The first Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom, on its way to Singapore last year.

The first Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom, on its way to Singapore last year.

UPDATED with US Navy response

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 Now Breaking Defense has obtained an unpublished Government Accountability Office study of Freedom‘s Singapore deployment that raises more serious questions about a long-standing worry: whether the small and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

The core crew’s engineering department in particular told GAO they had no idea how they’d keep the ship going without help from the mission module’s engineers. But the module the Freedom took to Singapore, the “anti-surface warfare” module that includes several small boats, has many more engineers than the forthcoming mine-countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare modules. In fact, while the entire 19-sailor anti-surface module crew has skills useful in running the ship itself, the MCM crew has only four sailors who could help, and the ASW module only one. That means an LCS outfitted to hunt mines or subs would effectively be 15 to 18 sailors short — about 20 to 25 percent.

GAO admits at least some of the problems are first-time-out glitches that affect any new ship. The Navy upped the Freedom core crew from 40 to 50 at the last minute, for example, so the 10 new sailors came in unprepared and required as much training time during the deployment as the other 40 put together. The service is also improving the LCS training program, which the entire crew found wanting, though a complete reform will take two to three years.

The Navy is also revising the LCS maintenance program for greater flexibility, less reliance on contractors, and more use of diagnostic sensors — already being installed on the USS Fort Worth, which will head to Singapore later this year — to allow “conditions-based maintenance” when parts show signs of potential failures, instead of having to manually check (for example) each of the ship’s 350 valves once a month. The new maintenance program should also fix simple mistakes like not having enough Internet connectivity for maintenance operations at the pier in Singapore.

Finally, Freedom‘s frequent mechanical failures stem in large part from glitchy equipment that has been replaced with more reliable models on other LCS ships. Not all these fixes can be retrofitted to the troubled Freedom, so the first-born LCS may remain the class’s problem child and a maintenance headache throughout its service life, more suited to training and/or hazing new LCS sailors than for overseas operations. But the rest of the Freedom class should function better — though GAO warns the fixes aren’t yet proven.

Even more worrying is that the Lockheed Martin-built Freedom represents only one of the two LCS designs: General Dynamics’ Independence class is entirely different — and that design has never been deployed abroad. Indeed, the Independence itself has spent much of its time testing prototype mission modules, so GAO feels there’s far too little data on how the ship itself holds up when it spends weeks on end at sea.

The Navy moved so fast on LCS that it has already contracted for 24 ships, 12 of each version, but Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has cut the program at 32 ships pending an extensive review of alternative vessels, from a modified LCS to a new and tougher type of ship. While Hagel’s guidance emphasizes the LCS’s shortcomings in high-intensity combat, you can bet basic maintenance will get major attention too.

 

This afternoon, Navy spokesman Lt. Robert Myers provided us the service’s official response to our story:

“While I won’t speak to an unreleased, FOUO [for official use only] report what I can say is the Navy is continuously refining and testing the LCS program as we learn the full extent of possibilities for these first of a kind ships.  Each successive LCS commissioning is a testament to the hard work and experience gained from Freedom’s deployment to Singapore.  We have incorporated engineering modifications which improve performance and we continue to look at the concept of employment, as exemplified by the recent war game in Newport.”

Navy surface warfare director and LCS enthusiast Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden spoke to reporters recently about that wargame, in which 125 participants from all the services convened at the Naval War College specifically to test out new concepts for how to use the LCS in both peace and war. Some of the ideas Rowden mentioned were intriguing, such as pairing an LCS and an Aegis destroyer to hunt submarines in a team that looks to be more than the sum of its parts. But the Navy’s been able to provide very little detail because the in-depth analysis is just beginning.

One thing I was able to find out is that the wargame doesn’t seem to have any computer models or simulations of the LCS performance, with the outcome of combats between the “Blue” (US) and “Red” (enemy) teams being determined by human umpires known as the “White Cell.” So while the wargame was a great venue for exploring concepts, as Lt. Myers said, it doesn’t prove anything about the Littoral Combat Ship’s real-world performance.

 

Updated 6:00 pm

Comments

  • Gary Church

    “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;-”

    You build a giant aluminum speedboat with super-powerful engines and no room for enough engineers and crewman to keep it running and then say you can fix it?

