Tuesday, January 29, 2013

LCS: How Did We Get Here?

Time to put a little bit of the snark behind and address LCS from a forensic point of view.

As step one, I would like everyone to go over to the NWC site and download what is to this point, the summary of the LCS journey from Undersecretary of the Navy, Robert O. Work titled; The Littoral Combat Ship: How We Got Here, and Why.(NB: NWC has taken it off line as of 1/30. Reason here.)

My first thought on reading this was to go section by section in detail, but I don't think I will. I will get to a couple of pull quotes, but mostly I want to keep this very general.

Most of you know my long standing and fundamental disagreement with the direction we have gone with LCS - indeed the whole concept - and repeating it again will not change the fact we are where we are.

As a side note with regard to my loyal opposition to LCS, in some ways, I would seem to have been part of the natural constituency for LCS. My dislike of LCS has nothing to do with the view of many of the pro-large-ship detractors, as a matter of fact I've been a proponent of smaller ship since well before I went online banging the Riverine Drum in 2004. I am someone who agrees with the requirement for a balanced Fleet leavened with a healthy mix of sub-9,000 ton ships from Riverine to the larger EuroFrigates, but I remain in the position that LCS is not the answer to that requirement.  It is an answer, and one we will have to do the best with what we have, but not the answer we needed, at least not at that percentage of the Fleet. 

I reserve the right to be wrong, but part of my disappointment with LCS is not unlike that of a dancer who showed up for a Tango dance party but instead found himself listening to Beach Music.  Don't mistake my lack of enthusiasm as someone who wished he were bowling instead. I still want to dance, just this isn't, in my opinion, the right music.

Most important at this time is to try to make the best of it as we can, while being brutally honest with ourselves about its limitation so we don't risk national reputation and Sailors lives on a tide of happy talk.

Undersecretary Work has done everyone from all sides of the debate a great service with this report, as it is without question the most thorough, honest, and detailed forensic outline of how LCS came pierside. It is very much one-stop-shopping for anyone who would like to know the significant decision points in the process.

You need to make the effort to read the whole thing. If you only read pull quotes, or stop before page 35, then you are going to miss the larger meaning and greatest value.

Go to the link above, or read it here.

To see if I can draw you in to reading the whole thing;
Third, Admiral Clark believed LCS answered the loud calls for defense “transformation” then being made by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. In a speech given in January 2002, Secretary Rumsfeld said,
“Preparing for the future will require us to think differently and develop the kind of forces that can adapt quickly to new challenges and to unexpected circumstances.”
Moreover, in his view, thinking differently included a willingness to skirt or bend long-established rules when pursuing “transformational” systems. As he explained:
…we must transform not only our armed forces, but also the department that serves them by encouraging a culture of creativity and intelligent risk taking. We must promote a more entrepreneurial approach to developing military capabilities, one that encourages people, all people, to be proactive and not reactive, to behave somewhat less like bureaucrats and more like venture capitalists; one that does not wait for threats to emerge and be "validated," but rather anticipates them before they emerge and develops new capabilities that can dissuade and deter those nascent threats.
Based on these three considerations, CNO Clark confidently declared LCS his number one transformational program and budget priority, and requested authority for a new program start in the Navy’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 President’s Budget submission. Secretary Rumsfeld approved, including the request in the Defense Department’s FY 2003 President’s Budget submission, delivered to Congress in February 2002. By so doing, and consistent with his announced approach to defense transformation, the Secretary signaled he was not disturbed by the LCS’s lack of analytical pedigree.
I don't think one can hang this on Rumsfeld if that is part of this angle; I don't think it is, but it can be read as such. So, in a word; no. 

LCS was and is a product of senior leadership from Admirals Clark, Mullen, and especially Roughead. Without their full-throated advocacy and willing smoke screens, LCS would not have survived - for good or bad.

I enjoy this next bit as, for those who missed it, it catches perfectly the "we are smarter than everyone who came before ... all is new, and don't question by beautiful vision..." vibe that resonated throughout the Chain of Command at the time,
In response, the Navy admitted the LCS program represented “a departure from traditional analysis processes by conducting targeted analysis to support concurrent development of the capability documents, mission module definitions and integration requirements.” This targeted approach included a three-phase “tailored analysis of alternatives” that would “fill in analysis gaps that previous studies had not covered”—a clear reference to the conceptual work and studies conducted in the 1990s. Regardless of whether Congress fully agreed with this approach, by allowing a concept and development process that would follow rather than precede program start to continue, it implicitly endorsed Admiral Clark’s decision to pursue a small Littoral Combat Ship in a way distinctly different from normal programs.
So the PPT will say it, so it will be done. Sigh. That is the most important lessons of LCS. Next program we have to build a new warship - look at what they did with LCS and do the opposite.

Few things demonstrate this programmatic over-reach and Staff malpractice better than the manning concept for LCS. It is as if in someones head we had sea-going Rosies, Roombas, Woombas, and Replicators to go with AI watchstanders ... just because we said we wanted it;
Admiral Clark endorsed an initial “core crew” manning target (those who operated the LCS seaframe) of thirty to fifty crew members, based on his expectation that LCS would set new standards in automation.

