|SAN DIEGO (May 2, 2012) The first of class littoral combat ships USS Freedom (LCS 1), rear, and USS Independence (LCS 2) maneuver together during an exercise off the coast of Southern California. The littoral combat ship is a fast, agile, networked surface combatant designed to operate in the near-shore environment, while capable of open-ocean tasking, and win against 21st-century coastal threats such as submarines, mines, and swarming small craft. (U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jan Shultis/Released)|
The panel included Robert O. Work, Under Secretary of the Navy; Eric J. Labs, Senior Analyst for Naval Forces and Weapons, Congressional Budget Office; Ben Freeman, National Security Fellow, Project on Government Oversight; Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies, Cato Institute; moderated by Benjamin Friedman, Senior Fellow in Defense and Homeland Security Studies, Cato Institute. I am a big fan of the work of Bob Work, Eric Labs, and Christopher Preble. I do not know much about either Ben, but I do appreciate what POGO does for taxpayers.
This is a great discussion start to finish, and while it is supposed to cover all of surface warfare, it really focuses on LCS because LCS really is the most interesting thing about the Navy right now - for all the right and wrong reasons simultaneously. Whether it is when Christopher Preble quoted CDR Salamander or when the Undersecretary discusses fleet design or when Eric Labs points out every other alternative to LCS costs more... this is solid gold information. Panels like this discredit the bullshit people read on LCS every day on the internet, and are hugely valuable towards informing the public on this very interesting ship the Navy is fielding to the fleet.
A Few Stories...
Did you know that I am unable to find a single expert on shipbuilding in North America or Europe who believes the US Navy can build any frigate design greater than 4000 tons - any design world wide btw - for less than LCS, but people run around the internet claiming otherwise all the time. I can't find a single expert on shipbuilding in North America or Europe who believes the Absalon class is anywhere near less expensive than LCS, but that is frequently touted on the internet all the time. I hear people say the FFG-7s are oh-so-much-better-than-LCS if we would only upgrade them like the Australians did. Well, I have talked to the Australians extensively about this, and the upgrade of the Adelaide class was such a fantastic dumpster fire the Australians had to retire 2 of their 6 ships just to afford to finish the upgrades, were ultimately only unable to upgrade 4 ships, and spent so much money on the project they could have purchased brand new ships for about the same cost. It was such a mess of a project for the Australians that it became a political scandal. Why?
Well, it turns out it was a dumpster fire for the same reasons the US Navy chose not to upgrade the FFG-7s - the compartmentalization of the ship is so intense for survivability purposes it basically rendered the ship obsolete because the cost of modernization far exceeded the benefits of doing so. Now with that said, the compartmentalization was for survivability purposes, and that meant a Perry could hit a 750lb mine and survive, and a Perry could get hit by 2 Exocet missiles and survive. There are trades, and those trades are not trivial, but the same extensive compartmentalization that saved the ships in combat prevented the entire class from ever upgrading due to the extensive costs of doing so. If you read an easy solution to naval issues on the internet, do your homework, because nothing in naval affairs is ever simple.
For the US Navy to upgrade the FFG-7s exactly how the Australians did to upgrade the Adelaide class, the estimated cost today is $300 million per - and that assumes it would be $50 million cheaper for us than it would be for them, simply because I'm being stupidly patriotic suggesting we are somehow better at this kind of stuff than they are without any supporting data (yes, stupidly). So people advocating for SLEPing the frigates, they basically would prefer to get 10-15 years out of 30 year old ships for 2/3 the price of a brand new LCS. I think that would be a bad idea, and yet - people on the internet claim it to be BRILLIANT!
In 2008 - before the Navy had brought Freedom out to salt water, I rode Freedom for 3 days from Buffalo to Montreal. During a high speed run across Lake Ontario, I walked down to the mission bays to see what it was like down there while the ship was at high speed. The first thing I learned is that in bay 3, the smallest mission zone where the Navy has apparently been putting modules for people; it is one of the loudest places on the ship when the turbines are running - so the idea the Navy can simply plug in habitat modules down there as a solution doesn't sound credible to me. Maybe Independence is different, but on Freedom it was so incredibly loud down in that mission zone I put my earphones on and turned on music. Another thing I noticed was water coming in the back door of the ship while the ship was at high speed.
Since before the ship was even commissioned, the back door of LCS-1 has been a known problem and water has been coming through that door. A natural conclusion of that would be rust in that area. But here is what bugs me - the USCGC Bertholf had a problem with her stern door, the USS San Antonio had a problem with her stern door, and the USS Independence has a problem with her stern door. Why does the US shipbuilding sector have such a big problem building stern doors for each new class of ship? I don't know, but I see a pattern that NAVSEA clearly doesn't have a good oversight program in place to address.
