Thursday, February 4, 2016

A Correction and Apology on My Last Post

     In my last post I identified the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) Dr. J. Michael Gilmore as directly connected to a March 2003 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study entitled "Transforming the Navy's Surface Combatant Force." The actual author of that report was Dr. Eric J. Labs who continues to serve as the CBO's naval analyst. Dr. Labs is a very respected member of the naval analysis community and has produced some of its very best analytical work in the last two decades. He let me know that he alone did the work and was responsible for the report's content. Dr. Gilmore was his supervisor, but not involved in the report's creation or conclusions.
    As someone who has written two Master's theses and is engaged in writing a PhD dissertation, I appreciate the hard work and sometimes years of effort that go into the creation of such works. I apologize for not giving Dr. Labs the sole credit for his work.
    I encourage both supporters and opponents of the Littoral Combat Ship program to read Dr. Lab's 2003 report. It remains an excellent overview of challenges and choices the U.S. Navy has in fielding effective small combatants in the 21st century.

Very respectfully,
Steven Wills (aka Lazarus)

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

1980’s Era Test and Evaluation Organization Seeks 1980’s Vintage Warship

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in 2013 trials (

     The Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E’s) latest (2015) report on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program would at first glance appear another in a long line of damning reports suggesting the Navy end the troubled littoral combatant effort. A deeper examination, however, suggests a test and evaluation organization hopelessly locked in a 1980’s era of naval design. DOT&E demands the highest levels of physical survivability for the LCS sea frame as if this part of the LCS system alone was to be exclusively employed in high-end naval conflict. It excoriates the lack of progress in mission module development and sea frame reliability, and demands greater levels of testing, but sometimes grounds its disapproval of some LCS program elements on the result of just one test. The test and evaluation authority is unhappy that the sea frame crew cannot diagnose and repair all equipment casualties. This is not surprising as the LCS concept places a substantial portion of the system’s maintenance with shore-based facilities and units. The rest of the report is a “gotcha” list of details on the progress, or lack thereof in the various LCS mission modules and two sea frames. Perhaps it is time for DOT&E to leave the 1980’s and realize that a modular warship cannot be so directly compared with and tested to the same standards as its multi-mission, unitary capability predecessors.
     The first paragraph of the DOT&E report states, “The now-planned use of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) as a forward-deployed combatant, where it might be involved intense naval conflict, appears to be inconsistent with its inherent survivability in those same environments.” The report also says, “DOT&E does not expect either LCS variant to be survivable in high-intensity combat because the design requirements accept the risk that the crew would have to abandon ship under circumstances that would not require such action on other surface combatants,” and “Much of the ship’s mission capability would have been lost because of damage caused by the initial weapons effects or the ensuing fire.”
     DOT&E personnel must not have read or disagree with the descriptions and concepts of operations published by various authorities on the LCS program. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work’s 2013 Naval War College paper on LCS makes it very clear that the Navy has always accepted limitations in the LCS’s survivability in favor of low cost and greater numbers. Both sea frames are larger and more physically survivable than the Avenger class mine countermeasures ships (MCM’s) and Cyclone class patrol coastal ships (PC’s) that they replace.[1] They are still robust ships in that they can survive upwards of 15% of their floodable length being compromised while remaining afloat.
      They are smaller and less physically survivable then the previous Perry class frigates but have equally robust active and passive defense systems. Unlike the FFG’s, the LCS is not intended to operate alone in high threat environments. If damaged in battle the LCS is designed to limp back to base and not attempt to” return to the fight” as are so-called high-end U.S. surface warships.[2] Large cruise missiles and torpedoes are the likely weapons of an enemy in what the DOT&E report describes as “intense naval conflict.” It remains to be seen, however, that any warship could meet the test and evaluation authority’s demands for “survivability.” The DDG-51 class USS Cole was completely disabled in an October 2000 terrorist attack by what some experts described as a 400-700 pound shaped charge warhead.[3] The Russian supersonic P-270 Moskit cruise missile has a warhead estimated to be 700 pounds of which 300 are actual explosive.[4] The impact of even one such weapon at supersonic speed would likely disable any U.S. surface combatant, making DOT&E’s criticism of LCS survivability in “intense naval conflict” a moot point if physical resistance to damage is the primary concern. The Navy has accepted limitations in the LCS design from the inception of the program. DOT&E is welcome to disagree, but they need to say that in their report and not compare LCS to higher capability warships that are little more survivable if hit by cruise missiles likely to be employed by U.S. opponents.
