making it far more difficult to cancel either program. And if the Navy had chose just one design, the almost inevitable contract protest would have tied the Navy in knots for years, with cases winding their way through the courts, at immense expense to the taxpayer, and no benefit to the Navy.

So here we are, with the Navy already contracted for 24 of a planned 52 LCS ships (a dozen of each of the competing designs). VADM Copeman’s document is the first to see the light of day from Big Navy that even raises the possibility that maybe the LCS isn’t what the Navy needs. I’m rather surprised he hasn’t been hung from the yardarm yet.

Is upgunning one of the designs the right way to go? I  don’t know. I suspect it isn’t, but it may be quicker than any alternative, which has a merit of its own. Drawing out a shipbuilding program over more years is rarely a way of saving money or improving the product.  Personally, I’d probably rather see a “half a Burke” platform, with the powerplant cut in half, a smaller missile battery, and a lightweight SPY-1F/SPY-1K combat system. But the temptation to gold plate such a platform would be almost unbearable, and you’d quickly wind up simply buying more of the regular DDG-51 Burke’s, which, since the whole point is to find a low cost, low end ship, would defeat the purpose.

As to the Flight III Burke, with its Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) to replace the current SPY-1D/Aegis combat system, VADM Copeman is leery of pushing the Burke platform to such fine growth margins. That’s a fair concern. But personally, I’d like to see a short run of Flt III ships shake out the AMDR before we take the next logical step of building a newer, more powerful plant and hull.  Built a little, test a lot, learn a lot.

Whatever differences of opinion I may have with VADM Copeman, I certainly am glad to see someone with some rational thought applied to the composition of the surface fleet, and the Navy’s shipbuilding program.

{Update}- Of course, CDR Salamander had his take up first, and more comprehensively.

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So, Elizzar asked in the comments from yesterday’s links post:

what about the zumwalt class, do you think they should be axed now (i do)?

I’m actually far less critical of the DDG-1000 USS Zumwalt than I am of the Littoral Combat Ship program.

The DDG-1000 is expensive. Let’s be honest and admit it, the cost is stupendous.  But there are some major differences between this program and LCS.

For one thing, LCS is actually two, TWO programs in one. Two ships, completely different designs, combat systems, training programs, maintenance and training pipelines, you name it. Even if either iteration of LCS was all that and a bag of chips, the dual track nature of the program is still terribly wasteful, duplicating costs while providing no discernable benefit.

I find it interesting that LCS started kinda sorta as a research project and has evolved into a full blown production program. DDG-1000 started as a full blown production program, but has since been scaled back to something akin to a long term research program.

Both the LCS and the DDG-1000 programs use a lot of new, untested technologies. But whereas the LCS program sometimes seems to have been a case where new ideas were tossed in just because, in the DDG-1000 program, the new technologies were inserted to fulfill specific requirements.  Whether those choices were right and proper is certainly debatable, but there was at least a thought process involved.

For you non-naval types, let’s take a brief look at the Zumwalt.


Click to embiggenfy

While the DDG-1000 is classified as a Destroyer, it is far larger than any previous destroyer in the world, and larger than many cruisers. The radical tumblehome hull form was adopted for stealth characteristics. Same thing with the weird looking composite deckhouse. It’s made of composites sandwiched around balsa wood.

The new Multifunction Radar (MFR) and Dual Band Radar DBR) were designed to operate more effectively in the littorals, which have a huge amount of radar clutter.

The Integrated Power System means the main powerplant no longer drives the screw shafts, but is a large electrical generation plant. Electric motors drive the screws. That adds costs and complexity to the design, but also has some benefits. With the incredible proliferation of electronics aboard warships, older designs can become power critical, with Ships Service Turbine Generators unable to provide the margin needed. By integrating the entire plant, the ship will have plenty of generation capacity. It also provides some level of graceful degradation in a damage control sense. Any part of the generation system can power either shaft.

The Total Ship Computing Environment is  a reflection 0f the fact that the last series of Destroyers, the DDG-51 class, was designed before the personal computer revolution. Yes, ships did have computers, especially for applications such as NTDS, but the idea of virtually everything being networked was far, far in the future.

