Friday, November 22, 2013

Shallow Draft

As regular readers know, I’m often critical of the Navy and for good reason.  However, there’s one thing the Navy is exceedingly good at and that’s selling a project.  The Navy will use whatever spin, made-up stories, distorted facts, and creative accounting is needed.  The corollary to this is the old saying that if you repeat a lie long enough it becomes the truth.  Let’s look at the littoral combat ship and, specifically, the myth about the need for shallow draft.

We all know that the Navy can’t operate near shore or in littoral waters because of the extreme danger from enemy actions.  How do we know this?  Because the Navy has told us this over and over.  The fact that an incoming anti-ship missile doesn’t really care what the depth of the ocean is under it is kind of glossed over.  Be that as it may, even if we ignored the immediate combat threat, we know that Navy ships can’t operate in shallow waters simply due to their extreme draft.  Only a specialized vessel like the LCS can even go in shallow water.  That alone is justification for the LCS program.  How do we know this?  Because the Navy has told us this over and over.

Let me pose this question:  How close do you want to be to the shore?  That’s another way of asking, what activity can a ship perform in 10 ft of water that it can’t perform in 20 ft?  What activity can it perform in 50 ft of water that it can’t perform in 100 ft?  The entire “argument” about draft presupposes that there is some worthwhile activity that can only occur in very shallow water. 

Let’s think about this, for a minute.  A typical shore drops off fairly steadily and quickly from 0 ft to 100+ ft within a few hundred yards to, say, half a mile or so.  Is there some beach, somewhere on Earth where the depth is only 6 ft a mile out from shore?  Probably but that’s hardly typical.

Now, let’s do a quick check of some actual naval vessel drafts.

Nimitz Class – 40 ft
Burke Class – 30 ft
LCS Class – 14 ft

Well, that’s interesting.  Referring back to our notional shore profile, and even allowing for a depth of twice the draft for operating safety, a Nimitz could stand to within a few hundred yards to a half mile or so off a beach.

Now think about that.  What needed function is there that would require a ship to get closer to shore than a few hundred yards or a half mile or so?  Because that’s exactly what the Navy sold us on – that there was some function that only a shallow draft ship could perform and therefore the LCS program was needed.  What is that function?  Chasing a guy in a motorboat? – I guess so but that hardly justifies a $500M+ LCS and the LCS can still only operate within 28 ft of depth so it can’t “run down” a motorboat in shallow water anyway.  Neutralizing near-shore mines?  Yeah!  No, wait.  Now that I think about it, the LCS is meant to stand well off from mines so shallow draft isn’t needed.  Shallow water ASW?  No, even diesel subs require a hundred plus feet of water to operate in and, besides, the LCS can’t perform ASW in shallow water – the towed arrays can’t deploy.  Gun support for troops ashore?  Burkes can get within a few hundred yards to a half mile.  Would an extra hundred yards of inland range make any difference?  Besides, the LCS isn’t a gun support ship anyway.

You get my point.  I can’t think of a naval ship function that is required in the 28 ft – 80 ft depth that can’t be performed in 60 ft - 80+ ft which is what a Nimitz or Burke can do.

People have bought into the shallow draft story because the Navy has repeated it so long and so often that it has become “truth”.  With a little common sense thinking, we now know better and we see that a major portion of the LCS justification was based on an invalid assumption.  Shallow draft gains us little or nothing.


  1. After having posted this, I see that user "GAB" has offered a very similar comment in a previous post. Apologies to GAB but rest assured that I'd been penning this for a few days and the seeming duplication is just co-incidence (or great minds thinking alike! :-) ). A salute to GAB!

  2. The two main reason's I've seen are shallow-water MIW and small boat ASuW/MSO. The LCS can't stand THAT far off from its MIW UUV/USVs. I believe most still benefit from a LOS datalink. Shallows can extend rather far from the coast in certain areas (e.g. Persian Gulf).

    For small-boat ASuW/MSO, refer back to the 2007 HMS Cornwall incident, where 15 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines were taken hostage by Iranian small craft. HMS Cornwall wasn't able to approach the vessel they intended to board, apparently due to worries about running aground. So it was 10nm away and unable to support its boarding team, when they were taken prisoner.

    Are these sufficient reasons to base a large portion of our fleet on shallow-draft designs? I don't know.

    1. I have also heard that LCS shallow draft opens up a significant number of ports.

      I haven't found any open source data which supports or refutes that assertion.

    2. Port access is easy to prove. The value of the LCS entering said ports is something else. We have JHSVs, which can carry a lot more into the port, and visit almost as many.

