Speaking of Frigate type missions

And juuuuuust after I posted that if you have frigate type missions, you end up having to use some sort of ship to perform them, CDR Salamander shows up in my feed with SecNav Ray Mabus waving his magic wand and suddenly taking a ship that Navy spend a decade shouting “it’s not a frigate!” and magically transforming it.

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Thursday said the Navy would rename the modified Littoral Combat Ships it plans to build as frigates, given their enhanced capabilities.

Words have meaning, but mere words are not reality itself.

It. Is. To. Weep.

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.

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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?


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.

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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.

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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.

LCS First Deployment- Too Pooped To Party

Singapore is renowned through the Navy as one of the best liberty ports in the  world. And the Concept of Operations for the Navy’s new LCS class of ships sees them deploying across the Pacific to operated forward deployed to the city-state for six to nine months at a time, cruising for three or four weeks, with a week or so in port for upkeep and liberty.

But Breaking Defense brings us the news that the extremely small crew size of the LCS means simply running and maintaining the ship wears the crew to the nub, in spite of massive contractor support while in port.


WASHINGTON: Some spectacular glitches marred the first overseas deployment of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, including an electrical failure that left the USS Freedom“briefly” dead in the water. Now Breaking Defense has obtained an unpublished Government Accountability Office study of Freedom‘s Singapore deployment that raises more serious questions about a long-standing worry: whether the small and highly automated LCS has enough sailors aboard to do up all the work needed, from routine maintenance to remedial training.

By now, the Navy brass have surely gotten tired of GAO taking shots at LCS. But according to GAO, LCS sailors are getting literally tired of the ship: They averaged about six hours of sleep per day, 25 percent below the Navy’s eight-hour standard, and key personnel such as engineers got even less. That’s in spite of

  • extensive reliance on contractors both aboard and ashore, with a “rigid” schedule of monthly returns to Singapore that restricted how far from port the LCS could sail;
  • the decision to increase Freedom‘s core crew by 25 percent, from 40 to 50 — the maximum the ship can accommodate without a “significant” redesign; and
  • the 19-sailor “mission module” crew, who are supposed to operate LCS’s weapons, helicopters, and small boats, pitching in daily to help the core crew run the ship’s basic systems.

None of this was unforeseen by critics of the program. Comparably sized conventional ships might have a crew of from 150 to almost 200. Of course, one of the major design goals of the LCS was to use automation to reduce crew size drastically, as personnel costs are one of the highest life-cycle costs of a ship. And to be sure, to a certain extent, using automation to reduce the workload is a good idea.

But much as the Army found that increased automation and networking might increase awareness across a battlespace, there still remains a requirement for a certain critical mass of people.  It’s the same thing at sea.

While the engineering failures of the LCS-1 were embarrassing (especially since the ship has been in commission for years before its first deployment), to some extent, that’s typical teething trouble of a new class.

But that mechanical unreliability is also greatly troubling, in that a central part of the Concept of Operations is to have large scale contractor support forward in the theater where LCS will operate. Now, the LCS isn’t designed to operate with the battle fleets of our Navy, but rather to fulfill many of the presence missions that every navy spends a great deal of time performing.  That’s fine when the LCS is patrolling the waters of the Straits of Malacca. Singapore is a modern city, with the infrastructure to support the LCS, and finding qualified contractors willing to spend considerable time there isn’t terribly difficult.

But when LCS class ships begin deploying to less pleasant spots around the globe, the infrastructure to support them will be lacking, and finding contractors willing to support them will be more difficult (and hence, expensive). If for any reason, contractor support is unavailable, either the ship’s crew will have to do required work, or the ship will simply be unavailable to perform its mission.

Again, none of these problems were unforeseen. Critics of the program have, from Day One, bemoaned the extreme measures reducing the crew size drastically. They’ve noted that tying the ship to peirside support means the ships lack strategic mobility, as they will be unable to suddenly shift from one theater to another (say, from the Red Sea to the Levant). And as crews wear themselves out, many will make the decision to leave the service, reducing the numbers of qualified, experienced sailors, and increasing the spiral of overworking crews.

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.

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.

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.

LCS out at 24?

The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship program has been something of a disaster from Day One.  What started as a small program to explore future concepts of surface warfare for some niche mission sets has, like so many programs before, grown to the point where the survival of the program is more important than the product of the program.  Current plans call for 52 to 55 ships to enter the fleet.

But the Office of the Secretary of Defense, in this age of shrinking budget numbers, is looking for low hanging fruit to prune from the budget tree, and LCS is hanging pretty low.

CDR Salamander points us to a Navy Times article that says OSD may truncate the program at 24 ships.

The Office of the Secretary of Defense reportedly supports the idea of limiting total purchases of littoral combat ships to only 24, far short of the Navy’s goal of 52 ships, sources say.

Stopping at 24 ships would end LCS procurement with the fiscal 2015 budget.

The Navy, according to what sources told Defense News, which is owned by Navy Times’ parent company, is countering with proposals for higher numbers, but strongly advocates going no lower than 32 ships — a number that would continue production another one or two years.

The positions are part of ongoing deliberations to formulate the fiscal 2015 defense budget, due to be submitted to Congress in February. The annual budget process has been heavily disrupted due to sequester cuts, and the White House’s insistence on producing two versions of the budget — a non-sequestration version, called the program objective memorandum — and an alternative POM, incorporating the mandated cuts and hence, far more severe reductions in purchases and programs.

Pentagon budget officials have focused primarily on the ALT POM, and in late August began switching to the POM. The OSD proposal to limit LCS to 24 ships is understood to be part of the ALT POM discussions.

Noted elsewhere in the article is a directive to the Navy to focus on getting the Mine Countermeasures Module for the LCS operational and fielded. That’s actually pretty good advice. The current MCM fleet is slated to be replaced by the LCS family, and is one that is desperately in need of modernization.   And MCM has traditionally been slighted by Big Navy, despite the fact that cheap World War I technology mines have done great damage to Navy ships. The USS Samuel B. Roberts, USS Princeton, and USS Tripoli all come to mind as ships badly damaged in the Persian Gulf by simple mines. So OSD giving the Navy a little focus on an important mission, and killing the rest of the LCS program makes sense.

There is, of course, a downside. Those of us opposed to the LCS program have, for nearly a decade now, called for the end of the program with the understanding that it should be replaced with a low cost, multipurpose low end combatant, a replacement for the FFG-7 Perry class frigates* But that won’t happen. When OSD kills LCS, what it will get instead is… nothing. That means the trendline of shrinking surface ships in an already shrinking Navy will get worse. And that’s a bad thing.

But the Navy has done such a poor job of justifying its surface battle fleet to OSD, Congress and the American people that no one trusts it to do any better in a follow on program.

Maybe if Big Navy spent more time thinking about what its mission is, and less worrying about diversity efforts, more people would trust it.

*I understand that the need for an ocean escort optimized for blue water anti-sub warfare has changed. But there will always be a need for low end ships to handle those missions that don’t call for a full up Burke class DDG. Do we really need a Burke for anti-piracy patrols? Or could we maybe get by with a frigate there?

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.