The Peripheral Vertical Launch System addresses a weakness of the current Mk41 VLS. As a single unit, if any  part of the Mk41 is damaged, the whole system is likely unavailable, cutting a ship’s firepower in half or more. And should a Mk41 explode, being on the centerline, there’s a goodly chance it would break the ship’s keel, and lead to the loss of the ship. The Mk57 PVLS uses several modules mounted away from the ship’s centerline. The loss of any one would be bad, but not catastrophic. Similarly, an explosion in one would vent outboard, and while would be very bad, would be far less likely to lead to the loss of the ship.

The 155mm Advanced Gun System is a recognition that the 5”/62 gun on major US warships is really not much of a weapon when it comes to supporting Marine maneuver on the ground.

All of these innovations are expensive. But the history of warship design suggests strongly that many of them will become the normal technique for shipbuilding in coming generations.  Will some be mere historical curiosities? Likely, yes. But many more will likely be normal.

Further, where the LCS program bought a hull and propulsion system, and then tried to design innovative technologies alongside, the DDG-1K has developed and tested prototypes of most of the technologies before ever cutting ship steel. There have certainly been technical issues with some of the components, but it’s a lot easier to fix a design before you install it on a ship.

The stupendous budget for DDG-1000 has mostly been in the research and development of the underlying innovations. Yes, the ship itself is painfully expensive, but not by the orders of magnitude you might think looking at the raw budget numbers.  And the lessons learned developing the technologies is corporate knowledge that will stay with the Navy.

Programmatically,  the program has been almost a poster child for effective program management when compared to the utter “dumpster fire” that LCS has been.

So while I’m not a huge fan of DDG-1000, and think quite a few of the underlying assumptions behind the program are flawed, I’m not terribly keen to see it cancelled. I think as the three ships enter the fleet and become something akin to operational testbeds, they’ll serve as interesting and useful think tanks to advance naval science.



Littoral Combat Ships- How not to buy ships

Lots of LCS news going around the last couple days. First, Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work released a summary of the development of the program in a Naval War College report:

CDR Salamander takes his usual poke at the bear.

I don’t think one can hang this on Rumsfeld if that is part of this angle; I don’t think it is, but it can be read as such. So, in a word; no.
LCS was and is a product of senior leadership from Admirals Clark, Mullen, and especially Roughead. Without their full-throated advocacy and willing smoke screens, LCS would not have survived – for good or bad.
I enjoy this next bit as, for those who missed it, it catches perfectly the “we are smarter than everyone who came before … all is new, and don’t question by beautiful vision…” vibe that resonated throughout the Chain of Command at the time[,]

And I think he’s right. Go read his whole post, and the comments, especially the one  comment about the perils of thinking outside the box.

A fundamental conceptual flaw in the modern construct of “transformation” is its emptiness. Any idiot can “think out of the box,” as many idiots tend to be serial practitioners. But, to achieve useful out-of-box thoughts, one has to thoroughly understand ones “box” in the first place. Historically transformation thinkers, like Mahon, were professionals who had deeply studied, practiced and achieved high levels of expertise. They tend to have thoroughly decomposed and analyzed their profession and craft though broader lenses, so that possibilities were understood in context with real world constraints…

Galrahn at Information Dissemination has a scalding piece on just what  a dogs breakfast the development of the LCS program has been.

The OPNAV Report put together by Rear Admiral Samuel Perez was completed early last year and is so brutally honest about the Littoral Combat Ship the Navy can’t even release a declassified version for public consumption because it would, legitimately, be too embarrassing and likely damage the non-existent credibility of the LCS program. The OPNAV Report was exactly what the Navy asked for, an honest assessment of what is needed to fix the Littoral Combat Ship, and it turned out that honesty was also brutally ugly. God bless Rear Admiral Perez for doing a wonderful job that legitimately may actually save the Littoral Combat Ship program. Noteworthy, Rear Admiral Perez got promoted for his good work before he was sent off to the State Department where his career will likely end and no one will ever hear from him for the rest of his career. I’d love to be wrong on that last point, but historically when a Flag Officer gets sent to the State Department, it is like the Russians sending a General to command a remote barracks in Siberia.

Much to my surprise, even as he writes such a devastating post, he still comes to the conclusion that LCS is the way forward. It ain’t, but that’s an argument for another day.

USS Freedom LCS-1

There has been both a historical model for development of ships for the Navy, (cue QM’s rally cry for the return of the General Board) and a current programmatic program, under the DoD 5000 series regulations, for program management.

