Monday, December 14, 2009

Beers with Don

The immediate past CO of LCS-1, CDR Don Gabrielson, has put up a defense of LCS over at Phil Ewing's blog. Let's chew on what he has to say for a bit.

Now, I think it is fair to say that Don is a friend of the blog - or at least a professional acquaintance. He has commented here before, and I have had the opportunity to exchange a few emails with him as well; solid folk. He gives as well as he takes - and that is good enough for me.

I just wanted to say that for the same reason I titled this post the way I did - this is a friendly, "Having a beer on Phib's front porch" post - an atmosphere that the blogosphere has trouble recreating unless you specifically point it out - so no taking this post as any more that that.

Give Phil's post a read, but there are a few things Don said that I want to cover here.

We have been pinging on LCS pretty much since I started this blog. We have come at it from a few angles (there are so many to choose from), and I would expect a spirited defense of LCS to address the thorny parts of it.

Well, Don didn't do that really - and that is OK, we all have our favorites - here were his observations aimed at some LCS critics.
Size. People talk about LCS as a ‘small ship.’ Last December, we tied up in Norfolk across the pier from an FFG. My first reaction was, “Who shrank the frigates?” From our bridge wing, we looked across the top of the superstructure of the FFG — and we had two more decks above our heads. Small is a relative term — LCS isn’t small to anyone but us.
Modularity. This means we’re never stuck with an outdated capability longer than it takes to develop a new one — as soon as it’s ready, we can bring systems to the ships, wherever they are, and install them overnight. No other ship can do this. Period. We are barely coming to grips with what this will do for us.
Warfighting capability. When you compare what LCS brings with its mission packages along with core systems that are always onboard, it’s hard to see these ships as anything but incredible war machines. These are three thousand ton ships that are packed with warfighting teeth. They aren’t DDGs because they don’t need to be DDGs.
Maneuverability and access. Shallow draft opens more than five thousand ports to LCS that other US Navy ships can’t enter. We commissioned FREEDOM in Milwaukee — in 17 feet of water. We tied up in a river that was 150 feet wide in Buffalo. We backed into a 75-foot wide dock in a river in Norfolk — without help. The hullforms allow maximum speed in shallow water — FREEDOM exceeded 45 knots in 26 feet of water; waterjet propulsion brings incredible maneuverability — FREEDOM can do a zero-radius turn and reverse course from 15 knots in about 90 seconds, and is incredibly smooth riding at full speed. This will bring huge advantages in warfighting and humanitarian missions, as many small ports lack tugs and other infrastructure associated with larger ports, which means that LCS’ inherent maneuverability will be a distinct advantage. We were able to undock in a river, in 7 knots of current, at night, rather than waiting 24 hours for a tug. In forty sea details, we used tugs far less than half the time, and mostly because they were there. That is unique in my experience on five ships.
Speed. When was the last time you saw a football field go 60 miles per hour and turn on a dime? Every single time we demonstrated what speed combined with phenomenal agility bring, the conversation changed. Skeptics became believers. No other vessel on the water can overtake or outrun LCS in waves above 5 feet. There is no equation that says how much speed is enough – that’s like asking a fighter pilot how fast is too fast, or an army tanker, or an amphibious ops boat driver. If speed didn’t matter, we’d still be flying biplanes and driving tractors with guns, bringing Marines ashore in landing craft instead of LCACs and V-22s. Speed alters the tactical situation and the strategic impact is huge. No one can outrun a bullet. But speed, with agility, can surprise and outrun its aim. Speed will save lives and improve our ability to outmaneuver adversaries.
Crew Size. We could have cut a few bodies here and there from a legacy manning model, or we could force ourselves to rethink how we operate by manning the ship around new technological capabilities. Crew size, more than any physical feature, is a capability driver. I’ve taken to describing the crew size as 40+35, the core crew plus mission package, plus the shore support. It will work, because everyone has the freedom (pardon the pun) to approach their work from an entirely new perspective, and the ship was designed to be operated by a small crew – an important point. We will continue to learn how to do this better – nothing we could conceive of will teach more than the upcoming deployment. But it is working very well. And the crews love it.

Size: I wouldn't call that a good thing. That actually reinforces part of the critique of conceptual concept vs. reality of LCS. It is a big Corvette. It is a big target. I don't care how fast you go - if you go zooming close to a place like Kismaayo with that thing, a gaggle of goobers with RPG's or twin-23mm on the back of a Honda will eat your lunch. Heck - just remember the INS Hanit - and she has less than half the displacement of LCS. If you are going to get close - and the "L" stands for "Littoral" then big is bad. MK1 MOD 0 eyeball works great up close and personal. Sure, we call her "Little Crappy Ship" - but that is just a pet name.

