Thursday, February 11, 2010

FFs, LSDs, and PCs - OH My!

The excellent reporting in Inside The Navy (subscription only) has once again created the daily buzz, this time by quoting some comments by Gene Taylor during the QDR hearing on Feb 4th. Apparently Gene Taylor isn't happy that after 30 years of service, the Perry class FFs are going to be retired. These are the noteworthy comments.

“Expect language from this committee that says for every surface combatant you want to retire, you had best have two new ones in the budget,” Taylor said Feb. 4. “Because if you won’t do what is a logical thing to do on your own, then it’s going to take a congressional mandate to do it.”

The frigates slated for decommissioning are still usable, he noted.

“If those frigates are good enough to give to another nation, why aren’t they good enough to keep in the fleet for a few more years, particularly for a mission like piracy off of Somalia or keeping the small boats away from our ships as they transit off of Iran?” he said. “I would think they would be ideally suited. So why does it make sense to take a ship that’s good enough to give to an ally and retire it today if we need bodies out in the sea?”
I think it is a good idea to have a discussion in Congress on the Perry class frigates, because they represent an opportunity to address something that deserves more Congressional examination. Let me begin from the top.

Right Direction

I fully support the Navy's decision to retire the FFs once they turn 30 years old, which most of them will over the next decade. With that said, we have a bunch of ships that are over their half-life and in my opinion, the FFs represent an excellent opportunity to evaluate how effective a job the Navy is doing in maintenance. Let me explain.

Gene Taylor is advocating the FFs from the perspective that we should be using them in the 5th Fleet area of operations, half way around the world. The Perry class has not been built or upgraded significantly in the United States in years. I think Congress should have the Navy, under oath, give the Chairman a detailed walk step by step through the process of what happens when something breaks on a Perry class while deployed halfway around the world.

For example, lets pretend the USS Nicholas (FFG-47) is somewhere in the Indian Ocean and is having a serious engine problem. How many layers of "sea enterprise" does it take to identify the problem, get the part shipped out, and the part installed to resolve the problem - you know, without a tender or serious base support structure? Over how many days given the time difference does this process take? How many emails does it take because there is no bandwidth to use live video? How many people in Washington have to fill out forms for "reach back?" And when it is all said and done, how much does this process cost - before we pay for the part?

I ask these questions because I heard something recently that surprised me, and I'd be interested to hear what people think. If there is a problem in a deployed Burke anywhere in the world, it usually takes less than a week to resolve the problem even if they have to reach back to the original designer or contractor in the US through the reach back process, and the cost is usually relatively inexpensive, usually in the thousands.

But for a Perry class, I hear the cost of the same process is sometimes much greater. I'd like to know if that is true, and if so... why?

How expensive is it to operate Perry class FFs forward, because I'm curious if it is prohibitively expensive to the point we can explain why Perry's have not been utilized to any real degree for protecting shipping against attack - the primary mission the ship class was built in the first place.

Gene Taylor picks a hobby horse issue at the beginning of every budget year, and this year it is the frigates. I'm OK with that, but can he put Eric Labs or someone at GAO on the issue to dive into the cost of operating and maintaining FFs in the Indian Ocean so we can all work with some good information? It would be an important exercise, after all, isn't the longevity of the existing fleet of Burkes the most important issue for the Navy right now? Why not use the Perry class FFs to examine existing processes for maintaining ships to see if there is anything Congress should be looking closer at in regards to the Burkes. Older ship classes don't come along often as a good case study, and I think everyone would be interested to know how FF operating costs compare to say, estimated LCS operating costs?

Multiple Targets

I don't know what exactly has Gene Taylor focused on the FFs, but I think Gene Taylor is missing a real opportunity to beat on the Navy with the facts on behalf of his district.

Just in case you are wondering who the hardest working sailors in the Navy are, they currently serve on USS Bataan (LHD 5) and USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43). I would love to know how many days since February 3rd, 2009 those two ships have been to sea, because I bet that number is very close to 300 days. If you think about COMPUTEX in Feb 09, CERTEX in March 09, deployment from May 13, 2009 - December 8, 2009, then back to sea on Jan 14, 2010 through today in Haiti - both ships may be over 7000 hours underway over the last 53 weeks. As an editors note, when considering the recent leadership changes on USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43), what the crew of that ship has been through over the last year makes problems on other ships throughout the fleet look really silly.

