Friday, January 25, 2013

LCS Survivability

One of the major criticisms of the LCS is the lack of survivability.  Many people understand this to mean that the ship has either no rated survivability or a minimal Level I.  Defenders of the LCS and the Navy itself claim the ship is Level I+ (there is no such rating as we will shortly demonstrate).  I have even heard claims that ship is Level II with only the absence of Nuclear/Biological/Chemical capabilities preventing it from being fully Level II.  Let’s look into the LCS’ survivability and see what it really is.

Survivability requirements and classifications for Navy ships are defined in a memo,  OPNAVINST 9070.1, issued from the CNO’s office.  This document describes the Survivability Levels, types of damage and effects that may affect survivability and the Survivability Levels that various classes of Navy ships should meet.

The document starts by defining survivability in very simple terms.  The definition is exactly what one would reasonably expect.

“For the purposes of this instruction, survivability is defined as the capacity of the ship to absorb damage and maintain mission integrity.”
So far, so good.

The document then makes a further, common sense statement for naval warships.

“Warships are expected to perform offensive missions, sustain battle damage and survive. As such, the total ship, comprised of combat systems and vital hull, mechanical and electrical components, must be sufficiently hardened to withstand designated threat levels. Enhancement techniques, such as equipment separation and redundancy, arrangements and personnel protection form an integral part of this effort. DC/FF training and associated maintenance of ship survivability features are also essential elements to ensure sustained capability.”
Warships are, well, war ships and are expected to sustain battle damage and survive.  Pure common sense and, yet, here’s where the LCS begins to separate from Navy policy, tradition.  The Navy has stated publicly that the LCS is not expected to survive battle damage and that it can only operate under the umbrella of an Aegis ship or group.  This seems at odds with the both the description of the LCS as a Littoral COMBAT Ship and its stated missions and role which clearly put it squarely in the middle of littoral combat. 

Moving on, the document then describes survivability as an inherent characteristic of warships and equally as important as any other design characteristic.

“Survivability shall be considered a fundamental design requirement of no less significance than other inherent ship characteristics, such as weight and stability margins, maneuverability, structural integrity and combat systems capability. The Chief of Naval Operation’s (CNO’S) goal is to maintain ship operational readiness and preserve warfighting capability in both peacetime and hostile environments.”
LCS - Survivability Level Nothing

This statement recognizes that it is assumed that every warship has survivability as an inherent characteristic.  Further, the last sentence constitutes recognition that survivability is how warfighting capability is preserved.  Ships that have the ability to absorb damage and survive can be repaired and their warfighting capability won’t be lost to simple damage.  In other terms, this document doesn’t recognize the existence of throwaway combat vessels.

The document describes a minimum survivability effort from a design perspective,

“Ship protection features, such as armor, shielding and signature reduction, together with installed equipment hardened to appropriate standards, constitute a minimum baseline of survivability.”
There is even an interesting tidbit about responsibility.

“Chief Engineer of the Navy (CHENG) is the Ship Survivability Advocate for the U.S. Navy and, in coordination with the CNO, shall develop appropriate programmatic and budgeting plans to implement all surface ship survivability requirements in the ship design and equipment procurement/installation processes.”
Where was CHENG when the LCS was being designed?

Now, the heart of the matter.  The document designates three levels of Survivability.

Level I - low
Level II - moderate
Level III – high

A simple description is provided for each level.

Level I represents the least severe environment anticipated and excludes the need for enhanced survivability for designated ship classes to sustain operations in the immediate area of an engaged Battle Group or in the general war-at-sea region. In this category, the minimum design capability required shall, in addition to the inherent sea keeping mission, provide for EMP and shock hardening, individual protection for CBR, including decontamination stations, the DC/FF capability to control and recover from conflagrations and include the ability to operate in a high latitude environment.”
Level II represents an increase of severity to include the ability for sustained operations when in support of a Battle Group and in the general war-at-sea area. This level shall provide the ability for sustained combat operations following weapons impact. Capabilities shall include the requirements of Level I plus primary and support system redundancy, collective protection system, improved structural integrity and subdivision, fragmentation protection, signature reduction, conventional and nuclear blast protection and nuclear hardening.”

Level III, the most severe environment projected for combatant Battle Groups, shall include the requirements of Level II plus the ability to deal with the broad degrading effects of damage from anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMS), torpedoes and mines.”
Let’s look closely at Level I since that is the Level that is of concern.  The Navy claims that the LCS is Level 1+.  Of course, there is no such thing.  Presumably, this is the Navy’s way of saying that the LCS meets Level I plus some aspects of Level II.  Does it?

Note that Level I mandates “EMP and shock hardening, individual protection for CBR”.  As we saw in the previous post about the DOT&E report for the LCS, LCS’s 1-4 did not have any shock hardening and LCS’s 5 and beyond seem to only have sporadic shock hardened equipment.  To the best of my knowledge, the LCS class has no CBR (chemical, biological, radiation) protection or EMP resistance.  So, based on this portion of the requirement alone, the LCS does not even meet Level I.

Further, Level I mandates the ability to “control and recover from conflagrations”.  The Navy’s own public statements say that the LCS is designed merely to survive long enough for the crew to safely abandon ship.  So, again, the LCS fails to meet the Level I criteria.

Note, also, that Level I describes itself as applying to ships that are not expected to see combat (the first sentence).

Clearly, then, the LCS is Level Nothing rather than Level I+.

Finally, the document even lists the appropriate Survivability Levels for each type of ship.

Level III
Aircraft Carriers
Battle Force Surface Combatants

Level II
Amphibious Warfare Ships
Underway Replenishment Station Ships

Level I
Patrol Combatant And Mine Warfare Ships
Naval Strategic Sealift
Material Support Ships
All Other Auxiliary Ships/Craft

We see that there is no Level 0.  Level I is the lowest Level there is and includes the very ships that the LCS is intended to replace, the Patrol Combatant and Mine Warfare ships. 

We’ve shown that the the LCS is Level Nothing and that the Navy is spinning/lying (you pick the word) when it claims that the LCS is Level I+.  This should settle the Survivability issue.

Having said all of the above, there is a valid rationale for a non-survivable, small, lethal missile boat although the LCS does not meet any of portion of that rationale.  We’ll leave that discussion for another day.

(1) OPNAVINST 9070.1, Ser 09/8U501139, OP-03, 23-Sep-1988, Survivability Policy For Surface Ships Of The U. S. Navy


  1. You are referencing an outdated instruction. 9070.1 was updated in Sep 2012 to 9070.1A.

    1. I'm aware of that, however, 9070.1 was the prevailing document when the LCS was conceptualized, designed, and built. Further, 9070.1 was the relevant document for the past several years when the Navy was trying to pass off the LCS as having a greater degree of survivability than it did and was demonizing critics who pointed it out.

    2. A further note on 9070.1A ... This document appears to be a direct response to the criticisms of the LCS. The document abolishes the clear, straight-forward survivability levels and, instead, substitutes a fuzzy, non-specific, generalized discussion of survivability.

      The old Survivability Levels were based on hard lessons, learned in blood. The new document is typical of our current society where there is no responsibility or accountability. Future sailors will, again, pay the price in blood to relearn these lessons.

      The Navy can issue new policies so that it can claim that the LCS meets all "standards" but the simple fact remains that the LCS has no significant survivability features and is ill-suited for its role as a littoral COMBAT ship.