Archive for the 'Shipbuilding' Tag
Sebastian Abbott from the AP had a nice article from AFG last week that got me pondering again on what the Navy is missing that the Marines and Army are receiving by the metric ton; combat experience. Outside SEALS, SEABEEs, and a few other specialized units – for all intents and purposes our Navy has not been stressed by prolonged, direct combat with the enemy during this conflict. FRP and presence ops are not combat.
This is what got my attention – after nine years of continual combat, even a learning institution such as the US Marines are still relearning fundamentals;
The Marines patrolling through the green fields and tall mud compounds of Helmand province’s Sangin district say they are literally in a race for their lives. They are trying to adjust their tactics to outwit Taliban fighters, who have killed more coalition troops here than in any other Afghan district this year.
“As a new unit coming in, you are at a distinct disadvantage because the Taliban have been fighting here for years, have established fighting positions and have laid the ground with a ton of IEDs,” said Lt. Col. Jason Morris, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment. “You have to evolve quickly because you have no other choice.”
Despite the previous occupants, the Marines who pushed out with Ceniceros that fateful afternoon said they didn’t realize how dangerous the mud compounds to the south of the base were until the Taliban unleashed a stream of machine-gun fire, pinning down two Marines.
“We kind of snuck our nose in the south to see what the south was about and we found out real quick that you don’t go south unless you have a lot of dudes,” said Sgt. Adam Keliipaakaua, who was leading the patrol.
All the services have history departments, they have recommended reading lists, they teach military history at the Service Academies and War Colleges – but does it sink in where it need to sink in the most, in the places where decisions are made on how to train, equip, and otherwise prepare this nation for war?
There are few things in this line of work that can bring clarity to the mind more than actual combat. It has always been true that at the end of a conflict a military has a fairly good handle on what works and what does not. True in 1945 in Europe and the Pacific, 1972 in Vietnam, and 2008 in Iraq.
After a war winds down though, the rough concensus starts to break down as the second guessing takes place, the think tanks start overthinking, and some advocates do a better job than others in selling their version of victory. That starts the process of separation of what is needed, and what is wanted.
The unsexy and difficult tend to be starved or forgotten in time. New and upproven theories come to the front in a time of peace with the promise to go around the unsexy and difficult to make war all shiny and new – or better yet, distract from the requirements of the unsexy and difficult, as only in peace can you get away with ignoring the sexy and difficult things such as logistics, damage control, and young men holding ground with a rifle.
The problem is less the cliche of “Fighting the last war” as much as forgetting what happened during the last war. Retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl’s central theme of Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam is in a large part the question of the degree our military is a learning institution. Unlike peacetime where a PPT or White Paper can avoid the hard truth of reality if sponsored well – in combat, the truth comes out through blood and treasure.
The wars of the last decade have been land wars and the ground services, Army and Marines, have had to learn more than the air and sea services. Just the nature of the war. Though there are many – some of the Lessons Learned/Identified are not new at all. No, they are things that were learned and written in blood decades earlier- but forgotten in the ease of peace. Just a few examples from the ground side of the house.
- RPG cages/Slat armor: Plenty of pictures of them on Strykers and other armored vehicles now, but not so starting early on in this war. The RPG dates back to WWII, so you can’t say their impact on light armor is a new issue. When RPGs became common in Vietnam, we put our 113’s in cages of one type or another. Very effective – and very forgotten. Like the next example, lives were lost, memories came for the fore, redneck engineering held the line until official production – and now we have them again. No excuse.
- Unarmored HUMVEEs/MRAP: All you needed to know about their need was learned and forgotten in Somalia. Israel and Apartheid South African experiences spanning decades also gave clues. The story by now is well known – as it was on 10 SEP 01. No excuse.
- Inadequacy of the M-16/M-4 and its varmint round, the .223/5.56mm: Tired but true argument. All discussion should have ended when the M-14 was brought out of storage wholesale mid-decade and serious talk came up towards a 6.5/6.8mm round – but the G4 guys seem to have beat the G3 guys, again, on this with a classic bureaucratic holding actin – sadly. Same institutional concept that ignored Gen. Mattis when he was MARCENT and wanted MRAPs for his Marines. The amount of our own countrymen’s blood on the hands of our accountants and non-warfighting Staff Weenies is enough to leave anyone gobsmacked. Back to the subject at hand, I recommend anyone who wants to defend M-16 series talk to MG Robert H. Scales, USA (Ret.). No excuse.