Members of his staff pushed even harder, recommending a core crew in the range of fifteen to thirty officers and Sailors. In the end, Admiral Clark and his staff split the difference, agreeing to objective and threshold manning core crew targets of fifteen and fifty crew members, respectively. Importantly, however, they agreed that ship accommodations for the entire crew (core crew plus “mission package” crew) should not exceed seventy-five racks (i.e., installed bunks).105 They felt this aggressive target would be a forcing function both to push industry design teams towards the greatest use of automation and increase chances the Navy would minimize crew size and manpower overhead—and overall LCS lifecycle costs.

The emphasis placed on limiting the total number of racks—and therefore total crew size—was also partly influenced by the Navy’s desire to pursue a “multi-crewing, forward stationed” deployment model for LCS. By adopting a rotational crewing model along lines long practiced by the ballistic missile submarine force, Navy leaders hoped to achieve employment efficiencies of 75 percent (e.g., ships deployed for thirty-six months followed by a twelve months interdeployment maintenance and training cycle). While such high efficiencies would minimize LCS’s peacetime turn-around ratio, maximize the number of ships forward deployed and ready, and lead to “fewer transoceanic transits,” rotating very large core crews would create a substantial manpower overhead bill.106  Therefore, the leaders sought to keep the total crew size from exceeding seventy-five personnel.

Of course, with such a small crew, the supporting off-board logistics, maintenance, and training construct would be absolutely critical to LCS’s ultimate success. However, in 2003 there was no substantive discussion about how this construct might work. The officers were content to let LCS Flight 0 ships “investigate alternative …support concepts that…satisfy these requirements.”
Amazing. Shockingly gobsmackingly amazing. Those who said all those nasty thing to those of us who asked at the time if they were just pulling numbers out of their ..... hats - beers on you.

To keep the already longish post brief ... I will let you find your own nuggets and bring them in to comments.

When you get through reading it, see if it changes in one way or another how you think in 2013 of the program. Do we need all 55? Just 24, 36?

Work's report does a good job pointing out that, in a fashion, LCS is close to what was asked for in the beginning.  However, even if the ship can come out within half a standard deviation of how it was envisioned, it begs the question - was the vision flawed? Was the question itself flawed, and thus begot a flawed answer? Does it answer the initial question in a satisfactory manner while remaining mute to the follow-on question? When compared to similar answers to the "what next" question produced by other nations - most who have exceptionally different maritime requirements - does it come out on top, or is it lacking? Are the planning assumptions still valid? If not, do we have a sufficient branch plan? Ah, there is the rub - though to the end I think you outline some very workable branch plans.

Of course, that is all very academic; we are where we are. That is why I like a lot of the last 3rd of the report, as it informs thought to where I shifted to three years ago; a grudging acceptance of LCS and a hope that we make the best of it.

In that respect, I remain convinced that good people in hard jobs are trying to do their best to make it worth all the time an effort. I think that part of the challenge ahead will be to rebuild so much of the goodwill that was lost inside the beltway and out due to the shifting narrative over the years due to best-case story lines sold early.

The changing narrative, which the article outlines very well, only added to general suspicions that the program was not well thought out and was not well grounded. That may not be fair, but especially on the manning side, it sure looks that way.  Good people working hard and the inventiveness of Sailor can fix many an initial error, so we will have to let that process work itself out.

Like a billiard ball bouncing around the table after missing a too hard hit shot at the left corner pocket, LCS may indeed find its way in to a pocket - heck even the one it originally aimed at - but it will get there in a round about inefficient way totally different than originally envisioned, and it won't be pretty to watch.

A lot is still based on hope, and that remains my major concern. Is the major part of technology risk behind us? I think so - but the critical linkages to tactical utility and optimization have yet to be made. The reason that is true is also covered in the article, I like that.

We'll find out in the next half decade how successful we are. The final answer will probably be somewhere between the Eeyore Opposition and Undersecretary Work's informed optimism.  Heck, I hold hope that I am wrong on LCS and I'll be buying rounds of beers and steak dinners for a few people at the next Salamandepalooza in DC while I dine on crow. That would be the best outcome for all.

To end things up, here is some common ground I have with The Under;
The only thing standing in the way of success for LCS would be a lack of imagination and hard work. After fleet operators get their hands on the ships and refine old operational and logistical support concepts and develop new ones, there is little reason to think the ship will not be an important contributor to twenty-first century Total Force Battle Network operations.
Oh no. I can't let another of my hobby horses pass without comment.

I may quibble over the threshold definition of "important" - but that isn't another of the HUGE background problems with LCS.  Nothing is more fun than red-hatting "networks."

They are great and wonderful thing in peace, exercises, and wargaming - but we do not own space and the EW spectrum. You cannot classify math, and you cannot assume that you own what belongs to all.

FORCEnet, Celestial Networks, whatever you want to call it - it is a mirage. Like our buddy Galrahn pointed out in twitter yesterday as we pop'd ideas back and forth - next RIMPAC, let's turn off GPS and remove all access to satellite communication and IT connectivity. Do it for a few days and see how things go.

Do we want tomorrow's Admiral Beatty to say,
There seems to be something wrong with our bloody networks today!
... as everything goes to crap.

As a final note, Undersecretary Work has been pondering LCS for quite awhile. I recommend as a historical document his 2004 work, Transformation and the Littoral Combat Ship, and in closing would like to thank him for a foundation reference as we continue to try to figure out the pitfalls and promise that these two classes of ships present us.

UPDATE: Yamgumphabalalalala. Visual commentary.
Hat tip JOPA.


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