Saturday, November 30, 2013

LCS Aviation

In a discussion awhile back, a commenter stated that the helo and hangar might be the only thing the LCS got right.  My first reaction was that the statement might be right but the more I thought about it, the more I think the opposite is true.

Before we go any further, let’s set the record straight on the aviation capabilities of the LCS.  Most people think the large flight decks (and they do have that!) mean fairly extensive aviation capabilities:  the ability to operate several helos of any type, the ability to act as a lily pad for any number of any type of helos, and, possibly, the ability to operate MV-22s.  The reality, however, is quite a bit less.  Ignoring UAVs, here’s what the LCS can handle.

LCS-1 – (1)SH-60 (hangar)
LCS-2 – (2)SH-60 (hangar) or (1)H-53 (flight deck only)

As a lily pad, the LCS can, presumably, accommodate any helo up to the weight of an SH-60 or SH-60/H-53, depending on the LCS class.  That’s tempered, though, by the fact that the flight decks are structurally weak.  I’ve never seen actual data on the flight deck weight limits or total capacity but LCS program engineers I’ve spoken to suggest that the structural weakness greatly limits the flight deck capacity.  My best assessment is that the flight deck can’t handle much more than the one or two helos the ship’s are credited with operating.

Thus, the LCS-1 class can operate a single helo and the LCS-2 class can operate one or two helos.  That’s not a lot.  Add to that the maxim that if you have one helo, you have none, in recognition of the helo’s extensive maintenance requirements and you begin to recognize that the helo is not as useful in practice as it would seem on paper.  Further, unlike, say, a ship’s gun which is ready 24 hours a day, a helo can only be used for several hours, at most, before it must return to the ship to rearm and refuel – a lengthy process even assuming a relief crew is available and, given the high maintenance requirements, the helo is only available for several hours out of 24.

Assuming it’s mechanically “up”, what can a helo contribute to the ship’s three main missions of ASW, MCM, and ASuW? 

ASW is the helo’s forte and the MH-60R is well suited for it.  The only drawback is the lack of numbers and limited endurance.  A single LCS can only operate one or two helos which provides pretty spotty coverage.  A helo can only operate for a few hours before it must return to the ship to rearm and refuel – a lengthy process that leaves gaps in the ASW coverage.

MCM was intended to be performed in large measure by helo towed or mounted MCM equipment.  Unfortunately, apparently no one checked to see whether the the -60 helo could safely tow the equipment.  As it turned out, it can’t.  Further, some of the helo mounted MCM systems have failed to pan out.  It looks like the helo is going to operate the Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) which uses a remote controlled (fiber optic link) “torpedo” (Archerfish or similar) with a camera and explosive charge to relocate a target mine and destroy it.  It appears that a helo can neutralize up to four mines before returning to the ship to rearm.  Thus, a maximum of four mines can be neutralized over the course of several  hours, at best.  Further, unlike the MH-53E, the MH-60S cannot conduct MCM operations at night and has less endurance.  Overall, the helo is going to play a much smaller MCM role than originally intended. 

ASuW is a potentially useful role for the helo armed with up to 8 Hellfires, however, operational constraints greatly decrease the usefulness.  Aside from the spotty availability, the helo will only be useful if it happens to be airborne and armed with the proper weapons at the exact moment of an attack.  Given the probable short range and short warning of engagements, the odds of getting a helo into action are not great.  Add to that the vulnerability of the helo to Stinger-type missiles and the ASuW role begins to look a bit suspect.

Some of the LCS’s aviation limitations could possibly be alleviated by operating the ships in squadrons so that they can pool their helos.  Of course, that requires that the ships stay in fairly close proximity so as to maximize mission time.  If that’s the case, it would probably make more sense to simply operate a single amphibious ASW or MCM mothership, at least from a helo operations and support point of view.

So far, the discussion has been straightforward and the conclusion is that helos on the LCS are of much more limited usefulness than would appear on paper.  Add to that the fact that each LCS has to be its own helo support and maintenance center and it quickly becomes apparent that LCS helos are somewhat useful, though limited, and inefficient to operate. 

Now, let’s go a step further.  Recognizing both the potential usefulness of helos and operational inefficiency of the LCS, what about deleting aviation capability from the LCS and, instead, operate non-aviation LCS squadrons centered around amphibious motherships (retired Tarawas, for example)?  The LCS, now much cheaper to build and operate, and suitably modified for this new role, would provide the ASuW and AAW protection for the mothership, extended reach for MCM and ASW remote underwater vehicles (assuming they ever pan out), and extended area patrol, boarding, and other “peacetime” activities.  In addition to being able to operate more helos than a squadron of LCS’s, the mothership would provide the centralized support and maintenance that would allow for more efficient helo operation, a degree of materiel and maintenance support for the LCS squadron, and centralized command and control.