- The joy of armor. I love the Canadian example from AFG on armor, a lot. It isn’t that they didn’t learn the lessons – it is just they learned the wrong lessons. Too much peacekeeping since the end of the Korean War and the lost perspective from the end of garrison duty in Germany after the Cold War had left the Canadians within a year of getting rid of all their tracked armor. They also let the wrong people run their internal national messaging – tanks are symbols of masculine militarism, etc. When reality squatted on their national bellybutton picking, they just had a few Leopard 1s left. It didn’t’ take long for the Canadian dead from AFG to scream for tanks, as the reality of combat brought the unique skill-set of the tank to the front. Where do we find our Canadian brothers now? With a nice gaggle of Leopard A2s. They also are bringing back the CH-47. No excuse.
- Irreplaceable tracked vehicle: In the same line as the Canadian idea – we too had fallen in love with the wheeled vehicle. They have their place – but are not all things for all places. Strykers are great as long as you don’t, ahem, have to worry about IED – but if you can’t leave the road to engage the enemy or get away from a kill zone – then all you are is a death trap. We mostly knew that —- but this still makes the cut because there was a growing school that wanted to get rid of all tracks – they are still around – experience in the field says you can’t …. again.
- The gun on aircraft (USAF): Everyone knows the story from Vietnam, but as we can see with the USMC & Navy’s version of the F-35, we have not learned the importance of the gun as well as the USAF (gunpods don’t count). Infantry always enjoys a good strafing run – but recently it has also come to the attention of the COIN crowd that the aircraft cannon is a very precise and discriminating weapon. No GPS coord problems or laser designation challenges. No excessive explosions. Man in the loop accountability.
- Infantry: You never have enough infantry: Enough said. What is less sexy to a peace time green eyeshade number cruncher than a guy with a rifle in his hand? They are a pain until you have to go to war – then all of a sudden you remember that the Marines may have something there; everyone a rifleman. Talk to the Army non-infantry types who have done nothing but infantry work.
To forget and to wish away; this is human nature – and it is unavoidable. Things are forgotten either by neglect or intention – and when conflict comes, people are killed, battles are lost, and if you forget something bad enough – your nation is put at Strategic Risk because in the comfort of peace things were forgotten for the wrong reasons.
The longer you go between conflicts, the wider the gulf seems to be between what is needed and what is actually there when you show up. As it has been a very long time since the US Navy has been challenged at sea, the experience of the Army and Marines had me thinking, “What are the half-dozen problems waiting for us when war at sea comes?”
Oh, it will come – I don’t know when, and I don’t know with whom – but it will come. There are some things out there that we don’t know that will work well and others won’t. That is why you can’t put all your hopes in one system – you might have picked the lemon. There are, however, somethings that we will have no excuse for forgetting. History is too clear – the gaps too obvious to ignore. These are some of the known knowns.
- Damage Control: COLE, PRINCETON, TRIPOLI, STARK, FORRESTAL, ENTERPRISE and the whole British experience in The Falklands War demonstrate that automated DC is a myth and pipe dream. Destruction has its own plan. There is one critical thing you need to save a damaged ship and fight hurt; manpower. Multiple DC teams. Optimal manning is only good in a permissive peace time environment when you don’t have to deploy for more than a few weeks. Manning for ships such as LCS will make them a one hit wonder. They take one hit, and you’ll wonder what happened to them. Taking away DDG manning to such obsurd levels – including the DDG-1000 manning concept – and you will simply wonder, “There seems to be something wrong with our bloody ships today.” When we worry a lot about at-sea manning while our shore staffs bloat – you need to wonder if we are a serious, warfighting institution.
- Underway replenishment. Is there anything less sexy than an oiler? Follow the link and look at Hooper’s article here. Worth a deeper ponder.
- Organic refueling. So, does buddy tanking from one light strike fighter to another light strike fighter make you feel comfortable about our ability to project significant power ashore while keeping the CVN a healthy distance away? Do you really think we will always have USAF tankers based close to where we need to be to support us? Really? Fewer shorter range light strike fighters with their CVN closer to shore. Really? Speaking of unsexy, think the C-2 will last forever? Really? Who is doing your ASW again?
