Archive for the 'LCS' Tag
Consider for a few moments two benchmark facts.
1. Aircraft Carriers are the premier capital ship in our navy and for navies throughout the world. Sorry submarine bubbas, it’s true.
2. By the time he leaves office, SECNAV Mabus will have been on the job roughly eight years.
Mid-month, SECNAV put out this rather remarkable comment;
“The Ford is a textbook example of how not to build a ship,” Ford told reporters. “(We were) building it while it’s still being designed” — which results in costly do-overs of already-finished components — “(and) trying to force too much new and unproven technology on it” — whose teething troubles result in unplanned delays and costs.
“That was already on fire when I got in,” said Mabus, who became Navy Secretary the year the Ford’s keel was laid. “But we’ve stopped the cost growth.” The carrier’s schedule is still slipping, however, with a November delivery to the fleet postponed indefinitely due to problems in the Main Turbine Generators (MTG).
Mabus is correct. He did not conceive this baby, but it has been his responsibility to raise it. I am sure his comments are informed from what he has been briefed on via the review our Sam reported on back in August, or what led up to the review.
How could we have such a screwed up program for the crown jewel of our navy? The premier capital ship in the world’s premier navy? For regular readers, this will come as no shock; spawn of the Cult of Transformationalism that abandoned the evolutionary for the revolutionary.
FORD sprouts from the same intellectual well that LCS and DDG-1000 do. The Transformationalists decided that they could just wish aside centuries of experience on how to modernize a fleet. By their own confidence in their own self-perceived brilliance – compounding risk; technology, budgetary, programmatic, etc – none of those problems would be theirs.
I was hoping the issues with FORD would be a focus on itself, but then things got a bit strange. Mabus quickly pivoted and started to defend what almost all agree is a snake-bitTtransformationalist flop, LCS;
Isn’t LCS also a textbook example of a troubled ship program, I asked Mabus, for much the same reasons as Ford?
“No,” said Mabus. LCS is more an example of typical teething troubles on a new design, he argued.
“Every time you start a new class of ship…you’re going to have issues,” he said. “LCS gets a lot of attention, but during the first deployment of an LCS to Singapore…it was ready for sea more than the (US) Pacific Fleet average.”
“It’s got a lot of attention mainly because it looks different,” Mabus said. “It is a different kind of ship.”
Ummmm, no. FREEDOM Class does not look all that different, and eight years after the commissioning of HULL-1, “new class of ship” excuses for the cascading failures no longer applies. INDEPENDENCE looked different a decade ago. We’re used to it now. Then again, he has a lot of personal capital invested in LCS, so one would expect a bit of a blinkered view.
Why do two programs with similar troubles get such a different reaction from Mabus? It’s especially striking because the carrier program matters much more to naval traditionalists, who often disdain the relatively tiny and lightly armed LCS. But throughout Mabus’s seven years in office — the longest tenure of a Navy Secretary since World War I — he’s measured his success in terms of numbers of ships.
From 2001 to 2008, Mabus said today (as he says in every speech he makes) the US Navy fell from 316 ships to 278 and put only 41 new ships on contract. In the seven years since 2009, Mabus has contracted for 86.
“Quantity has a quality all of its own,” Mabus said — and you don’t get quantity without a small ship cheap enough to build in bulk. In the face of two skeptical Defense Secretaries and sometimes bitter criticism from Congress, Mabus’s commitment to LCS explains a lot about its survival
Perhaps it would be unkind to state that we have been engaged all month in littoral combat off of Yemen, but no one in their right mind wants a LCS anywhere near that coastline.
Perhaps it is best to leave that there so we don’t wander in to another LCS post. Let’s stick to the FORD issue.
If I may be self-indulgent a bit; when we few, we happy few anti-Transformationalists began tilting against the Transformationalist series of ships that came before FORD; LPD-17, LCS, DDG-1000 – from titanium fire mains to NLOS, one of our primary critiques was a cavalier view towards technology risk. It is great to see that, in his own way, Mabus is on the same page of the hymnal with us now.
Speaking Thursday with the massive carrier in the background, Mabus said, “I think we’re a long ways down that road” to fixing the power-generation issue.
He gave a similar assessment of the advanced arresting gear (AAG), which has been installed on the Ford but is still being tested.
The Navy is studying whether to continue with AAG on the next Ford-class carrier, the John F. Kennedy, which is under construction at the shipyard and about 23 percent complete.
“Everything that has been brought up lately, we have been looking at for years, and testing for years,” he said.
Kendall ordered a review of the Ford program, which is now under way and should be complete by December. Until all concerns are resolved, Mabus said he can’t specify a delivery date.
“As soon as it’s ready,” he said. “I’m not going to give you a date. But the testing is going well. Getting to the root cause of the generator problem is going well.”
He also reiterated an oft-stated observation: that the Ford suffers from a decision made more than a decade ago to pack new technology on the ship instead of phasing in new systems over three ships.
“It’s not the shipyard,” he said. “It was us doing this to them.”
How bad is the AAG issue?
The ship’s Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) is more problematic, and “has had significant delays in completing its land-based test program due to the technical challenges encountered in transitioning from design” through final testing, Mabus reported. Other Navy sources report dozens of roll-through tests have been conducted with the AAG at the Navy’s test facility in Lakehurst, New Jersey, but to date no true arrested landings have been accomplished.
Mabus noted that the Navy is reviewing whether to continue with AAG installation on the Enterprise (CVN 80), third ship in the class, or return to the standard Mark 7 aircraft recovery system operating on all current carriers. Installation of AAG on the second ship, John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), is continuing for now, Mabus noted, because design and construction work has progressed to the point where a replacement would have a significantly negative impact on costs and schedule.