   In a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on LCS released last month, DOT&E was very critical of the lack of testing within the LCS program. It suggested that, “The sparse data available do not allow a strong statement about LCS’s ability to meet requirements in other operational scenarios.”[5] One month later, DOT&E’s year-end report on LCS questioned the suitability and reliability of the Independence sea frame based on testing of one representative of the class. The DOT&E report lists a number of equipment casualties and other problems, but does not compare these faults against previous ships under similar test circumstances. A laundry list of equipment faults encountered during a testing cycle is useless without comparison to a deployed, functional unit of the class, or another ship engaged in a similar test and evaluation cycle. Despite this, the operational test and evaluation authority seems content to fault the LCS program based on the same limited testing they recently deplored.
     DOT&E criticizes the LCS sea frames crews because, “they do not have adequate training, tools, and technical documentation to diagnose failures or correct them when they occur.” The testing agency acknowledges the emphasis on off-board LCS maintenance when it states, “By design, the ship’s small crew does not have the capacity to effect major repairs. Instead, the Navy’s support concept depends on the use of remote assistance in trouble shooting problems and the use of Navy repair organizations and contractors for repair assistance.” Despite this admission, DOT&E makes the superficial criticism that, “the Navy’s limited stock of repair parts for LCS systems, many of which were sourced from offshore vendors, can result in long logistics delays and occasionally forces the Navy to resort to cannibalization of another ship in order to expedite repairs.” These comments sound more like the usual criticisms of the LCS program from the GAO and CBO, rather than observations on operational testing of LCS capabilities. This is perhaps not surprising given that DOT&E Director Dr. J. Michael Gilmore is a veteran of the CBO and was a critic of the LCS concept while serving in that office’s National Security Division.[6] Dr. Gilmore may very well continue to object to the idea of off-board maintenance support. If so, he should make that clear in his report, and not blame parts shortages. As with its survivability definition, DOT&E’s concept of proper ship maintenance seems grounded in past decades where a warship’s operational and repair capabilities were resident on a unitary hull. The LCS concept tries to limit the costs of maintenance by separating some aspects of the ship’s missions and capabilities from its hull as suggested in a 2006 RAND report commissioned by the Navy to investigate the spiraling cost of naval surface combatants.[7]
USS Coronado fires 57mm gun in 2014 trials (
     The operational test and evaluation office puts on a different “public face” when its 1980’s-era testing methods are criticized. In a recent response to an article by Sidney Freedberg Jr. on the website entitled, “LCS Test Vs. Fast Attack Boats ‘Unfair”, DOT&E fell back on a familiar defense to justify its criticisms. The office stated that it accepted that, “LCS is being introduced in an incremental manner,” and that it, “accepted the Navy’s defined success criteria to assess these events.” Despite this, DOT&E goes on to say that, “In a real battle, there would be a good chance LCS might have sustained damage at that point that could have affected its subsequent capability to successfully repel the attack.” This statement shows the test and evaluation office insists on measuring the Navy by its own standards and not those the Navy desired,  in spite of accepting the Navy test criteria. It would be helpful for DOT&E to publish a list of their experts involved in monitoring the LCS program to assess whether or not the test and evaluation authority has the operational experience to be as critical as it has been of the littoral combat ship program.
     The 2015 report includes substantial material from past years’ reporting which makes the laundry list of LCS faults appear more dangerous and distressing. Such reports on warship faults have been the stock and trade of Congressional watchdog groups like DOT&E, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) since the early 1970’s. They are absolute requirements for organizations whose primary mission and reason for continued funding and existence is finding fault.
     LCS was never intended to be as survivable in high-end naval combat as previous warships were designed. The modular warship was designed as a component of a joint, networked battle force whose payloads are more important than the platforms that carry them. LCS is a compromise platform that included elements of previous frigate, patrol and mine warfare platforms. It sacrifices some of the physical survivability of the previous frigate design in achievement of numbers of ships. It forgoes redundancy and other physical characteristics of survivability in favor of active and passive defenses that maximize its ability to field modular payloads. It does not have to replicate the physical and capability-based survivability of larger warships. To do so would increase its price, limit its modular capabilities and needlessly replicate what is already provided by high- end combatants like the DDG 51 class destroyer. Demanding that LCS be more physically "survivable" in order to play a role in high end combat, and retain maximum maintenance and repair abilities aboard represent past naval designs whose costs are not sustainable in building a low end surface warship for present need. In demanding legacy, expensive capabilities in LCS, DOT&E is in effect demanding that MTV play music videos, even when every such program is available in seconds to a customer on youtube. DOT&E is clearly locked in a 1980's assessment of a 21st century battle network force.

