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?

LCS vs PF

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.

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.

http://www.the-blueprints.com/blueprints-depot/ships/ships-us/uss-lci-landing-craft-infantry-us-version.gif

http://www.allwoodships.com/MilitaryShips/Amphibious/Image/2,LCI,page.jpg

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.

http://landingship.com/images/schematic.jpg

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.

http://www.deagel.com/library1/small/2006/m02006112300009.jpg

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.

It’s Corvette Week at CIMSEC

And Chuck Hill has a nice piece to start us off with, asking (and answering) the most basic question- just what is a corvette?

Classification of surface warships as cruisers, destroyers, frigates, or corvettes, has become like pornography. There are no generally accepted definitions, but “I know it when I see it”–except that everyone sees it a little differently.

Since this is “Corvette Week” what are we really talking about?

(Note: unless otherwise specified, lengths are over all and displacements are full load)

My Combat Fleets of the World, 16th Edition, which I have used here extensively for reference, defines Corvettes as, “Surface Combatants of less than 1,500 tons but more than 1,000 full load displacement–essentially, fourth rate surface combatants.”  but goes on to note that “…the designation as used here essentially refers to smaller frigates and does not correspond to the European concept of corvettes as any warship larger than a patrol craft but smaller than a frigate.” I feel to confine the definition within a 500 ton range is too restrictive. in fact it would have excluded the Castle class corvettes of WWII as too large, and other corvettes as too small.

I’ll just note that in our Navy, typically the smallest surface combatant we’ve built in peacetime is the Frigate or (as designated prior to 1975) the Destroyer Escort.

Our Navy currently is pretty well stocked with Destroyers, with some 62 of the excellent DDG-51 class in service. But our Frigates of the FFG-7 class are nearing the ends of their service lives. The LCS is being built, but since day one, Big Navy has denied the LCS is a replacement for the Frigate.

And to a great extent, that’s true. Our Frigates, while always general purpose warships, have been optimized for the open ocean Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)  role.

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the blue water ASW mission has declined greatly. But there is still a pressing need for a numerous class of warships to fulfill missions that don’t require the capability of a multi-billion dollar DDG-51.

Is there a place for a low-end corvette combatant in our Navy? What roles and missions would it perform? Where is it likely to serve? How should it be armed?

Hopefully, the Corvette Week series at CIMSEC will provide answers to those questions.

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.

Then:

“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.”

Now:

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.

Expeditionary Maritime Security Operations in the Littorals

In the immediate aftermath of military operations in a nation with significant coastal area, smuggling of weapons, fleeing militants and demonstration of presence are all important missions.

It’s a mission we’ve seen performed in Iraq after the initial 2003 invasion. And maritime security and presence operations are a key role for the Littoral Combat Ship.

Let’s take a look how the Coast Guard performed this mission in 1983-84 after the October 25, 1983 invasion to remove the Cuban installed Marxist government.

The U. S. Coast Guard was the logical service to fulfill these missions. As an armed service, it could deploy quickly and integrate fully into the joint command structure. As the nation’s seagoing police, it had developed great expertise in coastal surveillance and interdiction in the fight against illegal drug traffic. And its image as a humanitarian organization with a history of protecting lives and property at sea made its arrival less politically sensitive to both sender and recipient.

A squadron of four cutters, three 95-foot patrol craft (WPBs) and one support unit, was chosen. These were manned by a little more than 100 men and women. All four vessels were chosen from the Seventh Coast Guard District in Florida because of their proximity to the operating area and their familiarity with Caribbean waters, vessel types, and traffic patterns. The squadron commander was assigned from the Atlantic Area staff.

WPBs are seaworthy, fast, well armed, and small enough to steam along the coast, yet large enough to self-deploy across the Caribbean. Since their routine patrols include drug interdiction, law enforcement, and search and rescue missions, their 15-member crews are well versed in interception, boarding, searching, and seizing procedures. The WPBs chosen were the USCGC Cape Fox (WPB-95316), USCGC Cape Gull (WPB-95304), and USCGC Cape Shoalwater (WPB-95324).

Planning for the worst case, no support from ashore, a support cutter was included, in this case the USCGC Sagebrush (WLB-399). The 180-foot seagoing buoy tender (WLB) was an excellent choice. Designed and built more than 40 years ago to resupply offshore lighthouses, WLBs can carry a large amount of fuel, water, and provisions. Capabilities integral to a WLB not found in a WPB are a heavy lift cargo boom, a large forward cargo deck, a machine shop, welding facilities, and electronics repair.

