Future USS Freedom undergoes builder's trials on Lake Michigan near Marinette, Wisconsin

It’s a delicate time for the Navy’s controversial Littoral Combat Ship, largely because of acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox.

It was Fox who wrote the memo directing the Navy to slash its long-term LCS buy from 52 vessels to 32. So we’d love to know how strained the smiles were yesterday when Fox stepped aboard the first LCS, the Lockheed Martin-built USS Freedom,  which recently returned to San Diego from its malfunction-plagued maiden deployment to Singapore.

Whatever Fox saw and heard aboard the Freedom, it didn’t change her mind. This morning, at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego, Fox warned that the future fleet would face greater threats. “Niche platforms that can conduct a certain mission in a permissive environment have a valuable place in the Navy’s inventory,” she allowed in her remarks today, “[but] given more advanced anti-ship munitions being developed by potential adversaries, I believe it is an imperative to devote increasing focus and resources to the survivability of our battle fleet.”

Her natural conclusion, therefore, was, “we need more ships with the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary.” Her prepared remarks didn’t mention LCS specifically, but they didn’t have to. LCS has long taken intense criticism for its limited firepower and, even more so, its fragility compared to larger and more expensive warships. The Pentagon’s head of Operational Test and Evaluation has said repeatedly the ship is not survivable.

Fox, of course,  is only the acting deputy Defense Secretary. In fact, Obama has formally nominated her replacement, his choice for permanent Deputy Secretary, former undersecretary of the Navy, Robert Workone of the Littoral Combat Ships’ most vociferous defenders.

A Marine artilleryman turned military analyst, Work is articulate, combative and deeply committed to a high-tech vision of a future military reliant on a host of wirelessly networked unmanned and robotic systems. It so happens that the Littoral Combat Ship is the first navy vessel ever designed specifically to serve as a modular “mothership” to an array of unmanned aircraft, mini-subs, and so-called semi-submersibles that skim along barely breaking the surface. LCS is also the first ship designed specifically to operate as a node in a computerized command-and-control network. No wonder, then, that Work’s defense of the program never sounded pro forma. It fits too well with his idea of what the future military should be.

In fact, most of the LCS program’s problems came from trying to pack in too much innovation, too fast. Its lightweight hull had to be redesigned to handle heavier seas while the first two ships were already under construction, imposing major costs and delays. Its impressive 40-knot-plus speed, greater than any other warship, also imposed major expense and consumes a huge amount of hull space even though the Navy does not have a clear tactical concept of what that speed was needed for. Also, development of LCS’ high-tech, plug-and-play “mission modules” for sub-hunting, minesweeping and killing small attack boats has lagged behind construction of the ships themselves.

While the concept for LCS has evolved over the years, the Navy is touting its current incarnation as a low-cost alternative that can free up the bigger, tougher, and better armed destroyers for more dangerous missions. The ship’s ability to be in many places across the Pacific — simply because of its numbers — attracts senior officials eager to see American ships in Pacific ports, flying the flag, and along Pacific littoral waters, where war may well start.

Comments

  • Gary Church

    She is right about the increased lethality of anti-ship munitions; unfortunately nothing is going to increase the survivability of surface combatants.

    We are in the age of robots and missiles now.

    Better off building cheap submarines for the time being- and even those may not be able to hide for much longer due to sea glider technology.

    The world is changing so fast now. I would say we should just build large hulls as transports with flat decks we can operate military aircraft of. Like the old British sea control ship concept. Even use a new large state subsidized merchant fleet for it with some of the fleet serving while the rest is available as a reserve- and making money.

    • ted

      Gary why do you think this ship was built? It was designed to survive modern
      technology for today believe me. And increase it for other’s as well.

      • PolicyWonk

        According to the navy’s own Inspector General, LCS isn’t at all likely to survive the kinds of missions commanders are planning on sending them on (either variant).

        I think its reasonably safe to assume that the Navy’s IG is well versed and thoroughly informed regarding the purpose and intended missions, given its their business to thoroughly understand these matters.
        Cheers.