Monday, February 1, 2016

LCS vs. Swarm--Some Thoughts on Which to Chew

I generally tend to avoid the storm und drang around LCS for a couple of basic reasons. First, I am far less qualified to talk about its strengths and weaknesses than many others who do so and second, I occasionally reserve the right to believe that the Navy is capable of figuring out hard problems and fixing them. So while I believe LCS does in fact, have some limitations, I have a suspicion that it will someday be a lot like the F-16 was in the Air Force--disregarded at first, but then eventually embraced after bugs were worked out and operational effectiveness was demonstrated.

Which brings me to the latest kerfuffle surrounding LCS, the Tony Cappacio story for Bloomberg that lays out some of the DOT&E findings about the swarm test they ran on LCS 4.

Perhaps I should establish my bona fides.  I commanded a Flight IIA destroyer, and that destroyer was equipped with a number of systems that would have utility in the situation under test, including a five inch gun, .50 cal mounts, 25mm Chain guns, and a CIWS 1B mount that had anti-surface capability. Additionally, I had over 100,000 shaft horsepower and the ability to go thirty plus knots.

And let me be frank with you--against a multi-azimuthal attack of numerous fast boats I have a feeling one may have been able to make it through my "ring of steel" to get a shot off at me with some kind of shoulder fired weapon. Put another way, this is a TOUGH threat that we have been talking about for a long time, and we are only now beginning to make headway on it.

Secondly, NAVSEA released video of the test which is worth watching

As I watched the video, two questions came to my mind:

1. Which platform would I rather have been on in this exchange--the LCS or the attacking RHIBs? I get it. That's not what the test was there to prove. As a spectator and interested navalist, it occurred to me.

2.  What were the maneuvering restrictions placed on the LCS in order to facilitate the test?  Was it able to use its speed and maneuverability as part of a total ship system test? Or was this essentially a test in which the ship had one arm tied behind its back? I haven't had the time to get through the report linked to above to see if such restrictions were placed on the ship--but I suspect they were.

Don't get me wrong--I understand completely the value of operational testing that ties hands behind backs in order to ascertain performance data. And if such testing provides insights into how the ship can be improved, I'm all for it. While they are at it, I'd like to see all those toys on the DDG above networked together into a coherent system that makes use of radar and EO/IR data for targeting. 

But in the meantime--I urge readers to try and keep things in perspective.  All ships have vulnerabilities. The threats they face are increasing. In war, we will lose ships--small and large.

Bryan McGrath

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Reforming the Navy Secretariat: Bureaucratic Requirements to Achieve a Vision of American Seapower

This post is a summary of ideas that have been germinating in my mind for a while. I have been arguing for a powerful vision of American Seapower for some time now, and closer Navy/Marine Corps integration has consistently been at the heart of it. I have come to conclude that the benefits of what I argue are worth pursuing, but that achieving them is unlikely as long as the two Services are not invested in a common understanding of American Seapower and led by an organization dedicated to discerning one.

In the Navy, I enjoyed four tours in Washington. Admittedly, none of them were on the Navy Secretariat, and so I do not write from a position of great authority on its inner workings. My observations are those of an interested observer who has worked around and in the vicinity of this staff. I welcome factual refutations of my opinions and observations.

Theory of the Case:
America plays a critical and leading role in the world
It is in America’s interest to continue to execute this role.
America has interests that are thousands of miles from its own territory.
America’s sovereign territory is relatively safe from military threat.
The rise of China and a resurgent and belligerent Russia present a new era of Great Power competition.
America is likely to encounter China and Russia as an adversary in areas contiguous to the world’s oceans, as this is where the majority of the world’s population lives.
The Department of the Navy has within it two Armed Services that specialize in operating from the sea.
These Armed Services provide the world’s most powerful naval force, the world’s most feared middleweight land force, and the world’s most mobile and lethal air force.
These forces—if properly resourced—are capable of servicing the majority of U.S. presence, conventional deterrence, assurance, and crisis response requirements.
In order to do so, these expeditionary capabilities must be more closely integrated into a cohesive and integral maritime fighting force, a new vision of American Seapower.
In order to achieve a new vision of American Seapower, a closer alignment of all aspects of organizing, training, and equipping the Navy and Marine Corps must be considered. Planning, programming, and budgeting must also be included. Redundancy, overlap, and conflict must be minimized.
The Department of the Navy Secretariat, under the Secretary of the Navy, is the organization that must bring about this closer integration and alignment.
Process and administrative changes in the Secretariat and throughout the two Services will be required.