Less of a Transformationalist problem, LPD-17 has been made useful with the extra Sailor sweat and seabags of money prescribed to fix her. LCS and DDG-1000 are what they are, but there was great hope that we would somehow get FORD right. That we would be lucky and good – looks like we were neither.
I think everyone understands technology risk as a factor described above, but what is programmatic risk? Part of programmatic risk is just that; as the DDG-1000 people will tell you, if you are too much of a burden your program will be cancelled. You also can become your own parody. In doing so, you open the door for those who want to do things with that money and effort – specifically the likes of our friend Jerry Hendrix;
The first move of a new presidential administration will not be to “cancel any of these programs but we’ve shown it is possible to make significant changes in short time,” said Jerry Hendrix, one of the report’s authors and a senior fellow at the Washington-based think tank.
“We want to stir the debate.” he added.
The proposal was first reported by The Washington Post.
Most notably, the report calls for canceling the $40 billion Ford-class aircraft carrier program, halting construction of the littoral combat ship, and purchasing fewer F-35 Joint Strike Fighters.
Those funds would be reallocated for the stealthy B-21 bomber, adding 16 additional submarines, and investing in emerging technologies like high-energy lasers, the CNAS report recommends.
Combine the latest news with FORD and the bitter fruits of the Light Attack Mafia’s bureaucratic victories in the 1990s and early 2000s, and you give other ideas room go grow. You can get the full report here.
The 2020s will be, how do the Chinese put it? Interesting.
For some it is at least a half-decade late – or for long term critics, perhaps a decade – to stop what we are doing with LCS and to re-baseline our assumptions about what we have wound up with at the terminal end of the sausage maker.
The events of this year have brought even the most invested LCS advocates to pause a bit.
Sources said the Coronado is about 800 nautical miles west of Hawaii, proceeding at about 10 knots. The Military Sealift Command oiler Henry J. Kaiser is accompanying the ship. About 70 sailors are aboard the LCS.
The Coronado left Pearl Harbor on Friday for the western Pacific, where it was to operate for at least 16 months based from Singapore. The ship recently completed several weeks of operations with the Rim of the Pacific exercises, operating from Pearl Harbor.
“The extent of repairs and any operational impact is unknown at this time. An assessment of the casualty will be completed upon return to Pearl Harbor and additional details will be made available when possible,” the San-Diego-based Third Fleet said in a statement.
The Coronado becomes the fourth LCS to suffer a major incident since December.
As I outlined at the start of this decade, it is really too late to halt the bureaucratic inertia that is LCS. By design, there is no “Plan B” or other class of ship to shift to. The yet to be seen LCS-FF conversion is only a “Plan A (Rev.1)”. Though we have our CVL’s – oh, I’m sorry: Large Deck Amphibs – full of UK VSTOL aircraft, when there was still time to do so, no one was ever brave enough to want to license build a quality EuroFrigate type. On The Hill, many have become so part-of the Military Industrial Complex as opposed to a watchdog-of or customer-of, that halting any further growth in numbers of this sub-optimal platform is almost impossible with the people holding the levers of power.
So, what can be done? The focus this decade has been to hope for the best with the compound technology risk in the two LCS classes, and just focus on making the best of what we have. CNO Richardson, who has spoken most clear-headed about LCS than any of his processors, is doing just that.
“Last night’s problem is the fourth issue in the last year,” Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson said Tuesday in a statement. “Some of these were caused by personnel and some were due to design and engineering. These issues are all receiving our full and immediate attention, both individually and in the aggregate.”
“To address the personnel and training issues,” Richardson continued, “I established a program-wide review earlier this summer to incorporate deployment lessons learned and identify systemic problems with how the program was structured. Vice Adm. Tom Rowden has completed the review, which recommends changes to the crewing, deployment, mission module, training and testing concepts.These changes will provide more ownership and stability, while also allowing for more forward presence.”
“In light of recent problems, we also recognize more immediate action needs to be taken as well,” the CNO added. “The review is being briefed to leadership before implementation. I also support Vice Adm. Rowden’s decision to improve oversight class-wide, which will result in the retraining and certifying of all LCS sailors who work in engineering.
Still, are the engineering problems buried deep in the bowels of these ships something we can grow and learn through to a fix, or will they be a baked-in characteristic of these ships – an original sin that must be accepted?
We’ll just have to wait and see. Measure the costs and write another chapter in Lessons Identified.
Either way, that Fleet ship count? It is going to need a big asterisk next to it.
When the path towards progress in a field becomes muddied, the best response may be to step away from all the technical specifics that make up day-to-day practice and begin pulling up the floorboards. In other words, rather than continuing to push on the science, it may be best to ask about the unspoken philosophies supporting that research effort.
What could an article by Adam Frank at NPR, unrelated to anything involved directly to national defense, have to tell us about how we look to build the fleet for mid-century? Actually, quite a lot.
One of the underpinnings of the critique of many of the flawed program decisions of the last few decades has been that smart people were excited about the possibility of new ideas and technology so much that they fell in love with them. As such, they were unable to accept the cold, hard truth of what real world experience, data, and facts showed them about the object of their affections.
With each passing iteration their hopes and desires became more unmoored from the reality that was making a shadow on the ramp or displacing water pierside.
Is this situation just our problem, or a common part of the human condition when people have too much faith in the theories that they become emotionally invested in? Well, no it’s not unique to us; we may share a crisis of consciousness with the world of physics that is best explained by another discipline, philosophy.
In a book trying to rewire some of the philosophical foundations that inform physics, physicist Lee Smolin and philosopher Roberto Unger published a book in 2014, The Singular Universe and the Reality of Time. Frank pulls out some observations that need to be reviewed.