Additional WPB support was included by embarking a special support team of senior enlisteds in supply, electronics, and engineering rates and WPB spare parts on the Sagebrush. This team was drawn on short notice from a WPB shoreside support group, an experimental concept at Coast Guard Base, Miami Beach. The group was part of a multi-crew, multi-hull program. Designed to exact the maximum underway time from hulls without exhausting crews, the program used three crews to man two hulls. The support group provided additional maintenance during the hull’s short in-port periods.

A squadron of three seaworthy patrol boats supported by a sizeable bouy-tender to extend their deployment time. Not a bad little concept of operations.

The article goes on to mention not only the successes of the operation, but some of the challenges and shortcomings as well, logistics and communications being the biggest, not surprisingly for a scratch team.

It wasn’t all that long ago that many types of US Navy deployments were supported by dedicated support ships –tenders- specifically charged to support the maintenance and logistics of forward deployed assets. While the Navy still has a handful of submarine tenders, in the past there were tenders for PT boats and other small craft, seaplanes, and even oceangoing combatants such as fleet destroyers.

Typically, a tender would be moored nearside or in an anchorage of a forward base.  Rather than spending time and money to build infrastructure forward, the Navy simply moved a ship into position. And as operating areas moved, so to did the tenders.

Not so today.  The LCS-1 Freedom is forward deployed to Singapore, where it is dependent upon a small team of US Navy personnel acting primarily as contracting agents for both US contractors (flying over as needed for specific taskings) and host nation facilities.

That’s all well and good in peacetime, but who is to say that Singapore might now bow to diplomatic pressure to deny port rights to US ships in a future incident?

Three  other geographic regions come to mind when we think of littoral regions that could benefit from US maritime security operations using less than major combatants.

First, the Caribbean. Long considered a “territorial sea” by the US Navy, it still today sees quite a bit of US naval activity, primarily in suppression of drug smuggling. But the dwindling numbers of low end frigate type combatants is making it harder and harder to support tasking there.  Other ships make occasional deployments there in support of US national interests, but generally as a break from the normal routine of deploying as a part of a Carrier Strike Group or Amphibious Ready Group.  The LCS is seen as likely to spend considerable time on the Caribbean station. The Coast Guard’s 154’ Sentinel class Fast Response Cutters are probably the smallest craft that could profitably be used in these operations, and Key West based cutters will likely do so.

Second, the Persian Gulf, specifically, the Straits of Hormuz. This is possibly the critical shipping chokepoint in the world. A large percentage of the world’s oil transits the Straits. Iran is on one shore, with the UAE on the other. Oman and Saudi Arabia also are close to the chokepoint. All three of the states on the southern shore have small combatants dedicated to patrolling the waters, but the US Navy has long had a presence in the region, and military operations such as Operation Praying Mantis have flared up from time to time.

A large part of the peacetime requirement for Maritime Security Operations is boarding and inspecting vessels, ranging from massive supertankers to tiny fishing boats.  While larger ships can dispatch a ship’s boat to do so, it makes little sense to tie up a billion dollar destroyer to haul around an 11m rubber boat.  Smaller patrol vessels (even something as small as the old 50’ PCF Swift boat) could profitably be used for such a mission, and supported easily by either shore assets or a very inexpensive tender as done in the cited article. Again, the Sentinel class cutter would be quite suitable.  Of course, in a shooting situation, small craft would have very limited utility, and would require greater support, but any shooting war there would call for a fairly large scale US Navy response anyway.

The third region that occurs to us is off the eastern coast of Africa, where piracy off the coast of Somalia has plagued shipping for the past decade. While an international coalition of nations has maintained a significant anti-piracy patrol in the region (with some fairly odd bedfellows- both the Chinese and Iranians have staged anti-piracy patrols there) and greatly suppressed recent pirate activity, there could be cheaper ways to do so. Again, something smaller than a tender supported squadron of Sentinel class probably wouldn’t work. And given the large area of concern, significant support in terms of land based patrol aircraft and ship-based helos are needed, but again, tying up billion dollar destroyers doesn’t seem terribly efficient.

The Coast Guard currently plans to buy 58 Sentinel class  cutters. An additional buy of 12-24 for the Navy to operate in choke points would hardly be a massive burden to the shipbuilding budget. Nor would the modest crews of the ships be an undue burden on the Navy.

