Monday, September 09, 2019

LCS: The Case for Skeptical Optimism

Time to see if the additional money, intellectual heft, and Sailor sweat will pay off. For the star-crossed LCS program, we are now at the "Post-Reset and Forward Deployed" stage in the bespoke "Build a lot; test little to none; hopefully learn something along the way" central core of the transformationalist mindset that birthed LCS and other programs at the dawn of this century.

As I've said since I threw in the towel on killing LCS earlier this decade, they key is to simply find the best way to make the best use of what we have showing up to the fleet ... because showing up they are.

Good people have been working very hard to make it work, and the next 12 months are so will tell us how this reset - a decade after commissioning of Hull-1 - has succeeded. 

I try to restrain my informed pessimism and internalized rage at they whole opportunity cost with the belief that internally we accepted the inadequacies of the two LCS classes and have put some of our best minds to work on the problem so we can get ... something of use.

Megan Eckstein at USNINews is doing a solid job keeping everyone up to date on progress for the last few months, and her article from last Thursday is full of all sorts of goodies.

Here are a few things that caught my eye.
In just a few years, he (VADM Richard Brown) explained, the Navy will have 66 LCS crews to support 38 LCS hulls in their deployments, training and testing activities. This compares to 68 destroyer crews today. While the LCS program won’t rival DDGs in terms of percentage of manpower – the LCS has a much smaller crew – the LCS’s much higher operational availability means it’s conceivable that as many LCSs may be on deployments as destroyers at any given time.
66 crews to support 38 ships.

Remember one of the fables used to sell LCS was how "optimal manning" would save so much money? Of course, that was exposed as folly years ago, but it still comes up now and then. Do the math yourself and you come up to the actual manpower requirements. The trade-offs aren't that sexy. Never forget - as these bad ideas continue to pop up with the, "We'll do it smarter" crowd. 

Also, is the fact that the sub-optimal LCS will be at sea as often as the fully useful in wartime DDG a feature or a bug? Do we have the maintenance support to sustain it? 

I'm a full believer that it is useful to have a good number of smaller, affordable, less capable ships for presence and low threat missions ... but LCS is not small, not all that affordable and ... if we are a nation at war do we really like that fleet balance?

I think the presence missions are great - and better to have a LCS do it or counter piracy etc than a DDG - but ... that ratio is, I would argue, a bug, not a feature. It is a natural by product of the false dawn of the "no need for FFG if you have LCS" and the trainwreck that was CG(X).

You never really know what you have until you give it to Sailors to work with ... and we are going to get a lot of data in the next year.

Here is the lineup,
USS Montgomery (LCS-8) is deployed in the Western Pacific today. A second Independence-variant hull, USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), deployed earlier this week, from San Diego to WESTPAC like its sister ship earlier this week, a Navy official confirmed to USNI News on Friday. Defense News first reported the deployment. Freedom-variant USS Detroit (LCS-7) will deploy from Mayport, Fla., later this year to U.S. Southern Command, and USS Little Rock (LCS-9) is also working up for the next deployment from Florida.
This is good, and the crews have been working hard - under a bit of a shadow - for deployment to get started.

We should all wish them well - and we should all hope that the additional time, effort, money and focus of the last few years will pay off for LCS useful to the fleet.

If this year goes well and money keeps flowing, 2020/21 deployments should build on this cycle and bring even more useful data on how to make this work.

RDML Casey Moton, Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants, spoke well to this guarded optimism;
“And so I come back, and things have progressed. We are 19 ships delivered; four this year, I think, two or three left to go. A big change there. … We are now firmly into executing the LCS plan, the fleet plan, in terms of both the ships getting out there in their (training and deployment) cycles, getting the crews certified. … It’s in a different mode. The ships are out there; we are now putting them to good use and doing what we always hoped.”
...and yet, we have this. It goes back to trying to make the manning construct work;
Under the Career Management System/Interactive Detailing process, Brown said, the Bureau of Naval Personnel can identify a replacement for a DDG sailor and get that new person trained up in time to report to a ship. That’s not the case for LCS, because the training pipeline sits at about 15 to 18 months, longer than the CMS/ID process.
18-months. That is what, 548 days? Keep that number handy.

Back in 2015, I coined a new measurement of time, the worldwar.

A worldwar is the length the USA was involved in WWII; 1,366 days. 548 is .4 of a worldwar.

In 40% of the time it took to fight WWII, we take to train someone to be on LCS. This is progress? This is cost effective?

Is this a process that has any flex to it in case of peer conflict? The whole manning concept here ... needs additional review. We should be able to do better.

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