I don't know Michael Fabey, but I got a real kick out of his article because it really sounded like his source had an axe to grind with LCS - and apparently Michael Fabey didn't think he was being used. Michael Fabey had never been on LCS-1 before he got onboard for that article, and one of the really silly things in my opinion is that he apparently needed to sneak on the ship at all - because I have to tell you, I have never had to sneak onto a Navy ship before so that alone sounds really silly to me.
One of the first things you'll notice about LCS-1 is that it doesn't get painted very often, and as of last year some of the places had never been painted. It's a weight thing, driven by the stupid speed thing. Well, if you don't paint the ship, you will see rust, uhm - because it is a ship and without paint, you can't really hide rust.
During my last tour on Freedom I observed rust and cracks as described by the article (keep in mind, this was in Jan 2011), and I asked the CO and XO about them. They were known problems they were going to eventually deal with during maintenance availabilities, but the priority of the ship was to test as many things as possible to insure every problem had a solution that could be incorporated into the new ships under construction. The whole idea that Michael Fabey had to ninja aboard USS Freedom to discover problems is ridiculous, because neither the ship nor the crew hides problems - the ships purpose has been to identify problems for the class and I have several personal experiences where all you have to do is ask about the problems to get an interesting answer that, btw, tells you a lot more about LCS than the story Michael Fabey was trying to tell.
I found that Aviation Week article to be supremely insulting to the professionalism of the sailors and officers that I have encountered each visit to Freedom, and remarkably uninformed. Ben Freeman gets a pass by me, and while maybe he should have done better research, he isn't a ship guy and doesn't really know this stuff. Fabey writes about ships every day as his day job, he doesn't really have an excuse for not figuring out what he was looking at. I remember once standing on a Perry class in Mobile, AL several years ago asking about cracks on the ship, and the DH giving the tour told me to move my foot, because I was standing on a crack. It was a known problem, and they intended to fix it. What Michael Fabey sold as a "holy shit moment" on LCS is pretty much an every day issue the Navy deals with throughout the fleet, so pardon me if I think reporting old news being sold as new news that triggers a GAO investigation into old problems is an example of poor journalism rather than solid journalism. No, I'm not impressed, the lack of context and the inability to answer basic questions like 'why' is not impressive journalism to me. I guess my standards are too high.
I thought of these things while watching the CATO panel as Christopher Preble discussed how when he served on USS Ticonderoga 9 years after that ship was commissioned, he was still dealing with first in class problems on that ship. People keep saying LCS has a big problem, but it's basically the same as the old problem, and the absence of context blows every problem out of proportion. Apparently LCS is the only ship class in the world where a problem doesn't get fixed, because the media never reports it fixed. Really? There are some legitimate problems with the LCS hull (and I would argue the design), but they aren't always the problems you think they are, and certainly not the ones POGO discussed from documentation dated last year prior to the ships maintenance availability - particularly the problems that were fixed last year during that availability. Good thing the GAO is going to investigate those old problems that apparently never get fixed even though most already have been fixed, because it couldn't possibly be useful to focus on a real issue facing LCS that matters like the modules.
|MARINETTE, Wis. (May 3, 2012) The future littoral combat ship USS Forth Worth (LCS 3) is underway for acceptance trials on Lake Michigan. Fort Worth successfully completed the trials, testing the ship's major systems and equipment in port and underway. Acceptance trials are the last significant milestone before delivery of the ship to the Navy. The ship was presented to the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey with high levels of completion. (U.S. Navy photo by Mike Rote/Released)|
So if you watch the panel at CATO, towards the end of the Q&A Robbie Harris asks a question about the LCS looking to the future, and Bob Work discusses the 6 things the Navy has to do with the LCS going forward. His 6 points are in bold below, the rest is my comment on those points.
1) Address the issues brought up by POGO/Aviation Week. There are 62 issues they listed, but 25 of the 62 problems do not actually exist and most of the issues raised are old - which means when Congress asks the GAO to do an investigation they are basically telling everyone Congress is badly out of touch and uninformed (shocking, not really, and I do think the Navy is at fault on this). There will be more problems with LCS in the future. These problems with the LCS hull to date are part of the challenge with the hulls, and the fixes must be put into the production run so the R&D ships serve the purpose they are being touted to be serving today. Based on my conversations with LCS folks over the last few years, a lot of people have been working hard on every aspect of this issue (it's basically been what the LCS has been doing). I do not see this issue as being a difficult one to overcome, indeed it is the issue that is mostly behind the Navy and only new issues with LCS-3 and LCS-4 (and later ships) will matter from this point forward in my opinion.