        • james

          No ship in that class is designed to sustain a missile hit and keep fighting, or even take a hit and return to port unassisted.

          I don’t think it makes sense to compare the LCS to a typical gunboat. The missileboats are more heavily armed because that is their purpose. The Saar’s are the Israeli Navies primary fighting ships. They don’t have the versatility, speed, or endurance of the LCS, because that’s not what they are designed for.

          The US could build missile boats too. Adding VLS to the LCS’s could be done pretty easily. In fact that is a distinct possibility if the program is extended past 32.

          Obviously the jury is still out on the LCS program, no question about it. But the armament thing doesn’t worry me at all. That’s not a hard thing to change.

          High end frigates like Fremm and the one the Brits are working on aren’t cheap. The Fremm is a little hard to figure out because the Italians and French put different stuff in them, so it’s not easy to figure out the real cost. The LCS are costing like 450 million apiece, that’s not an insanely high number. The National Security Cutter costs more than that.

          And a lot of the mission module costs were going to occur regardless of the LCS. The navy is committed to drone minesweeping, and those development costs would have been paid for regardless of the LCS. Same with some of the new ASUW stuff they’ve worked on with the LCS.

          • PolicyWonk

            This has nothing to do with comparing the LCS to a gunboat, and lets try not to distract the discussion by going off topic.

            This is about the navy’s own IG having a number of considerable problems with the LCS design given the mission profiles that are planned for it (they do after all, have access to such things). The IG’s office is rightly concerned about the safety of our sailors.

            I’m not terribly concerned about whether more firepower can be added to LCS – we could arm a tramp steamer if we really wanted to. However, it is dubious given the sea-frame, whether adding more armament is really worth it. That said, the lack of ability to “reach out and touch someone” means that all LCS can do if a hostile naval opponent is detected, is to use its speed to get out of range ASAP – because that opponent can attack without fear of being hit back.

            Regardless, the navy’s LCS cheerleaders have yet to address any of the issues the IG reported, outside of rearranging the deck chairs (i.e. no actions of substance have been taken – unless you count the continuous delaying of shock testing) and giving the issues completely inadequate/unconvincing lip service (according to many naval defense analysts).

  • Gary Church

    Work needs to forget about these toy boats. He is right about the drones and sea gliders but why he is depending on these glorified PT boats to be a part of his grand design is a mystery to me. These small ships are miserable for the crews and will end up costing just as much as larger ships- and all of them are missile fodder. The age of the surface combatant is over and the submarine may soon follow. If it is about going cheap he is making a big mistake that has been made so many times before. There is no cheap.

  • Don Bacon

    Admiral Greenert has made the point that the Littoral Combat Ship offers nothing to the Marines; they can’t even land any of their helos on it. Supposing that the Marines might have some role in the littorals, how smart is it to procure 52 littoral combat ships at hundreds of millions each that are unusable for any purpose by Marines?

    • ted

      First of all Admiral Greenert must not have all his information straight on this vessel or he failed to take time to read it. Or maybe he has stock in a bigger project with his stamp of approval. What ever the case he has certainly the right to critisize other program’s same as civilian’s have. But i would hope he would be more precise as to why he thinks it’s a bad dime. And it was not designed for Helo’s to land on Admiral. And I might add that your the first one I have heard say the Marines have no use for it. All I have read say’s they wanted to make changes to the inboard system’s communication system’s link direct to the Navy’s system’s. For speeder actuation in time of combat. And fast
      system modular on board change out. In my opinion its a great boat and deserves a better shake. GOD BLESS AMERICA and it’s freedom of speech.

  • ycplum

    I am all for a modular “moterhship”, but it has to be one that is effective.

    • james

      The ship is designed for asytmetrical warfare. It’s not meant to battle it out with other countries high end corvettes or frigates. Everyone wants big guns and big missiles, but that’s not what it’s designed to do. A big powerful missile is only effective if you are willing to use it. And you’re not going to launch a SM in an environment with a lot of innocent civilians around. That’s why the LCS doesn’t need VLS.