Prior to the advent of Robert McNamara as SecDef, for the most part, each service pursued its own procurement strategies. If the Army wanted a tank, it designed a tank (or contracted someone to do it for them). The Air Force didn’t feel the need to consult the Army or the Navy when laying out the specifications for a new bomber.  And of course, the Navy thought it best knew what characteristics any new ship should have.

McNamara is famous for forcing the services to find commonality across platforms with checkered success. Nudging the Air Force to buy the F-4 Phantom and the A-7 Corsair worked out pretty well. But trying to cram two entirely different mission sets into the TFX led to the F-111 fiasco.

But more than just forcing the services to cooperate on particular platforms, he effectively rescinded service authority to manage weapons systems procurement. If the Air Force wanted to buy a new plane, it had to justify to the Office of SecDef (OSD) the role and mission of the plane, and explain why that role and mission should be an Air Force role. For a notional example, should the Air Force have bought the A-10 as a close air support platform, or would that money have been better spent on tube and rocket artillery or other weapons for the Army?  The point being, before any major procurement program began, the services had to explain what role or mission they needed to fulfill, what were the best alternatives to fulfilling that role, what was the best platform needed to fulfill that role, and explain how they intended to do so.  Oversight from OSD was there to provide some rationality, and to avoid duplication of effort, and theoretically impose some joint interoperability at the same time. Over the years, this process has been codified into law.

While this leads to a good deal of bureaucratic complexity, it’s not an unalloyed evil, either. The process tends to keep some semblance of rationality in the process. Benchmarks for capability and cost can be reasonably forecast and thus provide feedback on the health of the program.

Sadly, in the case of the Littoral Combat Ship, all this went out the window. Read the embedded article by Under Secretary Work, and you’ll see that the LCS outside the mainstream process took place with little outside “red teaming” of the concept.  Originally the LCS concept was sold as almost a technology demonstrator. It was, as such, a very high risk program. Virtually every part of the program was untried. New hull forms, construction standards and techniques, new combat systems, new manning and deployment concepts, new “mission modules” that are being developed concurrently (every one of which appears to be in utter disarray).  And yet, somehow, a technology demonstration program suddenly became the centerpiece of the next generation of small(ish) surface combatants.

At the same time, the US Navy is facing block obsolescence of several platforms. The FFG-7 OHP frigates are tired and due for replacement. The Navy’s small (and shrinking) fleet of mine countermeasure ships is increasingly unable to support the needs of the fleet. The small number of Navy PC class ships, designed to support special operations forces, are worn out, and overworked.  And so the LCS, which were sold as a new concept in fleet operations, evolved into the replacement for these ships. And it isn’t even a jack of all trades, let alone master of none. It’s more like the 3 of clubs.

CDR Salamander above says not to lay the blame at Rumsfeld’s feet. Well, to be honest, I do, for once, “Blame Bush!”  With the Bush Administration focused on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, he and Rumsfeld paid scant attention to the Navy’s shipbuilding program. They gave a generous amount to the Navy’s Shipbuilding Construction and Repair budget, and pretty much left the Navy up to its own devices after that. Little strategic guidance about what fleet numbers, composition, roles, and missions should be. Even less oversight was given to ship characteristics.  With little oversight from the normal DoD 5000 process, successive senior uniformed leadership, particularly CNOs, had excessive influence on the development of the LCS program, and were able to shout down complaints and concerns from other folks, particularly the end users of the eventual LCS ships.

Galrahn wants to look forward with the LCS program. And to some extent, yeah, the Navy better figure out what they’ll do with LCS, because like it or not, it’s coming.

But we also need to look back to see how this mess happened to avoid repeating the mistaken process that brought the Navy to this point.

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Navy just 4 years away from laser cannon

From Wired:

The dream of sailors, nerds and sailor-nerds everywhere is on the verge of coming true, senior Navy technologists swear.  Within four years, they claim they’ll have a working prototype of a laser cannon, ready to place aboard a ship. And they’re just months away from inviting defense contractors to bid on a contract to build it for them.

“Subsonic cruise missiles, aircraft, fast-moving boats, unmanned aerial vehicles” — Mike Deitchman, who oversees future weapons development for the Office of Naval Research, promises Danger Room that the Navy laser cannons just over the horizon will target them all.