- Numbers in the game of ASW: You always … always … run short of platforms and weapons. Once the shooting starts and people start seeing submarines under every herring pod – check your Light Weight Torpedo inventory. If for some, ahem, reason your peace time LWT training and testing wasn’t what it should have been for the expected targets and environment, and they don’t work – what is your back-up weapon? How many SSN do you have, and they are doing what where? No excuse here at all. From WWII to the Falklands history is screaming at us, again – no excuse.
- NSFS: Anything less than 5″ is an insult and an embarrassment. Not archaic – ask anyone from the Falklands to Five-Inch Friday about it – again. Talk to the Marines what they think about a single mount 57mm gun with a non-functioning NLOS onboard as their NSFS.
- Redundancy in offensive and defensive weaponry: Back to the ASW example in part and a review of your standard issue WWII DD or DE. Ever wonder why they had so many different types of weapons – and so many? Well – in combat, things break or get broken – different types of targets are better addressed by different weapons. There are no training time outs in combat. A little close to the modern timelines … there was a reason certain warships were on the gun line off Vietnam and others weren’t. Numbers are hard from a PMS and manning perspective – but no one wants to be an O-ring or golden BB away from being Not-Mission-Capable when people are trying to kill you and a few hundred of your shipmates.
There, that is my dirty half-dozen of things that can/will be a problem due to neglect and complacency in peace. Your list may be different.
We should know the lessons of history, but are we applying them? I firmly believe that the Transformationalists are good people who are trying to find a better way – but they are putting too much on hope and not enough on critical thinking about practical matters. When you tell people your Amphibious Ships are too valuable to get close enough to shore to put Marines ashore – your idea of NSFS is a single 57mm gun and a few dozen missiles so bad the Army doesn’t want them – your open ocean ASW plans involve remotely piloted center consol fishing boats – and you tell people with a straight face that a Graf Spee sized warship with a huge superstructure radiating like there is no tomorrow within visual range of shore is “Stealthy” – then we should stop, pause, and reflect.
When our Fleet is challenged at sea again, will a modern day nautically-minded Tallyrand say of those who designed the Navy, “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.“?
J. Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department’s director of Operational Test and Evaluation, has the most thankless job in the Pentagon. This guy, more than anybody else, knows where the bodies are buried on various platforms–and nobody listens to him.
As a weapons tester and evaluator, he is hated by program managers, dismissed as a cantankerous, meddling fool by the programs dinged by DOT&E testers, and yet, sadly, his data-driven critiques are often right.
J. Michael Gilmore was the one who first raised the red flag about the Virginia Class–and it’s issues with troublesome subsystems. The Program Managers pushed back, got their two-hull per year production agreement inked and then, in the space of a few weeks, three Virginia Class subs showed up with their Special Hull Treatment in tatters. I blogged about it, and then the story went national.
J. Michael Gilmore is changing DOT&E. Usually public DOT&E stuff is buried in a hard-to-reach annual catalog for Congress, little-reported upon beyond the cozy confines of the Inside the Navy subscription wall (and, well, this blog and maybe Tim Colton). But things are changing. DOT&E reports are now posted, here.
And J. Michael Gilmore is talking.
The 30 AUG edition of The Economist has an outstanding article that demands your attention, “Defence spending in a time of austerity.”
It is a wide-ranging article, but it is the graph on the right and another couple of points that grabbed my attention.
What I like about the graph on the right is that it focuses on just major combatants. Yes, numbers are not everything – but when you consider the concentration vs. dilution of power when it comes to the waters off China, the numbers look even more interesting. When you fold in they tyranny of distance – you add a bit more flavor. Yes, there is a quality vs. quantity argument as well – but the historian understands the Tiger vs. Sherman argument. Follow the trends to 2030 and ponder some more.
Speaking of China, from the article;
Is the constraint on military spending evidence of a general decline of the West? Critics of Mr Gates argue that he is hollowing out the armed forces and accepting a diminished position for America in the world. In a seminal book of 1987, “The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers”, Paul Kennedy of Yale University popularised the notion that a country’s military power flows from its economic strength; the global pecking order is determined as much by economic performance in peacetime as by martial abilities in wartime. By this measure, China’s economic strength should give the West cause for concern. China is also fast building up its naval power …
Our debt growth is unsustainable and a decrease in our defense budgets will be an unavoidable result of our fiscal irresponsibility. Where is China in this?
Well, when you consider our trade deficit and national debt – don’t blame the dragon for getting fat when we sell our children to feed it.