      The LCS is a lot better armed than our current minesweepers by the way, which is one of the primary functions of the ship.

      We are much more likely to need these ships to sweep mines, scout terrorist areas, and for infiltration than we are to need them to fight ship to ship battles with frigates.

      If we want a frigate, then build a frigate. But that’s a different ship for a different mission.

      • Gary Church

        The ship is designed to make money, not accomplish anything in the real world.

        • james

          I think it’s funny that you want to build more “cheap” submarines, but think the LCS is just designed to make money. I’m not opposed to building submarines, but they aren’t cheap. The LCS ships actually are relatively inexpensive and are exactly the kind of ship to employ all the drones that you think are going to dominate the battlefield.

          • Gary Church

            Well, have a good laugh then. Relatively inexpensive? Relative to what- submarines? Submarines are not vulnerable to anti-ship missiles last I heard. Exactly the kind of ship to employ drones? Really? I am laughing at you to.

          • PolicyWonk

            Gary,

            LCS is relatively inexpensive when compared to a Zumwalt or Burke.

            The difference is that the fundamental survivability of both of those sea-frames isn’t doubted – where it is in doubt (according to the navy’s own inspector general) for both LCS variants.

            When you compare LCS to ships in the same class (even including mission package capability) built by other western navies (which are stealthy, have far better basic armament, and have full military sea-frames), LCS is and remains horrifyingly expensive for what you get. LCS is in short, a lousy value (to be generous) for the defense dollar spent.

            These are the reasons why every other potential customer for LCS has since walked away: they did the math.

          • Gary Church

            I doubt any surface combatants survivability wonk. But, that said, I see your point. I suggest we buy some Korean 214′s (u-boat built under license) instead. Or build them ourselves. Anything is better than missile fodder. If we are comparing costs……..

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_214_submarine

          • PolicyWonk

            LCS is relatively inexpensive when compared to the cost of a Burke or Zumwalt. But if you compare it to any ship in the same size class from any other western navy (even when you include missions packages – as some other navies have done), it is horrifyingly expensive (even when you exclude the additional costs of a mission package of the LCS).

            Building your ship under the theory that when hit, it’ll take just long enough to sink so you can get the crew off isn’t what I’d call inspiring, and I certainly would be horrified if anyone in my family ended up stationed on one.

            Other navies have built stealthy ships in the same size class with mission packages for 1/3 less – with full military hulls and far superior base armament/protection. LCS is built only to the level-1 standard (slightly better than commercial grade) – making it a poor foundation to build on – especially given the cost of both the sea-frame AND its mission package. Hence – when even the navy’s IG doesn’t think LCS can survive the missions its commanders are likely to send it to, all bets are off.

            Sorry – the math simply doesn’t work. Unless of course, you’re in the board room of Austal USA or Lockheed.

      • ycplum

        Exactly. One has to look at what it is designed for. With that said, I think they failed in the execution.

        Also, the LCS, by weight, is closer to a small frigate or a (very) large corvette. I am not sure if people realize that. They seem to constantly compare it to a destroyer.

        • ted

          tcplum The only failure in the system. The original system design and Idea was good then politics and military personnel as well as critic’s not to mention Gov. Inspector’s and numerous other’s that had added to the equation as it went caused the price and the lag that caused more expense and lag.This always happens in a new design in anything for our Government. Then guess who gets the blame? and reputation
          slam by john doe public. It ain’t Government. Except for cost overruns.Let us see the design changes WANTED by our Government,Navy,marines Ect. before we talk cost and time. and this go’s for any new weapon system. Any new design will have bug’s flaw’s that have to be worked out. Look at NASA and the space program?.I just hope the money is being spent on home turf. Go U.S.A.

          • ycplum

            No budget survives contact with the politicians?
            The design/mission concept was fine. The new design-build concept had merits, although it wa a new “system” they were using and probably needed some bugs worked out. I do think they underestimated the effort in making converting a civilian design into a military design (with necessary battle hardening and redundencies). And of course, once the bureaucrats and politicians gets involved with their changes …. The inherent problem with big projects is the big money and the feeding frenzy that follows.