Or they will be, if ONR’s plans work out as promised — not exactly a strong suit of proposed laser weapons over the decades. (Note the decided lack of blast at your side.) First step in reaching this raygun reality: Finish up the paperwork. “The contract will probably have options go through four years, but depending on which laser source the vendors pick, we may be able to demo something after two years,” says Roger McGiness, who works on laser tech for Deitchman. “Our hope afterwards is to move to acquisition.”

Translated from the bureaucrat: After the Office of Naval Research can prove the prototype works, it’ll recommend the Navy start buying the laser guns. That process will begin in “30 to 60 days,” adds Deitchman, when his directorate invites industry representatives for an informal idea session. Deitchman and McGiness plan on putting a contract out for the prototype “by the end of the year.”…

From a technological perspective, the Navy thinks maritime laser weapons finally represent a proven, mature technology. The key point came last April, when the Navy put a test laser firing a (relatively weak) 15-kilowatt beam aboard a decommissioned destroyer. Never before had a laser cannon at sea disabled an enemy vessel. But the Martime Laser Demonstrator cut through choppy California waters, an overcast sky and salty sea air to burn through the outboard engine of a moving motorboat a mile away.  (Read more)

I thought we’d posted the test video, from last year, but if not:

Hum…. wonder if these will fit on the LCS?

I hear the first deployment is slated for the USS Alan Parsons….


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What the LCS should be…

So, in response to my babblings earlier about the US Navy’s destroyer strength in World War II, Ultima Ratio Regis had some thoughts on what an inshore warfare type ship should be. I disagree about the feasibility of his suggested ship, but I’ll note that contrary to the current US Navy Littoral Combat Ship, every weapon system he proposes is hardware, not vaporware. Proven technology. I’m not at all against innovation, but I recognize that starting a ship program in which EVERY part of the ship is untried is an almost certain road to failure.

Currently the Navy has a formidable force of high end surface combatants, both the Ticonderoga class cruisers, and the Burke class destroyers. Both classes feature the Aegis combat system, the SPY-1 phased array radar, and Mk41 Vertical Launch System missile launchers, with their ability to launch a variety of anti-air and land attack missile systems.  Both classes feature significant anti-submarine capability. Both classes were also creatures of the Cold War, originally envisaged as anti-air escorts for carrier groups in a blue water environment against massive Soviet saturation attacks. Over the years, they’ve certainly proven versatile enough to fulfill other missions across the spectrum of naval warfare. But these are high end assets. They aren’t cheap. Each costs billions of dollars.  There will always be more naval missions to perform than there are Tico/Burke hulls to perform them. Consequently, it makes sense to have a low end ship to fulfill those less critical missions.

Historically, that ship was the frigate or the “destroyer escort.” Conceived in World War II, destroyer escorts, later known as ocean escorts, and today, as frigates, had about half the engineering plant of a full destroyer. They were about 3/4 the length of a destroyer, but had a significantly smaller battery, with either three 3” guns, or two 5” guns, as opposed to a destroyer’s four or five 5” guns. They also lacked the large torpedo armament of destroyers. While most destroyers carried  from 10 to 16 tubes, DE’s carried, at most, three tubes. The point being, capability was sacrificed to gain numbers. Better a less capable ship on station than a perfectly capable ship that was busy somewhere else.

Today, the only frigates the Navy has left are about 30 of the FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry class ships.  Their main battery, the Mk13 guided missile launcher system was removed about a decade ago due to the high cost of maintenance.  While surrendering a good deal of the capability of a destroyer to achieve sufficient numbers makes a lot of sense, neutering the “Figs” has always struck me as silly. An FFG-7 is a lot of ship to carry around a 76mm gun.  The Figs were designed with a specific role in mind, the escort of merchant and amphibious shipping against limited air threats, and more specifically, against submarine threats.  That they have proven capable of fulfilling a wide variety of other roles is testimony to the inherent flexibility of ships as platforms of war and peace.

The Navy, has apparently decided that it no longer needs low end escort ships for open ocean protection of shipping. Fair enough. But if it doesn’t need low end warships for the ocean open, it has recognized that there are any number of places in “the littorals” that will require at a minimum a naval presence, and at worst, a tough fight in those waters. Similarly, there are a handful of key chokepoints where the majority of the world’s maritime trade passes through. Denying an enemy the ability to shut down those choke points is a key role for our Navy. The poster child for this concept, of course, is the Strait of Hormuz in the Arabian Gulf. I think it is a fair assumption that the Navy should have at least some ships optimized for that environment. That’s where the people are, that’s where the shipping is, and that’s where the threat is. The question is, what kind of ship should we have in that environment. That leads to two questions. First, what is the threat? Secondly, how do we want to address the threat?