  3. "Shallow water ASW? No, even diesel subs require a hundred plus feet of water to operate in and, besides, the LCS can’t perform ASW in shallow water – the towed arrays can’t deploy."


    The North Koreans and Iranians might disagree. Neither appear particularly shy about operating their mini-submarines in very shallow water.

    Ship's sonar generally aren't much good against small subs in very shallow water. The main platform for prosecuting small subs in the littorals is actually the helicopter (radar, sonobuoys, dipping sonar, etc.).

    My thought is that 2-3 LCSs working together could provide a fairly effective around-the-clock air search team. Multiple MH-60Rs working in tandem could surveil a sizeable chunk of water and 'gang-up' on any enemy sub they find.

    The alternative would be to use DDGs as the host platform - which would probably be no more effective, and a heck of a lot more expensive / riskier.

    1. A Kilo class sub, as representative of a diesel SSK, is around 45 ft from the top of the sail to the bottom of the hull. So, unless the sub is operating surfaced it would need around 46 ft of water just to be below the surface by a foot. Operationally, no sub would willingly operate in less than 100 ft. Thus, a Burke can operate in the same water depth a diesel SSK can. Which brings us back to the point of the post - that the shallow draft "need" which was used to justify the LCS is invalid.

      Similarly, the effectiveness of the LCS (or lack thereof) in the ASW role was not the point of the post.

    2. Operationally, no sub would willingly operate in less than 100 ft."


      I'm not trying to pick away at your assertions, but I don’t think the North Koreans and Iranian aren't reading your "rulebook"! Can you perhaps send copies to Pyongyang and Tehran?

      The KILO is a very capable diesel-submarine - but it’s actually quite large and NOT designed for operations in very shallow water. It’s about 2/3 as long as an LOS ANGELES.

      The North Koreans and Iranians have or are producing dozens of very small and relatively inexpensive submarines designed for their very specific environments and operational needs. Infiltration for the NKs, and probably chokepoint control for the Iranians.

      Length and beam are the primary limiting factors for sub 'minimum' depth, while displacement is perhaps a good surrogate for maneuverability.

      The stats below might give some perspective on the relative differences between submarine types in shallow water:

      LOS ANGELES SSN: 362 feet long, 33 ft beam, 7,000 tons.

      KILO SS: 230 feet long, 32 ft beam, 3,000 tons.

      SANGO SSC: 111 feet long, 12 ft beam, 300 tons.

      GHADIR SSM: 82 feet long, 10 ft beam, 130 tons.

      YONO SSM: 65 feet long, 9 ft beam, 130 tons.

    3. Correction: I don’t think the North Koreans and Iranian are reading your "rulebook"!

    4. And I don't think you're reading your own examples. In both of your examples, the NK subs were lost. One ran aground and the other sank after becoming entangled in a net. Both perfect examples of why subs don't want to operate in less than 100 ft. We don't need to perform ASW in 20 ft of water, they'll sink themselves! Outstanding!

      The NKs should read my rulebook. Maybe they wouldn't keep sinking their own subs (if you can call those toys subs - we have bigger torpedos than that).

      Now, try to redirect yourself back to the main point. What combat function of a naval ship must be performed in very shallow water that can't be performed in 50-100ft of water?

      Your Iranian propoganda video link was hilarious! I play with bigger sub toys in my bathtub.

    5. From the Sokcho incident, "The presence of South Korean drinks suggested that the crew had completed an espionage mission.[5] Log books found in the submarine showed that it had infiltrated South Korean waters on a number of previous occasion."

      So they regularly operated in shallow waters. They just got caught.

      IMHO, mini subs are a significant threat, but I don't think they are a good justification for the LCS's shallow draft. Ideally, we would hunt them with USVs, helicopters, or smaller craft.

      Or hit them at their moorings when they return to refuel.

    6. B.Smitty, you're correct. Mini-subs are a recon and SOF asset which history demonstrates have a very mixed record and high fatality rate. They are a nuisance that does not require or justify a 3000t LCS to deal with. Land based helos and patrol craft are a more appropriate counter, as you point out.

      I'm still left without a valid shallow draft mission for a combat naval vessel.

    7. The ROK might disagree with you on that one.

      You might remember that they lost a patrol craft and 46 sailors to what was almost certainly a heavyweight torpedo fired by a North Korean YONO or SANGO.

  4. I don’t find your discussion of ‘typical’ coastal environments all that enlightening. A typical environment is meaningless. I spend most of my time in Maryland where the ‘typical temperature is probably 50 degrees. Does that mean I’ll never need a winter coat? :)

    Environments are in fact very specific. A smart enemy will gear his tactics and capabilites to operating in those environments – and we will need corresponding capabilites to counter them. It is perhaps not that surprising that many of the undersea threats we face are in very shallow environments.