China is now the largest holder of U.S. debt. It’s also the largest exporter and within the next five to seven years, it’s expected to surpass the U.S. as the largest manufacturer in the world.
How much interest are we already paying on our debt?
The national debt is the single biggest threat to national security, according to Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Tax payers will be paying around $600 billion in interest on the national debt by 2012, the chairman told students and local leaders in Detroit.
“That’s one year’s worth of defense budget,” he said,
America, you should keep your eye on the Chinese Fleet. No so much that it may be a threat down the road – but just for the reason that you’re paying for much of it.
So, solutions? The macro issues of run-away deficit spending and trade imbalances are beyond the ability of the Navy to do anything about. What can the Navy do about this challenge of a shrinking American Fleet? For starters – go after per-unit costs – something we have been horrible at. We need to fix it though, as shipbuilding budgets are not going to grow in real dollars – indeed, expect a decrease. The cause of our per-unit cost problem is well understood; cue the LCS video.
Few would disagree with another of Mr Augustine’s laws, that “the last 10% of performance generates one-third of the cost and two-thirds of the problems.” Moreover, the quest for the best is often allied to a “conspiracy of optimism”, whereby bureaucrats and contractors underestimate the likely cost of weapons, wittingly or unwittingly. Once approved, military projects are hard to kill.
Such are the ingredients for a spiral of cost and delay: technological stumbles hold up development; delay raises costs; governments postpone work further to avoid busting yearly budgets, incurring greater long-term costs. With time, technology becomes outdated, so weapons must be redesigned, giving the top brass a chance to tinker endlessly with requirements. In the end, governments cut the size of the purchase, so driving up unit costs further.
We could do with a little more good and a little less perfect.
Hope is not a plan, but hope that our elected representatives get our financial house in order – for without it a military cannot be effective. After hope – then act develop a culture of accountability and not obsequiousness.
We did not get here by accident. Real people made real decisions that put us here.
Please join my co-host and fellow USNIBlogg’r EagleOne and me as we run the timeline from 1975 to 2020 today at 5pm EST/1700R/2200Z.
Our guests will be retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel J.G. Zumwalt and journalist Greg Grant.
For our first segment, we will be discussing Lt. Col. Zumwalt’s new book, Bare Feet, Iron Will ~ Stories from the Other Side of Vietnam’s Battlefields with the author.
We will wind it up with Greg Grant looking towards the Navy’s options at the end of this decade as outlined in CNA’s new report, “The Navy at a Tipping Point: Maritime Dominance at Stake?
Rhetoric supporting the new carrier launch system, EMALS, was on full display during CNO Roughead’s March 11 testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. He said:
“…Among the new technologies being integrated in these ships is the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which will enable the carrier’s increased sortie generation rate and lower total ownership costs. EMALS is on track for an aircraft demonstration later this year and is on schedule to support delivery of CVN 78 in September 2015…”
But, according to Inside Defense (subscription required), reality, in the form of a question from Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA), forced SECNAV Mabus to confirm that the EMALS program had experienced an ugly test failure. What happened, exactly? This:
“…According to a Navy official, on Jan. 12 during a test at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst , NJ, the shuttle was commanded to move forward 10 meters, but instead reversed direction and slammed into the catapult’s deck tensioner, causing damage to the system’s hardware. Damage to the armature and the tensioner was non-reparable, though a motor block and the end of the system’s trough, which also suffered damage, were salvageable. There were no injuries…”
That’s quite the mishap…But, never fear, they tell me this high-profile program is all still on schedule. Right?
I like EMALS, and I love this sort of high-profile challenge…and good poker games, too.
But…where’s the hedge? Did we start production of the Next-Gen Ford-class too early? If America needs to start figuring out how many MV-22s fit on the new LHA(N) amphibian, isn’t that something policymakers should know and discuss? And if the money that EMALS will, in theory, save (via reduced wear and tear, lower manning and so forth) gets eaten up by developmental costs and reliability SNAFUs, then, shouldn’t there be a debate on the strategic (and/or tactical) merits of this system?
Is a higher sortie generation rate and consistent high-power cat shots THAT important?