America’s role in the world and its favorable geography create the conditions under which Seapower can and should play a central and distinct role in its security and prosperity. By combining the capabilities of the world’s most powerful Navy, the world’s most feared middleweight land force, and the world’s most mobile and lethal air force, the Department of the Navy plays a leading role in all of the missions of the Department of Defense:
Counter terrorism and irregular warfare
Deter and defeat aggression
Project power despite anti-access/area denial challenges
Counter weapons of mass destruction
Operate effectively in cyberspace and space
Maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent
Defend the homeland and provide support to civil authorities
Provide a stabilizing presence
Conduct stability and counterinsurgency operations
Conduct humanitarian, disaster relief, and other operations.

This is not to say that the Department of the Navy performs ALL of all of these missions. Its role varies from mission to mission. What should not be disputed however, is the fact that the primary operational formations derived of the forces organized, trained, and equipped within the Department perform these missions as a matter of routine on a global basis. The very nature of American Seapower offers the nation the ability to field and operate forces that can protect and sustain American interests thousands of miles from its own shores, at the point of impact where the overwhelming majority of the world population lives. And while the Seapower resident in the Department of the Navy cannot perform all of the missions above in their totality all of the time, it can perform them to a greater degree than any other aspect of American military power most of the time in most places most efficiently.

In not recognizing the unique and foundational contributions of American Seapower to the nation’s defense, duplication, and waste are promoted as precious resources are inefficiently allocated, rendering the nation somewhat less capable of defending its interests for a given investment.
It is therefore essential that the an integral and coherent vision of American Seapower be formulated and espoused, one that presents the case that the nation can and should lean more heavily on the Department of the Navy for its peacetime crisis response and security requirements, while the forces of the other military departments prioritize preparation for the conduct and winning of largescale conflict.

Such a vision is however, insufficient, as the current organization of the Department of the Navy and its subordinate Armed Services (the Navy and the Marine Corps) does not adequately support the integration of capabilities that would be required in order to bring it about. Simply put, a coherent vision of American Seapower at the operational level demands a greater degree of integration at the very top, in efforts including planning, programming, budgeting, organizing, training, and equipping. By thinking more expansively about the utility of American Seapower and how it can best serve the needs of the Republic, pressures arise on the Navy and Marine Corps to work more closely together bureaucratically and organizationally in order to bring about the operational results desired.
Such integration is unlikely to occur from the bottom up. Service cultures and comfortable roles and missions create a situation in which the promise of American Seapower is unlikely to be achieved if the Navy and Marine Corps are left to themselves to bring it about. A forcing function is required.

Therefore, a reorganization of the Department of the Navy, undertaken with support of the President, the Secretary of Defense, and appropriate Congressional Committees is necessary to take positive steps designed to ensure that within the Department of the Navy, a greater level of Service integration is achieved, while also working to obtain the resources necessary to field the capabilities and capacities necessary to more effectively service the nation’s peacetime security and presence needs. It is not enough to say that we need a larger Navy and or Marine Corps. We must ensure that the American people understand what will be done with such an increase, why it is in the nation’s interest to do so, and how doing so will make a given level of defense spending go further.


Strategic Thinking
There is no organization within the Department of the Navy dedicated to thinking about integrated American Seapower.
Both the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Marine Corps maintain three star directorates with “strategy” within their mandate, in addition to small, highly influential strategic cells that report directly to the Service Chief. In none of these organizations is there a meaningful representation of officers from the other Service.
The Department of the Navy Secretariat has no such organization.
The lack of such an organization has not however, resulted in no strategic thinking in the Department. Quite the contrary, two maritime strategies have been produced in the past ten years (2007, 2015). These were however, ad hoc efforts that do not appear to have influenced fleet operations or force structure, and in at least the 2007 instance, was undertaken around and without the inclusion of the Service Secretary.

