LCS-1 Freedom in Guam 8600054408_7d148ae721

The first Littoral Combat Ship, LCS-1 Freedom, in Guam.

In a hastily convened conference call with journalists, the Navy pushed back today against recent congressional criticisms of its Littoral Combat Ship.

Yesterday, the LCS program took a 1-2 blow from BreakingDefense, which got a draft of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report questioning the Navy’s cost estimates to operate it. There was also one from  Bloomberg, which had obtained an internal Navy study critiquing the new ship. The two articles drove awkward questions in the House and Senate. (We don’t know whether the two timely leaks were coincidence or a campaign to arm LCS critics for the hearings).

“To some degree people are poking at issues that are old, and perhaps it’s our fault for not having updated them,” said Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, the chairman of the “LCS Council” that the Chief of Naval Operations appointed last year to get the program on track.

The report by Rear Adm. Samuel Perez that Bloomberg cited, for instance, dates to March 2012, as the Bloomberg article acknowledged, and parts of it have been reported before, although Bloomberg’s Tony Capaccio appears to be the first reporter to get the entire document. Many — though not all — of that report’s concerns have been addressed, Hunt said. “[Those concerns] go back frankly a year ago,” he said. “It goes back, frankly to the reason the CNO created the Council… We’ve looked at that stuff, we’ve made adjustments.”

The draft GAO report obtained by BreakingDefense, likewise, criticizes a 2011 estimate of LCS “operations and support costs,” which according to GAO was 90 percent likely to be wrong. “I’m not sure where people come up with the specific percentages of reliability,” Hunt said, but “the program office continues to refine and update those things.”

(What if there was an updated estimate and what it was, Hunt deferred to LCS program and the office of Assistant Secretary for Research, Development, & Acquisition, Sean Stackley. We’ll update you when we hear from them).

“I think we’ve been incredibly open and transparent across the board with GAO,” said Hunt. “I’m not sure what they’re writing, they haven’t given me any insight, [and] I haven’t seen a draft,” Hunt said. “What I would tell you is that I personally met with them several times and I afforded them virtually complete access to anything that we had. We got ‘em on board the ships. We showed the documentation, including the classified documentation.”

As for the concerns about the ship’s survivability in combat raised by the Perez report, the Pentagon’s independent Director of Operational Test & Evaluation, and others, the Navy has made some changes, for instance improving the firefighting system and increasing the ship’s “core crew” from 40 to 50 sailors, increasing the number available for damage control. (The main purpose of the larger crew size, however, was to better handle routine maintenance and standing watch). But ultimately, a ship’s ability to take damage is literally built in, a factor of construction and sheer size.

“I think people are expecting every ship out there to have equal survivability in all environments,” said Hunt. “This is not a little destroyer, this is a littoral combat ship with a different mission.” The LCS, with its cannon and 40-knot speed, is more battleworthy than the machinegun-armed, 14-knot Avenger minesweepers it will replace when fitted with its “mine countermeasures module.” When kitted out to hunt hostile submarines, LCS will take the place, not of destroyers, but of the smaller FFG-7 Perry-class frigates, which Hunt himself served on as a young officer.

“When I was on an FFG, people thought that wasn’t survivable,” Hunt said. “I was very comfortable as the damage control officer/chief engineer on those things.”

On the Navy’s 1-3 scale of survivability, by the way, destroyers are a 3, the top rating, while LCS is a 1. Those old Perry FFGs are 2s — still significantly tougher than the LCS.

Comments

  • Aurora

    So we will spend scores of billions to build ships “more battle worthy” than minesweepers? Does anyone seriously believe the LCS could at this moment substitute for the combat capability of the 30+ year old FFG7s? Is it any wonder that Americans are losing faith with the credibility of our leaders when they try to peddle this nonsense?

    It bears repeating: this ship is under armed and under manned–despite the addition of a few more racks. Its lack of offensive firepower makes it a liability for its crew and potentially a PUEBLO in the making if it were to be surrounded by Iranian or NOKOR forces. There is no cost-benefit scenario where this thing looks good unless its interdicting drug runners in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Cut our losses and can this program. Give the two shipyards a piece of a real warship program to get the political heat off the navy.