    Yellow Sea.

    Take a look at the bathymetry in the Yellow Sea, along the West coast of Korea. It is the largest shallow water ocean environment in the world. Significant portions are much less than 50 ft, and there are lots of little islands and nooks for a submarine to hide in.

    You completely missed the larger point in the two links I posted.

    The NK have and may in fact continue to infiltrate the ROK waters in very shallow water. The fact they’ve lost a couple is more of a demonstration of their will rather than capability. And do truly you believe they would continue such attempts if they had not proved successful in the past?

    Strait of Hormuz.

    Again, you really need to study the specific environment. The middle of the Strait is deep enough for tankers, but very narrow. There are significant areas along the Iranian and UAE coasts that are well less than 75 ft. It also gets extremely shallow once inside the Arabian Gulf.

    Few informed defense analysts are laughing at that video. Instead, they are rightly concerned about Iran closing off the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, either through attack or denial. A ‘swarm‘ of miniature submarines like Ghadir employing torpedoes or mines would be extremely well suited to either of those tasks.

    Combat tactics.

    I’ve already stated how I think LCS could be employed in a shallow-water ASW scenario. I believe the main strength of the LCS in the shallow water is to serve as a mobile base for one or more MH-60R -- since helos are by far the most effective ASW prosecution asset in the littorals.

    I believe there are ASW operating areas in which we are going to want to get one or more helicopter-equipped ship relatively close to the operating area. In the cases above (Yellow Sea and Straits), a DDG or CVN will have to stand off quite a ways due to depth limitations and perceived risk.

    As to risk, you continually harp in other posts on the $500 million price of the LCS. Yet you overlook that a DDG costs $2 billion. If we’re talking strictly about the shallow-water ASW problem for $2 billion, I present two budgets.

    Option 1.

    - 1 DDG capable of operating 2 MH-60Rs (note: there are not enough crew to operate both helos at the same time).
    - Helo search footprint (100 nm radius) limited to position of ship.
    - One enemy torpedo puts 100% of the force out of action.

    Option 2.

    - 4 LCS capable of operating a total of 4 MH-60Rs.
    - Helo search area footprint is dispersed among four different locations, which potentially quadruples area surveilled.
    - One enemy torpedo still leaves 75% of helo force.

    I know what option I’d pick.

    1. I'm not interested in arguing for argument's sake. Thanks. Bye.

    2. "B.Smitty, you're correct. Mini-subs are a recon and SOF asset which history demonstrates have a very mixed record and high fatality rate."

      That 'mixed record' includes sinking or damaging multiple British capital ships in WW2. Japan also had a few hundred which would've caused problems if we'd invaded in '45.

      As far as Korea, mini-sub infiltrating SOF caused multiple scares on the peninsula during the '90s. One could surmise they'll do the same if it came to a shooting war.

      Operating small subs in enclosed waters is certainly a risky venture for the crew, but the potential strategic payoffs well outweigh the costs. North Korea and Iran both seem to realize this.


      "Land based helos and patrol craft are a more appropriate counter, as you point out."

      Helos have a very limited range and endurance. And this presumes that you've got secure basing near the coast, which might not be the case in a shooting war.

      Maritime patrol aircraft are effective for ASW, provided you've got permissive airspace (enemy SAMs, fighters, etc.). They are very vulnerable when operating close to an enemy coastline - as might happen in Korea or Iran scenario.

  5. If Draft is really important, you dont need LCS, you need Skjold or Combat Boat
    Thats the only thing anyone sane would operate in 25ft of water.

    A couple of dropped containers (of which there are literally millions) and your shall water LCS has broken its hull.

    For small-boat ASuW/MSO, refer back to the 2007 HMS Cornwall incident, where 15 Royal Navy sailors and Royal Marines were taken hostage by Iranian small craft. HMS Cornwall wasn't able to approach the vessel they intended to board, apparently due to worries about running aground. So it was 10nm away and unable to support its boarding team, when they were taken prisoner."
    That had a lot more to do with RoE than any real operational concerns.

  6. This is an easy exercise: beach gradients typically fall in the 1: 40 to 1: 100 range, with most falling in the 1:50 range (figured into the design of the LST 1179 class.

    Ergo, at a 1:100 gradient (worst-case), 2000 yards off-shore will get you into about 60 feet of water.

    All this prattle about needing special shallow water capability is non-sense. LCS has about the same operational draft restrictions as an FFG.

    Oh wait, an FFG does not have pump jets to suck in debris at shallow draft!

    Seriously, FFGs were not draft constrained in the Persian Gulf.