So, quite the opposite from the helo/hangar/flight deck being the one thing the LCS got right, I submit that it’s a serious failing in the ship design and concept of operations.  That’s not surprising, really, since the Navy, by their own admission, never had a concept of operations in place when the LCS was designed.  The proposed concept of operations offers the opportunity to salvage a degree of usefulness from the LCS while enhancing MCM and ASW capabilities in the fleet.

35 comments:

  1. I don’t think ‘most people’ credit the LCS with operating more than a maximum of two manned MH-60s or a mix of helos and VTUAVS. I haven’t seen ‘most people’ seriously contemplating CH-53s or MV-22s. It’s a 400 ft long, 3,000 ton vessel – not an LHA.

    The US Navy has operated dets of 1-2 medium-sized maritime helos (SH-2s, SH-60s, MH-60s) from frigates and CRUDES for decades. Nearly every allied surface combatant over 4,000 tons operates one or more helos. Are you implying that this concept is somehow flawed?

    You’re somewhat correct that a helo det is inherently limited in its flight hour capacity and persistence, although in practical terms a two-helo det can fly about 8-10 hours/day for a couple of days. The aircrew will probably wear out before the aircraft.

    Regardless, a two-helo det was NEVER meant to operate around the clock indefinitely. It is essentially a small area search asset and hunter-killer extension to its host ship. It reacts to cues provided other naval assets. In the case of ASW – this could be P-3s, DDGs, SURTASS, and (eventually!) LCS sonar.

    Now, if you truly want 24/7 aerial surveillance (and it appears the Navy does as well) there are at least four potential solutions to getting there:

    A. Rely on land-based assets (BAMS, P-8).

    B. Employ a large helo mothership (i.e LHA) with lots of helos.

    C. Disperse lots of helos among multiple, smaller ships (i.e. LCS squadron).

    D. Utilize assets with greater endurance (i.e. VTUAVs)

    Option A: This works great right up until the enemy destroys your bases.

    Option B: I think an LHA mothership is probably a non-starter based on cost and risk. An LHA could certainly carry a lot of helos – but it is also extremely expensive to operate, maintain and to man. The ship’s complement alone is roughly 900 personnel. And in wartime it is the equivalent of putting all your eggs in one big, slow and defenseless basket.

    Option C: Four LCS costs roughly the same as one DDG. Yet with four LCS, I can deploy four times as many helos as one DDG. And by placing the helos on four different platforms, I can spread them out and cover a wider area /multiple threat axes. Dispersal also offers inherent advantages to force-level survival: if I lose one LCS I still have 75% of my helo force.

    Option D: One capability you overlooked are VTUAVs. A Fire Scout can stay in the air 8-10 hours. A det of two VTUAVs should be able to provide nearly 24-hour coverage. In the swarm-boat scenario, Fire Scout would detect the threat and then cue the ship to launch a helo and attack.

    LCS is also the only ship that is being built from the hull up to operate VTUAVs and integrate the data. And Fire Scout is operating today. It's also not too difficult to imagine them used for other missions (ASW, MIW, etc.)

    It looks to me that Navy is quite correctly pursuing a mix of Options C and D, and would do well to move away from Option A. They should completely ignore Option B.

    Matt

    PS. The last time Navy thought it didn’t need aviation capabilities on a surface combatant was Arleigh Burke DDG. We built the first 20 of so with flight decks but no hangars.

    It didn’t take long to figure out that not being able to deploy with LAMPS was a major shortfall in a surface combatant. They corrected this on DDG-79+. History can teach us a lot, particulary not to make the same mistake twice!

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  2. I concur, option C and D are the right course being followed.
    Structural weaknesses in the flight decks could be eliminated, to serve at least as platforms for heavier aircrafts.
    Many navies use the camcopter, a light armed camera on a gyrocopter, that is very easy to maintain and has flying characteristics similar to a helicopter.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schiebel_Camcopter_S-100
    That's much closer to providing maintainable 24/7 coverage.
    Part of the solution for the LCS can be very long endurance surveillance platforms that need not to operate from this vessel, but can fly from a base/ship further away. In case of observing something interesting they call the LCS.
    You totally miss that the LCS grew out of Cebrowski's network-centric approach to warfare. Not every capability must be located on one giant platform, it's about outsourcing and maintaining essentials such as sensors and helicopters.