    This thing is a travesty. It should never have been built.

  • PolicyWonk

    But ultimately, a ship’s ability to take damage is literally built in, a factor of construction and sheer size.

    ============================================

    Being built to the navy’s level-1 standard means the LCS cannot withstand the shock a fleet oiler can. The assumption that these boats can take a hit, and either retire from the scene (or let all hands abandon ship prior to sinking) isn’t terribly inspiring. A real, nation-supported naval adversary of the same size (and in many cases, even smaller ships) can easily clean the the LCS’s clock.

    Now, it is heavier armed than one of our current mine-sweepers – but that is setting the bar mighty low. However, for a ship that costs $400M per sea-frame, the US taxpayers deserve FAR more (and so do our sailors!) for their money.

    If the navy has fixed the problems, then why don’t they clearly list out the problems and the remedies? Instead, all anyone says or hears out of the navy seems to involve copious quantities of bovine-manufactured fertilizer, and a lot of self-righteous indignation when yet another report comes out that exposes yet another load of problems (or ones that have yet to be addressed).

  • Joseph Zoob

    The LCS class ship is designed for inclose action in shallow water. A ship of that size, inclose to shore, becomes a very easy target for a variety of small personal weapons. LAWS,RPG recoiless rifle, 50 cal machine gun. you can’t hide the LCS like you can a Submarine. I’m ex Navy and for the life of me I don’t understand the navy’s thinking The Marines already have air cushion craft for inclose ops as do the seals. what are we spending money on now and for what reason??????

    • PolicyWonk

      Indeed – the LCS – despite its name – fails to take into account the historical nature of littoral combat. What battles in the littorals in the pacific lacked in size during WW2 they more than made up for in sheer intensity.

      We learned to build, arm, and man survivable ships to fight in the littorals then. There is no reason why we cannot do so now – outside of the inexplicable and seemingly unqualified folks in the Navy that somehow got put in charge of this program.

      • Lop_Eared_Galoot

        PW,

        >>
        …they more than made up for in sheer intensity.
        >>

        Agreed, when we were using PT boats as inshore raiders (and ‘pibbers’ later on in the brown water navy of SEA) and had to deal with a ‘near peer’ gunzo threat that was both aggressive and highly dependent on coastal freighter supply lines to keep eating.

        The one thing you have to be aware of however is that, even with a 40mm on the stern and anything up to a small howizter as bowchaser as well as all torpedoes removed and various small arms augmenting the .50 turrets, the PT boats suffered _horrendous_ damage during these kinds of actions, armed to the teeth or no.

        The problem is that, as I tried to illustrate with the Samuel B. Roberts suffering 89 million dollars in damage from a 1,500 dollar mine, those days are gone. You cannot afford to send even a Corvette or Frigate into these kinds of situations because not only is the threat weapons bar much higher with portable guided threats and explosive rocket fires as standard. But the cost of the hulls and mission systems is such that the damage of even a ‘gunboat’ action will drive you right to the poorhouse.

        The USN needs to enter the 21st century and adopt the USMC attitude that says: “Better to send a smart bullet than a dumb gunner.”

        Whether this be a UAV with APKWS or an SSM moded RIM-162 until we get an NLOS followon to Netfires, we cannot allow the enemy inside 5,000m for a gun fight at OK Corral type resolution. Cannot. Must Not.

        _Will Not Win_ if we do.

        Yet the more expensive these hulls get, the more you have to shift the ‘testing for intent’ part of the inshore gunboat diplomacy towards lower cost (A-UAV or USCV) to make sure that the threat understands what the costs are going to be, long before it can get to RPG or DShK range.

        The big problem is that we have adopted a policing model for our
        combat units inherent to a decade spent soaking in low intensity
        fighting. Where you have to see the gleam in the other guys eyes to
        before you shoot him.

        >>
        We learned to build, arm, and man survivable ships to fight in the
        littorals then. There is no reason why we cannot do so now – outside of the inexplicable and seemingly unqualified folks in the Navy that
        somehow got put in charge of this program.
        >>

        Not really. We just had such huge excesses of manufacturing and manpower capacity that we could afford a semi ‘Russian Solution’ to throwing away WWII sailors as their platforms in huge numbers for ready replacement.