    Finally, another herring is miniature submarines: real boats, particularly the smaller diesel subamarines can do some amazing shallow water work, but forget any useful effectiveness from mini-subs. Penetrating harbors against moored ships sure - attacking moving merchantmen and warships - waste of steel.


  7. "Seriously, FFGs were not draft constrained in the Persian Gulf."

    See HMS Cornwall incident in 2007. An RN small boat crew ended up in Iranian hands and paraded on TV precisely because their host ship couldn't get into shallow water to protect them. Of note - Type 22s and FFG-7s have nearly identical drafts (21-22 feet).

    "Typical beach gradients" are as meaningless as the "average annual temperature in the United States". Parts of the Persian Gulf are extremely shallow. A smart enemy can and will use that to his advantage.


    "Finally another herring is miniature submarines ...attacking moving merchantmen and warships - waste of steel."

    I assume you mean 'red herring?'

    The absence of the word 'red' is somewhat ironic, since the South Korean Navy lost a patrol combatant three years ago to what was almost certainly a torpedo fired by a communist coastal or mini-submarine.

    The North Koreans apparently have around 40 SANGOs and 10 YONOs capable of laying mines, dropping off SOF, and launching torpedoes. You may dismiss the threat, but thankfully the US and ROK do not.


  8. GAB: "Seriously, FFGs were not draft constrained in the Persian Gulf."

    Matt: “See HMS Cornwall incident in 2007. An RN small boat crew ended up in Iranian hands and paraded on TV precisely because their host ship couldn't get into shallow water to protect them. Of note - Type 22s and FFG-7s have nearly identical drafts (21-22 feet).

    "Typical beach gradients" are as meaningless as the "average annual temperature in the United States". Parts of the Persian Gulf are extremely shallow. A smart enemy can and will use that to his advantage.


    A USN Harpers Ferry class LSD has a full load draft of 19 feet and is designed to operate within 4,000 yards of the beach in order to launch AAVs (page 313, of Norman Friedman’s: U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft): just how militarily is the shallower draft of LCS? You are stretching your argument pretty hard over two nautical miles. If the requirement for shallow water ship to shore operations in the Philippines is so great, then the obvious requirement is for amphibious ships, not LCS. An LPD, with LCACs or LCUs, and airframes designed to carry heavy loads (H-53s, H-47s, and V-22s), not to mention large stores of fuel and supplies, is clearly the right answer.

    But back to the issue of draft: it is certainly true that “average” is meaningless when applied to a specific situation, however 1:100 beach gradient is an *extreme case,* not a “typical” or “average” – it represents the worst case for the design of displacement-hull amphibious ships. Can you please cite an amphibious ship designed to operate in shallower beach gradients than 1:100?

    Looking specifically at the FFG-7 versus LCS example; assuming that the *navigational draft” for an LCS is really 12 feet (and I question the wisdom of operating very large pump jets in that depth of water…), and the FFG-7 navigational draft is 22 feet, then we have an difference of 10 feet. Using an *extreme* beach gradient of 1:100, that translates into the ability of LCS to get 1,000 yards closer to shore than an FFG - Is that really significant for a non-amphibious warship operating close to an un-surveyed beach?

    As to FFG operations, I was referring to the Tanker War of the 1980s, and draft did not affect USN operations in the Persian Gulf. Read the definitive book on the subject: “Tanker War” and you will find plenty of issues, but water depth was not a major constraint on operations.

    As to the Korean mine problem, the answer is an LPD supporting a fleet of MCM ships that cost $50-75 million each, not a $750 million dollar LCS with MCM package (that has yet to work). LCS cannot embark a minesweeping helicopter detachment (MCH-101 or MH-53). Surely an LPD striped of the high dollar C4-ISR equipment needed for USMC operations, is the winner there too.
    Finally, as others have pointed out, the HMS Cornwall “incident” was an issue of ROE and gutless leadership. Our British friends are known for working at the highest end of the courage spectrum, but not that place, on that day… :(


  9. GAB,

    I am *NOT* a fan of the LCS program as it currently exists. It’s a fiasco. However, I do believe there is a real requirement for a relatively inexpensive, shallow-water, aviation-capable surface combatant.

    I’m not sure I follow your logic on LPDs wrt Philippines. Yes, we could certainly have used more of them in the Philippines as cargo carriers and helo pads. An LPD-17 also costs on the order of $1.7 billion/each. If budget isn’t an issue, why not just buy an aircraft carrier?

    As to the North Korea scenario, I think you’re missing the true threat. Our primary target is and should be the NK mini and coastal submarines, rather than dealing with the ‘cargo’ they carry (i.e. mines).