Modularity: What you started discussing is open architecture. Of course it has open architecture. Standard industry practice going on two decades - I hope so. My wife's new Volvo has a two to three little computers in it making it run - that does not make it transformational.

The rest of the quote is all PPT. We do not have that capability. We do not even have the mission modules developed and validated in an operational environment. We would like to - but we are not there yet. You may call her what you want - but even if the modules come online in enough numbers to allow quick swap out of modules and crew when you find that in C5F AOR you need MIW vice ASUW - you still have a uni-mission ship. The LCS version we are building is not a multi-mission platform.

Maneuverability and access: About those 5,000 ports - I think most are concerned about the liberty policy at those 5,000 .... But, to be serious; it is a nice speed boat that can do cool turns - but in a large Corvette sized ship - that is all just sexy fun stuff. Most of its work will be done from steerage way to 20 kts. The Navy needs warships, not Willy's Water Circus stunt boats. Speed did not make the Battle Cruiser a superior warship in WWI. Speed did not make the RA-5C a superior reconnaissance aircraft in Vietnam. Which brings us to ...

Speed: Actually, a football field going 60 MPH looks rather slow - you know, like one of those AN-225s we hire out to supply our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan taking off and landing. High speeds eats up fuel. High speed has tradeoffs. To an aircraft with a bone in his teeth - just like to the guys with the twin 23mm behind the beach condo - you are just another target that you lead just a little more.

Crew Size: The realization in official circles has already set in that LCS is undermanned - and changes are being made to increase manning capacity. The original concept for crew size barely outlasted the PPT slide - and in reality didn't even survive the first deployment. The studies are being made - and the extra bunks are being readied for the first deployment. The real issue with crew size has to do with the more important issues with LCS. Let's do a quick review.

The real problem with LCS started with the crew size. With the primary driver being saving manpower costs, we have given up the ability for sustained and effective watch keeping in a combat environment - not to mention habitability.

That leads to another huge issue with LCS - cost per hull and its mission modules. We have decided that a $700 million to $1 billion ship does not need an effective combat damage control capability by design or manning.

Despite all experience - and what we know about the benefits of full ownership - we have outsourced much of what used to be done from ship's company. That is going to be ugly down the road - and will make the material conditions of the SPRUANCE class at 20 look like Japanese ships.

From the penny wise and pound foolish school, we have also managed to design and entire class of ships who per-hull cost is such that we cannot build a Fleet of adequate size. Those ships, to make matters worse, are not multi-mission units - but will be asked to perform missions that would usually go to multi-mission ships such as Frigates - because we won't have any.

As LCS are not multi-mission (swapping out Mission Modules does not make you multi-mission), the enemy will not wait for your ASUW suite to show up when it goes after you while in ASW mode. As a result, much of our fleet will suffer from tactical rigidity. Budgets as they are, the likely inadequate number of Mission Modules and extensive support infrastructure LCS will require, will result in many LCS having one, or no, mission modules in place for the majority of a crew member's PCS cycle.

Excusing program duplicity. Many like to point fingers at GD or LMT for LCS's problems. Me? Notsomuch. This is an all Navy problem. We pushed a program based on bad theory on companies, and then kept changing requirements etc to the point it became what it is; a very expensive large Corvette of limited tactical utility. Never before has so much money bought so little capability from so few ships. Speed does not make up for it.

We are getting the LCS - so we will just have to accept the foolish sunk-cost and lost opportunity costs from what could have been. We decided on certain tradeoffs - it is what it is.

What can we learn from this whole episode? Well - click the LCS tab below for some of the ideas - but let's look at what intellectual school is largely responsible for this debacle of a program - and why LCS is the ship that keeps throwing off sparks between those who think it is the bees knees, and those who think it is a naval Shakespearian tragedy.

Part of it comes to how Phib and Don think about LCS. I like Don - and from the communications I have had with him - I don't think he spits on the ground at the mention of 'ole Phib either.

In the best spirit of the blogosphere, let's have a little
creative friction without conflict.

Again, this is the blogosphere and CDRSalamander - so this is a sharp-elbowed conversation on the front porch, but a friendly one.

So off we go.

I think part of the problem between these two well meaning people known as Phib and Don is their very different "world views." The main fault line comes down between two intellectual filters; the futurist vs. the historian. Now and then I have a little fun and call it transformatinalists vs. antitransformationalists - same thing really.