        That is also not going to happen in todays political environment as the first time an LCS gets tore up by a microthreat and a lot of mothers weep as their children come home in body bags, if at all, someone will go to prison.

        Let’s get back to system costs.

        We flat out _need_ to install APAR+SMART-L as combined firecontrol illuminator/tracker and 3D air search radars worth about 20-30 milliond dollars to handle even the low tier inshore threats.

        They will also be worthless unless we install a minimum 10 cell (X4 missile) round VLS as a permanet fixture to stuff full of RIM-162. Further ‘multimissioning’ with other weapons like Tomahawk and Harpoon and an ASROC replacement would up this to a minimum 40 cell cluster. Which the present hulls cannot DWT accept as high mounted superstructure top weight.

        If you put that into a lengthened and strengthened (see early vs. later DDG-51/81 flights) LCS Flight II class which is now competent to replace the OHP frigates as a battlegroup co defender, then you are looking at a 1 billion dollar hull.

        Which is still cheaper than the 1.8 billion of the latest Arleighs.

        If you don’t do that then the purpose of the LCS, to do the ho-hum missions which the ‘real Navy’ can’t be bothered to is lost because these ships will need ‘Real Navy’ SUW and AAW coverage from something meaner with bigger teeth. Leaving them as little more than fast target decoys (since they cannot roam the battlespace faster than their nominal ‘escort’).

        Similarly, without major VLS based system enhancements, their purpose with the Big Navy will in fact be a big ??

        As they will suck gas from the fleet trains trying to keep up in mid-ocean sea states and not really be needed for the Mine Warfare or SUW mission sets some 400nm offshore (which is where the Chinese are shoving us, with their enhanced coastal defense missiles inherent to the ‘Pacific Pivot’).

        I wouldn’t risk a 400 million dollar hull to an RPG speedboat threat. I certainly wouldn’t risk a billion dollar hull to an RPG speedboat threat.

        So the idea that direct gunzo vs. helo or hull launched (standoff) missile engagement of the speed boat threat is the driver here is just not viable. Because ANY PRESENT HULL which has ESSM or Harpoon capability can do the standoff mission against PCIs.

        Bluntly then, if LCS cannot do the Deep Ocean Fleet mission, then LCS is not a Perry class replacement. If LCS is not (at least) an OHP replacement then it doesn’t belong in the USN.

        Because that is the useful hull count as mission gap we are facing in the attempt to hold onto a 300 keel USN force structure right now.

        • PolicyWonk

          The PT boats, while very heavily armed, were high-risk platforms b/c they were made of plywood, and powered by engines that used ultra-flammable aviation gasoline.
          However, because of their heavy armament, shallow draft, and high speed they gave serious pause to the Japanese navy, because they had the power to severely damage (or sink) a much larger combatant.

          Building LCS as currently “designed”, only to the navy level 1 standard, instead they should’ve been built to the level-2 standard (like the OHPs were). And, they should have at least a box (or two) of harpoons to offer some kind of deterrent (or ability to “reach out and touch someone”) if it found itself fighting a real adversary.

          For now, the LCS is woefully underarmed no matter which “mission package” you pick, and being unarmored seriously reduces its ability to take a punch (or negates it entirely). The NLOS was a waste of time as it never had the punch or range to make that much of a difference. It is seemingly like they never had any intent to ARM this boat.

          Where I understand the navy’s idea to have a ship/sea-frame with a sufficiently shallow draft to operate in the littorals makes sense – even with mission packages – they could’ve done a FAR better job than what has become the LCS. What they currently have is better suited and armed for drug interdiction or minor anti-piracy operations than naval activities.

          Hence – the taxpayers would be better off if they gave the LCS to the USCG (sorry, guys!), and bought up-armored and up-armed NSC’s instead (an option they were offered, and turned down).

          But the real damning indication of failure, is that these super versatile sea-frames (as originally envisioned) that initially gained a lot of interest from our allies (the interest of which was used to help sell the idea as a cost reducer to the USA because of more units being built): ALL of these potential purchasers have since walked away.