…our study of the cosmos has been taken too far from what data can constrain…it all adds up to muddied waters and something some researchers see as a “crisis in physics.” …the lack of empirical data has led the field astray.
Think about our approach to LCS at the start from assumptions related to NLOS, manning, mission modules, along with what we saw with DDG-1000, ACS and other programs. Does this hit home?
“Science is corrupted when it abandons the discipline of empirical validation or dis-confirmation. It is also weakened when it mistakes its assumptions for facts and its ready-made philosophy for the way things are.”
This ground is well plowed, but here is where it gets interesting. Good people in hard jobs sometimes make mistakes, but why?
Is the answer to be found in the realm of philosophy? Is our debate between transformationalism and anti-transformationalism just our theater in a larger intellectual conflict? Is the same conflict to be found not just in programmatics, but also in different approaches to future strategy?
One of the more memorable quotes from Alvin Toffler is, “The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” The quote speaks towards the necessity of adaptability, and intellectual humility in knowing when one is wrong regardless of the amount of intellectual effort put into developing a concept.
Before there is any empirical validation of models developed to explain reality, all there is, are concepts. Concepts governed by rules of logic, which can get ahead of themselves in many instances, and become more about validating a logic-based ontology rather than ensuring understanding of anything outside of that rule-based reality. Cosmology over the last decade or so has begun to exemplify this circumstance, and in many ways, so too has the Navy.
“Some researchers now see popular ideas like string theory and the multiverse as highly suspect. These physicists feel our study of the cosmos has been taken too far from what data can constrain with the extra “hidden” dimensions of string theory and the unobservable other universes of the multiverse.”
Lots of thought and work have gone into defining what is known, how something can be known, and what the best paths towards certainty in knowledge are. Among many others, there are two camps of thought; Empiricists and Rationalists. The debate between the two regards how we can be certain in what we know. In contemporary Cosmology, Rationalism is holding sway, in that the validity of math alone is enough to establish knowledge. However, Empiricists are earnestly pushing back.
Theoretical physicists are inherently Rationalists aided by a powerful ally in mathematics. They can model the universe in equations based on axioms and other equations that have been empirically validated. However, the physics isn’t based on reasoning alone, experimental physicists work to develop experiments that test theoretical work done by other physicists, towards validating, falsifying, and refining theories.
From this a question arises; how far can one extrapolate from the empirically proven before the certainty of empirical observation can no longer faithfully add verification that reasoning lacks? Many argue today that theoretical physics has ventured to a point that rationality is being relied upon far too much, with validation being derived not from observation of phenomena, but from abstract models of how it is thought reality to be.
To put the question another way: When is it right to give up on using reason alone to understand something? In a more military sense, when does a strategy or policy created with a Rationalist approach need to be replaced by the Empirical experience of those implementing the strategy or policy?
The military has its own Empiricists and Rationalists. From a structural sense, the design of the chain of command makes certain ranks empiricist and others rationalist. Any practitioner of the naval service will repeatedly experience their best-laid plans needing to be revised over, and over again. The most humble person aboard ship is the watch bill coordinator—who are constantly called to the quarterdeck, having to one-line and revise the list of names standing watches. Reality is swift, fast and unforgiving with random medical appointments, those unbeknownst on leave, and numerous other reasons that prevent watchstanding. Simply put, Empiricism beats a Sailor into perfecting their ability to lead.
The Rationalists in the military develop after years of toiling under the empirical kludge, developing the ability to think abstractly about what must be accomplished to ensure victory and train the next generation of service member.
If Empiricism is painful, then Rationalism is seductive. Understanding the system we operate can lead to confining decisions within what has been established, regardless of being proven. For Cosmologists, it can be the elegance of math, the beauty within equations that leads them to confining their inquiry within what is beautiful. For the Navy, it is maybe not beauty that confines inquiry, but it is something similar, and something that results in hubris at its worst.
A recent article by the Navy Times cites that the experience with the Littoral Combat Ship has informed an examination of the Navy’s rating system, resulting in a decision to breakdown the barriers that define a rating.
With the Littoral Combat Ship having only proven itself in need of refining into something more like a Frigate, we can see where the military is taking more of a rationalist approach than empirical. Rather than un-learning, the Navy is building on unproven theories. It has chosen to not unlearn methodologies so recently developed. It’s time to demonstrate how we’ve pulled-up floor boards, and taken a hard look at our recent history to ensure we’ve actually proven, falsified, and know what decisions we are making.
This post was co-written with CTR1(IW/SW) H. Lucien Gauthier III.
From the start, and we are talking about over a decade ago, surface, aviation, and submarine offices with operational Fleet experience, not theory or PPT hype, warned that both crew manning and mission module concepts as proposed for LCS were problematic at best, and non-executable at worst. They were silenced at best, career adjusted at worst.
It took a decade, billions of dollars of opportunity cost, and untold numbers of careers and reputations to get here, but it looks like our Navy is going to take the right steps to salvaging as much utility as possible from this – how can I put it in a polite non-homebloggy way – “white elephant” of a program.
Let’s take some time to review our friend David Larter’s latest;
The review ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will likely include recommendations to shift to a Blue and Gold crew structure, a set-up used on ballistic missile and guided missile submarines where two crews swap custody of a single hull to maximize deployed time. The Navy has been moving away from rotational crew models other than the Blue and Gold out of concern that maintenance issues may slip through the cracks for crews serving only temporarily aboard any ship.
The review will also recommend changing some of the signature modularity of the program — the concept that ships at sea could readily swap out sensors and weapons packages to meet emergent missions.