Consider the following. In 2008 there were seventeen ships from Atlantic fleet with more than 4,000 hours underway. I have not seen the numbers yet for 2009, so I am using the most recent I have. Lets consider a moment the ships:
USS San Jacinto (CG 56)
USS Hue City (CG 66)
USS Carney (DDG 64)
USS Gonzalez (DDG 66)
USS Oscar Austin (DDG 79)
USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG 81)
USS McInerney (FFG 8)
USS Boone (FFG 28)
USS Dewert (FFG 45)
USS Simpson (FFG 56)
USS Whidbey Island (LSD 41)
USS Oak Hill (LSD 51)
USS Typhoon (PC 5)
USS Sirocco (PC 6)
USS Chinook (PC 9)
USS Firebolt (PC 10)
USS Whirlwind (PC 11)
  • Two of ten Atlantic Fleet cruisers - 20%
  • Four of twenty-five Atlantic Fleet destroyers - 16%
  • Four of eighteen Atlantic Fleet frigates - 22%
  • Two of six Atlantic Fleet LSDs - 33%
  • Five of nine Atlantic Fleet PCs - 55%
For ships over 3000 hours underway in FY 2008, the breakdown is as follows:
  • Five of ten Atlantic Fleet cruisers - 50%
  • Thirteen of twenty-five Atlantic Fleet destroyers - 52%
  • Nine of eighteen Atlantic Fleet frigates - 50%
  • Three of five Atlantic Fleet large deck amphibious ships - 60%
  • One of four Atlantic Fleet LPDs - 25%
  • Three of six Atlantic Fleet LSDs - 50%
  • Five of nine Atlantic Fleet PCs - 55%
In 2007 there were nineteen ships from Atlantic fleet with more than 4,000 hours underway. Lets examine them for comparison:
USS Anzio (CG 68)
USS Vella Gulf (CG 72)
USS Mitscher (DDG 57)
USS Ramage (DDG 61)
USS Mason (DDG 87)
USS Nitze (DDG 94
USS Bainbridge (DDG 96)
USS McInerney (FFG 8)
USS Underwood (FFG 36)
USS Klakring (FFG 42)
USS R G Bradley (FFG 49)
USS Hawes (FFG 53)
USS Bataan (LHD 5)
USS Shreveport (LPD 12)
USS Ashland (LSD 48)
USS Carter Hall (LSD 50)
USS Oak Hill (LSD 51)
USS Chinook (PC 9)
USS Firebolt (PC 10)
  • Two of eleven Atlantic Fleet cruisers - 18%
  • Five of twenty-five Atlantic Fleet destroyers - 20%
  • Five of eighteen Atlantic Fleet frigates - 28%
  • One of six Atlantic Fleet large deck amphibious ships - 17%
  • One of five Atlantic Fleet LPDs - 20%
  • Three of six Atlantic Fleet LSDs - 50%
  • Two of eight Atlantic Fleet PCs - 25%
For ships over 3000 hours underway in FY 2007, the breakdown is as follows:
  • Six of eleven Atlantic Fleet cruisers - 55%
  • Eleven of twenty-five Atlantic Fleet destroyers - 44%
  • Ten of eighteen Atlantic Fleet frigates - 56%
  • One of six Atlantic Fleet large deck amphibious ships - 17%
  • One of five Atlantic Fleet LPDs - 20%
  • Four of six Atlantic Fleet LSDs - 67%
  • Five of eight Atlantic Fleet PCs - 63%
For ships over 3000 hours underway in FY 2006, the breakdown is as follows:
  • Seven of twelve Atlantic Fleet cruisers - 58%
  • Twelve of nineteen Atlantic Fleet destroyers - 63%
  • Seven of eighteen Atlantic Fleet frigates - 39%
  • Two of six Atlantic Fleet large deck amphibious ships - 33%
  • Three of six Atlantic Fleet LPDs - 50%
  • Three of seven Atlantic Fleet LSDs - 50%*
  • Three of eight Atlantic Fleet PCs - 38%
*USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) plus USS Tortuga (LSD 46) adds up over 3000

For ships over 3000 hours underway in FY 2005, the breakdown is as follows:
  • Four of thirteen Atlantic Fleet cruisers - 31%
  • Six of twenty five Atlantic Fleet destroyers - 24%
  • Eight of eighteen Atlantic Fleet frigates - 45%
  • Two of six Atlantic Fleet large deck amphibious ships - 33%
  • Two of five Atlantic Fleet LPDs - 40%
  • Two of six Atlantic Fleet LSDs - 33%
  • Four of seven Atlantic Fleet PCs - 57%
I think it is fair to say that there is a relationship between the number of hours a ship class is at sea and the demand for that capability. If someone believes this is an unfair assumption, please explain in the comments.

Now that we have some data, here are some questions for Gene Taylor to add to his FF concerns:

We have all heard about the problems with the San Antonio class LPDs. The USS New York (LPD 21) crew heard something that didn't sound right in the engine, and didn't know they were supposed to simply turn the engine off (not shutting the engine off caused a bigger problem on that ship). Why? How did virtual training as opposed to time working on an actual engine factor into this becoming a bigger problem? Is the Navy training our mechanics correctly? Is the Navy prepared to deal with problems when automation fails?

SUPSHIPS inspected and approved welds on the LPD-17 class, but we didn't hear about problems until many months later. Why? Why is it that when the Navy announced the LPD-17 problems, it was only the Program Manager of the LPD-17 program with reporters? When an entire class has problems, the best the Navy can do is send a Captain out to get shot at by the press? Where was VADM McCoy on this issue? Where was Allison Stiller? How extensive is the problem on DDGs anyway? This LPD-17 situation smells of either a cover-up or a cluster-fuck.

Allison Stiller has testified in front of the House Seapower committee many times claiming the problems in shipbuilding related to issues just like what has specifically occurred with LPD-17 over the last few months are being addressed - in fact she has made the same testimony for at least the last few years. How can she be so inaccurate in testimony on this issue for more than two years in a row? Why should anyone believe the Navy has fixed the problems 'this time?'

The LPD-17 program, built in Gene Taylor's district, has taken an enormous reputation hit because of repeated problems - several of which are not the fault of the shipbuilder. As a coincidence, the Navy is making several decisions that avoid building ships in his district - like pushing way out Command Ship replacements (which would use LPD-17 hulls) and limiting the number of amphibious ships to the bare minimum (and those are also built in his district).

At the same time, over the past several years (and I expect 2009 to be very similar) the frigates, LSDs, and PCs are consistently disproportionately at sea more often than cruisers and destroyers, and yet the Navy is looking to retire the frigates, build as few amphibious ships as possible, and has decided not to replace the PC rather just SLEP them. If new PCs are not a worthy investment in the future Navy, why is the Navy clearly using the hell out of the PCs in the current inventory?

Why is the Navy building Burkes for BMD if this is a temporary problem anyway, and there are better ways to address the issue. The Burke run from FY11-FY15 is cost neutral to the previously proposed DDG-1000 purchase, so there are no savings. They create less work for the yards, so there is no advantage to the industry. The ships will be fielded to the fleet too late to be part of the BMD system being developed - which is the ground based SM-3 system. They have no new technologies, so it isn't like a new capability is being gained. Modernization of existing DDG-51s is a quicker and less expensive approach to BMD. My point in asking these questions is to highlight that R&D investment for the Burkes is more important than actual construction right now, because if we expect these ships to be the future in FY16 and beyond, we have to find a way to get DDG-1000 technologies like integrated power into that hull. Failure to do that makes building the Burke the biggest waste of money in the DoD, and that is saying something.

The plan, based on my read of the FY 2011 budget, is to replace the high demand for the frigates and LSDs with Littoral Combat Ships and Joint High Speed Vessels. Is this a square peg and round hole approach, because on paper it looks like the Navy is giving up a lot of capabilities - not to mention survivability - in trade for the added capability of... tactical speed? What is the compelling argument to bet the farm on an unmanned systems capability that is tiny in the Navy today, and will run on a current sea based network that has extremely limited bandwidth even before the enemy adds extra tensions in wartime.

While Gene Taylor is worried about the aging and clearly heavily utilized FFs, he should expand his questioning to at minimum include amphibious ships and PCs, although there are so many questions for the Navy right now he could hold hearings until summer and still be short all the needed questions.

It is my hope that as part of his support for frigates he gets someone in the Navy to explain why the Perry frigates, built for merchant ship protection duty, are not out fighting pirates that are threatening merchant ships off Somalia. I have a feeling the answer is maintenance, and my hope is if Congress takes a closer look there they will see what an expensive mess it is to work within this top down managers logistics dream but operational level logistical nightmare - a serious problem that needs to be examined as the rest of the fleet ages.

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