  • Peter

    The LCS debate is getting kind of silly because doesn’t the US Navy have other options such as the “LCS International Version,” the USCG “National Security Cutter-militarized” or even foreign small ship designs? The USN seems to defend the LCS as if it cannot think of or has any other option when in fact the world is
    full of corvette, frigate, and Fast Attack Boat designs that could well
    kick the LCS out the door in terms of performance, capability, armor and
    armament.

    Furthermore, it’s also silly that the USN hasn’t found any other
    missile system to replace the cancelled NLOS-M and went from a 40km
    missile to one of 5-7km (“Griffin”) besides RAM. The world is full of
    missile choices, and why not even use the ESSM with its 14km range?

    In fact, the USN was thinking of up-arming the LCSs with a 76mm gun because the 57mm gun is anemic. But that still makes it more or less a gunboat.

    The OHP Frigates were designed with the Soviet Union as a threat and hence the 40-round ring magazine missile launcher, torpedo tubes, 76mm gun, helicopters, and 20mm CIWS. The LCSs were designed with like no particular threat…pirates…or drug Go-Fast boats? The LCS is still a gunboat whereas the OHPs still have torpedo tubes, 76mm, and sonar even with the removal of their single-arm missile launcher.

    I have not seen any article or Congressional debate asking the
    USN…”What Ifs” and “Why Nots?” on the LCS (yet). Sure, great to point
    out the problems on the LCS (several articles have done so already),
    but has there been any articles on solutions and options…uh, any?
    Pick on the LCS and here comes the USN’s defense—naturally. Offer a new
    ideas and other designs and see if the USN says, “Gee, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Uh…anyone in Washington D.C. say so yet?

  • Don Bacon

    The Navy hasn’t given any indication about what the Freedom, once it is able to sail, will actually do on Asian littoral seas, like protect China shipping in the Malacca Strait.

    Or will it just stay at the dock in Singapore and perform civic actions with Singaporeans and clean the ship?

    –FREEDOM Sailors pitched in yesterday to help the Singapore Association of the Visually Handicapped. BZ to our team of volunteers!

    –they hosed the hull down
    https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/p480x480/923105_10151567891367453_448369021_n.jpg

    –and they did the tourist thing in Singapore
    A hidden treasure and a fun adventure! Chinatown in Singapore

    –all the above from the Freedom facebook page
    https://www.facebook.com/USSFreedom

  • squidgod

    I like how a ship that was supposed to cost $200M but ended up costing $400M is still considered “on budget.”

  • Don Bacon

    Senator McCain: “The Navy plans for the Littoral Combat Ship to comprise over one-third of the nation’s total surface combatant fleet by 2028, and yet the LCS has not demonstrated to date any adequate performance of assigned missions.”

    John, that’s because the Freedom has no assigned mission. It’s in Singapore to promote its sale to other navies, that’s all. There has been no indication that it’ll actually do anything, even if it did have an operational propulsion system, which it doesn’t.

    It does look good at the dock, though, with its cammie paint job. I had trouble seeing it, even.

  • http://www.facebook.com/bull.jones Bull Jones

    Fact: The US Navy has always needed a decent corvette. Even though i have watch closely the construction of Austal design here in Mobile, I still scratch my head at the waste and sheer stupidity of what we are sending our sons and daughters on out into a hostile world. Yes, we need a corvette, but one that has more spine and much more punch!

  • idahoguy101

    The Navy should not buy any combat ship with only a level one survivability. There are several ships operated by other Navy’s than are more survival and capable than either LCS type. The Danish Navy has a Corvette with better weapons and more space for Mission Modules than either LCS does.

  • MIDWATCH

    THE PRINCIPAL PROBLEM WITH THE LCS IS THAT THE CONCEPT OF OPERATIONS IS DEEPLY FLAWED…THIS SHIP TYPE IS SIMPLY A REACTION TO THE LATEST AREA OF CONCENTRATED NAVAL OPERATIONS, I.E., THE SHALLOW AREAS OF THE ARABIAN SEA/PERSIAN GULF. IN THE FUTURE WE MAY WELL BE IN ANOTHER AREA…WHAT IS NEEDED FOR THE LONG HAUL ARE RUGGED MULTI-MISSION SHIPS WITH GOOD ENDURANCE, NOT TRICKED OUT THIN-SKIN SPEEDBOATS…