Instead of three mission modules being available to switch out on deployment, the Navy is looking at moving to a “one ship, one mission” approach, where each LCS will be designated as surface, anti-submarine or mine countermeasures ships with the ability to switch out if needed.
As warned, and it will do neither well, but it will do better than nothing – which by design, is the only other option previous decisions have left us with.
“The goal of the review and specifically the crew proposals made by SURFOR is increased stability, simplicity, and ownership,” the official said. “An updated crewing plan, as well as adding more sailors to the core crew is the first step.”
Admiral Vince Lombardi approves. When nothing is going right, focus on the fundamentals first. This isn’t rocket science. Well, close to rocket science – but nonetheless, not rocket science.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus testified in 2015 that he opposed all cuts to shipbuilding because it is harder to build a ship that any other thing the Navy could cut to save money.
“Because cuts to our shipbuilding programs are the least reversible in their impact on our fundamental mission of providing presence and in their consequences to the industrial base and to our economy, I am committed, to the maximum extent possible, to preserve ship construction and to seek reductions in every other area first, should further budget reductions such as sequestration become reality,” Mabus said in written testimony.
As in all things related to shipbuilding, there is the political and economic to consider. Though in the case of LCS the end result displacing water is sub-optimal, SECNAV is exactly correct on this aspect of it all. The money must flow, good or bad, it must flow.
The next step remains clear; we need a replacement for LCS at least on paper, using the better EuroFrigates in production as the benchmark for the right ship between 3,500 and 5,500 tons displacement. We need it now more than later so we can have them in the Fleet FMC in their PMAs as LCS-1 is ready for the breakers at the end of the Terrible 20s.
This time, no pinkie promises, no Flash Gordon, no Tiffany, no transformationalism. That mindset failed us so far this century. As we Southerners are like to say; let’s not get stuck on stupid.
If we learn our lessons well, there is great opportunity here. With the process and mindset as outlined in Larter’s article holds, indications look solid going forward.
In the ongoing Telenovela that is the LCS program’s wobbly progress to being close to some definition of FMC in a PMA to be named later, we are at a point where well meaning true believers and critics of the program both share the same emotional space; a slightly masked sucking of the teeth waiting for good news.
The Littoral Combat Ship USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) has arrived in a Jacksonville, Fla. BAE Systems yard, according to a Friday release from the Navy.
The ship had left Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek – Fort Story, Va. on Wednesday headed to Florida to finalize repairs to its propulsion system that suffered damage in mid-December, according to the service.
The Navy will finalize the repairs to the combining gears ahead of shock trials that will prove the ship’s systems in a simulated combat scenario.
For the true believers, having LCS on both coasts nursing self-inflicted wounds to their exquisitely designed innards is no time to have something negative to take place with shock testing. The Navy has already spent all its good will and political capital on this system on The Hill. It just can’t survive any more bad news. Good people have done all they can to make it a success, but as Charlie Brown gives Lucy side-eye …
For the critic, they don’t really need any more references to point to that they were correct over a decade ago about the sub-optimal concept and execution of these two classes of ships. At this point, they want the best to be made of what our Sailors will be put in to harm’s way on, with a hope that in the 2030s we will be producing a better calss to replace them for today’s aspiring teenagers to command.
This generation is stuck with what the previous generation bequeathed to them. You go to war with the Navy you have, not the Navy you wish you had. Like hillbilly armor on a HUMVEE in ’04 – you do what you can with what you have.
So, here is to wishing the USS MILWAUKEE (LCS-5) the best once they get out of the yards and head to shock trials. Unleash the Beast.
May they have no need for the OPREP binder, a tow cable, and only normal use of a tug. May we learn what we need to and get on with the business of making the best of it.
The U.S. Navy is preparing to accept delivery of four more of its shallow-water Littoral Combat Ships between now and February of next year, effectively doubling its current fleet size of the ships and paving the way for more deployments.
“By early next year, the Navy will be operating eight littoral combat ships and we’ll be accepting four more by the end of 2016,” Johnson told Military.com. “The Navy will continue to accept ships at that rate for the next several years making the LCS class the second largest surface combatant class in the fleet and the key to our ability to operate in shallow, coastal waterways around the world.”
That is an even dozen. Let’s pause a bit and chew on that. LCS-1 was commissioned in 2008, ~seven years ago, and little under 1/3 of her expected service life. What have we done with her in that time that shows any utility at war? While it was nice to test the theory of Longbow Hellfire a few weeks ago – it is not even close to being a warfighting option anytime soon in SUW ourside limited line of sight engagements. The MIW module doesn’t work (yet), and we don’t know if the ASW module is operationally usable because it is still overweight. Remember, FY15 is almost over.
Thee ships coming in to the Fleet in number now are – let’s be blunt and speak to each other as adults – of almost no use to a Maritime Component Commander at war or aggressive peace. This is still an experiment. Pray for peace, because there is no time in the upcoming POM cycle this warship should be put in harms way.
When in history has our Navy intentionally diluted its Fleet with such a large number of sub-optimal platforms whose only FMC PMA are Prayer, Promises, Hope, and Spin (PPHS)?
The littoral combat ship was designed as a multi-mission shallow water platform able reach areas and port inaccessible to larger-draft ships.
The platform has been the focus of some criticism and controversy. Lawmakers, analysts and members of the Navy have said the ships are not survivable enough in a fast-evolving world of surface warfare threats. Proponents have maintained that the LCS class is designed to defeat threats in coastal waters, where increasingly capable submarines, mines, and swarming small craft operate.