    I don’t think this is fixable.

    • Jon

      Read in-between the lines. That was with 50 core crew, 19 mission module crew working as core crew, and an unspecified number of contractors aboard that they were “extensively relying” upon. And they were still working 18 hour days, with engineers working even more.

      With the plan being 2 week deployments, then returning to port for all maintenance and to rotate crews…that puts the actual minimum crew requirement at 140 (plus contractors). And they’re severely range limited by being tied to their maintenance package in their forward port.

      Wasn’t the LCS the “new crewing paradigm” that was supposed to save oodles of money by dramatically reducing crew requirements?

      • Gary Church

        “-for a basically unarmed 3000t ship, they’ve managed to dramatically INCREASE crew requirements…”

        Yes, an amazing accomplishment, I agree.

        • Jon

          Yes, and the other half the crew apparently gets to hang out in Singapore touching themselves and drawing per diem for 2 weeks out of every month. Now, that’s a good gig…Singapore rocks.

          • tw

            pill popping at sea to stay awake
            pill popping in port to recover
            repeat as necessary

          • Jon

            Unless the place has changed dramatically, not in Singapore you don’t…dada is death.

          • Jeff Schmidt

            Wouldn’t that remainder of the crew be assigned to MULTIPLE boats – seems like if you had a fleet of these, there’d be multiple ships in port at a time. If you had 30 boats, you might have 5 or 10 port-side crews for the maintenance/repair stuff?

            But, that said, it does sound like there’s some fundamental design flaws in this boat. It’s either not automated enough, as it was supposed to be, or not enough crew.

        • PolicyWonk

          Innovation is what Lockheed is all about!
          Good thing their version of the LCS is so automated, otherwise they’d have to remove the mission modules completely to make room for permanent crew quarters! :-P

    • Curtis Conway

      It’s not.

  • ycplum

    We learned a lot from the two LCS. We learned what works and we learned a lot about what doesn’t work. I think the money spent so far is worth (more or less) the lessons learned. Howevr, I think it is stupid to go ahead with production.of a flawed system until it can be corrected or scrapped and redesigned based on the lessons learned.

    • Jon

      Except I don’t think they learned anything…and if they did, they’ll ignore it, because the reality doesn’t align with their desires. Note as well, 50 is as large a crew as it’ll support without an “extensive re-design”…and that’s with the mission module crew living in ISO containers in the mission bay.

      • ycplum

        Unfortunately, the technical lessons were not part of the Congress’s syllabus, just the money going intotheir districts.

        • Jon

          I don’t think you can blame the LCS design or CONOP on Congress. That’s all on the “Good Idea Fairies” in the Navy hierarchy.

          • Gary Church

            Good Idea Fairies- excellent:)
            Can I use that?

          • Jon

            Sure, but you have to supply your own Magic Wand, Fairy Dust, and Mystic PowerPoint Slides.

          • tw

            PowerPoint slides are passé
            need to use second monitor so lies^^^^lessons can be updated instantaneously

          • Jon

            “Good Idea Fairies” are inherently conservative…unless gibbering lunacy is involved.

          • ycplum

            Oh no. The design was a good faith (more or less), misguided attempt to save money using a civilian concept.
            I don’t blame Congress for the design. I blame them for the procurement of 32 LCSs.

          • Jon

            Good point.

  • Gary Church

    We learned absolutely nothing from the LCS that we did not already know from a century of high-speed warships. All we learned is that certain people need to be fired. The money was a complete waste.

  • Don Bacon

    The LCS-2 USS Independence crew has never been overworked.

