Thursday, May 16, 2013

Foreign LCS Maintenance

Internet commentators constantly call on the US Navy to buy whatever their favorite foreign ship or weapon system is, claiming that foreign buys are better, cheaper, and faster.  ComNavOps, too, is not above the occasional suggestion to look at foreign sources.  I’ve also pointed out on multiple occasions that there are very real difficulties associated with foreign purchases that make the prospect far less appealing than it seems on the face of it. 

Austal, manufacturer of the LCS-2 version, has been entering into partnerships with Asian shipyards to provide service and maintenance for the LCS as detailed in an Austal media information release (1).  Austal has partnered with shipyards in Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam.

Does anyone else see a possible problem with this arrangement?  The US Navy is going to be dependent on Austal for support services (remember, the LCS is not designed or crewed to provide on-board maintenance and support and the Navy does not operate tenders or have bases in much of the Asian region) and Austal is going to, in turn, be dependent on countries that are suspect, at best, as regards their long term availability.  That makes the Navy dependent on Singapore, Thailand, and Viet Nam. 

If circumstances arise in which China decides to put pressure on those countries do we really think those shipyards will remain available to us?  China can exert much more intense economic, political, and military coercion than the US can, especially given China’s physical proximity to those countries.  Those tiny countries are going to be forced to placate China if it comes down to it and that leaves the Navy without support facilities for the LCS.  I’ve said it before, but I REALLY don’t think the Navy has gamed out the support concept for the LCS.




11 comments:

  1. Well,remember the USN can alway go to Austrialia for maintains in that part of the world. On the otherhand, those countries are potential customers, and having yard support there would makes the sale department job easier.

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    1. GLof, remember, though, that the LCS requires a support yard for even minor maintenance so if the LCS has to leave its area of operation to go to Australia or Guam or wherever, we're losing the use of a deployed ship for an extended period for what will be very minor reasons most of the time. That's the problem with not being able to perform on-board maintenance or having assured access to a tender or base.

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    2. Historically, the need for support ships has been true of all smaller warcraft, Until the 1980's your forward deployed destroyers types, patrol types, minewarefare ships, and small landing ships were all depended on tenders and mother ships.

      I for one look at this as a promblem of lack of tenders that some design problem with the LCS. In the past I suggested the USN start building a new type of super tenders base on the layout of the LHA that would not just support our ships overseas, but act as command ship (LCC), hosital ship (AH), base ship for Predator size RPV, all purpose repair ship (AR), as well as mothership for LCSs. This would solve not only the need for foriegn repair bases for the all naval ships, but also make those quick changes more as likely as these ship could carry complete sets of modules for various missions.

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  2. Yup, the next step would be to actually build the ships in foreign ship yards....

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    1. Then lets take it to the ultimate step.

      Foreign built ship with a foreign crew paid for by a foreign government. After all why should the US taxpayer be paying for a ship stationed in Singapore which is there to conduct anti-pirate/anti-terrorist operations to protect ships which are not owned by the US. This seems like a job for the Singapore Navy.

      And if shipping companies complain, tell them to contact whatever flag of convinced country they signed their ships up with and have them defend their ships. I am sure that the Panamanian, Liberian, etc etc Navies will get on the job :)

      No more US taxpayer paying for the defense welfare for foreign countries and multinational corporations. And if they say they don’t need US Navy presence in Singapore, then why are we there?

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    2. DJF, you bring up a very good general point that the US has allowed many smaller countries to pass on sharing their load of the world defense responsibilities.

      Be wary, though, of oversimplifying the foreign protection issue. For one thing, "US" shipping is, to a very large extent, foreign flagged as a legal convenience, as I understand it (I'm not a merchant shipping expert by any means!). So, much of the foreign flagged shipping is really working for the US.

      Also, given all the countries and businesses we trade with, it's in our best interest to ensure that their ships are protected. Their safety benefits our economy. That said, back to your original point, there's no reason why other countries shouldn't bear their share of the global protection burden.

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    3. In general other countries do contribute significantly to enforcing sea navigation along their coast lines and even in international waters. But historically it has been a joint collective among many nations who use given international shipping lanes to provide defense.

      The LCS-1 is based current in Singapore because it needs a port in the general area of its operation, it provides a bit of flag waving in Singapore and all that that entails, and allows close cooperation with the navy and military of a country we will likely have to rely on if we are involved in major action in the south china sea and related areas.

      There is a lot of interconnected shipping to/from the US going out of Singapore and surrounding areas. We already have both active and historical relationships in Korea, Japan, and Philippines(historical). Singapore is by far the most friendly nation to the US in the SW china sea/gulf of Thailand region.

      So while LCS-1 is basing there, most of its time will be patrolling the the surrounding international waters as part of our general commitment to international shipping protection which almost all countries do.

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  3. Firstly, is there any reason the LCS isn't designed for onboard maintenance? I guess I always thought that ships were supposed to be self sufficient. Secondly, why doesn't Austal seek out deals with more reliable actors like Japan, Taiwan, Guam (which is even U.S. territory!), or South Korea?

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    1. The USN/MSC will not contract with Guam anymore, because Guam routinely provides substandard work. The MSC has learned that Singapore and the Philippines will provide more acceptable work than Guam, a US terriroty.

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    2. AAG, the LCS was designed as a minimally manned vessel. Some would say that was the primary design driver! Regardless, the design concept was that the crew would be too small to perform on-board maintenance and repairs. Those would be performed by pier-side support groups when the ship was in port. It remains to be seen whether that's a workable and wise concept. I think not but I'm reserving final judgement, for the moment.

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