2) Get the core crew size right. The Navy knows they are too low on manning LCS, and they need to figure out the right number for each ship. The ships were designed to have technology replace the need for so many sailors. Some of those technology substitutions worked, and clearly some did not and never will. IMO, the solution is almost certainly going to be a mix of manpower and technology, and I suspect we will see around 10 sailors added as part of the core crew of LCS-1 resulting in a core crew of 50, roughly a 25% increase. I've been on the ship and no redesign will be necessary for this change, they will simply bunk 3 deep like on other surface combatants instead of 2 deep like they do today, and the head/shower areas may need a bit of redesign. Easy fixes I think. Expanding the stores for the galley might be another issue. My personal impression engaging with folks who know LCS is that they almost have this manpower issue figured out for LCS-1, and are still trying to figure it out for LCS-2. Because manpower is the top cost driver for the US Navy today, figuring out how to keep crew sizes low is critical to having a well sized fleet. Not figuring this issue out means the Navy can only afford about 200 ships, or less, because of the high cost of manpower that would be invested in the ships. Anyone who doesn't understand how big the manpower issue is, why it is important to reduce crew sizes for Navy ships, and how this issue is a major strategic issue for the US Navy is wildly uninformed. More than any other factor, crew sizes are limiting the size of the US Navy and is the constraint that makes 300 ships the high number for the size of the US Navy fleet. I suspect we will see a similar process play out with DDG-1000 as they work to get manpower on that ship right as well. Hopefully, all these lessons will be folded into the next large surface combatant scheduled to get funded in FY18.
3) Single up the combat systems and C4I systems to make sure the ships are interoperable inside the fleet. This will solve several problems that one runs into with disparity in a network designed to fight. For me, this is a much bigger problem with the LCS hulls than what most people moan about, like speed. It is the single biggest barrier to getting the combat side of the LCS training pipeline right, and insures that modular systems are truly interchangeable regardless of hull design. I do not know which combat system is better, and I don't care - singling up to one combat system for both hulls is the single most important part of the LCS hull going forward. Speed is something the Navy can (and has) experimented with on the tactical side. It may or may not be useful. The Navy has not accounted for the issues related to how populated seas in the information age will impact naval warfare in the future, and very smart officers on LCS have been developing tactics using ship speed that have specific value towards that challenge. Maybe speed will be useful, maybe not. Regardless, two combat systems are a big problem going forward, because unlike often discussed issues like speed; 2 combat systems represent a legitimate tactical liability for LCS long term.
4) Make sure the mission modules work. Until I see a missile that is better than the Griffin, which is a short ranged interim solution, I am not going to buy the ASuW module as viable. Until the LCS is capable of deploying multiple sensors simultaneously and capable of processing that data for useful submarine tracks as part of a battle force network, the ASW module is an exercise in PowerPoint. Until I see Mine Men praise the MIW module as better than their dedicated minesweepers, I'm not a believer. Prove the first three modules if they are the threat driving the requirements for the LCS platform as designed. More information would be useful, but that's a problem with LCS across the board.
5) Prove the Maintenance and Manning schemes for LCS will work. I know enough to say too much on this, but I believe this is going to be a huge challenge for LCS over time. I think the Navy can work through the contractor maintenance issues that most people think is the big problem, but I see that as the easy problem to solve as roles and procedures are better defined. However, the manning issues with the surface fleet are bigger than just the Littoral Combat Ship, so LCS is not only bringing a new way to man the ship, it is adding a new manning scheme on top of a manning system that works well enough to convince Congress everything is OK, but requires heavy use of statistical analysis that apparently gets manipulated to give the appearance of functional. Two examples include the TYCOM crossdecking and the way operational squadrons (the carrier squadrons) raid people from the other squadrons (non-carrier squadrons) in RW, but those are only two of many ways the Navy is basically robbing Peter to pay Paul on manpower shortfalls while claiming the manning requirement is met. How long before Gold crew raids Blue crew for people, and we end up with 2 crews per LCS where both are manned at 90% on paper, but neither is fully manned for operations in reality? 10% of a crew of 50 people in 5 people - which is a lot and may represent 50% of the total number of people the Navy needed to add to the LCS just to fix the current manning problems.