Strategic Communications
Under the Secretary of the Navy, there is a Chief of Information (CHINFO) and a Chief of Legislative Affairs (OLA). These officers report directly to the Secretary, with dotted line reporting responsibility to the Chief of Naval Operations. Neither organization is responsible for Marine Corps affairs, as the Commandant of the Marine Corps has his own legislative assistant and his own public affairs assistant.
In essence, the organizations charged with Department of the Navy strategic communications represent only one Service (the Navy), and to the extent that the other Service—the Marine Corps—requires these functions, they are creatures of the office of the Commandant, not the Secretary of the Navy.
In essence, any strategic communications efforts are derived of three disjointed and unaligned efforts—Department of the Navy, U.S. Navy, and U.S. Marine Corps.
Additionally, no one person in the Department of the Navy is charged with the creation and implementation of a coherent strategic communications plan including legislative affairs, public affairs, and international messaging. Put another way, even if there were a coherent strategic narrative promoting the benefits of American Seapower, there is no process, organization, task force, or group responsible for carrying it out.

Planning and Programming
The Navy and Marine Corps do not receive adequate planning and programming guidance from the Secretary of the Navy at the beginning of the annual budget cycle, guidance designed to achieve a coherent vision of American Seapower. Secretary priority items are included in current guidance, but the degree to which the Services respond to a coherent and integrated vision of Seapower is minimal at best. There is little evidence that the Services are instructed what to devalue or cut.
The Navy and Marine Corps maintain separate planning and programming functions designed to create inputs (known as a “program objective memorandum” or POM) to the annual defense budget. There is little or no coordination between the Services during the development of Service POM’s, and there is limited interaction between the Services and the Navy Secretariat.
The Navy Secretariat does not have an organization staffed to issue such guidance, monitor its implementation, and remedy shortfalls. To the extent that any changes are made to the Service POM’s, they come late in the process and are generally made within individual Service POMs.

Meaningful reform to the acquisition system is essential to achieving alignment within the Department of the Navy, as a vision of American Seapower would create derived requirements and the opportunity for capability trades between and among USN and USMC acquisition efforts.
This currently happens to some degree within the office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition. This work is however, undermined by the disjointed strategic communications efforts described above.
Captain Mark Vandroff, USN and I laid out a proposal for reforming Department of the Navy acquisition elsewhere, and rather than repeat it here, readers are urged to review it. Though not mentioned in that article, the need for an integrated strategic communications/legislative relations effort is essential to achieving some of the benefits of the recommended reforms.

Revive the Office of Program Appraisal (OPA) on the Navy Secretariat at the two-star level. A staff made up of USN/USMC and civilian experts in strategic thinking and budgeting. Headed by a two-star with a one-star deputy who fleets up. Alternates between Navy and USMC. Billets would come from USN (N3/N5, N8) and USMC (P,P,&O/P&R). This organization would have the dual mission of aligning the American Seapower strategic narrative and providing oversight of Service POM development in order to achieve it.
Empower the Under Secretary of the Navy to manage Navy Department Strategic Communications.  VCNO, ACMC, CHINFO, OLA, N3/N5, and PP@O would all serve on a DON strategic communications Board of Directors. Public, legislative, and international messaging would be aligned within this BOD.
o Both CHINFO and OLA would become truly Departmental organizations. The Commandant would lose the Assistant for Legislative Matters and the Assistant for Public Affairs. The two-star heads of these organizations would have a one-star deputy who fleets up. The heads of these organizations would be filled by officers from the two services, with no more than 90 days at a time in which officers from one of the Services are in both positions.
Empower the Secretary of the Navy as the single responsible party for Departmental capability definition and its acquisition, subject to overrule only by the President or the Secretary of Defense (within the Executive Department). This is described more fully in the previously linked to USNI News piece.


The promise of powerful, integrated American Seapower tending to the nation’s peacetime presence and crisis response missions while it creates the conditions for garrison forces to fall in on for warfighting, will not occur organically. There are powerful interests aligned against it, and as this article may reveal, potentially good arguments against it.

I look forward to those arguments being made, and to those arguments in agreement with the central proposition of this proposal but with doubts about the offered solutions.

In the end, this nation’s geography, interests, and role in the world demand more of its naval services.  Seapower advocates must not shy away from the benefits conferred to this nation by a powerful naval force, even if it means relative comparisons with other elements of military power.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Reforming Acquisition to Enable American Seapower

Captain Mark Vandroff and I have a piece over at USNI News on how to reform the acquisition system to enable a greater vision of American Seapower.