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  3. MQ-8B could be equipped with missiles. Even S-100 can launch one LMM. And imagine MQ-8C,,,

    BR, Prokhor Tebin
    http://prokhor-tebin.livejournal.com/

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  4. The entire point of putting helicopters on ships was to enable them to prosecute submarines at extended ranges; latter helicopters like the SH-60LAMPS added radar and EW to the mix.

    Unfortunately, it has become almost dogmatic to assume that every surface combatant must embark helicopters. If we were able to step back and look at ship design in the context of how ships actually function in groups (task forces), this becomes somewhat less compelling.

    I say this when thinking about very expensive AMDR ships coming down the line – why should their design be compromised by the addition of helicopters, when the ship should logically be part of a task force – literally surrounded by aviation capable ships? The hanger either forces you to mount the VLS system higher (moving weight higher on a ship that will have very large amounts of topside weight to support AMDR) creating stability issues, or you forgo putting missile launchers on the aft section of the ship and loose magazine capability.

    Second, the US army and USMC, two organizations that know something about helicopters (!), tend to group them in companies/detachments of five (5) or four (4) respectively, not two. This greatly facilitates operations, maintenance, and logistics. Note also that USA and USMC helicopter pilots are expected to fly missions as long as there are ongoing combat operations – crew rest is scoffed at! I think there is a lesson here. Two ships with four (4) embarked helicopters split between them is less efficient than the same four helicopters embarked together – you need more aircrew, have to carry more tools and spare parts, etc. for the same effect.

    Third, the most efficient hull type for carrying “stuff” (sensors, weapons, cargo) is a monohull, but monohulls have less flight deck space available than other hull types offer. If you were designing a small combatant primarily (exclusively?) to carry helicopters, you might easily end up with a SWATH or catamaran, not a monohull.

    Fourth, who says helicopters are all that great anyway? The reality is, apart from VTOL capability, a helicopter has the aerial performance of a post WWI aircraft, but comes with significant maintenance, challenges, high procurement costs, and tremendous fuel usage. Even state of the art aircraft like the Sikorsky X-2 only promise capabilities that approach (not meet or exceed) WWII piston aircraft. A former commander of TF160 (if you have to ask who they are…) emphasized these points in complaining publically about the performance of SOCOM helicopters in Afghanistan.

    Fifth, surely there are more effective ways to provide long range delivery of torpedoes for ASW, and air/sea search than a helicopter. Even sea based solutions are hinted at (an advanced ASROC, hybrid air ships, aerostats, etc.).

    The logical conclusion, is that: 1) the Navy should consider designing a “DDH” ship based on a catamaran or SWATH hull to operate a four helicopter MH-60 detachment, and 2) the Navy needs to think beyond manned (or unmanned) helicopters for surface search and AEW.

    GAB

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    1. GAB,

      The original intent of embarking helos was to provide an ASW prosecution asset. Their utility has grown quite a bit since to include: LOG, MIO, SUW, ISR, etc. The example of DDG redesign is illustrative of how important a helo is to a surface combatant. It's not 'dogmatic' - the SWOs are the one's who pushed for the mod.

      We deploy ships quite routinely on independent ops. When a strike group chops into Fifth Fleet, it might send the CVN into the Gulf and station it's destroyers off East Africa. It also appears that the AMDR ships operate alone or in groups of two. Given our declining force structure, I'd imagine this dispersal trend will continue.

      Army and USMC are very good at operating helicopters within a relatively limited battlespace. Concentration certainly makes sense if you only have to operate/support forces within a 200 x 200 km area.

      Naval forces routinely scout areas which are orders of magnitude larger than the entire nation on Afghanistan. This is due to the extended range of threat sensors and weapons systems. Broadly speaking on the subject of scouting:

      - Concentrating helos on a small number of nodes (vessels) yields an intense look at a relatively small area. This is good for convoy escort, covering an anticipated threat vector, etc.

      - Dispersing them over multiple nodes essentially means you'll get shorter glimpses over a much wider area. This is more akin to movement to pre-hostilities scouting - or the kind of thing we'd need to do when the satellites go down.

      The comparison of helos to post-WW1 piston aircraft is meaningless. A helo doesn't need to dogfight. And as to high procurement cost - high compared to what exactly? Surveying the same amount of area around a ship that a helo can see in one sortie would require multiple warships or maritime patrol aircraft. Neither option is cheap.