Is the Navy having some problems getting along with shipbuilder Northrop Grumman? Defense media overlooked some stern words–and a hand-carried letter–Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) delivered to SECNAV Mabus after a February 24 hearing on the Navy’s FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Budget Request. Here’s a rough transcript–of what sounds somewhat like an ultimatum:
“…Secretary Mabus, before you leave I’d like to hand-deliver to you a letter from myself, Senator Cochran (R-MS) and Senator Wicker (R-MS). A similar letter was delivered to Northrop Grumman last week. And it basically says that Congress has authorized and appropriated five ships…and yet, for whatever reason, Northrop and the Navy have not come to terms and gotten those ships started.
The admiral has made an excellent case that he needs a bigger fleet. The Congress has already responded to that by authorizing and appropriating the money. We need to get going. And so I don’t know if it’s Northrop’s delay. I don’t know if it’s the Navy’s delay. But there is a delay that needs to be addressed and I’m going to ask you to take a look at that. But again, thank all of you for your services and with that, this meeting is adjourned…”
What’s the deal here? Why all the foot-dragging? Is the delay just focusing on Northrop’s Gulf Coast yards?
At any rate, an exchange of letters is certainly not the sort of thing that happens when all is, ah, going well in the shipbuilding department.
As the Littoral Combat Ship program faces an abrupt down-select to a single hull, the Navy must brace for some nasty litigation. The spurned party–either Lockheed or General Dynamics–will be poised to contest the selection process.
With little in the way of “real world” operational data available, advocates of either platform will have ample grounds to poke holes in the down-select’s Record of Decision (ROD).
If the Air Force’s $35 Billion dollar tanker down-select is any guide, this LCS down-select is going to be ugly.
It is a pity. With more resources, the Navy would have been busy building and evaluating two separate LCS squadrons, and the down-select years away.
Looking back, the outline for a “data-heavy” LCS down-select was put forth in 2004. Read Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work’s essay from 2004, “Naval Transformation and the Littoral Combat Ship,” where he says:
“…the Navy would be advised to build at least two different operational prototypes. However, choosing two different prototypes will not completely resolve many of the operational issues. It seems clear that only by testing squadron prototypes will the Navy be able to fully resolve some of the outstanding issues surrounding the LCS and its support structure…”
Work isn’t going to get a firm test between LCS-1 and LCS-2 squadrons. By the time all four ships are available, the decision will be made.
That’s a little scary. Aside from the challenge of making a down-select decision with little data, the accelerated selection risks distorting LCS-1 operations.
I fear that the rapid down-select puts a lot of pressure on the deploying LCS-1 sailors to treat their platform gently. The opposite should be the case–the first model “Flight 0″ platforms must be run hard, beaten up and, quite simply, broken. Broken early and often.
Put bluntly, the Navy won’t learn much if problems are covered-up and the ship treated like a museum piece. (As an example, aside from keeping the production line going, what, exactly, did two years of babying the USS San Antonio (or hiding INSURVs) do for the LPD-17 program? I mean, how’s that USS New York treating ya’ll?)
With enough hulls to form two LCS squadrons, the pressure to “take care of the showpiece” gets reduced. But with no squadron to share the risks, the Navy’s risk-averse chain-of-command needs constant reminding (along with some additional public top-cover and, on occasion, some prodding) that the first two LCS are test platforms–nothing more, nothing less. Break ’em and–for goodness sakes–tell folks you’re gonna break ’em!
And, just as an aside, barring obvious dereliction of duty, no penalty should be inflicted upon crew and commander, who, in the event their platform is not up for the mission at hand, goes and breaks the vessel.
That said, even when the Navy selects either LCS-1 or LCS-2 as the “LCS-of-record”, and the lawsuits get settled, I’d posit that the LCS down-selection still won’t be done.
Robert Work will get his squadron prototypes–and, again, in a couple of years, as the fiscal picture gets grimmer, the pressure to compare the LCS with the JHSV is going to be irresistible.
And that, simply put, is going to be an interesting battle.
My thoughts? If LCS-1 wins the initial down-select, the JHSV catamaran becomes a viable platform. (And given the minimum-cost focus of the LCS RfP–LCS-1 may well end up winning the LCS contract.) In that case, the JHSV gets a wide-open niche to go and exploit. Eventually, we’ll see a contest between a LCS-1 combat specialist and a do-anything up-gunned utilitarian JHSV.
