Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Talking Littoral Combat Ships With the Under

The following contribution is by Robert 'O Work, Undersecretary of the Navy. He has requested I post this response to my LCS blog post from last night. The response was directed at me, and he originally was going to publish these remarks in the comment thread of the other post, but my sense from Bob's request is that he is looking to talk LCS with everyone - not just me, so have fun but be respectful in the comments.

Galrahn: thanks for your candid assessment. As someone who has generally been supportive of the LCS, I was looking forward to your reaction, and to what promises to be a lively give and take over the next couple of posts.  Here are simply a few rejoinders for now:

I know we disagree on this point, but I think your first point is you are asking for the second of two reports, which is yet to be written.  The one that tells the potential future histories of the ship.  I think that report is premature. This ship is unlike any ship the Navy has ever built; it is a truly disruptive system, requiring different thinking.  I wouldn't write the second report until the ships have been in the fleet for some time so Sailors can really determine the absolute best way to operate and fight the ship

Second, you complain that the report is simply a rehash of history. But, like Ralph Peters, I like to take a GPS approach to things....first thing you have to know is where you are.  And it is a good thing to know how you got there.  And despite all the talking and blogging about LCS over the past three years, I have always been dissatisfied about complaints of this or that without putting into context what the ship was designed to do.  So, this report was written first to answer the question: why isn't the LCS a corvette? Why isn't it a frigate?  Why does it look the way it does? What it is designed to do? How did we get to this point?  After talking to literally hundreds of people, despite all the LCS's well documented programmatic history, there was little written on why leaders made the decisions they made. As a result, it seemed clear to me that few people really appreciated the thought process and decisions that went into the ship, the difficult tradeoffs made, and why the ship is the designed the way it is.  The purpose of this report is to catalog the history in as objective way as possible, in a different way than I've seen to this point.

I read your blog--and I know this is not what you meant (at least I think this to be true)--and it almost sounds as if you expect the development of a ship to be a simple engineering problem, with predictable, well-defined decision points. That the ship concept of ops needs to be stable, like the design drawings. If there is anything I've learned as Undersecretary, nothing could be further from the truth. Ships are conceived as part of a fleet design, with good ideas on how they will fit into it. But things change, especially for a system like LCS that doesn't fit into any neat box. And subsequent decisions are made for any number of reasons over the course of years--to account for programmatic, budget, threat, and program execution changes. The development is never a straight path.  After analyzing the LCS's developmental history, I conclude: okay, the Navy could have done three things much better: early program execution; staying on narrative; and prepping the surface warfare enterprise for the ship.  But in terms of concept, design tradeoffs, and capability and capacities, I think this program remained remarkably stable and true to the original intent.  I therefore conclude the Navy got the ship it wanted, with pretty much the capabilities it wanted, for pretty much the price it wanted. In my view, this hardly the management execution fiasco you describe.

Now it is certainly true than any honest and objective narrative about a ship's development history is going to be a hair-raising story of expectations, balancing requirements versus program costs, and making hard tradeoffs.  As I prepared the history, even as one more familiar with the LCS than most, I was surprised how the ship evolved through its development process.  But, like I said,  we pretty much got to where the people who conceived of the ship intended to go; now it's time to take it out and let Sailors really wring it out.  As I say in the report, I trust our Sailors to help us make the LCS even better.  In the meantime, however, it's looking to be a pretty capable small combatant--albeit different in kind than most.

I couldn't agree more with a segment of your closing paragraph:" the  Littoral Combat Ship - warts and all - is one of the great things the Navy is doing today and legitimately - besides ballistic missile defense - the only sign of innovation in surface warfare taking place on the entire planet..." But it is definitely a disruptive system.  It will evolve in fleet service, as we exploit its strengths and better understand its weaknesses.  What's wrong with that?

Finally, this report was not intended to be an analytical defense of 55 LCSs.  That comes with our Force Structure Assessments.  Our new one comes out soon.  We can talk about numbers when it does.

Looking forward to more give and take.

Best, Bob

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