Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The LCS Full Court Press is on, I guess ...

This has been a rather humorous couple of weeks in the seemingly endless squabble over the pierside tinkertoy that is LCS and its erector set mission modules.

LCS fussbuckets like your humble blogg'r tend to be a suspicious lot - and it looks a bit "off" to see so much LCS apologia out in such a short time - so let's dig around the good, the bad, the curious, and frankly the ugly that has bubbled up as of late.

Perhaps this from BusinessWeek on 04 June served as a catalyst for the LCS supporters;
Congress will take a close look at the Pentagon’s $34 billion Littoral Combat Ship program and may consider restrictions on the Navy’s $2 billion request to buy four vessels in fiscal 2014, Representative Randy Forbes said.

Forbes, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower panel, said today that any decisions would await the final report from an LCS review by the Government Accountability Office. A draft of the GAO study said Congress should consider slowing the program’s funding because the Navy is buying ships faster than it can test their design and performance.

“I’m not going to prejudge” the report, Forbes, a Virginia Republican, told reporters. “I’ll wait until we see it, but we are going to do some intensive oversight on this program, which will include hearings.”
There you go. Loss of money tends to focus the mind. So, what do you say, go back to the last few days of May? Sure.

Kris Osborne at DoD Buzz strikes a very 2005 press release sounding article;
The three packages, engineered with a modular, plug-and-play ability to integrate on both the Independence and the Freedom variants are designed for mine counter-measures, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare, said Capt. John Ailes, LCS Mission Modules program manager.

They consist of groups of weapons, sensors, UAS, mine-detecting technologies, aircraft, electronics and unmanned watercraft, among other things, designed to work in tandem on specific threats and issues, Ailes explained.

The Navy’s two-variant approach to the LCS development effort, which ultimately aims to build and deploy at least 55 ships, has come under scrutiny and received criticism for the wisdom of its two-variant approach, which critics have said will make sustainment more challenging.

The LCS program has also faced scrutiny for rising costs, and questions inside and outside the Navy about the fleet’s survivability and ability to meet mission requirements.
I guess if I have to repeat the same points over and over with for the better part of a decade - the other side can too. Oh, as one of my readers emailed me a few days ago, I would be remiss if I did not share this;
While recognizing that there is a business case to move toward greater commonality among the variants, particularly when it comes to sustainment and logistics, Ailes emphasized that the much-criticized two-variant approach resulted in several positive developments.

“We got spectacularly low cost and there is strength in diversity. Also, if you have an enemy that is trying to combat you, you give him a harder problem if you bring capabilities that are different. That is more difficult than going up against a single, well-understood capability,” he added.
Yes, I guess diversity has a variety of uses. Curious though - I wonder if Sailors want to go to war with something that is a "harder problem" to fight - or go to war in a ship that has weapons systems that have a "well-understood capability?"

A day later, Chris Cavas weighs in, sounding like something between a weary father or observational uncle - telling the story of the changes the follow on designs are going through;
Like a child entering adolescence, the Navy’s littoral combat ship program has entered an era in which some elements are trying to emulate fully mature combat systems, some are getting ready to try and others have much further to go.

The well-publicized cost growth of the program is nominally under control. “Ship production is stable, costs are going down, the contracts are a fixed price,” Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top acquisition official, told Congress on May 8. “There’s all goodness there.”
I was even feeling a bit more positive until ...
A year ago, the service had planned to test the Griffin, a small missile developed for Special Operations Command, on Freedom. But the missile is considered too lightweight for the LCS, and it was not installed. Instead, data is being gathered from testing aboard the coastal patrol vessel Monsoon.

“We really want to do a competition and award for an SSM that has a little longer range than the Griffin,” Murdoch said. “Ideally, what I’d like to have is autonomy — an autonomous seeker that you don’t have to designate with a laser to guide the missile on target.

“That’s another area that’s budget-dependent,” Murdoch added. “We have money this year and next to do studies and get ready for [industry solicitations] in 2014.”

Barring funding complications, the Navy is hoping to field an SSM on the LCS in 2019.
Hope. 2019. Great ... over a decade of service and then perhaps something with a longer range than a 1-iron.

03 June has RADM Rowden, 
Director of Surface Warfare, joined the fun at MaritimeLink;
Though the acquisition strategy changed, the consistent intent has been that the Navy would take the knowledge gained in the build, test and operation of these first ships to inform program changes. In some cases, the learning curve in these ships has been steep, with many of the issues highlighted in defense industry reporting and in the blogosphere. However, I can state with confidence that we have already aggressively applied lessons learned to improve the ships in production, and we will continue to do so going forward.
While criticism of the LCS program remains, I wanted to take opportunity to show how the Navy remains committed to delivering and sustaining warships that are operationally ready, combat effective and cost efficient. As we gain momentum, we will take plenty of fixes and make the course corrections to ensure we are getting LCS forward, in numbers, to support our national maritime objectives. These ships provide much-needed capability, and as I indicated last week, I strongly believe that forward presence and numbers are important values in a naval force unto themselves."
That's great and all - I love aspirational goals too - but faster please. These thing are joining the Fleet and it will be years before any of them will be anywhere close to being more than weak-IOC operationally ready, combat effective against any comparable adversary's ship or submarine - and when the whole program's cost structure is taken in to account vs. utility to Combatant Commanders, well, the cost efficient ship sailed a long time ago.

Keeping the drumbeat going, Robert D. Holzer at BreakingDefense gives it a swing on 07 June;
The chorus of criticism facing the first ships of the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class calls for a little historical context to be brought to this debate. Almost all new ship classes experienced considerable “birthing pains in their early days.

