Wednesday, January 19, 2011

LCS ASUW: from tragedy to farce

Remember those wonderful days of NetFires and the joy of Joint? The promise the PPT Gods gave us of intellectually airbrushed exquisite systems that were so multi-functional that they could do everything? Why have three good and proven systems based on solid and affordable engineering systems technology when you can have one exquisite system that we know will transfer from PPT to field with no problems. We have pixie dust, don'tyanknow.

Textbook case of technology risk last week. NLOS - under the bus.
The U.S. Navy is moving towards selecting Raytheon’s Griffin missile as the replacement for the cancelled Non-Line of Sight missile on its Littoral Combat Ships, according to the director of the service’s surface warfare division.

After evaluating its options for replacing one of the key parts of the LCS’ surface warfare mission systems for six months, the surface warfare division settled on the Griffin due to the fact that it can hit targets at acceptable ranges for less money than the NLOS system, said Rear Adm. Frank Pandolfe today during a speech at a Surface Navy Association convention in Arlington, Va.

The Griffin — with its launchers pictured above mounted on a Humvee — will also be cheaper to install on the LCS than the larger NLOS system, according to Pandolfe.
We knew this was just a matter of time after the Army got rid of the program. It was also just a matter of time until someone had to find a replacement option. Griffin? Really?

First a little review of what NLOS was supposed to be:
At a May 6, 2010, hearing on Navy shipbuilding programs before the Seapower subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed questioned Sean Stackley, the Navy’s acquisition executive (i.e., the Assistant Secretary of the Navy [Research, Development and Acquisition]), and Lieutenant General George Flynn, Deputy Commandant, Combat Development and Integration, and Commanding General, Marine Corps Combat Development Command, regarding the impact the cancellation of the NLOS-LS program. The following is text of the exchange.
SENATOR REED: Let me ask a question, then yield to Senator Wicker. And I might have one more question, but going back to the decision about the DDG- 51 versus the DDG-1000. The DDG-1000 was developed with the principal mission of close fire support for forcible entry, principally the Marine Corps. Then the Navy made the decision that they could do that by other means, and the more pressing need was missile defense, which the DDG- 51 seems more capable. Part of that decision, I understand, is the thought that essentially the Navy could adopt an Army system, the non- line of sight launch system, NLOS. But now it appears that the Army is getting ready to abandon the development of that system, forcing you to have no system or to adopt the cost of that system, rather than bootstrapping on the Army. So, I'm just, Admiral Blake, if NLOS is canceled, which it appears close to be, what’s your backup plan? But more importantly, I'd like everyone to comment on this general topic. What are we going to do to ensure close fire support for forcible entry of Marines?

BLAKE: Well, sir, first of all, for the NLOS program, the NLOS was looked at from the Navy perspective to go on the LCS. It was going to be a part of the surface package, the surface modular package [for the LCS]. It was going to go on there. And it was going to be used—one of the missions it was going to be used for was for the swarming boat issue. What we are doing right now is because of the Army’s announcement that they are potentially looking at terminating the program, we have been—we are going back and evaluating for that particular module. If, in fact that program is terminated and it is decided that the Navy would not go down that path, then what would we have to do in order to meet the key performance parameters for that particular module on the LCS.

REED: Thank you. That helps to clarify. Can I assume then, Secretary Stackley, to my comment, that the close fire support would be provided not by a destroyer, but by the LCS? Is that correct, the operational concept, Mr. Secretary?

STACKLEY: No, sir. There’s a naval surface first support capability. That requirement is met by what is called a triad. First, there’s organic artillery, there is air, then there’s naval surface fires. So that triad is intended to meet the overarching or capstone requirement. And we look at—you started with the DDG-1000 with the advanced con [sic: gun] system [the DDG-1000’s 155 mm Advanced Gun System] to [help meet] the overall requirement, and we look at other surface ships, basically [the] five-inch 54 [caliber gun], basically which is common to the DDG-51 and the [CG-47 class] cruiser. And with the NLOS, we looked at a capability that the LCS could further contribute to that [naval surface fire support] campaign problem.

REED: General Flynn, since your Marines are going to have to make the forceful entry, you have the last word on the whole topic and NLOS, too.

FLYNN: Sir, over a year ago we agreed that the solution, and this was at the same time we were examining the DDG-1000, we agreed to look for a joint analysis of alternatives [AOA] to determine the way ahead for naval surface fires. A key part of that had, as Secretary Stackley said, is our belief in the triad, that no single leg of the triad can meet all the demands of it. And we see naval surface fires as providing volume and accuracy as a key part of that triad. As part of the joint AOA, we looked at 71 alternatives, and we came down to the six most promising. One of them was the NLOS system. If it proved promising, it would have to have an extended range, but that was one of the alternatives. And that was one of the areas that we were also looking to capitalize on the Navy’s building of the LCS platform. If NLOS proves not to be effective, then the only other option that’s available right now is the development of the five-inch round, the extended range round for extended use off the DDG-81 and higher class [destroyer] hull forms. And that really needs to be upon 12-ish (ph) [sic: a POM-12 issue], because right now there is no [new] naval surface fire [capability], with the exception of the DDG-1000 in the program of record. The next promising or viable thing seems to be the extended five-inch range [shell]. And that would meet the requirement.
Executive summary. With DDG-1000 relegated to technology demonstration and NLOS proven the mirage its critics told you it was - we are stuck with the 5-in. Single mount 5-in at that. Ummmmmm, OK. More people owe me beer.