The theory is what it always has been, but still in 2015, there is no there, there. Good people with more money and Sailors will make the best of it as can be made – but the half-life of PPHS is passed, and yet has been made flesh anew;
Nevertheless, the concerns have led the Pentagon and the Navy to develop a new LCS variant, now called a Frigate, designed to capitalize upon the benefits of the LCS platform while making it more lethal and survivable. The particular composition of technologies and weapons for these new ships is now in the process of taking shape.
So, what now? Very good question. How much money and time do we invest to get this to even a usable warfighting capable platform?
What is plan B? Sadly, plan B was the new FF – but the way it was set up, the only option was a USN variant of what was the LCS-(I). Compared to the other options out there? Well, we have what we have. There were other plans – but that was not in the cards for those who had their hands on the levers of power.
For now, we will have to just bring the ships on, pat the program on its head, and then when they walk away – talk among ourselves how we can use this without delusion as to its utility and wasting Sailors lives. March in place with that mindset until something better comes along. Same that the US Army did with its Lee and Grant tanks in WWII.
To get something of better use, we will have to wait until the 2030s. It will take new leaders, new vision, and an honest appraisal of the mistakes made in the early 2000s. Good news? Those leaders who in the 2020s will help set up that 2030s solutions are mostly the young men and women in their 30s and 40s today. Those who will sign off on that solution are probably mostly in their 50s today. They know the LCS tale of woe because they watched it the balance of their professional careers. If we are a learning institution, then it will show inside a decade, sometime in the middle of the expected squeeze of the Terrible 20s.
Think. Prepare. Plan younger-cohort Gen-X, and Gen-Y. By example, you have a good idea how not to run a program. When the window opens and you find yourself at the table to replace the LCS/FF class – do it right.
On a muggy and overcast day this past March, I set out to the Gulf of Guinea with members from the U.S. State Department in Lagos, Nigeria. It was just past sunset. Our pilot, an athletically built Nigerian with dark skin and a shaved head, greeted us on the pier and welcomed the delegation aboard his Boston Whaler. All of us were overdressed in suits and sweat was noticeably percolating through our shirts.
That time of day is particularly charming in Lagos. The water and the sky interweave in a deep cerulean palette, transforming the landscape into a wondrous countryside.
The smell of stagnant petrol consumed us as we sailed past bulk freighters and crude carriers loading cargo. Containers slammed onto chassis on the adjacent piers and oil sheens along with garbage and debris saturated the waterway. Throughout the channel, campaign billboards promoting President Goodluck Jonathan’s reelection were omnipresent
VOTE JONTHAN FOR EQUITY, INTEGRITY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE.
I ASSURE YOU OF FRESH AIR IN NIGERIA – VOTE FOR ME.
And the most dubious promotion of all: #BRINGBACKGOODLUCK2015, which was a campaign slogan based off #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS. This one did not resonate well in northeast Nigeria.
Off our port bow, donned in orange life jackets, were locals taxiing home together in motorized canoes. They stared at us uneasily as our boat sprinted past their starboard beam. A few yelled in detest when a member in our delegation snapped off a photo with his iPhone.
On the other side of the river, directly across from the commercial shipping terminals were residents of Lagos’ notorious floating slums. Many of the lagoon’s inhabitants are immigrants, who earn less than $2 a day and use the river to dump trash, excrement, and everything else they cannot keep on their makeshift homes. Our guide told us that the people along the sprawling bamboo community subsist largely as fishermen and workers in the nearby sawmills, cutting up timber that floats regularly into the city. They, too, looked perplexed when a boat full of whites drove by at 30 knots.
It took fifteen minutes to reach Takawa Bay at the southern entrance of Lagos harbor. We gazed southeast and saw scores of anchored ships dotted along the horizon like a cityscape at dusk. Our boat idled for a few moments, swaying to and fro in the trough of the seas and all of us were silent. A sea breeze kicked up and the cool air felt good. It was as if at that moment we could sense all of Nigeria’s potential in the idle ships a few miles distant, waiting offshore to deliver cargo and with it, a better future for the people ashore.
Our pilot turned sharply to starboard, sped up and headed back toward Lagos. My shock in Nigeria was total.
Over the past two decades, Lagos and several other ports along the Gulf of Guinea have evolved into a major hub for global energy supplies for North America, Europe, and Asia. With several natural harbors throughout the region – from Cape Verde to Angola – and a coastal terrain rich in hydrocarbons, the countries along this fertile coastline have flourished.
This uninterrupted growth had not come about by accident. Many West-African governments have enhanced their infrastructure, liberalized trade policies, and reduced barriers to emerging transcontinental businesses. As a result the Gulf of Guinea increasingly relies on the seas for their economic prosperity. After all, it’s their only lifeline to remain competitive in the global marketplace.
This transit hub and facilitator to the world, however, is threatened. Despite West Africa’s continuing economic boom, three years ago the Gulf of Guinea surpassed East Africa and became the region with the highest number of piracy attacks in the world. Nigeria is said to be losing a staggering $2 billion to maritime insecurity each year. Maritime experts agree that the nation loses $800 million yearly to unchecked poachers who come to take away fish from Nigeria’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), in addition to about $16 million to oil theft and $9 million to general piracy.
Given the limited number of ships providing security off the West African coast, narcotics traffickers are using West African ports to smuggle and then distribute drugs in Europe. Oil theft and illegal bunkering also continue to rise uncontrollably. According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Nigeria loses between 40,000 and 100,000 barrels a day due to theft.
These attacks also tend to be violent. Unlike Somalia, where pirates attack ships transiting through the region, West African pirates typically prey on ships berthed or anchored waiting to berth. These attacks typically occur within twelve nautical miles. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group have shown that more seafarers were killed in the first nine months of 2014 than the whole of 2013, when over 1,200 were affected.