    LCS-2 Independence all-aluminum trimaran variant
    (Austal Ltd. and General Dynamics)
    Jul 2003 – contract award to General Dynamics – non-performed
    Oct 2005 – contract award to Austal
    Jan 2006 – keel laid
    Oct 2008 – christened
    Oct 2009 – completed builder’s trials
    Nov 2009 – completed acceptance trials
    Dec 2009 – completed INSURV inspection
    (2,080 discrepancies)
    Dec 2009 – delivered to Navy, custody accepted
    BUT ship incomplete so need new acceptance trials
    Jan 2010 – commissioning
    Apr 2010 – maiden voyage – Navy asks for $5.3m to
    correct problems found in sea trials
    2011 – into drydock to correct serious corrosion problems
    May 2012 – maiden voyage #2
    Jul 2013 – Bath Iron Works received a $7.5 million modification to a previously existing contract to make changes to the USS Independence expected to be completed by March 2014. (no news)

    • Jon

      Except the LCS-2 has never been deployed. That said, the LCS-2 seems to be a far superior design than LCS-1 in every respect. I think that’s called “damning with faint praise”.

      • tw

        I think you need to research the word “sarcasm”
        superior? since when is corrosion better than cracks?

        • Gary Church

          They appear to have failed to hire any Naval architects with any experience in designing sacrificial anode anti-corrosion systems. Stupid. But that can actually be fixed (maybe). Cracks however……ships that crack out the gate are not something you want to be riding on a dark and stormy night. No sir.

          • Timo

            Do I remember correctly that those old skool anti-corrosion systems were left out from production model to save in costs? What a brilliant idea!

          • Dave Marks

            What happened to the lessons learned from FSF-1, especially the bi-metalic corrosion, some 10 years ago that were supposed to be put fwd into the LCS? Were they discarded as Bush-thinking?

        • Jon

          Ooops, just re-read it LOL. My apologies to Don.
          Corrosion is merely “future holes”…

      • El_Sid

        LCS-1 and -2 are just different – steel is more damage-resistant and easier to repair, and a monohull has more room for long, bulky weapons like VLS tubes than a trimaran, it’s simple geometry. For instance, there was no question whether the monohull could take a 76mm gun, the space was obvious, whereas they had to go away and think about whether the trimaran could squeeze one in.

        Perhaps the biggest difference is in manoeuvrability, a monohull is better in tight corners than a trimaran. So you can expect LCS-1 to be more of a “Streetfighter” in confined waters like the Gulf and Indonesia, whilst LCS-2 will be used in more of a stand-off role in the Pacific proper and off Africa.

        They both have advantages.

        • Gary Church

          I thought they were both made out of aluminum;
          “The ship is a semi-planing steel monohull with an aluminum superstructure. The friction stir welded aluminum deckhouse is very flat, which, combined with an angular design, makes it difficult for radar systems to spot.[12] The ship is 377 feet (115 m) in length, displaces 3,000 metric tons (2950 metric tons) and can go faster than 40 knots (46 mph; 74 km/h).[10

          I guess Freedom is only half aluminum, the bottom is a “semi-planing steel hull.” A giant steel speedboat. With no room for enough engineers or crewmen to keep it running. Big advantage:(

      • Truth Serum

        The combat system on LCS 2 is total garbage. It is extremely immature, and will take until half the ships are built to even be ready for combat. Lockheed on the other hand, just copied and pasted AEGIS code to a new ship class, and charged the government full cost for software development.

  • MRMcCaffery

    GAO is the National Enquirer of the Government. They ALWAYS make it seem worse than it is, otherwise, who will read their stuff?

    • Gary Church

      I will. You can read the National Enquirer.

    • Jon

      Here’s the thing…the LCS was sold as the “New Paradigm” to justify the eye-popping cost. Automation, small crew, portside maintenance, long range and endurance, and save all this money in long-term operating expenses.

      Instead, as the GAO report more or less spells out, BECAUSE of the LCSs automation, small crew, reliance on port-side maintenance and contractors…it’s actually got a heavier crew requirement than a larger/comparably sized, fully armed, multi-mission coastal frigate/corvette, with its range/endurance drastically limited by being tied to its forward support package. In other words, it’s a complete, total, abject failure in every respect, to include all those areas being touted as its greatest strength.

      Add in combat damage, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

      Now, that’s interesting reading…

    • Salty

      Or…is it that the Navy ALWAYS makes it seem better than it really is?

      Otherwise, how would they get funding for their ships?

      I think i’ll take the GAO’s track record on this program over the Navy’s anyday, sir.

  • Don Bacon

    The Navy upped the Freedom core crew from 40 to 50 at the last minute, for example, so the 10 new sailors came in unprepared and required as much training time during the deployment as the other 40 put together.