Have a look here.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Surface Navy Association 2016 Wrap Up Panel

Ron O'Rourke, Chris Cavas, and Eric Labs consented to appear with me on a panel at the Surface Navy Association 2016 Symposium--with VADM Lee Gunn ably moderating.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Thoughts on the Farsi Island Incident January 12

By now most of you have heard the news of the initial incident and have read several details of the incident that have been reported in the press. The bottom line, there are still a lot of unknowns even as the incident was resolved diplomatically within 24 hours. Below are a few thoughts.

1) Even 48 hours after the initial incident it doesn't even appear CENTCOM or the Pentagon has a full accounting of the details of exactly what happened. People who have been telling the narrative since the incident first occurred are sure to be proven wrong, since they have almost certainly been guessing as to causes and motives. In the end, it is starting to look to be exactly what it looks like... a bunch of young sailors lost because of reliance on technology and/or machinery that failed. There is also, potentially, a training issue here related to navigation and leadership.

2) Those who are claiming the US Navy should have shot their way out of the standoff - when it appears the US Navy sailors actually involved appeared to have convinced themselves their ships were inside Iranian waters - make very interesting and yet terrible arguments for shooting at Iranians. Farsi Island may be a disputed Island in the Persian Gulf, but there is an IRGC naval base on that island and presence in the first rule of ownership. If the Iranian Navy, or Russian Navy, or any Navy drifted armed boats into US waters off Kings Bay, I suspect the US Coast Guard and/or US Navy would be very quick to point guns and be active in detaining the drifters.

3) I am unable to see any strategic advantage the US would have gained by fighting Iran inside the 3 mile zone of Iranian territory, and I am unable to see any strategic consequence to the US by not fighting Iran inside the 3 mile zone of Iranian territory. However, had the US Navy tried to shoot their way out of that situation, the strategic consequences would have been significant, and not just how it relates to Iran. Such a violent action would have given China a valid example to act the same way in disputed places in the South China Sea. If the US Navy is going to lead the global commons based on our interpretation of the rules at sea, the LT who apologized (and everyone on the political right is flogging) just forwarded America strategically. I note it is primarily the parochial arguments from people whose expertise lies in other military services like the Army who have completely ignored the details like global rule sets at sea who have been the loudest to shout at the Navy in this incident. With all due respect, this is an incredibly parochial and shortsided overreaction of the incident, because the National Review can and should do better than finding an Army guy - Bing West (whom I know and respect but wtf...) when it comes to a complex naval incident. This isn't the Pueblo, nor is it the Korean War. There will be no museum in Iran, and both the boats and the crews were returned.

4) This is one of those difficult issues that, in my mind, separates serious people who care about serious strategic issues the US faces in the 21st century and demagogues who see conspiracy and opportunity in every political crisis. If you are a partisan who sees a conspiracy, go away. For the rest of us, there are serious naval issues here that need serious answers. These are a few of the initial questions that should be considered.

- Is the maintenance of the riverine command boats contracted to the point the onboard crew was unable to repair the problem? The crew of only 5 sailors per boat suggests to me that something might be off with the manpower and maintenance procedures surrounding these very capable chess pieces of naval equipment. The RCB is made to fight in the Persian Gulf, but a broken RCB isn't going to win.

 - This is a teaching moment if there ever was one, and as an incident this appears to represent a textbook case study on the reasons why the Navy needs more, not fewer, Commands for junior officers. It may be the opinion of some hard core political demagogues who have over a decade of tactical success combined with over a decade of strategic failure that this incident is somehow a defeat for America, but each new fact that emerges from this incident suggests to me this may be a case of procedural failure far beyond the scope of a LT... but when shit happened, strategic acumen by the officer in charge (LT) is potentially emerging as a feature in handling a bad situation and not making it worse. The facts are still unknown, and we may not know for sure for awhile, but regardless of what the facts are in the end I see this as a very teachable moment that favors the argument for early Command as often as possible for junior officers.

- I have no problem with high profile diplomatic incidents like this between the US Navy and Iran, as long as for each incident the actions of the US Navy is aligned with the strategic aims of the United States. If the US Navy had attacked the IRGC inside the territorial waters of Farsi Island to defend their boats, this would be a major strategic setback for the US. Had the incident occurred outside the territorial waters of Iran and the US Navy not fought back; that would also be a strategic setback for the US. Right now it appears the US Navy sailors on the scene did everything right.