My solution remains what it has been for years - cancel the LCS program as soon as practical. Delay transfer of FF(not-so-G) to other navies. License build a run of 12-24 European designed frigates (NANSEN/SEVEN PROVINCES/etc) until we can design a solid, low-risk domestic frigate-sized platform. Transfer LCS to USCG.

Of course, that won't happen with the present leadership who have too much of their professional reputation tied up in LCS (oh, for the Burke option...)

So ... what do we do now?

Leaving the programmatics aside - think tactical application.

is laser guided - therefore line-of-sight. It is targeting-platform limited with no back-up guidance, and little use in supporting operations ashore.

The usual answer to this point by a defender is "...launched by LCS, targeted by FireScout/Helo" - which of course brings in the whole maintenance, sortie rate, crew rest, weather/sea state to recover, access to the appropriate freq for guidance and control, EMCON, permissive air environment issues, etc that comes with that crutch. Really - doesn't anyone in the Surface shop have a RW friend to bounce ideas off?

Griffin is an adequate system, but for a Surface weapon system, exceptionally delicate. It is a single route to success, multiple point of failure weapons system. Tactically robust it is not.

If Rube Goldberg designed ship based weapons systems - it would look like this. It is however, a perfect system for LCS.

LCS as a warfighting platform for ASUW, ASW and even MIW would only work if everything from weight restrictions, crew fatigue, endurance, to mission module performance stayed withing strict metrics. Multiple technology risks left very little room for error. That doesn't even mention the lifetime per-unit cost and original sin(s) of this failed system of failed systems.

To argue that this program is anything but a failure at this point is just being pigheaded.

Let's get back to the Griffin. Let me paraphrase another professional's critique below.

The Griffin was designed to replace the Hellfire missile. It does not have the range of the canceled NLOS missile, so at best it is a weak replacement further requiring this delicate ship to close the enemy.

Another weakness of the Griffin for shipboard use is it was designed as an air-launched weapon. To extend the range of a surface launched version, either the solid rocket motor has to be increased in size or length or a solid rocket booster is required. Griffin uses a semi-active laser seeker head and that means the laser designator has to keep target lock on the target until impact. Anyone who has been at sea in a corvette sized ship can quickly see this challenge.

If we need to fill the VLS cells on LCS, then LCS should be getting the Mk 56 Evolved Sea Sparrow to give it more standoff range against air threats. The Griffin doesn't help unless it's being used as anti-boat defense - something it was not designed for and will require a lot of engineering and software work to make functional. Even then - unless you have multiple laser designators, you are limited to engaging one target at a time. Swarms come in parallel, not serial. You need a weapon systems that functions in the same manner.

The below is from a email that I will quote in part- further fleshing out what we are looking at in this compromise.
(When) speculation about the acquisition of a Griffin missile variant surfaced, my initial reaction was positive. Here was a cheap, reasonably MOTS solution to one of the LCS's problems. However, further research undermined this reaction.

The Griffin can project a 5.9kg warhead to a maximum range of 5500m (surface-to-surface, 12.5km air-to-surface) at somewhat less than $40,000 per shot (reading between the lines, perhaps as little as $5000, but I doubt that).

The M110 57mm, on the other hand, has an effective range of 8500m (care of wikipedia, max of 17,000m) with a shell that weighs 2.4kg (so most likely 1.5+kg HE) at a small fraction of the cost/rnd of a missile.

While I acknowledge that 1 6kg warhead is more powerful than 4 1.5kg warheads. Neither of these weapon systems are able effectively conduct fires ashore.

So, my question is: now that NLOS (ie a reasonably long-ranged system able to both be used in ASuW and against targets ashore) is dead in the water, what role does a LCS mounted Griffin missile have?

Apart from covering the rear arc of the LCS, ofc - noting the limits of LCS STFZs.

I absolutely acknowledge the role of a LCS deployed Griffin missile (ie fired from an LCS-launched UAV, supported and controlled from the LCS); but I struggle to find a role for so short-range a missile system that cannot be already completed by MOTS gunnery systems.

My conclusion then, is that the MOTS version of the Griffin adds nothing to the LCS that equipping LCS borne UAVs with Griffin does not already do. Therefore, money spent on integrating on-board Griffin into two separate combat systems would be better allocated to integrating UAV launched Griffin and to improving the LCS's gunnery systems.

Does this equation change if the surface-to-surface range of the Griffin is extended?
Possibly, but this option comes at with an R&D cost. (Presently) there is not really a 'weapon's-gap' that the LCS needs to close. Most threat systems available to small fast craft (ie ATGMs, RPGs, rockets etc) have a range less than 4nm. Those with a longer range are generally 'proper' ASMs and will out-perform a Griffin-ER (for example, even Griffin-ERs fired from LCSs are no response to Houbei class FAC(M)s).
LCS, again, is the gift that keeps on giving. Sad thing is - this was all avoidable. It has been known in professional circles for years that this program will never be able to justify its cost and will never meet its tactical requirements as there were simply too many wrong assumptions and pet theories from speed to manning that compromised the design and development.

Also - it is easy to blame the companies in question, but I will repeat - this is a failure of those in uniform. Full stop. Until we accept this blame, we will not be able to fix this gaping hole in our Navy's capability that grows larger with each LCS that joins the Fleet.


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