      The fact is that helos are currently the only capability that a surface combatant has which can extend his reach. Are helos currently at the apex of their evolution? No. But go ask a DDG captain if he'd deploy without one!

      ASW helos provide a lot more than a weapons delivery platform. They also provide localization and target identification - something that ship sensors can't do. That's where helo sonobuoys and dipping sonar come into play.

      A couple thoughts on the other ASW prosecution approaches:

      - A long-ranged ASROC is only good if you have sub localized to sufficient accuracy to shoot at. Ship's sensors generally can't do this.

      - I don't know as much about the airship or aerostat concepts, but can't imagine they are fast enough to pounce on a fleeting contact. ASW is often called 'awfully slow warfare' but in fact it is anything but that once you generate a contact...

      Matt

      PS - Crew rest can get waived by the Navy in combat situations as well, but it's a pretty poor practice. The rules aren't arbitrary. There are plenty of mishap stats to back that up.

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  5. For ASW, one must consider the ratio of helos to tails. Tails are used to cue helos for contact localization and prosecution. Too many helos but not enough tails means your task force won't generate enough potential contacts to prosecute. Too many tails but not enough helos means you won't be able to prosecute the contacts you detect.

    Certainly one must consider how these ships are used in a task force. It could take eight or more helicopters just to maintain one continuous orbit. You may have many potential contacts to investigate. This could require a lot of helos. The JMSDF decided to go with an aviation ship AND organic helos in their 8 ship/8 helo escort flotilla. But they recognize the need for even more helicopters in a major ASW situation, so their ships have capacity for more than twice that number.

    I thought LCS-1 has a larger hangar than LCS-2, but LCS-2 the larger flight deck.

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  6. Matt

    PS - Crew rest can get waived by the Navy in combat situations as well, but it's a pretty poor practice. The rules aren't arbitrary. There are plenty of mishap stats to back that up.

    Matt,

    On USMC/USA helicopter organization: the point is that it is more efficient to operate helicopters in groups of four (USMC detachment) or five (USA Blackhawk company). I have no idea where you are going with the “battlespace” issue – putting four helicopters on one dedicated ship versus two ships is not excessive concentration of force. Doing so allows for substantial improved warship design for both the aviation ship and combatants without permanently embarked helicopters. Building a small aviation combatant that can support four –H-60s would in theory also allow for embarkation of a pair of H-53s or H-47s – a useful capability.

    On helicopter performance: the point is that apart from VTOL, a helicopter is an awful aircraft in terms of aerial performance vis a vis fixed wing air. It also is awful in terms of: up-front procurement cost, operational cost, operational availability rate, and mishap rate. A 21st century helicopter has broadly the same performance parameters (again apart from VTOL) as a 1920s-1940s aircraft. An AH-64, is bested in every performance category by a fixed-wing super Tucano – except VTOL. The first helicopters were not superior aircraft to the sea planes they replaced. VTOL comes at massive cost – yet the USN has spent precocious little mental effort in looking for alternatives. Look harder!

    On helicopter missions - LOG, MIO, SUW, ISR, etc.: Well the standard USN MH-60R/Ss does not do a lot of these tasks well:

    - LOG the mission calls for helicopters purpose designed to move gear (H-53/47s)
    - MIO (VBSS) mission is best left to SOF/USMC teams that train to do the ship assault mission (and every VBSS mission is a potential ship assault)
    - SUW against small boats like boston whalers, possibly … up until someone pops a MANPAD. - SUW against a missile patrol boat, or corvette and the helicopter is dead meat.
    - ISR yes, but the problem is that if you are serious about the mission, helicopter endurance becomes a real problem.

    On AMDR/ABM radar and independent ship operations: critical thought begs the question “why” DoD wants to tie up a mobile Aegis AMDR/ABM ship for what should be a ground based radar mission. Alternatives like building a sea-based ABM radar platform (we have them now, and have built them in the past), or satellite are the lower cost, more effective way of doing the same job.

    On HAVs and aerostats:” they are not just for ASW. An aerostat can put a radar and other sensors well above the operational altitudes for helicopters giving it superior range and 24-hour capability - the USCG used them very effectively in the carribean. For HAVs – you have to be kidding, 40-50 knot speed, multi-day endurance, heavy radar and weapon payload capacity, the ability to land on water are not useful attributes?