- The only way to produce a genuine strategic failure from this incident is to unfairly punish those involved, in other words... if the Navy wants better commanders, handle early career mistakes the right way. Tell me how any of those 10 sailors are somehow worse off for this incident. If legitimate mistakes were made, deal with it appropriately, but pinning blame for things out of their control would be a failure of leadership, and in my mind an unforgivable sin.

- At the end of the day, this was a real diplomatic test of the US and Iran who under the recent agreement are partners in Iran's nuclear energy ambitions. The outcome is very positive for the United States. I don't trust the government of Iran, but I am yet to see anything from this incident that suggests to me Iran has has been inappropriate. If you're the American Idiot who doesn't think it was appropriate for the US Navy sailors to have their hands on their heads at any point in the engagement near the IRGC base on Farsi Island, try drifting your private armed boat into the US Navy area of Kings Bay or Norfolk or New London and pretend like there is a snowballs chance in hell you will get out of there without your hands on your head. You will have your hands on your head, or if you point a gun back at the US Navy or US Coast Guard, you will be shot dead by very serious people who protect that location and will be pointing guns at you. You don't even have to be an Iranian for that outcome to occur, nor will you need an Iranian flag on your boat, a US flag will result in the same action. Wake up people, don't let the silly season control your ability to think with objectivity.

I look forward to learning what really happened, because at the end of the day we have a well armed naval craft in the middle of the Persian Gulf with a serious mechanical problem that couldn't be quickly resolved apparently combined with some incredibly bad navigation from two crews who somehow found their way to the only piece of land between their departure location and destination that could create a diplomatic problem. When you swim past all the political bullshit, the serious naval specific issues on the table leave a lot of serious questions that deserve serious answers.