Using the Strait of Hormuz as an example, the threat is actually a wide variety of weapon systems. Iran of course, is the most likely aggressor. Shipping in the area can be held at risk by Iranian conventional naval forces, submarines, airpower, sea mines, land based anti-ship missiles, and swarms of small boats, possibly including suicide bombers. Clearly, if things go to hell, it will be an unhealthy place.

If all threats are to be faced simultaneously, the full spectrum of our naval capabilities should be brought to bear, with the high end ships of the Tico and Burke classes engaging in anti-air and missile defense, as well as anti-surface and anti-submarine warfare. They would be supported by carrier based tactical air power, as well as land based airpower and other land based support such as signals intelligence.

But we can’t be strong everywhere at every time. Sometimes, at some places, you have to accept a degree of risk, and utilize a less capable platform. And if you are talking about a lower end platform, you’re almost by definition talking about a platform optimized for one warfare arena. In this case, I’d argue that the need is for an anti-surface warfare (ASuW) platform. Traditionally, since World War II, the US Navy has viewed the airplane as the best ASuW weapon, followed very closely by the nuclear powered attack submarine. That’s fine, if you’re facing a blue water fleet like the Soviets had.  Starting in the 1970s, surface combatants also began to be equipped with the A/R/U/GM-84 series Harpoon missile. It too was optimized for a blue water role.  But in the context of choke points like we’ve discussed above, the current threat isn’t a  large blue water fleet. It is a number of small missile armed Fast Attack Craft (FAC) and swarms of small boats, possibly operating as suicide boats.

The current LCS was originally designed to counter this threat. To successfully engage numbers of FACs meant that it had to be missile armed. The Harpoon is getting long in the tooth, and isn’t as effective against modern defenses as it once was. The missile chosen to replace it, the NLOS missile, was developed by the Army, but cancelled for technical reasons- they couldn’t get it to work. That left the LCS with no viable mid range weapon system against missile armed FACs.  As a counter to swarms of small boats, the LCS is armed with the 57mm Mk110 gun. This rapid fire gun has a short range, but a high rate of fire. Against small boats, it should be quite effective. The problem is, there’s only one gun on a 3000 frigate sized ship. And it only has an optical director. There’s no radar director for the gun. That limits its effectiveness as a defense against missiles, or during periods of limited visibility. And with only one gun, facing a potential swarm of boats, it has to “service” targets at a very high rate, killing quickly, and moving on to the next. That also has a tactical effect in that it virtually requires the ship to maneuver to keep all threats on one side of the ship. That is one reason the LCS has such an absurdly high speed requirement, to outmaneuver any swarm.

So we know what we don’t want. What do we want?

Well, in a perfect world, we’d be able to afford a specialized ship for constricted waters. That was the original intention for Streetfighter, that eventual grew into the colossus that is LCS.  My choice would be something along the lines of the South Korean Pohang class corvette.

About 1200 tons, 32 knots, up to 4000nm endurance, and a decent gun armament.  That’s the ASW variant above. I’d be tempted to combine it with the Harpoon armament of the ASuW variant. I’m willing to lose of of the twin 40mm mounts for that.

URR has a different take:

I assert that a Littoral Combat Ship that can actually survive combat in the Littorals would be an updated Gearing-type, with gas turbines, a helo deck, at least two 5″/62 mounts, CIWS, SeaRAM, and all the other modern features of the LCS designs. Tough, survivable, powerful units.

But alas, not “transformational”.

As I said in reply to him in that thread, I don’t think he’s calling for starting up the Gearing line again. I think he IS arguing that for 3000 tons, and well over $700 million dollars a pop, we should get more bang for our buck. And I certainly agree.