This is a conservative estimate. IMB reported last year that about two-thirds of all West-African piracy attacks go unreported.
Piracy in West Africa are different from those associated with East Africa in a variety of ways. First, unlike Somali pirates who attach ships in transit, pirates operating in and around the Gulf of Guinea prey on ships berthed or anchored within territorial waters. As noted by the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group, this changes the character of operations tremendously. Pirates have access to infrastructure and robust intelligence ashore, which provide them with the content and structure of ships operating in the area. It is thought they have access to information shared with the maritime sectors in the region.
Robbery, kidnap and ransom, and oil theft are the three main piracy models being monitored in West Africa. Pirates hijack vessels and often force ship captains to navigate the vessel to an unknown location where the cargo is lightered to another vessel or a storage facility shore side. Eventually, the oil finds its way to the black market or in some cases, back into the mainstream supply to be sold domestically or in the global marketplace.
If threats of piracy are left unchecked, the economies of West Africa will suffer. The waters off Nigeria, Togo and Benin are deemed a “war risk area,” thereby pushing up insurance costs and deterring maritime traders from even entering ports.
Most scholars and military planners would agree the root of the problem in Nigeria stems from state corruption, lackluster job creation, and a hollow security force. With only a couple dozen ships and a poorly trained military facing Boko Haram on their eastern flank, it seems unlikely that Nigeria and the surrounding nations will be able to control this problem alone. Regional actors are taking promising steps, but their coordination efforts are not developed enough to thwart terrorist networks.
Nigeria received two 1700 ton P-18N offshore-patrol vessels in 2014, which are based on the Chinese Type 056 corvette. Built in China and fitted out in a Nigerian shipyard, the 312-foot warships complement the Okpabana and the Thunder, former US Guard WHEC class cutters transferred in 2014 and 2011, respectively.
The revised Cooperative Strategy in the 21st Century (CS-21R) aptly points out that the sea services must continue working alongside partner security forces to combat terrorism, illicit trafficking, and illegal exploitation of natural resources through initiatives such as the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership and the Africa Partnership Station. We should not delay in executing this blueprint – the moment is ripe for changes to West African maritime security. On May 29th, Muhammadu Buhari will succeed Goodluck Jonathan as the President of Nigeria. The election of Buhari has created a potential breakthrough for American diplomacy and with it, a chance for us to work hand-in-hand with the largest nation and economy on the continent. Through public-private partnerships, along with interagency work by USAID, America has the opportunity to establish a better long-term relationship with Nigeria’s incoming executive government.
Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) or destroyers are not needed to assist our partners in Africa. Afloat Forward Staging Bases, coupled with Joint-High Speed Vessels, Patrol Craft and Littoral Combat Ships can fulfill this mission with ease and bring the necessary equipment to the inshore zones that need the most attention. Utilizing UAVs like ScanEagle and Firescout will help discover patterns of piracy and provide security for oil platforms and anchored vessels throughout the region.
Navy SEALs and Special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC) should liaise with the Special Boat Service (SBS), a special operations unit of the Nigerian Navy. Their mission is focused on littoral and riverine operations, including reconnaissance and surveillance; covert beach reconnaissance in advance of an amphibious assault; recovery or protection of ships and oil installations subject to hostile state or non-state action; maritime counter-terrorism; and offensive action. In order to strengthen partnerships and protect international interests in the region, this must be done year-round.
If we don’t step in, then expect China to dominate the region with short-term investments that will fail to lift African nations out of poverty and conflict. The imbalance in trade is staggering. According to John Burnett of U.S. News and World Report, China made $75 billion in investments from 2000 to 2011 compared to our $14 billion. Given the number of natural resources throughout the region, it would be foolish for American business to sit out as the needs of economies throughout West Africa grow. But security is paramount for potential investment from the West.
Ensuring secure littoral sea lines of communication within Nigeria’s territorial seas require trust and over time we can help alter West Africa’s perception of the West. Like Americans, Nigerians are proud and stubborn. They want to solve problems on their own. Unfortunately, more than anything, West Africa needs a naval presence to help shore up their ongoing problems with piracy. Our Navy can and should do more, especially with an incoming president bent on ending corruption and improving Nigeria’s security.
This will be a war of attrition, but it’s a fight worth undertaking. After all, success in Nigeria means potential success for Africa, which translates to economic benefits throughout the continent.
It is always a good time to back up and review where we are with the LCS. Now that we have doubled down on both hulls with their transmogrification in to a FF, it is especially important to see if we are reinforcing success or reinforcing failure.
Before we do that, let’s look at what was done with the last class of sub-DD/DDG sized ships. Let us look back at what previous generations brought to the fleet prior to the computer systems and superior technology of today.
Let’s keep it focused on one area in particular; just the timeline, milestones, and performance. For our benchmark, let’s look at the FFG-7 class, the OLIVER HAZARD PERRY (OHP), a run of 51 ships, compared to where we are with LCS, a planned run of 52 ships (32 LCS and 20 FF).
OHP Hull-1 was commissioned in 1977.
LCS Hull-1 was commissioned in 2008.
Roll the clock forward roughly six years.
OHP by year six, through the end of 1983: 37 ships commissioned, 34 for the USN, 3 for the RAN.
LCS by year six, through the end of 2014: 4 ships commissioned.
We should note as well the operational history of the OHPs by 1983. FMC in all mission areas, full deployments with all Fleets. By the end of 2014, LCS is little more than creeping through further developmental testing … yet, we are committed to seeing the class through to whatever end it will have.
Why the optimism that this is the ship we want to send our Sailors to war in? Let’s jump to page 195 of the Pentagon’s Director, Operational Test & Evaluation 2014 Annual Report.