It’ll be fascinating–and yes, as one of the first JHSV cheerleaders, I’m biased–but, as the civilian-crewed JHSV gets encumbered by more “combat-lite” duties, I can’t help but get a little anxious. Call me crazy, but I just don’t believe our model of using civilians for combat duty is gonna work very well. (Watch for more studies…)
If the LCS-2 wins, I don’t see why the Navy might want to keep the JHSV production line going for anything other than for risk-reduction. The JHSV and LCS occupy a similar sort of “truck-like” niche (Or, to use a “Workism”, their “boxes” are pretty similarly-sized). A civilianized LCS-2 is just a trimaran JHSV, right?
Look, a civilianized model of the LCS-2 is available right now. Rent it. If the LCS-2 hull-form works for the Navy, then wouldn’t it be appropriate to leverage savings that would stem from using the same hull-form, similar plant, identical layout and matching broad-based operational template?
If we use the same hull-form for both the JHSV and LCS-2, would it not be super-easy to, if necessary, swap out civilian crews? As the line between “combat” and “combat support” continues to shrink, it might be really useful to have the ability to seamlessly swap out civilians with a combat-ready Navy crew.
All in all, it’s going to be an interesting year. (And, just FYI, I’m betting the LCS-1 breaks on its upcoming deployment.)
Well, not so fast…it looks like the USS MESA VERDE (LPD-19) had substantive powerplant issues before her shock trials (back in August-September 2008)–USS MESA VERDE suffered a “catastrophic” mishap even before LPD-17 failed in the Gulf.
Read the Defense Department’s December 2009 Operational Test and Evaluation Report closely:
Catastrophic casualties recorded prior to the Full Ship Shock Trial in LPD-19 and during LPD-17’s deployment revealed serious fabrication and production deficiencies in the main lube oil service system.”
What happened there? IF the LPD-19 event was, in any way, comparable with the November 2008 LPD-17 failure (where the ship was sidelined for weeks), then why wasn’t the LPD-19 failure widely broadcast?
The LPD-19 incident predates the LPD-17 incident. Why, then, in the light of such a catastrophic failure, was the LPD-17 sent out on deployment with no fixes in sight? Were the LPD-19 problems kept quiet…or, to be cynical for a moment…Did the LPD-19 failure occur in close proximity to the Navy’s announcement that the LPD-17 reached IOC in May 2008?
Unless the Operational Test and Evaluation Report is detailing a completely different failure, the Report contradicts Jay Stefany, the Navy’s LPD-17 program manager. Navy Times’ Chris Cavas recently reported:
“Stefany said the problems were a recurrence of similar issues discovered about a year ago on the Mesa Verde (LPD 19) and Green Bay (LPD 20). “The ships were down for a number of months,” he said, and stainless steel shavings were discovered in the lube oil.”
Seems like LPD-19–at a minimum–failed about a year an a half ago…
Along with that interesting note, the Operational Test and Evaluation Report emphasizes the entire Class is experiencing a range of other failures/problems–problems that go far beyond welding or engine plant design. The platform is, at best, infirm.
First–and unsurprisingly–the engineering is problematic:
“Reliability problems associated with the Engineering Control System (ECS), including frequent failures and high false alarm rates, and the electrical distribution system, including unexplained loss of service generators and the uncommanded opening of breakers, revealed shortfalls in manning and training to support sustained manual operation of the plant.”
Communications are wobbly:
“…reliability problems with the SWAN and the Interior Voice Communications System degrade command and control and are single points of failure during operations.”
And, of course, the amphibious basics ain’t good, either:
‘Reliability problems related to well deck ramps, ventilation, bridge crane, and Cargo Ammunition Magazine (CAM) elevators detracts from mission accomplishment and reduces amphibious warfare suitability.”
Add in issues with the LPD-17’s ability to produce chilled water, there’s also a long laundry list of problems with the LPD-17 Class SSDS, the RAM system, radars and gun interface. Combined, those failures limit the LPD-17 Class, opening these ships to attack.
But those problems were covered last year, over here.
The continued vigorous defense of these platforms by Marines and other LPD-17 boosters simply stuns me. Why are we building LPD-17s if the ships are not functional?
Is time to stop work on these things? What’s the going opinion? Do tell!
Given that many of the anti-Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) crowd have adapted the FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigates as a sort of “alternative” to the LCS (a legacy shipbuilding program that, in the opinion of the anti-LCS crowd, was everything the LCS program is not), a nice dose of history might be in order.
Those who now love the FFG-7 program probably don’t remember that the FFG-7, in its early days, was the LCS of the Seventies.