          • PolicyWonk

            The bugs in the system aren’t the problem. The problem is the fact that the sea-frame itself is only built to the level-1 standard (slightly better than commercial). Contrast that to the standard of a common fleet oiler – which is a non-combatant – built to the level-2 standard.

            If they’d built to the level-2 standard from the start the circumstances wouldn’t be as they are today – but that’s a foundational problem they cannot fix after the ship is constructed.

      • ted

        Well said Jame’s.

  • PolicyWonk

    While the concept for LCS has evolved over the years, the Navy is touting its current incarnation as a low-cost alternative that can free up the bigger, tougher, and better armed destroyers for more dangerous missions.
    ========================================
    As a “low-cost alternative”? BRAVO SIERRA. When other nations can build stealthy designs in the same weight class with full military hulls, mission packages, heavier armament and far better protection at 1/3 less than the $400M cost of an LCS (either variant – not counting the cost of any mission package), someone is obviously completely full of fertilizer.

    We’d be better off to kill LCS altogether, and buy (or license) one of the alternatives from one of our allied nations.

    All the other nations (Saudi Arabia, and Israel amongst them) that were initially interested in LCS have long since walked away due to the ridiculous cost for such a lousy return on investment. The most asinine aspects of the ship with a middle name of “Combat”, with its first name “Littoral”, is that both LCS designs ignore ALL the lessons of littoral warfare we learned the hard way – while the sea frames aren’t even built to the same design standard of a common fleet oiler – which isn’t even a combatant.

    Continuing with this miserable failure of a program that even the navy’s own reports say has little chance of surviving in a hostile environment (let alone DOT&E and the GAO’s reports, amongst others – not one of which is even remotely favorable), is tantamount to little more than the willful negligent purchase of floating death traps for our sailors at worst, while continuing a flagrant corporate welfare program (at best).

    Either way – the taxpayers are getting reamed. IMO its well past the time this program is killed – with the existing sea-frames given to the USCG.

    • Peter

      Hear! Hear!

    • Gary Church

      Coast Guard would not want it. You don’t go out on dark and storm nights going 50 miles and hour.

      • ted

        You do if you have the boat that can. guess what this one can I bet.

        • Gary Church

          I would like to argue about this but your cowboy hat scares me ted.

  • Gary Church

    We used to build fast battleships and bombard enemy shorelines with them. And that is about the only ship that would be close to “survivable.” But close is not good enough against missiles. And guns have long since given way to mirco-chip brained jet propelled robots (missiles).
    Littoral warfare is now about mines and missiles, cheap subs and maritime patrol aircraft. “Surface combatants” are not survivable in any form. Keeping sea lanes open against mines is now about inspecting every foot of the bottom with remote operated vehicles. Surviving anti-ship missiles is about being in a submarine and small submarines work best in the littorals. Maritime aircraft drop mines and launch anti-ship cruise missiles. That is the arena and it will change fast as drones and sea gliders infest the air and ocean.

    • james

      You seem to want an all submarine navy.

      Subs are great, but they can’t conduct missile defense, can’t protect commercial sea lanes, can’t minesweep, can’t operate well in shallow waters, and can’t project sustained force like an aircraft carrier.

      • Gary Church

        You seem to think you can read my mind. I did not say anything about an all sub navy, did I?

        Subs can protect commercial sea lanes, subs can minesweep with ROVs better than a surface ship, they operate in shallow water all the time, and aircraft carriers cannot survive to project sustained force any more (because of the anti-ship missiles these subs carry). You are confusing nuclear subs we will not risk in shallow water or waste on those missions with conventional subs that are made for them. Stop being confused, or trying to confuse others.

        • Gary Church

          Oh….and missile defense? The biggest rip-off of the century. You cannot hit a bullet with a bullet. And if you get lucky there are decoys and a dozen easy ways to make the next interceptor miss. Rigged tests make money but that is all they are good for. But then, that’s all that counts in the defense business.