The problem is, the Navy has never liked small ships. First, the Navy has to send ships all over the world. That itself leads to larger ships, if only for the longer endurance.  Also, with the traditional reliance of quality over quantity in the US, a “second rate” ship is by itself something of a hard sell to Congress. So the tendency has been to make every platform as capable as possible. Finally, having vanquished every other fleet in the world, either by battle or mere existence, the Navy hasn’t fought a major surface action in a long time. Given the tight constraints on dollars, and especially on manpower (which is essentially the same thing as dollars), the temptation is to build a “fleet in being” as Mahan would say, and leave the smaller vessels to be procured on an expedient basis when needed. But there’s an old saying. A ship can only be in one place at a time. There is a need for a certain number of ships, and the only way to get them is to build a certain number of ships in the low-end of capability. As noted before, in the post World War II era, this role has been filled by the Destroyer Escort, or as it has variously been known, the Ocean Escort, or currently, the Frigate.  But those vessels were almost exclusively tailored to the blue-water Anti-submarine Warfare role. Today’s low end ship faces a different threat. In fact, a wide variety of threats.

To a certain extent, on a warship, more valuable than its weapons are its sensors. This fundamental shift in the role of a surface combatant was seen in World War II, where destroyers went from being an offensive and defensive adjunct to the battle line, to being screening vessels providing anti-aircraft fire for the carriers, to the picket role at the end of the war, where destroyers were positioned well in advance of the main body and their primary weapons weren’t their guns or torpedoes, but rather their air search radars, and the overhead Combat Air Patrol of fighters that they directed against Japanese attacks. Weapons on hand were strictly for last ditch self defense.

One large Aegis equipped cruiser or destroyer may have an awesome array of sensors, but the fact is, radar range hasn’t changed significantly since World War II. The physics of radio wave propagation mean the radar horizon for a surface mounted radar just aren’t going to be pushed back much. Signal processing advances have improved the likelihood of detection against a cluttered background, but not the range of that detection.  That in itself is a powerful argument for an approach emphasizing numbers over quality.  Sharing that information requires datalinks among all the platforms in a task force. Indeed, the Navy was among the very first computer users to use any form of networking. And it is the very cost of those combat systems, far more than the hull, machinery, and even the weapons mounts themselves, that drives up the costs of warships. The need to include them drives not just direct costs. In spite of the enormous leaps in computer technology over the years, the space required to operate these systems has actually grown. First, no commander has ever thought he had enough computer power or features. Second, the improvements in television technology means the displays for these systems have grown. That provides better information to the warfighter, but still drives up the size of the space needed to control a warship. And if you drive up the size of one space, you tend to drive up the size of all spaces. Which, since it’s a bigger, more expensive ship… you’re tempted to add just one more weapon, sensor, or technology. Don’t forget, the Ticonderoga and Burke class ships were both designed as austere alternatives to programs that died. Heck, the 14,0000 DDG-1000 Zumwalt program was originated as an austere, single mission alternative to the Burke! So, if you wish to design a smaller, low end platform, you, as  CNO, NAVSEA, or a program manager, must be utterly ruthless.  The very first thing you have to accept is that your ship won’t do all the things you want it to do. The one thing it can do, that other ships can’t, is BE THERE.

You have to, very early on, make the decision to freeze the weapon systems, combat systems, and other basic characterisics of a ship. In reviewing the design history of many ships, particularly those in the last 50 years, even Admirals seem consistently surprised to find that adding “just one little thing” drives the size and cost of ships into an ever increasing spiral. Simply adding 500 miles to the endurance of a ship can cause radical changes, and with those changes comes the desire to add ever more to the platform, since you’re already spending so much on it.

CDR Salamander, Galrahn at Information Dissemination, and a whole hatful of naval bloggers have pondered on what the best low end design for a ship would be, with many of them pointing to various European designs, particularly the Absalom class.

As I see it, the Navy actually needs two new ship designs, one a classic escort, and one a corvette sized vessel.

One of the reasons the LCS grew to such proportions was the realization that it would be forced, by the lack of other ships, to fulfill the role currently played by FFG-7 OH Perry frigates. So, why not just build a frigate instead? I’d be very happy to see repeat Perry class frigates. About 50 of them. The ONLY change I would make is to replace the Mk-13 guided missile launcher system (which has been removed, in any case) with a small, 8 to 16 cell Mk41 Vertical Launch System. We know that’s feasible. The Australians have done it. And the ONLY missile I’d plan for would be the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM). It has almost the same range and capability as the earlier SM-1 Standard/Tartar system. It would also provide a significant, if expensive, anti-surface capability against small craft.

If that wasn’t enough, there was a notion back about 1990, to build “half a Burke” with half the powerplant (that is, only two LM2500 turbines) on two screws. The SPY-1/Aegis system would have been deleted in favor of a Mk92 fire control system similar to the Perry class. It would have cost more than a Perry, and been slightly slower, but would still maintain a 64-cell VLS, longer range, and more space for growth.