Don’t believe me? Here’s an excerpt from a June 1977 paper entitled “The U.S. Sea Control Mission: Forces, Capabilities, and Requirements,” detailing criticism leveled by, back then, the trendy-minded, well-heeled anti-FFG-7 crowd. Read the passage. It should sound familiar to anybody who has sorted any amount of anti-LCS agitation:
“The FFG-7 program has met with considerable criticism in recent years on several accounts. It has proved far more costly than originally planned: estimates of its unit cost rose from about $65 million to $168 million in constant dollars in just three years. At the same time, serious questions have been raised about its capabilities. Critics claim that the FFG lacks firepower and redundant sensors for operations in high-threat areas; that its single screw propulsion renders it vulnerable to attackers; that it lacks size and capacity for low-cost, mid-life modifications. Other critics have suggested that the FFG is too slow for conducting ASW operations against modern Soviet submarines. The House Armed Services Committee was particularly critical of the FFG program…”
That’s quite an inauspicious beginning…But today, more than 30 years after introduction, FFG-7s remain efficient enough for modern Navies to operate–and valuable enough to upgrade.
Look closely at those cost estimates. Plug the first FFG-7 cost estimate into an inflation calculator and the result is $230 million–almost exactly the same amount of money the Navy first programmed for the LCS.
Shove that final 1977 FFG-7 cost estimate of $168 million into an inflation calculator, and the end result is $595 million in 2009 dollars. Today, the LCS-3 and 4 cost $548.8 million and $547.7 million respectively. If one of the two LCS designs functions as advertised–and are hiding no major flaws–then we’ve got a pretty interesting higher-end FFG-7-like replacement platform.
That bit of context might give LCS critics something to think about. Of course, even with the “FFG-7 was/is better than the LCS” platform knocked about a bit, the debate over whether or not a less costly ship model might serve just as well as an LCS remains valid…and valuable. So have at it!
Stormy times ahead for Northrop Grumman’s Gulf Shipyards and Navy shipbuilding.
First, news broke today that LPD-17 and LPD-21 are–even though they’re desperately needed for Haiti service–now “sidelined,” according to Insidedefense.com.
The USS New York, less than a month from commissioning, has a bent crankshaft. Until that crankshaft is repaired LPD-21 will only be able to use three of four engines. The ship won’t be able to get underway until next month because two engines need to be repaired.
No news yet on the prognosis for LPD-17. It is now in a Virginia shipyard.
LPD 19 and 20 suffered oil contamination problems (a potential precursor to bearing wear and crankshaft issues) earlier, but the Navy seems confident they’re OK for now. LPD-18 seems OK.
What are we going to do with the LPD-17 program? Things were looking up. Last year, Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work, in his 2009 Naval White Paper, wrote “after a troubled start, the LPD-17 program appears to have finally found its sea legs (pg 78).” Just how close-held was this issue? And did the failure to promptly disseminate news of LPD-17 problems derail the promulgation of good policy?
Navy Times reports even more bad tidings:
“Inspectors are rechecking every pipe weld aboard every ship built in the last several years at Avondale, La., or Pascagoula, Miss., including destroyers and small- and big-deck amphibs, after discovering so many problems that all pipe welders and Navy inspectors at both yards had to be decertified and then recertified to work on ships.”
Welding issues appear to plague many vessels built at the Gulf shipyards. DDGs, LHD-8, every LPD…(No news yet on the Legend Class Coast Guard Cutters) suffer from about a 10-15 percent incidence of thin welds. We’ll find out more over the coming weeks.
So, in short, we have a serious problem in shipbuilding (and shipbuilding oversight) in the Gulf, and a potentially serious design problem with the LPD-17s engines. I’d like to see some accountability here, but, in all honesty, I expect the folks who approved the LPD-17 engine designs will probably get some kind of award for helping create a new means to discover the bad welds…
At least we can all sit back and watch as different parts of the navy’s shipbuilding community desperately try to shift the blame for this current fiasco onto somebody else.
With this, the LCS-1 problems and the EB sub welding issues, it’s little wonder SECDEF Gates kept the Navy from testifying at the Jan 20 House Armed Services Committee meeting on Naval Force Structure!
For those who don’t know, HASC’s Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor’s primary constituency base is from the Northrop Grumman Gulf Shipyards, so we can, as this story evolves, expect some fireworks as Congressman Taylor scrambles to protect his parochial interests.
Like any evolving story, it’ll take time to get all the facts. Consider this merely a means to start a discussion…