Several years ago I decided to renew my membership with the Naval Institute. I had been retired for about ten years and I found I missed things Naval. Low and behold, the very first issue of Proceedings I received had a whole discussion concerning low mix vs. high mix ship designs and the rationale for that mix. My first reaction was “Good Lord, didn’t we solve that problem with the Spruance (DD963) total package procurement and the low mix Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7) class ships” (thus showing my age).

The Spruance class, while initially lightly outfitted did prove one aspect of the high mix design, an unusually long lived hull form. Think of the Ticonderoga Cruiser (CG-47) class and the Arleigh Burke Destroyer (DDG-51) class.

The FFG- 7 ship design had as its one of it’s main features, lower manning by decree. It also sported an integrated combined antenna system that included both acquisition and fire control radars in one device. After some challenges this system became quite useful in close in (Littoral) situations.

Fast forward and we see the same professional discussion occurring today. We see the need for a replacement Littoral Combat ship, and indeed two different ship designs are under contract. Obviously The Arleigh Burke class represents today’s high mix ship and if one believes the articles on the Zumwalt Class Destroyer it will probably redefine the term high Mix. There are still a number of Aegis Cruisers in the fleet and they will be there for some time to come.

All that being said, I would like to offer a couple of observations about the low mix side namely the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). I think I am safe in saying that not too many officers made admiral out the FFG community. I suspect a lot of the sour grapes about the ship came from that outcome. I don’t see this changing much as selection for advancement is so deeply ingrained in the culture of the Navy. Secondly, the reduced manning equation looks good from an analytical point of view but would venture that the Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) would not have survived her mine encounter if wiser heads hadn’t expanded the crew count. No automated damage control could have kept the ship afloat.

Another aspect of this design is the modular combat system. This looks great on paper and is a systems engineers dream. However, it’s a fact that you go to the dance with the partner you came with. Unless we have a forward deployed basing concept and a great deal of anticipation time, we are going to find ourselves at a disco dance when we thought we were going to a waltz. If you must have such a forward deployed logistics tail, whether in foreign countries or an afloat support base, you have merely moved the manpower from the ship to the forward deployed assets.

The Navy had a class of Hydrofoils (PHM-1-7) that proved to be an asset for drug interdiction (read Littoral Warfare). However the class suffered from an undeserved “Swiss Watch” reputation. Because of a substantial logistics tail the boats, while lightly manned did not substantially alter manpower costs for the mission assigned.

I believe with the current LCS concept you seem to have put a crimp in the on scene commanders flexibility rather than increasing it. I’m confident that no commanding officer wants to go to war with any limitations in his ship’s ability to react to multiple threats.

Posted by Peter M. Edmondo in Navy

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