    Minesweeping is extremely time and resource intensive – time we might not have in wartime. There’s a place for it, but I think many MIW professionals will tell you that the surest solution to the mine threat is to ensure the mines never get laid. It’s usually better to shoot the archer than the arrow.

    NK min-subs have also proven capable of torpedoing surface combatants in the littorals, as well as dropping infiltrators into ROK on numerous occasions. 50+ mini and coastal submarines could cause a lot of trouble in a Second Korean War. (The same holds true for an Iranian scenario).

    I think what we really need for the littoral / mini-sub ASW threat are a large number of relatively inexpensive, helo-capable surface combatants. A DDG is an excellent ASW platform, but it is also too expensive to bring into the littorals. It is really more of a blue-water capital ship.

    We can acquire roughly four LCS for the cost of one DDG – greatly increasing the force’s capacity of ASW helos, and the number of launch & recovery sites (Note 1). Spreading the helo force out amongst four ships also greatly increases the search footprint and reach of the ASW helos, and reduces the force-level impacts of battle-damage.

    In terms of providing a relatively inexpensive helo mothership, the designers actually got quite a few things right (Note 2). I’ve tried to point that out to our host, but I guess it doesn’t fit neatly into his ‘anti-LCS’ diatribe.


    Note 1 - Depending what you read / believe, the FREEDOM class can embark two helo -- same as DDG. Four LCS-1s (~$2 billion) could embark eight helos – compared to two helos on a single DDG (~$2 billion).

    Note 2 - We’ve also only begun to touch on the potential of using VTUAVs on surface combatants. The helicopter was a game-changer for USN surface combatants in the 1960s. VTUAVs are the next logical step.

  10. Matt,

    I also believe that there is a need for a small combatant along the lines proposed by Captain Hughes and Admiral Cerebowski (street fighter); however shallow draft is not a key a key feature for the concept, nor is 40 knot speed.

    WRT to LPDs: I made two references to them: 1) the first is employing ships we already purchased (sunk cost) based upon their suitability for the mission and 2) a procurement suggestion for a MCM support.

    As you know, the overwhelming cost of a warship lies not in the hull and propulsion, but in the weapons and sensors. A DDG 51 is a $2.5 billion dollar ship, but sans Aegis and weapons it costs~ $650 million dollars (look at CRS and GAO reports on the subject) for the base - functional hull. This is why I can stated: “Surely an LPD striped of the high dollar C4-ISR equipment needed for USMC operations is the winner.” I stand by that claim; a functional LPD 17 could be built for well under a billion dollars if we are willing to forego a lot of radio and data equipment that drives the cost of the ship through the roof. Ingalls has made the case to do something along those lines and build a stripped down LPD as an LSD replacement. Even at a billion dollars, a stripped LPD ship would be a far better choice for MCM operations than a $750 million dollar LCS + mission modules (note that the LCS procurement cost you cited does not include the mission module cost). The key points being: LPD has a flight deck proven to operate H-53s (our only MCM helicopter), easily brings ten times the “mission deck/storage space as LCS; the LPD has a proven ability launch and recover small craft (drones); and despite a really rough start, appears to be a functional hull.

    WRT to amphibs and the disaster relief effort in the Philippines: the USA *did* send an aircraft carrier and it was the wrong choice, just as sending an LCS is the wrong choice. A gator, or better an ARG, is clear choice precisely because they bring engineers, ship to shore fuel and water pipe lines, warping tugs, bulldozers, supplies, and the means of moving this “stuff” ashore via landing craft and heavy lift helicopters.

    On note one: I love force structure games so let us be clear: an LCS comes sans mission module for about $500 million dollars, but adding in the module is going to cost ~$750 million for the package. Your fleet of four LCSs is going to cost ~$3 billion.

    For $3 billion dollars, I choose to buy a squadron of ten (10) Swedish Landsort / Koster Class Mine hunters for ~ $400 million; ten (10) Japanese Yaeyama-class ocean minesweepers for ~ $600 million; (2) Rolldock Sun Yacht transporters (flo/flo) to move the mine hunters strategically for ~$400 million each, and a “basic” LPD hull without USMC C4 systems for $ 1 billion, with change left over for unmanned systems. See how the math stacks against LCS?

    On note two: I agree, but surely unmanned systems care not exclusive to LCS? In fact, after you compare the poorly thought out LCS launch systems for unmanned systems with the systems used by the commercial offshore industry to launch and recover equipment in extraordinarily difficult sea conditions, you may find that an off-shore work ship or construction ship to be a far superior LCS than LCS!


    1. GAB,

      The problem with the Streetighter concept was no aviation capability. A ship without a helo is going to get “out-sticked” every time by a ship with a helo. Numbers can’t make up for that gap. The requirement - and I truly believe it is a requirement - to operate aviation assets is going to drive you to a 2,500+ ton vessel.