    According to a recent USNI article , the original forty, with a minimum rank of petty officer (E-4), had undergone an intensive 18 to 24 month training. The additional ten sailors, presumably lower ranks, would serve lesser roles according to their ratings.

    “I would expect them to fill in a variety of roles from in port watchstanding to engineering plant technician and so forth as their individual’s rates and skill sets allow,” said Capt. Kenneth Coleman, LCS requirements officer in a January Interview with USNI News.

    So the claim that ten lower ranks needed as much training as forty higher ranks is questionable.

    Perhaps Sydney is overworked and sleepless in Washington? (His article production is amazing.)

  • jm2112

    LCS= Overpriced Target

    • Don Bacon

      I guess you didn’t see that gun on the foredeck, in the above photo. (Fortunately I have a magnifying glass.)

  • Gary Church

    A giant steel speedboat long enough to ride out heavy seas and with an over-sized aft helo deck to operate a couple aircraft. Should be good for something. What went wrong? Obviously way too much power required to make it go the quoted 46 mph. No room for enough crew to run it or enough weapons to make it a credible warship. And now we are stuck with it? No way to just admit it does not work and cancel it and scrap them? We MUST go on to the bitter end and waste mountains of money on this program. Of course:(

    • Gary Church

      And then there is the aluminum one that is performing so well. We are stuck with that dissolving trimaran freak also I suppose:(
      Those Admirals sure earned their paychecks on this program. I wonder if the ones responsible will get another star?

  • disqus_jg5EraOsr1

    Six hours of sleep is something that I would have never complained about when I deployed. While deployed for 6+ months we has 4 watches a day in order of 7hrs, 5, 5 and then 7 again. You were 1 on 1 off. By the time you got turned over, ate, finished random admin work, worked out, showered, slept and ate again you would usually get about 45 min of sleep in the 5 hrs off watch and 4 during the 7 hrs. I would have killed for 6 hrs. I don’t see the problem here.

    • Gary Church

      I don’t believe you. I worked those hours and it was misery. You don’t see a problem? You expect anyone to believe you “worked out” on that much sleep? I am throwing the B.S. flag on that one.

    • Miles Cowperthwaite

      Aboard the Raging Queen, our day began at dawn, where, after a hearty breakfast, we had
      punishment ’til lunchtime. After lunch, there was more punishment ’til
      dinner. After dinner, we would pull up anchor and sail for an hour,
      then drop anchor again for some verbal humiliation, followed by evening
      punishment. The crew was quite used to it, for in all my
      rounds with the ship surgeon, Dr. Pierce, I never once heard a man
      complain.

  • Clausewitz

    This LCS situation has become quite ridiculous. The navies of other nations have already come up with adequate LSC-type designs, why does the USN not observe these and perhaps use them as inspiration for a single competitive, highly capable ship designed from the outset with the mission in mind, rather than these general-purpose, under-armed and over-hyped coastal cutters?

    Of what am I speaking? Well just examine the Chinese Type-56 corvette, or the Norwegian Skjold-class corvette, the British Type-26 Global Combat Ship, heck even the Taiwanese have perfected an LCS in the form of the new Tuo-Jiang-class catamaran, reportedly to be equipped with up to sixteen supersonic anti-ship missiles, a 76mm cannon and a Phalanx 20mm close-in weapon system.

    • estuartj

      The LCS programs biggest failing is trying to sell it as a swiss army knife. In trying to make it do everything it looks like it can do nothing. The biggest issue from your post is that even with the original missile system it was never intended to take on peer surface craft, Iranian swam boats or pirates are the enemy the SuW module was designed to combat, hell if our SSC are taking on enemy destroyers or even corvette’s the the admirals have clearly lost their marbles.
      I think the program will eventually evolve into a dual mission MCM with limited (see above) SuW platform and a ASW with limited area AAW capability, the later will likely be the revised SSC with my money on a larger version of the Freedom class LCS over PC or Independence hulls.

  • rlrapp

    Wonder where their getting the ASW effectiveness numbers from for these war games, since they haven’t even deployed any of the LCS ASW gear yet.