  • bridgebuilder78

    I think the NSA needs to take a closer look at Ray Mabus. There’s got to be a corruption scandal there somewhere.

    • Gary Church

      If nobody went to jail for screwing up the Coast Guard with Deepwater then I doubt anyone will get in trouble for this program- they are all just too good at stealing.

      • PolicyWonk

        Gary –
        You really need to look at the bright side: While Deepwater got torpedoed before it really hit the water; the floating corporate welfare program known as LCS is the gift that keeps on taking (the taxpayers for a ride)! :-P

        • Gary Church

          Yeh, not good news that the next depsecdef is all for them. As soon as what’s er name leaves it will be full steam ahead to the bank for these thieves. Unless enough of a stink is made that he backs off. Sometimes even wrapping themselves in the flag does not protect these vampires from the light of day. Sometimes. I think it depends on how many parts are made in how many of those congressional districts with sitting bought dogs.

  • Dr. Stephen Bryen

    The LCS is a highly vulnerable platform that cannot perform the mission it was designed for because it is vulnerable to “enemy” shore based missiles and can’t fight against attacks by “go-fasts” stuffed with explosives. Consequently it is a failure as an asymmetric warfare tool. The LCS lacks firepower, has a small air-cooled gun and little else that gives it any punch in a littoral environment. The costs are astronomical with few benefits –even worse it risks the ships’ crews. The program is sustained only for political reasons (e.g., a jobs program). Unfortunately it is taking away resources that could better be used for meaningful power projection naval platforms. DEPSECDEF Fox is absolutely right.

  • Salty

    I’ve sailed on a Navy ship built by AUSTAL, and we’ve had nothing but problems with them. We need to scrap the program entirely and start from the beginning. Continuing this madness will only waste taxpayer money (corporate welfare and defense-industrial complex cronyism at it’s worst), and weaken our national defense capabilities (unnecessarily putting sailors in harm’s way).

    Let’s review:
    - Expensive (and WAY over budget)
    - Can’t even CHOOSE ONE DESIGN (so much for decisiveness)
    - Main armament (57mm gun) is woefully inadequate (see Canadian testing) (also check out the fact the the SURFACE WARFARE PACKAGE is screwed, because the main weapon’s system WAS NEVER DEVELOPED)
    - Modular (oops, wait, no it’s not!)
    - Crewing problems (just google it)
    - Corrosion (it’s alright, we’ll just build more!)

    Let’s just hope the LCS and F-35B don’t signal the new standard with US defense contractors.

  • Gary Church

    The public is getting ripped off because these thieves are wrapping
    themselves in the flag to hide their loot. Not much of what we have is
    worth a damn anymore. Our infantry guys are damn good now though after
    13 years of getting better and better at killing people though. That
    counts for alot- but the rest of this junk needs to get scrapped, the
    general officers responsible fired, the politicians playing the game
    voted out, and the defense industry severely fined and directed to start
    from scratch with stuff that works if they ever want to see another tax
    dollar go into their pocket. There is a precedent for this by the way;
    the Apollo 1 fire. It is also why our space program went down the tubes.
    Aerospace found out making spaceships is hard money and wanted no more
    to do with it until they managed to get the post fire oversight done
    away with. The space shuttle was then built on the cheap and killed two
    crews. Not even lousy parachutes for the Challenger crew- they survived
    the explosion and rode the cabin all the way down. All about going cheap
    and making money. Just like these wonderful little warships. There is no cheap.

  • Gary Church

    The South Koreans are building U-Boats under license. Scrap this death trap LCS and either buy subs from Hyundai and Daewoo or also build them under license ourselves. If the Navy does not want non-nuclear subs then let the Coast Guard have them and give them a littoral mission. That is what I am going to tell the Secretary of Defense next time we play golf.

    • Gary Church

      Load this shark with mach 3 anti-ship cruise missiles and you will have our potential adversaries worried (because that is what they are doing). Right now they are laughing at our toy boat program.

  • Larry A. Altersitz

    Can someone provide something that describes the various ship-building “levels” that youse guys are referencing?