Monday, January 11, 2016

GAO Wrong on LCS Survivability

USS Fort Worth Arrives in Singapore, December 2014,
     The recent (18 December 2015) GAO Report entitled, “The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS): Knowledge of Survivability and Lethality Capabilities Needed Prior to Making Major Funding Decisionsdemonstrates the Government Accountability Office’s flawed understanding of modular warship survivability and lethality concepts. The agency has a point in suggesting LCS survivability needs more testing, but has made nearly the same demand for most warship classes of the last several decades. It rarely, however, presses that call beyond the boundaries of modeling and simulation. The LCS program is far from perfect, and has yet to meet a number of important milestones. That said, the survivability of LCS as defined by the September 2012 Navy Instruction on the subject is equivalent to that of the retired Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates in their final configuration. LCS replaces the Perry's in their final status and not in the medium air defense and heavy convoy escort roles they were originally designed to fill. The LCS mission modules could also be tailored to support additional weapons and systems that reduce susceptibility and vulnerability. 
     GAO has secured much of its evidence for LCS’s lack of survivability from a Total Ship Survivability Trial (TSST) conducted on USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) in October 2014.[1] TSST focuses on the crew training necessary to conduct the damage control to restore the ship’s operational capability while it remains in a combat environment. LCS would obviously not fare well in such testing for two reasons. First, a substantial portion of the equipment that could be damaged in an attack and the additional personnel that operate that equipment are not physically present on the current sea frames. They are resident in the yet to be fully developed mission modules. Any present TSST of LCS would be partially incomplete. Second, LCS is not designed to restore battle damage and immediately return to the fight, as are higher capability warships. It was conceived to survive damage and withdraw as necessary.[2]
     GAO acknowledges the limits of the LCS Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and notes the Navy’s 2012 change in the foundation of survivability from ship “characteristics” to “capabilities.”[3] The agency persists, however, in aiming its report on the sea frame’s physical damage control aspects; its characteristics, rather than its capabilities to avoid or prevent attack, such as its installed active and passive defense systems.[4] It continues to reference a 2004 Navy measurement of survivability in describing LCS that is no longer used by the Navy. GAO notes the deletion of three design features of survivability from previous LCS designs due to weight/cost considerations. Given that the sea frame’s armament is unchanged, it seems that these missing elements were characteristics and not capabilities. Finally, GAO seems to suggest that the Navy deliberately changed the LCS CONOPS in order to, “To compensate for any gaps in the ship’s survivability and lethality capabilities.”[5]
     The Navy altered its survivability description for good reason. The principal threats faced by surface warships have significantly changed in the last two decades. The proliferation of capable cruise missiles, submarine torpedoes, and naval mines represents a significant threat to any ship less than 600 feet in length and 10,000 tons displacement. These limits encompass the entire U.S. Navy surface combatant force (excepting the Zumwalt class destroyer.) Damage to U.S. Navy surface ships in the last several decades has been limited to small cruise missiles such as the Exocets that damaged the USS Stark in 1987 and the relatively small influence and contact mines that crippled the USS Princeton in 1991 and nearly sank the USS Samuel B. Roberts in 1988. Current versions of these weapons are larger, faster and much more capable. The recent Russian cruise missile salvo (at least 26 missiles) fired against land targets in Syria from a flotilla of small warships suggests the level of threat faced by U.S. warships.[6] Surface combatants no longer carry armor and are fully dependent on their installed active and passive defense systems to avoid, decoy or shoot down such weapons. While damage control remains important, survivability must not be fully predicated on a ship’s physical characteristics. The Navy’s measurement of survivability properly changed in response to the change in the threat to surface ships from a new generation of larger and more capable cruise missiles, and improved torpedoes and mines.
     GAO’s assessment of the lethality of LCS suffers from the same problems associated with its survivability measurements. The agency agrees that LCS completed interim testing of its surface warfare (SUW) package in April 2014, but then said that testing was incomplete due to the lack of both sea frames being tested (a valid point), but also because not all SUW requirements could be met. That should not be a surprise considering the evaluated SUW package was an interim fitting and not the ship’s final operational capability module. Testing cited by GAO, and done by the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E) further states that the testing of the SUW package was, “insufficient to provide statistical confidence that LCS can consistently demonstrate this level of performance.”[7] How much testing of an interim package is required to attain statistical confidence and how much would this testing cost or limit the ship’s operational employment? DOT&E in fact requires the LCS program to re-test an entire mission package if even one component (however small) is changed. LCS is dependent on the ability to rapidly field new mission packages in response to different tactical and operational circumstances. The testing regime of the analysis community would seem to limit this important LCS capability.
     The threat environment facing the LCS has changed significantly since the program was announced in November 2001. The Navy has attempted to respond to this change by modifying the sea frame, mission modules and ship’s CONOPS to meet the changing threat environment. The analysis community, as represented by GAO and DOT&E seems trapped in the relatively stable Cold War and post-Cold War era where slow, predictable, incremental change was managed through an ever-expanding test and evaluation regime. LCS, with many of its most lethal capabilities in separate mission modules, and/or still under development will not likely meet the requirements of the 1960’s-era analysis community until its mission modules are fully developed. The ability of LCS to rapidly adjust its capabilities in response to new threats will remain limited with such stringent testing requirements accompanying each mission package change.
     GAO’s unhappiness with LCS should come as no surprise. A short review of the last 40 years of surface warship construction suggests that the agency has little love for any particular platform. It has severely criticized the Perry class frigate for survivability issues[8]; the Spruance class destroyer for a lack of lethality[9]; and the Ticonderoga class cruiser for lack of AEGIS testing and room for growth.[10]    
     GAO has a point in suggesting that capability-based survival of warships needs evaluation beyond modeling and simulation. Live fire tests on naval platforms were the normative method of predicting survivability from the 1920’s through the end of the Cold War.[11] The number of hits a vessel could sustain was an adequate predictor of its survival as an operational contributor in combat. The development of more powerful weapons, the evolution of very effective active and passive defense systems and the accelerated fragility of surface combatants in supporting them have changed these time-honored evaluation criteria. Those active and passive systems are now the equivalent of what armor was to combatants of the early 20th century. While these systems have been tested through modeling and simulation, the only real way to examine their effectiveness is through expensive live fire exercises against a target ship with active systems including surface to air missiles, guns and electronic countermeasures. This last recommendation is a useful contribution from the GAO report, but the office must recommend such testing for all surface combatants and not just LCS.
          Evaluation of LCS using Cold War-era methodology is not an accurate measurement of the class’ survivability or lethality. GAO has a long history of criticizing surface combatant programs, and the office’s present dislike of LCS should be no surprise. GAO should recommend that all surface combatants be tested according to their capabilities and not just their characteristics. Finally, GAO should re-evaluate the survivability of LCS to take into account its modular design.  

[4] Ibid, p. 12.
[5] Ibid

site stats