Further commentary on my part is not necessary. Some very cold, quiet, and self-reflective moments are needed by all to ponder why we are still here going there. For those responsible for this decision, perhaps ask yourself this; is there really anything wrong with others who measure your decisions and to still find them wanting?
What is there to gain by critics in to continuing to beat the undead?
Perhaps, if nothing else, to keep reminding future leaders that when it is their turn, that they can do better. Other generations have, so can theirs.
Below are just a few of the, ahem, highlights. There are many more.
The 2014 operational testing identified shortcomings in air defense, reliability, and endurance, and significant vulnerabilities in cybersecurity. When equipped with the Increment 2 SUW Mission Package, LCS 3 was able to defeat a small number of Fast Inshore Attack Craft under the particular conditions specified by the Navy’s reduced incremental requirement and after extensive crew training and tailoring of the tactics described in Navy doctrine; however, testing conducted to date has not been sufficient to demonstrate LCS capabilities in more stressing scenarios consistent with existing threats.
The core combat capabilities of the Independence class variant seaframe remain largely untested.
The MCM Mission Package has not yet demonstrated sufficient performance to achieve the Navy’s minimal Increment 1 requirements.
… end-to-end mine clearance operations have been limited by low operator proficiency, software immaturity, system integration problems, and poor Remote Minehunting System (RMS)/RMMV reliability.
… the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) did not meet the Navy’s requirement for mine neutralization success. Failures of the host MH-60 aircraft’s systems and its associated Airborne MCM kit severely limited AMNS availability.
LCS is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat because its design requirements accept the risk that the ship must be abandoned under circumstances that would not require such an action on other surface combatants.
While both seaframe variants are fast and highly maneuverable, they are lightly armed and possess no significant offensive capability without the planned SUW Increment 4 Mission Package or Increment 2 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Mission Package.
… (LCS-3) Based on fuel consumption data collected during the test, the ship’s operating range at 14.4 knots is estimated to be approximately 1,961 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots) and the operating range at 43.6 knots is approximately 855 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 1,000 nautical miles at 40 knots).
The ship’s Mk 110 57 mm gun system performed reliably during operational testing, and the ship was able to demonstrate the core capability for self-defense against a small boat in two valid trials. The Navy attempted to collect additional data from swarm presentations, but the data were invalid. The 57 mm gun failed to achieve a mission kill during one swarm presentation, and the target killed by the 57 mm gun during a second swarm presentation had previously been engaged by 30 mm guns.
…The LCS 3 anchoring system could not securely anchor the ship in an area with a bottom composed of sand and shells. Despite repeated efforts, the ship was unable to set the anchor. It appears that the anchor and chain are too light and there are too many friction points along the anchor chain’s internal path from the chain locker to the hawse pipe to allow the anchor and chain to pay out smoothly.
DOT&E still has no data to assess the core mission capabilities of the Independence class variant seaframe.
LCS reliability problems also forced the ship to remain in port for repairs instead of conducting at-sea RMS testing as planned. … the Navy had not yet demonstrated that it could sustain operations of more than one 14-hour RMMV sortie per week (i.e., 10 to 12 hours of RMS minehunting per week). Unless greater minehunting operating tempo is achieved, the Navy will not meet its interim area clearance rate requirements.
So much personal and professional capital has been invested in this ship – and in this timeframe, what utility does this have for the Fleet commander? Even more importantly, what are we putting our Sailors in and deploying forward?
Yes, it is always a good time to look at LCS/FF and ask, “What hath we wrought?”
We are joined by RADM Rowden: OPNAV N96 (CNO’s Director for Surface Warfare), future Commander, Surface Forces, and author of the CIMSEC Article Surface Warfare: Taking the Offensive. We discuss his concepts for Sea Control, the development of LCS, perspectives on DDG 1000, and his plans as incoming Commander, Surface Forces.
Since its publication in April’s Proceedings, I’ve been pleased that “It’s Time for a ‘Sea Control Frigate’” has helped start a discussion about a new small surface combatant (SSC) on message boards, the blogosphere, and social networking platforms. The article describes how a modified version of the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter with improved survivability features and combat systems could offer a terrific supplement to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). With the attention the article received, various readers had questions concerning some ideas brought up, so I’ve taken the time to address them.
Analyzing Cost and Production
Many asked how the projected cost for the ship could cost $800 million with the last national security cutter price costing $735 million. Surely the upgrades mentioned in the article are greater than $65 million. They are indeed. However, what was probably missed is that the $735 million order for the last NSC was for a single ship – economies of scale can drastically reduce the cost per unit due to various efficiencies gained. For example, when the Coast Guard ordered several at a time, pre-NSC #5, the cost was substantially less. My math: the 2006 per unit cost for an NSCs (in a bulk order) was $584 million – when we account for inflation, it goes up to a current value of $650 million, or $85 million less than the last single contract. (The Coast Guard had to order the later ships one by one because it wasn’t written into the budget at the time –and it was uncertain if the 7th and 8th NSCs would even be funded). Thus, a procurement cost of $684 million, which is used in the article and various other official reports, is an average between all the ships. Most likely a base hull would be even less than this, as the price doesn’t include the initial hull design costs (this was incorporated into the NSC program), there are increased economies of scale, and various items included in the NSC price are not be needed on a navy frigate (eg: the complex stern boat launching apparatus). While I estimated $800 million by adding the cost of a VLS, an upgraded 76mm gun, a new radar, and various survivability upgrades, in accordance with navy and congressional reports, a fixed price will likely creep closer to the $900 million mark due to inflation over the next few years and other add-ons the Navy incorporates (this would happen with all of navy shipbuilding though).