    GAB

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    1. GAB,

      Your attempts to draw comparisons between Army and Navy helo flight operations are a bit superficial. The maritime battlespace in which naval forces operate is orders of magnitude larger than that of land forces. The distances aren’t even comparable. Nor the sensor ranges. Nor the weapons ranges.

      When my carrier strike group deployed in the mid-2000s, we put the carrier in the Persian Gulf, a cruiser in the Gulf of Oman, and destroyers off the coast of Somalia. That’s 5-6 units spread over a distance of roughly the size of Afghanistan. Concentrating all of your aviation capability in one spot would not have been helpful.

      You also overlook that the essence of naval combat is scouting (Read Hughes!) All other things being equal, the fleet which detects the enemy first, and attacks first, without being counter-detected, gains a significant advantage.

      One ship can only be in one place at any given time, and can therefore only cover out to the range of its sensors and helos. Even if you placed 4, 5 or 20 helos onboard that one ship, you’re not scouting any further than the range of your helo. That’s about 100-120 nm.

      Spreading the helos among several smaller ships around the high value unit (HVU) allows you to disperse your ‘bases’ and scout a much larger area. It may not the most EFFICIENT approach, but it is the more EFFECTIVE solution in terms of maximizing scouting area and minimizing reaction time.

      Your ‘point’ seems to be that a WW2-type fighter is vastly superior to a helo in every performance measure… well, except for the minor detail that a WW2 fighter can’t take off and land from CRUDES! A tank is also vastly superior to a submarine in most measures – except under the water.

      As to other helo missions:

      LOG – MH-60S seems to be filling the role fairly well as a logistics platform.

      MIO – MIO is a lot more than VBSS. There’s a scouting element as well. And Navy helos routinely provide ‘overwatch’ for MIO and VBSS teams – both conventional Navy and NAVSOF.

      SUW (swarm) – Your argument seems to be in favor of a longer endurance airframe and/or longer range weapon. The former would be MQ-8C, the latter could be APKWS. Both are being pursued.

      Lastly, you seem to think that the Navy and DOD haven’t explored other options for CRUDES aviation. OPNAV, OSD, DARPA, etc. have looked at blimps, aerostats even VTOL aircraft. My take is that they were all found to be rather poor substitutes for the utility helicopter. They may have done one or more niches tasks well, but they couldn’t do the entire set as well.

      Matt

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    2. Matt, once again you've wandered off on an argument about something that no one has brought up. The majority of your post is about carrier strike group ops, first strike, and scouting. We're discussing LCS aviation and whether it makes sense to cluster MCM and ASW helo assets rather than disperse them on the LCS. That has nothing to do with carrier strike groups or naval battles. GAB's premise is that clustering for MCM and ASW ops is more efficient. Address that.

      If you want to address a new topic, contact me and I'll consider a new post or hosting a post from you.

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    3. CNO, I disagree, Matt is on target and did address the point.

      Real world task force ops are very often dispersed. Concentrating short-ranged assets like helos on a central platform just won't work.

      It may be more efficient to cluster helos, but it's more effective to disperse them.

      That was the gist of his post.

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    4. Though addressing GAB's original point, one could cluster them in groups of four instead of two and still have a degree of dispersion, though half as flexible.

      It would have a fairly large impact on ship design, because it would necessitate at least a two-spot flight deck to be effective. This takes up a lot of deck space. It also, obviously, would require a four-spot hangar and a means to move helos efficiently back and forth from the hangar to the flight deck. This would necessitate a larger, more expensive ship.

      It seems most navies have determined that one or two per combatant can be efficiently maintained.

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    5. A four-helo ship would likely be the size and shape of something like the DDH HARUNA. Basically twice the tonnage and three times the crew of a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to field four helos.

      The JMSDF only built two HARUNAs, both of which have since been decommissioned. They decided it made more sense to dispersing helos among multiple destroyers.

      Exactly the course we've been proposing, and which the US Navy has long since embraced!

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    6. "A four-helo ship would likely be the size and shape of something like the DDH HARUNA. Basically twice the tonnage and three times the crew of a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to field four helos.

      The JMSDF only built two HARUNAs, both of which have since been decommissioned. They decided it made more sense to dispersing helos among multiple destroyers."
      xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

      The JMSDF replaced the Harunas with the 13,000 ton DDH Hyuga class, wwhich can embark an entire squadron of H-60 aircraft!

      Thank you for providing an example to support my point!

      GAB

      GAB

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    7. Yes, they have a grand total of two of these ships. With no known plans to build any more.

      And they typically embark only 3-4 helos. Not very efficient given their size and manning.