    • james

      I’d have to dig around to find a link. But what he is talking about is basically the ability to sustain battle damage of a ship. The Navy has 3 rankings, with Aircraft carriers being the highest. That’s why they’re still armored and most other surface ships aren’t. Ships are tested to meet these ratings, and LCS meets the minimum naval rating standard for battle durability.

      It is a risk with the LCS platform. Since WW2 it has been the smaller ships that have been hit, not the aircraft carriers. The counterargument is that minesweepers, which are one of the class of vessels being replaced with the LCS, are far less durable than an LCS. And the OHP frigate is not heavily armed either, especially now towards the end of it’s service. But the OHP has shown that it is durable and has not been sunk even when it has been hit hard.

      There are first rate frigates, the French, Italians, and British invest heavily in this class. From what I’ve seen the British frigate is expected to cost about a billion, which is twice the cost of an LCS. What seems most likely is that the older Burkes will serve the role of frigates with the US Navy, while the more modern Burkes provide missile defense and carrier protection.

      I would love the Navy to build about 10 capable frigates after the LCS run is done at 32, but realistically that isn’t going to happen anytime soon. The Navy will be scrounging for dollars just to keeps it’s Carrier task forces and Submarine forces at adequate levels.

      • Gary Church

        “That’s why they’re still armored and most other surface ships aren’t.”

        Their “armor” is a joke. One missile hit and they become a humungous jet fuel fire. Extremely vulnerable. All the magnesium and exotic metals in the planes only make it worse.

        I would say “hit hard” is an exaggeration also. I would call “hit hard” getting hit more than once. Correct me if I am wrong James. But I will fact check.

        • james

          The Stark was hit by two Exocet missiles and didn’t sink.

          • Gary Church

            Fact check; one of the warheads did not explode.

            Stark’s search radar and ESM systems failed to detect the incoming missiles even after the fire control radar of the french fighter had locked on. So much for missile defense.

          • Gary Church

            29 dead sailors in that tin can- 8 died later of burns. Surface combatants cannot survive against missiles. How many missiles have been launched at U.S. warships? Google it- pretty good success rate. Makes all this talk about “survivability” problematic.
            The new missiles are unstoppable. You better believe it.

      • PolicyWonk

        All navy carriers, plus the new Zumwalt class, and Burkes are built to the level-3 standard.

      • Larry A. Altersitz

        So compartmentalization, fire suppression, non-flammable materials, systems redundancy, crumple zones and other passive measures go into a rating? And the more the merrier?

        Have to agree with Gary about missile hits on ships; Maverick missiles have a 175# warhead and the USAF uses them against tanks. If a warhead gets inside a ship’s envelop, things get dicey. But the Cole took a rather large hit and was still afloat; not too functional du to loss of power, but still afloat.

        • james

          And the Stark was hit by two Exocet’s and didn’t sink. We lost sailors but not as many as we would have on a lighter ship. I think that’s PolicyWonk’s primary concern. I share it. But the reality is that a heavy frigate with VLS and enough radar to properly use it, will cost a billion dollars each not counting R&D. So now you are taking about 10 ships instead of 30 given the budget environment. And it would probably not be as well suited to minesweeping and interdiction like the LCS is.

          Fox has the same position as Policywonk, her replacement apparently agrees with me and others that the platform is needed.

          The armament and range of the LCS is something that can and will be resolved. But there will always be a risk with a lighter ship.

          • Gary Church

            “And it would probably not be as well suited to minesweeping and interdiction like the LCS is.”

            The laser minesweeping stuff does not work right and probably never will- and interdicting what? Rubber boats with Somali’s?

        • Gary Church

          Tanks can hide pretty well when they need to- it takes other tanks to weed them out. Just like subs. They hover off the bottom a thousand feet down near a sunken ship (plenty of those) and just wait. They simulate-sink warships in NATO exercises all the time doing just that.

  • james

    http://news.usni.org/2013/01/17/navy-responds-pentagon-lcs-survivability-claims

    Here is an article that touches on the survivability ratings used by the Navy.