You can get a little better understanding of Don's view of things here,
A noted MIT futurist named Ray Kurzweil wrote a book called “The Singularity Is Near” that discusses the rate of change of knowledge over time. He theorizes that the sum total of knowledge created in the last hundred years exceeded the thousand years before it — which means that in order to stay ahead, you have to work faster.
That is when I giggle a bit and Don looks at me with squinted brow.

Futurists are fun and all, but they do not have perfect vision, and have a very sketchy track record.

When they pontificate, they are a squirmy group to pin down. Usually, futurists will give you an upturned-chin, whaff of the hand dismissal of your concerns with a, "
You must be forward looking, not backward looking" comment. Then they try to impart the importance of their new found philosophy by making exaggerated statements like, "...the last hundred years exceeded the thousand years before it ..." or "War is new!" or other such silly phrases.

Intentionally or not, such comments are based on an assumption of ignorance on the part of the vast majority of those who the comments are directed at. Anyone with a wide reading of history will understand that it is intellectual malpractice to state that - let's take an actual city that saw it - living, working and conducting business in Köln/Cologne, Germany from 1909 to 2009 is more radically different than living, working, and conducting business from 909-1909. That is just insulting. Do I even need to explain why?

Akin to teen-agers thinking they have discovered sex, they will then throw Captain Obvious phrases like, " order to stay ahead, you have to work faster." Harumph. That has been in effects since Homo Erectus first tried to keep his antelope away from Panthera Pardus. Silly phrase, Don - though I know what you mean.

Let's get back to the futurists track record a bit though. It would be easy to just point to
Tomorrowland and the 1939 World's Fair to get a giggle at the Futurists track record of getting some things right (usually the evolutionary estimates) - but critically missing or mitigating the second and third order effects - and totally missing the obvious shortcomings of their "transformational" or "revolutionary" projections.

On the military side of the equation we can even giggle at the
NB-36H and other nuclear powered bombers - just to start.

Closer to the nerve, we could also talk about the futurists in the Canadian Defense Forces who were within a FY or two of getting rid of all their tracked armor - including all tanks - as they saw "a future of an all wheeled force" and poo-poo'd the tracked tank as an anachronism. Well - the kick in the teeth of actual conflict in AFG showed them that they not only needed their Leopard I's in theater - but that the needed to upgrade to Leopard II's. Another cautionary tale of many for those who ignore the lessons of combat.

No, let's look at the very cautionary lessons of an uncritical embrace of futurism on the civilian side of the house; just a couple.

Bauhaus influenced post-WWII urban renewal programs that gutted and destroyed so much of once was functional multi-use urban communities. Something to this day we are expending billions to repair. As we see around us - the best icons of "modernist" architecture are morphing into monuments of their myopia - as was warned about.

To boldly adopt the transformational wheeled bus; the destruction of once fully mature, efficient, clean, and popular urban mass transit trolly/light rail systems from
DC to LA - again mistakes needing correction today at the cost of billions. Cities like Amsterdam never destroyed their systems, and are better cities because of it.

Futurism is a fine thought project and is helpful if fleshing out ideas, but is not a sound foundation for building a Fleet or designing a strategy.

Back to the present; finally, there is this note from Battine Chavanne in AviationLeak:
The Navy’s bid to right the LCS program is evident in efforts being undertaken at PEO-Ships, which is attempting to formalize the procurement, acquisition and program management process. PEO-Ships manages 20 major surface ships in seven yards, and projects 25-30 ships by the end of the 2009 Future Years Defense Plan (not to mention hundreds of smaller boats and yards).

Landay’s (read: the Navy’s) focus is, “Can you deliver an affordable ship on time and . . . of sufficient quality?” Sometimes the answer is ‘yes,’ “sometimes ‘no.’ So we’re identifying where we can do better.”

The list of potential improvements reads more like
lessons learned from LCS: get the program right up front, understand risk and lock in cost estimates, focus beyond the next budget to account for growth and make sure “we’re not starting construction until we have mature designs,” Landay says.
That sums up nicely what 'ole Phib, Sid, Byron, and the rest of the crew have been pounding about on the program side for years. Glad to know Big Navy is coming around.

As for the warfighting limitations - we will just have to play to her strengths and try to mitigate her larger weaknesses.

We all know we will have LCS in the Fleet - but we should not sell her for something she is not. She will have a use and a place. You go to sea with the ship you have .....

For now though, we need to be looking for a
better frigate sized ship, now - something we have also posted a lot on.

Don; I'm shifting from beer to scotch - you game? I'm going to have an glass of Tobermory - let me guess, you are more of a Dalwhinnie type?

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