      They still choose to disperse the vast majority of their helicopters in dets of 1-2 aircraft on 30+ destroyers.

      It's widely suspected (guessed) that the 'helo-destroyer' is really just a cover-story for developing a nascent fixed-wing aircraft carrier capability (F-35s).

      Matt

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  7. The Helo's certainly seem useful, just not the end all be all.

    But the lack of strength on the flight deck is very worrying to me. What precisely are we getting for these ships at nearly $700 million a pop when you count mission modules?

    * No tail, that I know of, so this hampers (further) the fleet ASW capability.
    * An understrength flight deck means that these guys will be limited in what they do. And strengthening them, at least on the freedom class, is likely to be problematic because they already have had buoyancy issues.
    * limited ASuW weapons.
    * limited Mine hunting ability
    * I'm not convinced these things would handle a swarm attack all that well, even with their speed. They have 3 guns that have little fire control from what I can tell.

    Its a mess. An expensive mess.

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  8. First, I admit to being an advocate for the large mother ship concept. That we combine large helicopter groups for ASW and MCM that support the LCS and its helicopters on a single vessel that also proform other function. But that does not mean I think the LCS can do without its own air group. Thay are too important to the LCS operation concept to do with out them.

    That being said.

    Yes the LCS should be able support larger helicopter as current technology does not allow the current generation of s-60 helicopter operate the sonar. Now in the future if unmanned S-60 unit come along, that might change.

    I don't know why they limited the Freedom to one S-60, but the problem should be corrected ASAP.

    About "tails" or TASS (that Towed Array Sonar Systems), they are being developed to ways for use by the LCS, one is towed by the LCS itself, the other by large unmanned vessels, which can operated independently.

    This brings up a question, I alway thought that increasing the number TASS exponentual increase the area you monitor, but that helos only increase area in proportion to their numbers. Is this correct?

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    1. GLof, the towed array is an interesting issue. Towed arrays require a great deal of depth in order to effectively employ them. The array trails out behind the vessel and sinks in the ship's wake depending on speed. The problem with a towed array on a ship that is meant to operate in shallow water is that the array can't be used due to the shallow depth. I'm not sure the Navy completely thought this one out.

      Also, from everything I've read, shallow water requires active sonar, predominantly, which the helo's dipping sonar can provide. However, the dipping sonar, especially in active mode, is a very short range sensor. Given that an LCS has only one (or two for the LCS-2 version) helo, the amount of helo sonar coverage will be quite small. Add to that the very spotty availability of helos, in general, and you can see that a single LCS is a very limited ASW platform. Of course, this can possibly be offset by operating several LCSs together. The Navy has not yet figured out how they're going to use the LCS in ASW mode - or, at least, they haven't shared their thoughts with me!

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  9. Let's view the embarked helicopters and the UAVs, plus the flight decks and hangars, as being part of the LCS 'aviation mission module.'

    We can do that because the LCS aviation mission module represents an integrated means of implementing a well-defined combination of combat mission support elements, even if the "module" is permanently embarked.

    One of my primary criticisms of the LCS has been that it is probably not large enough to handle the sizes and weights of the kinds of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) which will be truly useful and effective in prosecuting future MIW and ASW missions.

    Because there is only so much volume and weight margin available aboard an LCS, and because there is competition for space and volume within its currently available hull displacement margins, increasing the load capacity of the flight decks to improve their ability to support aviation operations will result in less margin being available for supporting other LCS mission modules.

    If as I surmise, LCS displacement limitations constrain the sizes and weights of future UUV systems, and if those constraints significantly hinder or even prevent the successful development of those types of MIW and ASW mission modules which depend upon unmanned underwater vehicles, are we not going to be faced with the possibility that the LCS aviation mission module will have to be downsized in order for the LCS to support the UUV-dependent MIW and ASW mission modules?

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    1. Scott, interesting comment. The UUVs that I'm aware of that might be intended for LCS use are fairly small; about the size and shape of a torpedo. There are much bigger UUVs but they're not intended for the LCS. Are you aware of any larger UUVs that are meant for the LCS or are you speculating that larger UUVs would be a good fit for the LCS but are constrained by the LCS space/weight issues? Do you have a specific UUV(s) in mind?

      You're also, indirectly, arguing for amphibious ships as MCM/ASW motherships since they have unlimited space and weight margins for this type of thing.

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    2. ComNavOps, I have become suspicious that the torpedo-size UUVs themselves, plus their embarked operational support equipment, will not work nearly as well as current plans call for, and that the UUV itself and its support equipment will have to become somewhat larger and hence heavier in order to reliably accommodate the range of operational functionalities now expected of them.

