Continuing our look at the 2012 DOT&E report (1), we move on to everyone’s favorite, the LCS. Lots to talk about! Here's the link to the report.
As mentioned in previous posts, the Navy is showing a disturbing tendency to defer live shock and survivability testing in favor of simulations.
“DOT&E also agreed to defer the Shock Trials from LCS 3 and 4 to LCS 5 and 6, resulting in a one‑year delay. With significant seaframe and system design changes expected, LCS 5 and 6 will be most representative of the respectiveclass for purposes of Shock Trials. LCS 5 and 6 will also be the first ships to include shock-qualified equipment.”
Did you catch that last sentence? The one about LCS 5 and 6 being the first to include shock-qualified equipment? That’s why the Navy has refused to conduct shock tests before now. They knew the ships would not only fail the tests but would suffer damage from the tests!
What’s most interesting about DOT&E’s statement is not that shock testing will be deferred but that LCS 5 and 6 will be most representative of the class. This is saying that not only are LCS 1 and 2 considered non-representative, one-offs, which we knew, but that LCS 3 and 4 are also non-representative, one-offs that are different from LCS 1 and 2 as well as the remainder of the class. We now have four LCSs that are considered non-standard. This gives us four ships that are going to provide maintenance and training challenges down the road due to their uniqueness. If this doesn’t demonstrate the pitfalls of concurrency, I don’t know what does.
After trying for years to counter the critic’s attacks on the lack of survivability of the LCS, the Navy has apparently changed course and is now defining their own set of survivability characteristics for just the LCS. They call them Vulnerability Levels. Here is a portion of the DOT&E’s comments on this.
“The Navy revised the survivability requirements for LCS 3 and beyond to describe the ships’ survivability requirements in terms of class-specific LCS Vulnerability Levels:-- LCS Vulnerability Level I – Operate emergency and damage control systems/equipment to provide for an orderly abandon ship.”
The report goes on to describe additional levels of Vulnerability. You’ll recall that the Navy has maintained the fiction that the LCS is built to Level 1+. First of all, there is no such thing as “1+”. That’s something the Navy made up. Secondly, I’ve read the Survivability Level definitions and the LCS doesn’t even meet Level 1, let alone a mythical 1+. Third, even Level 1 is non-combat. Fourth, the Navy has been out and out lying. The Level 1 Survivability requirements (I’ll do a post on this, soon) explicitly require EMP and shock hardening along with other measures and, as stated in the paragraphs above, none of the LCSs prior to LCS 5 and 6 have even had shock-qualified equipment. I’m also pretty doubtful that much, if any, of the equipment is EMP hardened. So, again, there’s no way the LCS can be considered Level 1, let alone 1+. I’m also quite sure that while LCS 5 and 6 may have some shock hardened equipment they’ll have nowhere near enough for the ship to be qualified as shock hardened, hence the new Vulnerability Levels.
DOT&E goes on to sum up the survivability issue,
“LCS is not expected to be survivable in that it is not expected to maintain mission capability after taking a significant hit in a hostile combat environment.”
Instead of simply admitting that the LCS was designed as a non-combat vessel, as regards survivability, the Navy has continually tried to twist and spin the facts. Having failed at that they’re now simply making up their own definitions that they feel will sound better to the public. Good work, Navy.
Strangely, there is actually a valid rationale for building a non-survivable small combat vessel (the missile armed “gunboat”). To be fair, I think this was part of the Navy’s original thinking and rationale for the LCS. It was to be a small, cheap, “throwaway” littoral combat vessel for which survivability would not be a concern. Of course, the “small” and “cheap” parts of the rationale died early in the program and left the Navy with a near billion dollar vessel that had been designed as a throwaway but they couldn’t publicly admit that without looking like idiots.
Moving on, the Navy is looking at aluminum vulnerabilities. Huh?! Hasn’t the Navy built aluminum ships for years and found out the hard way that aluminum is a poor and dangerous substitute for steel? Don’t we already know that aluminum is not combat worthy? And yet, DOT&E reports,
“The Navy is planning surrogate tests to address knowledge gaps related to the vulnerability of an aluminum ship structure to weapon-induced blast and fire damage. “
Knowledge gaps?! Aluminum is useless as a combat material. There, I’ve filled in the gaps.
On a positive note, progress may have been made on the hull cracking issue.
“The Navy made production changes to reduce cracking on LCS 3; cracking has not been observed to date.”
Of course, LCS 3 hasn’t been in operation long enough to draw any real conclusion. We’ll keep an eye on this.
Moving to weapons, the LCS’ much vaunted Mk 110, 57 mm gun, is having problems. Aside from not being radar controlled (most of you probably assumed it was, didn’t you? – it’s not – it’s EO controlled), the gun is having reliability, performance, and operator training issues. For instance, DOT&E reports,
“Ship operations at high speeds cause vibrations that make accurate use of the 57 mm gun very difficult.”
Ouch! The high speed that was so critical to the LCS turns out to negate its 57 mm gun’s effectiveness. Well, that’s ironic!
The weapon problems aren’t limited to the 57 mm.
“Testing of the MH-60S Block 2 AMCM System revealed significant shortfalls in performance.in 2QFY13. “
It appears that the MCM module is not as ready as the Navy publicly claims.
So, what do we make of all this?
Sleep well, my readers, knowing that your safety and freedom are protected by the mighty LCS!
(1) Director – Operational Test and Evaluation, FY2012, Annual Report