      I guess we will agree to disagree on the shallow draft. I completely agree that LCS speed is a false requirement. Regardless of other design consideration, I see no need for 40+ knots.

      I misunderstood your comments on LPD-17, but I get you now. I agree that that stripped-down LPD-17 would be a good fit for MCM and HA/DR. But I think it would be a fairly poor fit for shallow-water ASW or the small boat threat.

      The latest Navy costs I’ve seen on LCS (CRS report of 9/27/13) were $448 million per hull in FY14. However, I think it’s safe to assume those costs will go down as the Navy swings into full rate production. SEC Stackley has been quoted at under $400 million/ hull. The CRS report also stated that the average mission package (SUW, MIW, and ASW) will cost around $100 million. Hence my estimate of $500 million per LCS (hull + mission package).

      Not to quibble, but the largest driver in warship costs (really in almost any defense program) is manpower. As much as we knock LCS manning difficulties, reduced manpower was a key precept in its design. Any comparisons between LCS and some other approach really need to look at the manpower implications.

      Oh, I could definitely come up with multiple force structures that I would prefer to the buying 24-55 LCS! In fact, I think I might do that tomorrow.

      Unfortunately, I think we are well past that decision point. The Navy is going to buy these things, so the more important question is how should it actually use them? What are their objective strengths and weaknesses?

      The author of this site puts everything LCS in the ‘minus’ column and absolutely nothing in the ‘plus’ column. I simply cannot believe that this is the case. Everyone apparently hated the FFG-7s when they hit the fleet. Almost forty years later and they are now being looked at with great fondness as true ‘utility players’.


    2. Streetfighter had aviation capability.


  11. Matt,

    On LCS platform costs: the quoted figures are for the *base hull* with no modules – the issue here is that all of the *capability* of LCS resides in the modules – ergo you have to add those costs into equation to make a fair comparisons. Again look at CRS studies.

    The capability/costs of the modules are the LCS. It bears repeating that the base hull has very little capability, and is not built to NVR (USN warship) or ABS (civilian) standards. The latter point is problematic – nobody does this, European and Asian warships all comply with or exceed governing body standards for ship construction.

    On the ASW capability for the *base* or “stripped LPD” idea: I am not following your argument. LCS has no sonar, nor is there any easy way to fit one – the capability lies in the solely in the ASW module (unmanned systems) for detection, and helicopters for prosecution. Surely, an LPD can carry at least an order of magnitude more unmanned systems, at least 2, maybe four H-60 helicopters, and we might be able to fit VLS (for VLA and other things) and a hull mounted sonar to LPD. How does LCS win the ASW mission argument against the proposed hull?

    On manning: we were discussing procurement costs… It is true that manning is currently the driver in costs lifetime costs, but there are many issues here – crew effectiveness being the key, and LCS has not lived up its low manning promises either.

    On “the decision point:” the Navy does not choose to buy LCS, Congress does, and the recommendations coming from CRS and GAO point to a “truncated” buy of 24 at most.

    On force structure: compare the LCS to a Danish HDMS Absalon L16 ship, and you will find that the Danes got a lot more for the money than the U.S. taxpayer. The base hull costs are largely the same, but the Absalon, like an LPD, has integrated sensors more all-around capability for hauling stuff

    On the FFG-7: the latter FFG-7s were good escorts, in comparing them with LCS is not favorable. FFG-7s were true warships with excellent ASW sensors (TACTASS), a very effective main propulsion system, decent long-range air search radar and CIC, decent to marginal auxiliary systems (SSDGs and HPACs!), marginal EW and air track radar systems, and it could fire most USN missiles including harpoon, ASROC, SM-1s.

    Norman Polmar made a convincing case that the Navy could take the FFG-7 design, lengthen it by adding a 15’ to 20’ hull section, and bring it back into production with minimal design costs. The resulting FFG would have MK41 VLS, an updated TACTASS and sensors, be able to shoot every USN missile except the ER and ABM missiles. I would argue that the resulting ship could have the same or greater capability to launch unmanned vehicles by buying a modern commercial active heave compensated cranes and creating a midships mission deck.


  12. GAB,

    The below are from "Navy LCS: Background and Issues for Congress" (CRS report RL 33741 dated 9/27/13):

    “The December 31, 2012 SAR for the sea frame portion of the program reports an average unit procurement cost (APUC) for ships 3 through 52 of $485.3 million in constant FY2010 dollars.“

    “The estimated Average Production Unit Cost (APUC) for all 59 OPN-funded mission packages [the other five mission packages were funded through the Navy’s research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) account] is $69.8M in Constant Year (CY) Fiscal Year 2010 dollars.”