Ship Force Numbers and Value Metrics
The latest LCS estimates are at $550 million per ship including mission modules vs. $800 million for a sea control frigate. Assuming we have the same budget to work with, and we’re deciding between a basic LCS only, we’ll either have to choose between 20 LCSs, or 13-14 frigates. This led many to question if it’s worth having a lesser amount of warships for the same price. First of all, for the most part, comparing these numbers are like apples and oranges – who cares about the amount of a certain ship if they can’t do the missions that we need them to do, especially cost efficiently? However, as much of a red herring the argument is, politically, it’s still hard to rationalize, especially since many elected officials find it easier to talk about our ship count in terms of our budget, vice a thoughtful debate on capabilities and requirements. In contrast, one good metric to take into consideration is the average number of ships at sea on missions per day. 20 LCSs on a 3 crews-2 ships-1 deployed plan, averages 20 total days a quarter of underway time on assignments, or 4.5 ships per day. 14 stateside frigates on a traditional deployment cycle average 32 days a quarter out to sea on assignments, or 4.9 ships per day. This means that despite a lesser amount of ships, the sea control frigate still has more underway time doing planned missions than the LCSs. I calculated this data from the class average of underway hours per quarter, and verified this by known historic and planned deployment operational schedules for frigates/destroyers and littoral combat ships.
At first, this may seem contradictory to statements made by officials like Rear Admiral Rowden, who recently claimed that 26 forward deployed LCSs equate to 120 CONUS-based single-crewed ships. This kind of statement is misleading. The Admiral is correct for certain missions and events like foreign nation cooperation and training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR), vessels in distress or under pirate attack, counter-narcotics operations, and little-to-no notice popup missions like special ops support. For example, let’s take an earthquake in a Southeast Asian country. The LCS is perfectly fitted to get underway immediately from Singapore, speed to the location, and provide necessary humanitarian assistance, all within hours. However the same can’t be said about the majority of tasking and deployments that have requirements already defined by combatant commanders relating to sea control, like naval escort, focused operations, and deep-water anti-submarine warfare. These missions all require more consecutive days-at-sea, which helps explain the reason why, by design, the LCS averages less mission days per ship than frigates and destroyers.
That’s not to say the 3-2-1 cycle isn’t the right method with the LCS. On paper, minus the sea swap trap, it’s actually a smart plan that saves money and optimizes the ships very well. It’s also necessary to have a flexible warship forward deployed for the reasons stated above, but only for quick back and forth missions in the littoral environment, not sustained blue-water deployments. If we do end up purchasing LCS variants, most of these ships will regrettably end up getting pulled from the presence and shaping missions they were designed for to support these missions.
Determining Feasible Designs
Earlier this month, a request for information (RFI) came out that asked the shipbuilding industry on input for a follow-on to the LCS from mature designs, which led many readers to ask what’s actually on the table. The context of the RFI may seem like it’s targeting a number of different ships and shipbuilders, but it’s in fact just a formality required in the consideration process for any future acquisitions; there are actually only a few possibilities here. The foreign contender with the best shot, if any, is Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate because of its past relationship working with NAVSEA and Lockheed Martin. Although any proper frigate is preferred over the LCS because it’s better optimized for operating in blue water environments, I’m partial to the sea control frigate because of its large flight deck and hangar spaces, which gives it the flexibility to support drones and manned helicopters together, something that will likely become the norm within the next 30 years. However, the truth is because of the timeliness of the request and decision making process, together with the red tape that a foreign design has to go through (which was touched on in the original article), it’s probably too late in the process already to even consider a foreign design, regardless or not if it meets what the Navy’s looking for. This is unfortunate; we’ve essentially locked ourselves in a box by not starting this process earlier (or coming up with an organic solution for that matter).
There are several different variants of the LCS that are likely to be considered alternatives– most concepts have been pitched publically in some manner, mostly to international navies under the banners of “International LCS” and “Surface Combat Ship”. These variants could include similar features to a sea control frigate, such as a Mk 41 VLS supporting ESSM and ASROC, a CEAFAR or SPY-1F radar and fire control system, other survivability features, and for the LCS-1 class, an upgraded 76mm gun. However, there are still some problems with this: unlike the NSC hull which was built with reserved spaces that can accommodate a VLS and other systems without hull modifications, a variant of the LCS would likely require design changes more substantial than any NSC-derivative. One industry news source remarked that an international LCS design pitched to Israel that incorporated some of the above mentioned weapons features had an estimated cost of over $700 million (this was in 2008, so it would likely be even more today). Another claimed a rough order-of-magnitude cost would be $800 million, equivalent to a sea control frigate. However, the price pitched to the Navy by Lockheed or Austal might not even matter – with the trends of the LCS shipbuilding program, it’s possible that whatever price is proposed will balloon up even further. This is probably not a risk the navy would want to already take for a program already under heavy scrutiny for its ever-rising costs, especially with a fixed-price option on the table for a sea control frigate. Secondly, it’s likely that no design changes will be able to offer an improved endurance and range; therefore, even with upgrades in weapons and survivability, it would still be ill-suited for blue water missions. Moreover, the manning structure and contractor reliance wasn’t made to accommodate long lasting blue-water missions either, which means even some small casualties that are normally fixed by a DDG/FFG ship’s force could and throw off an entire mission; something probably not ideal for optimizing the readiness kill chain.
This leads us back into re-examining the numbers. With the same budget, an up-armed LCS design with a higher unit cost reduces the number of LCSs that are produced. For example, an improved LCS costing $650 million each (which by all estimates are very optimistic) buys only 17 ships, three less than planned. As the LCS cost continues to increase, the ship price per unit gap continues to close, until its relatively the same price.