      I don't have access to the detailed designs for the torpedo size UUVs, but suppose this is things work out in practice. Is there enough margin available aboard one or the other LCS designs to handle larger versions of the modules supporting the existing UUV concept, if the current technical implementations don't prove to work reliably?

      I suspect not, but time will tell.

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    3. Scott, the LCS-1 version has no weight margin so larger UUVs will be problematic. Both LCS versions have UUV launch mechanisms that have largely failed. Larger UUVs will, undoubtedly, require totally redesigned and beefed up launch systems.

      I suspect that you are correct about the UUV size issue. Just as the first round of UAVs were quite small but have grown to the same size as manned aircraft (not surprising when they're being asked to do the same job!) I think the first round of UUVs will have to grow quite a bit to accomplish the tasks being asked of them. A very good observation on your part.

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    4. What exactly do you mean by "weight margin" here? Both LCS were designed to carry a 180-200 ton mission module. So as long as the UUV can be launched and recovered by each design, you should be able to incorporate them into a module.

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    5. B.Smitty, the LCS-1 version has no growth margin for anything that isn't already part of the ship or designed in. The Navy has expressed concern about the module weights and acknowledged that weights are a serious concern. Buoyancy tanks had to be added to Freedom. Module loading tests demonstrated that the ship's stability was borderline with shifts of 15,000 lb module containers having to be carefully managed to avoid exceeding inclination limits.

      Scott was suggesting that UUVs may have to become much larger in order to accomplish their functions. Given the zero weight margin on the LCS-1 version, larger UUVs (mini-subs, actually) may be difficult to add. Larger UUVs would also require substantially heavier launch/recovery mechanisms, again adding weight to an already weight-challenged vessel.

      I don't know what the weight margin situation is for the LCS-2 version. I've never heard anything one way or the other.

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    6. Both LCS's L&R gear should be able to handle the size and weight of torpedo-sized UUVs. Whether they can successfully L&R any specific UUV under operational conditions is another matter. The particular configuration and operational parameters of any specific UUV may just not work well with either LCS design. Hard to say without knowing the details.

      The LCS's were designed to L&R the AN/WLD-1, which is a 7m long, 7,200kg semi-submersible. Mk48 ADCAPs are only 5.8m long and 1,700kg. So size and weight should be well within limits.

      Perhaps what you meant is that there is little margin to add additional weight to the existing MIW module. I don't know where the current module stands in terms of weight, but margins certainly have been a problem for the LCS program.

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    7. B.Smitty, ComNavOps has covered my concerns pretty well, but I will clarify further what I think.

      In looking casually at the individual parts and pieces of what's being developed now for the undersea warfare LCS mission modules, I am very suspicious that restrictions on their individual physical sizes and weights which might be imposed by the seaframe's limited weight growth margins will hinder the development of even the smaller UUVs and their associated support equipment, those that are now in the acquisition pipeline.

      Time will tell if my concerns about the smaller UUVs and their supporting equipment vis-s-vis LCS growth margins are valid, as the jury is still out on that score.

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    8. Scott,

      But the problem is really the aggregate module weight, not any individual UUV, right? AN/WLD-1 is a BIG system. The current LCS MIW module has two of them, I think.

      I have heard concerns about using anything larger than the 11m RHIB as a basis for USVs, but hadn't heard anything about UUVs with regards to weight issues.

      The UUV Master Plan mentions a "Large" UUV class, displacing 20,000lbs. Obviously this would be a problem for either LCS.

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    9. B.Smitty, at the risk of speaking for Scott, I think a 20,000 lb UUV is exactly the direction that he's anticipating and anticipating problems with. Think about it... The current LCS MCM (saying that it works, for sake of discussion) is capable of neutralizing one or two mines per hour. The UUVs are too small, slow, and have too short endurance. The helos are limited in capability. All components must return to the ship for refuel/replenish too often. A single LCS is a VERY slow MCM platform. What we'd like is a UUV that could both detect and neutralize, operate at great distances, and operate continuously for days, not hours. The only way to achieve this is with significantly larger UUVs - like 20,000 lbs larger. And around four of them per ship. Can the LCS accomodate this? I don't know but I suspect not and that's Scott's point, I think, that the inherent weight/space limitations may not allow the LCS to become what we'd like it to be.

      Jump in Scott if I'm misrepresenting you!