The link above has several other viable approaches to low cost frigates. The Navy has the ideas, what they don’t have is the power to decide on a reasonable course of action.

As for a corvette sized vessel, one which could fulfill much of the routine work in coastal waters, such as Vessel Boarding, Search and Seizure, Search and Rescue, Counterdrug Patrols, Presence Patrols, and Surveillance and Sea Control, I’d look to a ship the US has already designed and built, the Israeli   Sa’ar V class of ships.  That’s right. They were designed and built here in the US, and Litton already holds the license to build them.

Of course, none of this matters. The Navy, with the aid and comfort of the OSD, will continue on its idiotic plan to buy the LCS in large numbers. And it will continue to suffer the consequences.



Littoral Warfare, Old School.

It is very rare there is something new under the sun. I’m still working on the next installment of our Falklands War series. But in the same vein, Eagle 1 is beginning a series on the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II.

May I suggest you go read?

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How not to design warships

Littoral Combat Ship LCS-1 USS Freedom

Image by avhell via Flickr

This article at Danger Room has been making the rounds. It is probably the best non-technical explanation of what a disaster the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program has been.

With an enormous splash and cheers from spectators, the 378-foot-long vessel Freedom slid sideways into the Menominee River in Wisconsin. It was Sept. 23, 2006, and the U.S. Navy had just launched its first brand-new warship class in nearly 20 years.

Freedom also represented a new strategy. Where previous warships had been tailored for open-ocean warfare using guns, missiles and torpedoes, Freedom — the first so-called Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS — was designed for a new kind of coastal combat. It was smaller, more maneuverable. And instead of relying on sheer firepower, it carried few of its own weapons. Instead, it would function as a mothership for super-sophisticated robots that would do most of the ship’s fighting.

Freedom was also cheaper than older ships: just $600 million, compared to more than $1 billion for most other vessels. The Navy hoped to buy as many as 55 LCSs for around $40 billion, reversing the U.S. fleet’s steady numerical decline that began in the late 1980s.

There was so much promise invested in one “small” ship. “It comes none too soon,” Adm. Mike Mullen, then chief of naval operations, said of Freedom’s arrival, “because there are tough challenges out there that only she can handle.”

But the fanfare and Mullen’s optimism masked deep problems in the LCS program. Freedom was years late and $400 million over its original cost estimate. None of its robotic systems was ready for combat. Five years later, they still weren’t ready, preventing Freedom from undertaking any real-world missions more serious than a Caribbean drug hunt.

Meanwhile, the Chinese, faced with a somewhat different problem in the littorals, have managed to put into being a reasonable response, and in huge numbers.

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A starboard bow view of the guided missile fri...

Image via Wikipedia

I think I’ve made my contempt for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program pretty clear. What started as a pretty good idea for a cheap, almost expendable platform for use in constricted waters like the Persian Gulf, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and parts of the Western Pacific, instead grew to to be a 3000 ton jack of all trades. Every shop in the Navy that had anything to do with designing or (eventually using) the LCS put in its two cents worth into the configuration, and the good idea fairy showed up a time or two as well.

Instead of a simple patrol or fast attack craft, suddenly, the LCS was supposed to tackle the Anti-Surface Warfare, Anti-Submarine Warfare, and Anti-Mine Warfare roles. All on one vessel, and oh, yeah, can you make it go almost twice as fast as most warships? Oh, and don’t spend a lot of money!

The Navy has steadfastly denied that either of the two variants of the LCS are a replacement for the FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates. But it is quickly decommissioning the “Figs” with no replacements, while buying fairly large numbers of similarly sized vessels- that is, the LCS.

To be honest, the LCS really isn’t a replacement for the OHP class. The OHPs were the culmination of a long, long line of designs dating from the Destroyer Escorts of World War Two intended for “Ocean Escort.” The Navy has never been able to afford all the destroyers, cruisers and other high end ships it wants. Accordingly, the high end ships like destroyers have been tasked to the screening of fast carrier task forces, and a series of lower cost, slightly slower, more austerely armed ships were built to provided escort to transatlantic convoys or to amphibious task forces.  Since the Navy hasn’t had to send convoys to Europe in a long time, these frigates have also been used for a hodge-podge of other secondary purposes. For instance, enforcing the blockade on Iraqi oil after Desert Storm meant that a lot of ships had to be approached and often boarded. And the Figs spent a lot of time doing this. After the invasion of Iraq in 2003, they supported interdiction efforts to prevent smuggling or attacks on Iraqi oil terminals. They are also often tasked to support anti-drug operations in the Caribbean.