    An estimate of around $550 million per LCS + mission package appears to be backed up by the evidence presented in CRS report. That could of course change, but that’s where I got my data,

    According to the Navy, the LCS-ASW Spiral Bravo mission package will include a variable depth sonar and multi-function towed array (MFTA) - with both active and passive capabilites. It will IOC in 2016.

    My point on comparing LCS-ASW to a notional LPD-ASW is that LPD currently has no organic ASW sensors. And fitting a hull-mounted sonar, processing, etc. to an LPD would likely be a much more significant undertaking than you may realize.

    The limited range of ASW helos means that LPD-ASW would need to operate very close to threats. Not a good place for a 25,000 ton vessel. And of course there’s the problem of putting all your scouting eggs in one basket. It’d be a pretty obvious and inviting target with little defensive capability of its own. I covered this in the post regarding LCS aviation.

    I certainly get that Congress is the legislative bottom line. But they have done little at this point to curtail procurement. Navy will probably get its way on this issue – and we’ll be stuck with at least 24 of these ships. So how are we going to use them?

    I’m a fan of Absalon. In a strictly unit-for-unit comparison, it’s certainly a better ship than either LCS-1/2 in every measure! But I think it would probably be a bit more expensive than oft-quoted prices if US had to procure. And politically it’s hard to imagine the US buying a foreign design. Maybe if we could buy the license and build in USA it would work.

    Polmar’s ‘FFG-7 stretch’ would’ve been a good idea a decade ago – when the LCS “analysis” was in high gear and the FFG-7 line was still open. A few points on this concept:

    An OHP cost $168 million ‘new’ in 1977. Assuming simple inflation, a 1977-vintage OHP is going to cost a minimum of $650 million in 2013 dollars. That’s ignoring the fact that that ship construction costs far outpace the overall US inflation rate. Realistically you’re probably looking at closer to $800-900 million. And that’s before any of the simple mods that Polmar suggests.

    I’m no naval architect, but I can’t imagine adding a 20 ft section to a 450 ft vessel is going to be particulary easy or cheap. Redesigning a small ship is never easy. And as you stated earlier, the costs of updating sensors is the biggest driver in acquisition costs. Look at all the trouble the Aussies ran into. You’re probably looking at something like $1-1.5 billion per ‘FFG-7 stretch’.

    And not to harp on the life cycle cost issue, but the FFG-7 was/is actually a fairly manpower intensive platform for a ship of its size and capability. Fully manned requires 200+ personnel – about 2x LCS.


  13. Matt,

    I stated that LCS is about $500 million for a base hull, the CRS report you cited lists base hull costs (not mission modules) of $485.3 million and it lists them in FY 05 dollars! What point are you trying to make?

    On mission modules: who knows what the cost of the mission modules will be given that they are in testing through FY2019! Worse as GAO notes in its latest report: “There is also still significant uncertainty related to the cost of acquiring, fielding, and operating the LCS because of unknowns about the future designs of the seaframes and mission modules, and the Navy’s manning and maintenance strategy.”

    I stand by my assertion that a base hull LCS cost is ~$500 million and the module costs will exceed $200 million.

    It is worth noting again that LCS will be over matched by a single $175 million dollar missile boat/corvette; and for the price of one base hull LCS, I can buy a squadron of 8-10 MCM ships, each with the same MCM capability. So why are we buying LCS?

    On lengthening ships: a 20 foot section is easy, LCS 3 was lengthened by 9 feet (!) over LCS 1, the FFG7 and DDG-51 classes were stretched, as were the Gearing class destroyers, and many, many other warships.

    On LCS versus FFG-7 manning: well an LCS is blue/gold crew *plus* ashore maintenance personnel. The Navy is still working out the manning of LCS, LCS-1 had to add 20 crew to deploy her (over 70 per team +aviation), and the ashore support is still being worked out, so when they finish the modules in 2019 we can argue the point, but it will be more than 140. FFG-7 was 180 plus air det.

    On new production FFG-7s: I think the cost is likely to be about $1 billion dollars per copy. Keep in mind that that is for a modern frigate with current sensors and weapons, and built to higher survivability than LCS.


    1. GAB, you are correct about LCS costs but you're leaving out the unknown cost of the Government Furnished Equipment (GFE) which is paid for out of a separate account line. GFE includes things like the 57mm gun, radars, sensors, electronics, computers, etc. We don't know exactly what is or is not included or, at least, I've never seen an itemized listing. I'm assuming the GFE is around $200M but that's just a semi-educated guess.

