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 Now Breaking Defense has obtained an unpublished Government Accountability Office study of Freedom‘s Singapore deployment that raises more serious questions about a long-standing worry: whether the small and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.

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.

Sprucans vs. LCS

I think CDR Sal spends a bit too  much time on the “coulda, woulda” part of this post discussing the plan to build the last Spruance class destroyer as a helicopter platform, but the main thrust of his post rings clear.

2. The facts. LCS-1 was commissioned in NOV08. Almost 5 years ago, and we have 4 LCS commissioned; two of each sub-class of LCS. The USS SPRUANCE (DD-963) was commissioned in SEP75. Five years later, in 1980, we had just commissioned hull 30, USS FLETCHER (DD-992). That left one ship in the class left, the USS HAYLER (DD-993) that we’ll get to in a minute. So, ummmm, no. Admiral Greenert, the experience we have having with LCS is quite significantly different than our experience with the SPRUANCE class. Shall we go on to OHP next? Let’s not and say we did; I want to stick with the Spru-cans.

The Spruance class destroyers were in many ways very revolutionary ships. They had an entirely new hull form, much, much larger than previous destroyers. Their primary mission was open ocean Anti-Submarine Warfare, as part of the escort for a carrier battle group. An important part of making an effective ASW ship was minimizing self-noise. And it is much easier to minimize self-noise on a larger ship than a smaller one. That was one of several factors driving the unprecedented size of the Sprucans. They were also the first major US warships to be powered by gas turbine engines.

Further, all the ships were built by a sole source contractor in a “winner take all” bid, virtually unknown to the Navy in those days. Litton built an entirely new production line to crank out the ships. It wasn’t without its problems, but with an average production of 6 ships per year, it, in the end, worked.

http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/u160000/u164534.jpg

Importantly, the ships were designed from the earliest days to have plenty of room for growth to adapt to new technologies. Plenty of reserve buoyancy and stability, electrical power and other utilities were built into the original platform because the designers knew that every ship gains weight and more equipment as it ages. This imposes an up front cost, but in the long run, often saves real money during future upgrades.

By 1980, plans were well in hand to modify the Spruance class with several important upgrades. A towed tactical sonar array would be added, vastly improving their long range ASW capability, the original LAMPS I SH-2F helicopters would be replaced by the bigger, far more capable LAMPS III SH-60B helicopter, armored box launchers for Tomahawk missiles would be planned, and the 20mm Phalanx Close In Weapon System would be planned to increase point defense against anti-ship missiles. Even further modifications would come later, with the Mk41 Vertical Launch System replacing the ASROC launcher.  While most of these changes weren’t envisioned from the start, the capability to make fairly extensive changes easily was.

Compare and contrast with the LCS-1 Freedom currently deployed to Singapore.

The strength of the entire LCS concept is supposed to be the “plug and play” modules the ship is designed to carry. But because the ship has been designed and built, while the modules are still in (troubled) development, as a practical matter, fixed constraints on size, weight, power, and other hotel loads have been placed on those modules. Further, as the modules are supposed to be deployable on either of the LCS variants, any limiting factor imposed by one variant, say, chill water availability, imposes that limitation on the module across both variants.

Further, because of an obsession with high speed, the LCS-1 has a semi-planing hull form that is very sensitive to increased loads. That is, increases in loaded displacement will have a greater negative effect on top speed and endurance than a similar increase in displacement would have on a conventional displacement hull.

Further, to beat a dead horse a bit more, the LCS program first sought two completely different variants to test the LCS concept at sea, and then choose which approach best suited the Navy’s needs (if either). But the shortcomings in hull numbers (largely a result of retiring Spruance class ships long before their useful service lives were consumed) meant the Navy decided to push ahead with serial production of not just one variant, but both, long before either ship had proven itself in any way shape or form. In fact, to date, both have been plagued by engineering troubles, corrosion, and problems with their combat systems. To some extent, this is fairly normal for a first-in-class ship, but as shown by the example of the Spruance class, the fleet shouldn’t need five years just to get one variant onto its first deployment, and still be struggling with keeping underway for more than 3 or 4 days at a time.

I am a strong proponent of seapower, and want to support a strong Navy. But given the utter inability of the Navy to make hard choices about what it truly needs in terms of shipbuilding, and its stubborn inability to cut its losses on a project that was ill conceived, and poorly managed, I find it almost impossible to trust Big Blue when it starts braying about the need for more money because of a strategic shift to the Pacific.

Mountain Home AFB, home of… The Singapore Air Force?

Yep. Or at least, a fair portion of it. Mountain Home AFB, in Idaho, is home to one of the Air Force’s F-15E Strike Eagle fighter wings.  These Eagles are specialized air-to-ground variants of the long serving F-15 family, and still retain full air-to-air capability.  In practice, the F-15E is the successor to the F-111 Aardvark. The US operates about 200 F-15Es. It’s also becoming a rather successful export product. Variants have been sold to South Korea, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Singapore.

Singapore is, per capita, pretty damn wealthy. But it is also more of a city, than a country. And its exposed position at the tip of the Malay  Peninsula leaves it vulnerable. And so Singapore invests very heavily in airpower.

And it’s a very respectable air force. In addition to the F-15SG, RSAF also operates other very respectable frontline aircraft such as the F-16C/D  Block 52+, the AH-64D Apache, the CH-47D Chinook, modern AEW aircraft and modern transport aircraft, including KC-135R tankers.  That is pretty damn respectable for a country pretty roughly the size of New York City.

The problem is, being such a small country, they have virtually no airspace of their own. In a shooting war, busting some borders isn’t a problem. But in peacetime, the restricted airspace means opportunities for effective training are limited. Because of this, about a third of the Republic of Singapore Air Force is actually stationed overseas.

Most of their basic flight training takes place in Australia. RSAF also maintains a training base in France.  But here in the good old USA, the Republic of Singapore Air Force has no less than four training locations.

Luke AFB, AZ  is home to RSAF F-16 operational training. Silverbell Army Heliport , also known as the Western Army National Guard Aviation Training Site, at Marana, AZ is home to AH-64D training. Redmond Taylor AHP, part of the Joint Reserve Base Dallas complex, is home to CH-47D training. That leaves Mountain Home Air Force Base.

As noted, Mountain Home is already home to one of the US Air Force’s Strike Eagle wings, so bedding down the RSAF Strike Eagles there makes sense. Plus, Mountain Home has a very respectable range complex available for training.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/5e/428th_Fighter_Squadron_-_Boeing_F-15SG_Strike_Eagle_05-0005.jpg

Oddly, the RSAF squadrons stationed in the US have adopted US squadron numbers and tailcode markings, though they wear RSAF roundels. Currently, the squadron at MHAFB is the 428th Fighter Squadron.

Actually, here’s where it gets a little weird. The 428th Fighter Squadron is a US squadron. It has about 25 US Air Force personnel assigned. And about 140 RSAF folks. And falls under the 366th Operations Group, along with two US fighter squadrons. Of course, it isn’t a deployable asset like the other two squadrons.

In addition to serving as a training squadron for the RSAF, having roughly a third of their F-15SG fleet stationed here leaves them a nice war reserve to replace any losses Singapore may suffer.

This is hardly the only foreign fighter squadron to be stationed in the US. For many, many years, Germany maintained F-4F and Panavia Tornado squadrons in the US for a similar purpose.

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/37/428th_Fighter_Squadron_-_Lockheed_F-16C_Block_52_Fighting_Falcon_94-270.jpg

Earlier incarnation of the 428th Fighter Squadron, when it was the prime RSAF F-16 training unit stationed at Cannon AFB, NM.