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    10. I don't think you can really fault the LCS program for not designing beyond stated requirements. There was no requirement to carry 20,000lb LDUUVs.

      That being said, there certainly is some amount of trial and error to this process, In this case, I think a certain amount of concurrency of development and production is almost mandatory. You can't know what you don't know until you try it.

      If we find we need larger UUVs and larger numbers, we may need to alter the LCS designs or come up with something new. This is no different from any other system who's requirements change over time.

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    11. B.Smitty, you just perfectly summed up the argument for building a prototype, especially for revolutionary designs versus evolutionary, rather than instantly leaping into a production run of 55 vessels before any technology or performance was proven out. Thanks!

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    12. B.Smitty, you do have a point there concerning the long term need for larger undersea unmanned systems. It is not reasonable to think the LCS itself should go so far beyond what was originally envisioned for its own embarked mission systems.

      When I look at the total footprint of the AN/WLD-1 aboard the LCS, then I have to wonder if past developmental issues have been spawned in part by size and weight constraints imposed upon the onboard mission support equipment by LCS displacement limitations.

      USNI has a piece describing the Navy's current plan for using the LCS for supporting mine warfare countermeasures here:

      LCS Mission Packages: The Basics
      http://news.usni.org/2013/08/21/lcs-mission-packages-the-basics

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    13. CNO,

      I agree that module definition, development and testing should've been further along before we committed to a large run of a particular seaframe. But as it stands right now, I believe we are only on the hook for 20-26 LCS's. If we find the modules need to grow or new systems are added that are incompatible with either LCS, then we can alter or replace the seaframe after that.

      The Navy was at a difficult point. The FFGs are reaching the end of their service lives, and have very little capability left anyway. The Navy wanted a replacement to maintain fleet numbers. I know you would've preferred to SLEP the FFGs, but we didn't go down that path. I'm of mixed feelings on a SLEP. The majority of the ships still in service will reach their 30 year service life in a year or two. SLEPing might add another 5-10 years but it's a lot of money to spend on ships that will still retire soon.

      Anyway, enough on that tangent.

      If I had it to do over, I would've gone for two ships as well, but the first would be a traditional frigate with a focus on ASW with some modular capability (think RN Type 26). However, it would still draw most of it's capability from organic systems.

      With that in the pipeline, I would fund module design and development using a modified commercial hull as a test bed.

      I would start concept analysis for a module carrying seaframe with low-rate production scheduled for a later date, when the modules reached a more mature readiness level.

      Instead of two different module carrier designs that fill the exact same set of requirements, I would've built the FFG(X) and one module carrying design.

      This way, I would get a low-risk but useful capability in the fleet sooner (the FFG(X)) to fill out fleet numbers, and still have time to get the module/seaframe right.

      Of course I say this with 20/20 hindsight.

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    14. Scott,

      That's a good summary of the mission modules as they stand today.

      I think LCS-1 has some room to grow. I've seen proposals to lengthen it into a small frigate. Not sure about LCS-2. I don't know how amenable the trimaran hull form is to lengthening like that.

      Not sure what you can do about the launch & recovery gear. I imagine a version 2 could increase capacity, if needed. Hard to say how much though. At some point, UUV size will necessitate rethinking the whole concept. Might need to switch to LO/LO cranes and a big, flat, open deck. Or a big moon pool.

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    15. B.Smitty, while I would have approached it somewhat differently, your FFG+prototype would have been a perfectly reasonable approach.

      As far as hindsight, LOTS of people suggested variations on your approach from day one without the benefit of hindsight. It was clear from day one that the amount of new or non-existent technology that was planned for the LCS represented a huge level of risk. You talk about hindsight, even after the first two ships were built it had become crystal clear that the modules were not on track. The Navy, WITH the benefit of hindsight at the time, could have stopped the program at one LCS of each type until module development matured. Again, WITH the benefit of hindsight at the time, they could have stopped production after the first four ships. Right now, before we commit further, we could take advantage of hindsight by recognizing that the modules are years to decades away from sufficient effectiveness to justify the LCS and pause the program until the modules catch up. But we're not. The Navy remains firmly committed to all 52 ships, at least publicly.

      The Navy couldn't see the future (despite the fact that many of us could) and embarked on a bad program. That's bad. That the Navy can't see the past even now with the benefit of hindsight is just pure incompetance.

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  10. Here are a number of articles that can contribute to LCS discussions:
    http://cimsec.org/nextwar/

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  11. Comments were deleted. Keep the discussion polite and respectful or don't comment, people.

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