As for a tender to support forward deployed assets?  Rather than building a ship from the keel up, the Navy could very easily buy any number of fairly large Platform Supply Vessels on the used market. These ships are sturdy, and already built to carry large volumes of liquid and dry cargo, often to include provisions and spare parts. Containerized workshops for limited repair facilities would be easy to provide.

The small political and infrastructure footprint of this scheme makes it more palatable for host nations to allow operations, and facilitates partnership operations with less developed nations. Further, such smaller craft have an inherent ability to support special operations warfare assets in inshore waters.

At very modest costs in money and manpower, the Navy could support important Maritime Security Operations in critical areas while freeing up expensive assets of the battleforce to focus on their primary warfighting missions.

Bigger And Better: MQ-8C Takes To The Skies

The Fire Scout system has proven itself in numerous and diverse operational deployments, supporting troops on the ground in Afghanistan, completing weapons Rapid Deployment Capability (RDC) testing with the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS), continuing deployments on Guided Missile Frigates (FFG) class ships, and now preparing to welcome a new air vehicle to its ranks. This week the newest Fire Scout variant, MQ-8C Fire Scout, will take to the skies for the first time.

via Bigger And Better: MQ-8C Takes To The Skies.

I still have some lingering doubts about the Fire Scout program in general. Unmanned helicopter operations from small US combatant ships have a surprisingly long history, dating back to the QH-50 DASH program of the late 1950s. They also have a history of very high attrition rates. There’s a reason the DASH program gave way to the LAMPS manned helicopter program that continues to this day.

Having said that, it would seem the MQ-8 FireScout program is here to stay. And the potential of an unmanned off-board sensor system is great. The ability of a warship to control sea space is primarily a function of the reach of its sensors. Further, in this age of limited warfare, discrimination of targets is critical. Radar can detect targets at fair ranges, but even now it generally requires electro/optical sensors on a target to determine if a potential target is in fact a target. And so the Fire Scout gives a commander a set of eyes that can quickly view objects of interest, even far over the horizon.

One of the selling points of the MQ-8B FireScout was that it used a relatively cheap airframe, based on the civilian Schwietzer 333 helicopter. It’s relative low cost and small size meant that a Littoral Combat Ship could carry one manned MH-60 series helicopter and up to three MQ-8B’s.

But along the way, the Navy began to realize that a big part of the FireScout system was not tied to any particular airframe. The investment in the semi-autonomous control system, and the sensor and networking package was the heart of the program.

And end-users began to ask for more and more endurance. And so the MQ-8C FireScout was born. As an indication that the payload was the heart of the program, rather than the platform, the same MQ-8 designation was applied to an entirely different airframe, something we can’t recall ever before.

The MQ-8C uses essentially the same payload, but he airframe is the tried and true Bell 407, an evolution of the decades old Bell JetRanger helicopter.

When the use of the 407 was first floated a couple years ago, I scoffed that the Navy had managed to take an essentially 50 year old helicopter design and simply unload the pilots. My first thought would have been that it would be cheaper and easier to simply fly manned Bell 407s (or OH-58Fs) from ships.

But then I saw the one critical difference in performance between a stock 407/OH-58 and the “Charlie” FireScout.

Endurance.

Most manned helicopters give an endurance of about three, maybe four hours tops.

But by using all the payload capacity that would formerly have been applied to squishware* instead to fuel, the “Charlie” has an incredible endurance of up to 15 hours. That’s roughly four to five times what you get from a manned helicopter, and roughly twice what the earlier MQ-8B had.

That kind of endurance gives a ship’s captain a great deal of time on station and persistence in his ISR** organically that he could never achieve even with support from manned long range platforms like the P-3C or the new P-8A.

And while the Charlie is a good deal larger than the Bravo, if they can fit two Charlies in the space allocated for three Bravos aboard an LCS, that will be a net positive in time on station, especially given that the Charlie won’t have to cycle back to Mother for gas as often.

Currently, most DDGs and FFGs capable of operating helos only carry one MH-60, even though they have hangar space for two. Will the second hanger be utilized for an MQ-8C? If not, why not?

To be sure, there will be challenges in the FireScout program. And some failures. But a program I was deeply skeptical of at first is starting to win me over, slowly.

*people

**Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance