Monday, June 13, 2016

Time Again to Turn the LCS Compost Pile

Alternative Headline - LCS: You Get What You Pay For

It has been awhile since we’ve batted LCS/FF about the ears, and this month’s latest from the GAO gives us an opportunity to do just that.

I would offer to you Syndey Freedberg’s latest over at BreakingDefense, as well as Robert Beckhusen over at WOTR and their thoughts on the GAO’s latest. Read them and take some time to review the GAO report for yourself too, but until then, here are some of my thoughts.

There continues to be a lot of competing arguments swirling around LCS. Some would like everyone to be quiet and let the Navy get on with the Plan of the Day, but I think that is the worst thing we can do. The problems with LCS need to be addressed on a regular basis for two reasons; 1) as a testimony so future programs won’t repeat the mistakes and hubris of LCS; 2) so those who are going to sea on them or giving orders to the ships have a clear idea what they are capable of.

In any event, from one end to the other, in 2016 there is no one who is screaming, with any credibility, “LCS is awesomesauce!” Some of the fringes on both sides can edge close to self-delusion, but there is a center-mass grouping of opinions that – correctly – are closer to, “This is the best we can hope for, so let’s get on with it.”

Since I resigned myself to our LCS future ~2010, I have put my hope that good people in hard jobs will try to make the best of our snake-bit inheritance. With the LCS to FF moment, we had one more chance to execute a modified PLAN SALAMANDER that was first proposed a decade ago (license build a EuroFrigate design until we could get a domestic design ready), but it was clear early that the morphing of LCS in to a FF was baked in to the cake.

Results, as expected;

And, here we are;
In late 2014, the Navy recommended (and the Secretary of Defense approved) procuring both variants of a minor modified LCS, designating it a “frigate.” The Navy prioritized this option because of its relatively lower cost and quicker ability to field, as well as the ability to upgrade remaining LCS, over making more significant capability improvements. GAO’s analysis found the planned frigate will not provide much greater capability in some areas than LCS and that some cost assumptions may have overstated this option’s affordability.
As we predicted here.
With consideration for the range of desired enhanced performance and capabilities for the SSC as identified by the fleet representatives, the task force subsequently identified additional minor modified LCS options, though these options would also require accepting reduced weight and other design margins to accommodate the changes. These alternate LCS options offered reduced capabilities as compared to some capability concepts the task force had initially identified, as capabilities had to be downgraded to accommodate the design constraints of the minor modified LCS.

In making its recommendation, the Navy prioritized cost and schedule considerations over the fact that a minor modified LCS was the least capable option considered. However, certain cost assumptions made by the task force may have overstated the minor modified LCS’ relative affordability as compared to other options. The Navy’s decision was also based on a desire to start production of the first frigate in 2019, and without a break in production at the LCS shipyards. The Navy noted in its recommendation that the minor modified LCS will provide improvements in combat capability over the current LCS fleet—specifically due to its multi-mission capability. However, the frigate will have similar capability in most areas as the current LCS; many of the performance requirements for the frigate are the same as LCS requirements. As noted, some of the improvements led to lowering some capabilities for the frigate, such as range. Moreover, a minor modified LCS will not fully address all lethality and survivability concerns raised by the former Secretary of Defense. DOT&E identified some of these concerns in its reporting on the planned frigate program. Namely, the planned frigate will not have significant improvements to AAW capability or to reducing the vulnerability of the ship to sustaining damage as compared to the current LCS.
There are people I respect that, for mostly peace-time priorities and economic reasons, are willing to hedge towards a low-low mid (which is what LCS/FF is) to get numbers, but I remain with the belief that one must keep an eye towards wartime requirements. If you are a Maritime Component Commander at war, do you want 5 sub-optimal ships with a glass jaw and a weak fist for your medium sized warship, or 3 ships that can hit and take a hit? I’d bet on the brawler, but my argument lost out.

In some ways, we continue to plow the same field, but the weeds keep cropping up and make it a necessity. This is unchanged; our nation will have LCS/FF as a significant part of our battle fleet for decades, and we need to be clear-eyed about its capabilities and limitations. Knowing such, as always, pray for peace.

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