If final core LCS crews are 50 people, but Blue crew reports fully manned at 90% and Gold crew reports fully manned at 90% under USFF 90% FIT requirements, what happens when Blue crew has to raid Gold crew for a deployment? Blue crew drops from 90% (45 people) to 80% (40 people). Meanwhile USFF reports 2 fully manned LCS crews (because they average 90%), but the reality is the core crew of 40 people that is considered too small today will be what Gold crew works with, because they had to send 5 sailors over to Blue crew to man the ship to100% for deployment. This USFF 90% FIT requirement in surface warfare today is a bullshit exercise in statistics rather than a functional plan for operational fitness thanks to workarounds like TYCOM crossdecking, and the LCS manning concept will not be compatible with traditional Navy smoke and mirror manning schemes.
Sorry, but if you want to fully man a LCS, the manning requirements need to be 110%, not 90%, because losing even one body on a ship that is optimally manned is going to be a big problem with cascading impacts. Maybe if USFF would raid shore commands to meet ship manning instead of forcing crossdecking in the TYCOMs - and starts these shore raids for manpower by taking from the staffs of 4 star Flag officers - this problem would get fixed quicker.
6) Evolve new modules. Flexibility with modularity is clearly awesome, and I do see how Marine Corps modules, SOF modules, and MSO modules can and probably will be useful in the future. If we assume the Navy gets to this point in the LCS program, and I believe they will starting sometime between 2015-2017 as Littoral Combat Ships start operating in numbers with functional modules together, this is where the Littoral Combat Ship becomes something very few today understand will unfold with LCS over time.
For the surface warfare community, I believe the Littoral Combat Ship represents a "once in a generation opportunity" to innovate the new technologies and the new capabilities that will have significant impact on how naval forces fight in the future, and the reason I am confident in my belief is because the Navy has decided the LCS will be the ship that will evolve what is represented as "mothership capabilities" to the surface force. Motherships are the future of surface warfare in the 21st century, and LCS will have significant impact on virtually every surface ship design across the world. I have enormous confidence that the Littoral Combat Ship will be successful, because it has the right ingredients - top level support and well trained sailors. The promotions of the last two years highlight the top level support exists throughout the chain of leadership, and the innovation is the aspect of LCS that gets almost no time in the press (and it IS there) because the press sells train wrecks, and the LCS has a history full of them.
The surface combatants of the future will look more like LCS than they will DDG-51, and it is the same reason future submarines will look more like the converted Ohio SSGNs than they will the traditional submarine designs of most attack submarines today. The capability of motherships to deploy distributed systems - systems that distribute ISR networks and lethal payloads as a function of the platform - is going to have a significant tactical impact to tomorrows naval battlefield. Under today's model of naval warfare, if two ships face off against each other, at most the only other tactical threat deployed by the opposing ship one must worry about is the helicopter. In tomorrows model of naval warfare, when two ships face off against each other, the ship capable of distributing payloads and sensors to offboard systems under, on, and over the water at range will be able to attack their adversary from multiple angles simultaneously, thereby stressing defensive systems and creating an attrition effect on the adversary before they are able to achieve firing position against the platform. In many cases, systems are much more difficult to target - particularly small, quiet underwater systems, so they will provide huge tactical advantages for the mothership that don't exist today. When platforms begin fielding distributable systems that can deploy payloads at range, and multiple platforms are deploying multiple systems, the emerging networks of overlapping ISR and payload platforms and systems will build resiliency into the defense of the battleforce while enabling the lethality of the most capable platforms to fire effectively first at range against adversaries.
Nobody really knows how all of this is going to work, and the Navy isn't even sure they really know what all is needed to make it work, but the US Navy has decided the Littoral Combat Ship will be the low cost entry level investment towards the mothership capabilities that will expose the challenges of large battle networks and allow the Navy to work through the problems and evolve towards this new way of naval warfare. Because of that - it is the LCS sailors through their innovations (which will both succeed and fail along the way, because that is what happens when you innovate) who will usher in the truly distributed network way of war at sea. If you are wondering who the innovators are in the surface warfare community over the next decade, they are in the LCS program.
So for better or worse, I share Bob Work's optimism and excitement for LCS, and I am starting to see the change of attitude in SWOs as mentioned by the CATO panel regarding LCS. LCS looks like doom and gloom in Washington, but the further one gets from DC and the closer one gets to Norfolk and San Diego, the more obvious it is that many of the young SWOs and sailors see LCS as an opportunity and a challenge, rather than the problem and a failure reflected in media narratives.
Two good reads worth checking out regarding the CATO panel. First, Christopher Preble's After Action Report, and this VERY interesting discussion by Kurt Albaugh who has slides I would love to get a copy of, and is a topic I want to research before discussing myself.