A few years ago, with the Cold War pressure to maintain the ability to escort convoys to Europe eased by the demise of the Soviet Union, and with increasing maintenance costs, the Navy decided to remove the Figs guided missile launcher. This reduced operating, manning and maintenance costs, but left the Figs woefully inadequate for Anti-Air (AAW) or Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW). In effect, the Navy ended up with really big patrol boats.  And the LCS will be more of the same.

The US Navy has never really liked small patrol boats. Partly this is just a bias toward large ships, and partly it is a perception that smaller vessels can be bought quickly if a real need for them develops.  But every generation or so, there is pressure on the Navy to buy smaller, relatively cheap patrol vessels. In the 60s, it was the Asheville class, in the early 80s, it was the Pegasus class, and in the 90s, it was the Cyclone class. In each case, the Navy bought a small number of ships, then promptly ignored them and tried to forget about them. But even if the ships weren’t ideal, that didn’t mean they weren’t useful. The Cyclone class are some of the busiest ships in the Navy, supporting operations in the Persian Gulf.

So the Navy finds itself today without a decent frigate or patrol boat, and with the overcost, gold plated LCS program that is sucking up shipbuilding dollars, but mostly sitting pier side and streaking rust. What should be done?

1. Cancel the LCS program.

2. Build a modernized FFG-7 class frigate

3. Buy a modern, low cost patrol boat.

The LCS buy should be cancelled, and the existing ships used as test beds for the “modular mission” concept. It may well be that customizing the outfit of a ship is the way of the future, but the technology isn’t developed to the point of being ready to deploy. Quit throwing good money after bad because of an insane obsession with speed. Speed costs money, and it also costs a lot of design compromises that limit the utility of the ships.

The Navy desperately needs a large number of frigate type vessels for escort of convoy or other low end missions. The current fleet of Figs is old and getting older, and refitting them for continued service would be costly and only add a few extra years to their service lives. As ships age, problems with corrosion and wear and tear on their propulsion systems, plumbing and wiring become more and more expensive to fix. But the basic FFG design is sound. The most critical shortcoming of the current FFG design is the lack of a guided missile system, and CDR Salamander shows us that a fix for that issue is already available.  While the Frigate Upgrade Program hasn’t been trouble free, the heavy lifting has already been done. And incorporating it from the keel up in a new build would be even easier than trying to refurbish an old ship. My personal preference for these notional new-builds would dispose of the Mk13 launcher, and increase the Mk41 VLS system from 8 cells to 16. With a mix of say, 32 RIM-162 ESSM and 8 SM-2 missiles, if that isn’t enough local air defense, you shouldn’t have a Fig there anyway. You need  a DDG-51 Burke. But even if we just keep the 8 cell launcher and go with a mix of 4 SM-2 and 16 ESSM, I’d be satisfied. It’s a heck of a lot more air defense than they have now. The unused magazine space where the Mk13 used to be installed could be used for berthing space or some other purpose. The open deck space where the Mk13 used to be could be used for a Mk38Mod2 25mm gun. And building new would allow for modest upgrades in the ships electrical generation and wiring, as well as allowing networking be built in from the start, rather than being squeezed in as an afterthought. The key concept here though, is to be utterly ruthless in restricting the cost growth of the ship. The idea is to buy a low end warship, so whenever faced with the choice of adding capability and cost, or accepting a limited capability, the program manager MUST accept limited capability.

Much like the LAARA program can provide 80% of the capability at 20% of the cost, a small but well supported patrol boat program would let the Navy perform many of its missions in constricted waters at low cost. By not using high end ships for simple missions like Search and Rescue, Vessel Board Search and Seize (VBSS) and such, the Navy can let those ships focus on performing their main wartime missions, and stop spending precious dollars having a billion dollar warship chasing pirates armed with AK-47s. One excellent example of a good patrol boat is the Australian Armidale class patrol boats. The Australian Navy has a long history of using patrol boats along its extensive northern coast. We could learn a few lessons from them.


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