This is not new. Indeed, the first six frigates acquired by the American Navy in 1797 all came in late and over budget.
Oh, no he didn't! Yes he did. Just one little reply; when they went to sea, they could more than hold their own against any other frigate at sea ... LCS ... well, they speak for themselves. If the first Six Frigates went to sea with nothing but swivel guns, then you may have a point, Shipmate.

Anyway - he reviews the other ship class challenges, argued and debunked with varying degrees of success over the years. Rinse and repeat, again, is fine - I do it all the time.

Making smoke, on the same day - SECNAV makes a nice show of it;
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced June 6 the next three joint high speed vessels (JHSV) will be named USNS Yuma, USNS Bismarck and USNS Burlington, and two littoral combat ships (LCS) will be named USS Billings and USS Tulsa.
I guess the 7th was "the day" to put stuff out, because over at AviationWeek, Michael Fabey came out to play with one of the most tiresome and patronizing quotes of the entire LCS campaign;
“Do not compare LCS to current platforms. It cannot be manned, trained, equipped, or maintained or tactically employed in the same way. NO OLD THINK.”

- -- 2008 U.S. Navy LCS Cardinal Rules (Emphasis in original)
Snort - I guess he needs to talk to a few of the authors above then.

Just a little more time on the 2008 quote; the last five years have shown that LCS is trending towards traditional manning numbers, training programs, legacy equipment (if they can make it fit), the maintenance plans need adjusting, and of course - we can't decide if it can do the tactical missions that we have been doing for the last century - and shocking - still need to do. Come on Michael - you asked for that.

And ... where did this come from?
The biggest impediment to the potential success of the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) may very well be some of the top-level brass who continue to view the ship through the “old-think” prism used to scrutinize traditional Navy warships.
The Navy needs to rid the service of the “old think.” The admirals and surface warfare officers would be a good place to start.
OK, I'm game. List all the "admirals and surface warfare officers" who have used "old think" to make LCS what it is today. Who are these brave souls that write and speak against LCS?

Seriously, show me this gauntlet of brass that has prevented LCS from demonstrating its glory.

Finally, something came out yesterday that simply, in a word, made me sigh. Our friend and hail fellow well met, Jim Holmes at TheDiplomat makes a try to find a new tactical angle on LCS. I'm generally here with him at the start,
Over at The National Interest last month, the Naval Diplomat reviewed the debate over the U.S. Navy's new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). My goal was less to rehash the ship's design than to puzzle out why the LCS debate — a debate, after all, over a mere hunk of machinery — is not just fiercely contested on the merits but often venomous.
With no common lexicon for shaping tactics, doctrine, and operations, the LCS debate quickly degenerates into claims and counter-claims about whether newfangled bits of hardware will perform as advertised. It takes on the "uh-uh!" and "uh-huh!" quality familiar to all ex-schoolboys.

Yet such craft are joining the fleet. Fitting them into U.S. maritime strategy is imperative. ... There's little new under the sun.
Remember when I threw in the towel about three years ago on LCS - that the anti-LCS cadre lost the intellectual battle, so we might as well try to make the best of it?

Well - Jim is searching.
In passing I portrayed the LCS as a "skirmisher" for U.S. Navy fleets operating off enemy coastlines. It acts as an advance guard for the main force, venturing into coastal waters to clear mines, detect and target submarines, and pummel speedboats and other small craft fielded by the likes of Iran and China. Once the littoral combatants do their work, the battle fleet can approach enemy shores to project power ashore, evacuate noncombatants, or what have you.
He fleshes out his concept - give it a good read, but I'm not convinced. It cannot do ASW with any kind of air threat, even if the ASW module works as designed. It can't defend itself. ASW is slow, so is MIW. Maritime skirmishers need to be small and agile - in the ASUW role or support of special operations. LCS isn't really that small, though it is agile. A skirmisher also needs to be able to inflict damage in the surface role - LCS just doesn't have any "there" there. It is fast with a shallow draft - but it has the profile of a WWII destroyer and more. It isn't going to sneak up on anyone, even at night.

Nice try Jim, and you have some good points - but I don't think we've bridged the gap.

So, there you go - a little review of a strange and, ahem, diverse little cluster of the LCS Joy Luck Club - covering the spectrum from "The Best Thing Since Bacon" to "Let's Try to Make it not Suck Quite as Hard" side of that aisle.

What reason for all this now? Is LCS moving towards PLAN SALAMANDER of 36 that I abandoned years ago out of despair? If the substance of the lastest pro-LCS argument is any indication, LCS is in significnt danger. Here is why.

None, and I mean zip-zero-nada, of the latest articles have anything new. Even Jim's skirmisher idea is just a reworking of the streetfighter concept. If there is nothing new to say but that there are additional delays, we need to wait another half decade for a corvette to have an ASCM, and that once we have a half dozen ships displacing water, then we'll be close to a design we can use - then I'm sorry; you're doing it wrong.

Speaking from my seat in from the LCS Eeyore Caucus - I say; "Meh; let's just do the best we can and start design work on two new classes - one between PC and LCS - and one between LCS and DDG-51 Flt-IIA."

One final note; this by far is the most interesting pro-LCS comment I have read in awhile. It's from Jim's article. In its own way - I think it fits as a way to close this up.
June 10, 2013 at 3:46 pm

The US LCS are one of the potent weapons in offense and defense posture that can e use to infuse to AirSea attle doctrine in order to address the small speed boat, liferaft that wil be used by China or Iran against any United Nation free World Forces, it is very minimal and cheap when it comes to the resources with strong, big possitive output when it is properly used in Blue Water Warfare, it will bring isastrous effect over the enemy bee hive doctrine, counter the hive with a fire and it will dissapear in the map of the earth…

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