      Also, the module costs are currently far below their eventual cost because the modules are currently far below their eventual capabilities and composition. The current modules are hugely dumbed down over the original versions. As you point out, functional modules that even remotely approach the original concepts are many years away, if ever.

      So, the cost of the LCS is hull + GFE + module which is $500M + $200M + $100M = $800M. I'm being conservative with the module cost because I don't think they'll ever be near what was envisioned so that will keep the cost (and capability!) down.

      Also, the LCS manning concept is 3:2 (3 crews for 2 ships) according to the Navy. They're using Blue/Gold in the very short term due to lack of ships and crews.

    2. And that sums up the issues...

      The price of shallow draft, high speed, and changing specifications is steep indeed.


    3. I'd be interested to know why some components are GFE and some are included in the SCN book too. It looks like SeaRAM and RAM are part of the SCN cost, but the 57mm and Sea Giraffe/TRS-3D are not. Also, doesn't appear that the basic combat system is included but certain sub-components are.

      I don't think we're looking at $200 million though. The Mk110 57mm is only around $10-12M. Sea Giraffe/TRS-3D are probably less than $15M each. The Mk46 30mms are in the $6-10M range.

      The combat system will cost something, but SSDS Mk2 is only $14M. So I can't imagine it being that much more (if any).

    4. B.Smitty, I don't any individual costs for any of the items so your guess is as good as mine. That said, Navy costs for anything are invariably far greater than anything we imagine. I just know that software and electronic systems are hideously expensive. My understanding is that the GFE list is far more extensive than anyone realizes. Again, though, no proof since I've never seen an itemized list.

      Also, bear in mind that there are probably other costs associated with each purchase. If you buy a helo for $1 (to be ridiculous) that would seem a good buy. However, by the time you factor in spares, maintenance tools, specialized electronic test equipment, etc. the helo may wind up costing $1.50 or $5.

      If the GFE was only a relative few million wouldn't you think the Navy would come out and say so, so that people like me would quit spreading bad publicity? That they haven't, suggests that the GFE cost is significant. That's hardly proof of my contention but it is suggestive and logical.

      I also have no idea whether installation and integration work is included in the scope of GFE costs or not.

      I'll stand by my guesstimate until some definitive evidence comes out.

    5. The prices I gave are largely from the Navy's budget justification documents.

      The prices Bob Work mentions in his paper on the history of the LCS indicate that they include GFE (pg. 39),

      "Moreover, because of the changes made to the program, the Navy is confident it will hit its originally established LCS cost targets, if in a different way than expected. The projected average seaframe cost over both ten-ship production runs, including the basic construction cost, all government furnished equipment, and change orders (the costs included in the FY 2010 Congressional cost cap), is $383.2 million. Moreover, benefiting from learning curve efficiencies, the average cost for the tenth seaframe of each variant is expected to come in at $358.1 million—which will become the starting price point for future LCS production flights (all cost figures in this and the following two paragraphs are in FY 2010 dollars).194 While there still remains some cost and schedule risk, because these projected costs are derived from fixed price contracts and observed performance at both building yards is consistent with projections, there is every expectation the building teams will hit these goals. As a Bloomberg Government Study concluded:
      After a rocky start, the Littoral Combat Ship program is meeting its cost and schedule goals. The service could get the prices it wanted only by halting failing cost-plus contracts and holding a true head-to-head competition between capable contractors with everything at stake.”195
      Critics will likely point out that while the average cost for the seaframes are 20 percent below the FY 2010 Congressional seaframe cost cap of $480 million, they are well above even the minimally acceptable threshold target of $270 million established in the 2004 CDD for LCS ($220 million in FY 2005 dollars inflated to FY 2010 dollars). While true, this observation misses an important point. Even after factoring in costs for class design, program management, and engineering support costs, and adding in the average cost for all three LCS mission packages, the average projected cost of a “missionized” LCS over the current ten-ship production run is $500.8 million.196 This is just 2 percent over the $490.4 million threshold target for a missionized LCS established by OSD a decade ago ($400 million in FY 2005 dollars, adjusted for inflation).197 Moreover, the lower price for the tenth ship in the production run for each class means the baseline for future missioned LCSs will be $469.3 million—about 3.5 percent above the Navy’s 2004 threshold target of $453.5 ($370 million in FY 2005 dollars, adjusted for inflation).198
      In other words, while the Navy underestimated the costs for the LCS seaframe, it overestimated the costs for mission modules and associated program costs. These two estimates thus offset each other, allowing the Navy to very nearly hit its threshold cost targets for a missionized LCS. As a result, the Navy will achieve its key programmatic goal to buy three missionized LCSs for the price of one Burke-class DDG—currently $1.49 billion. This will allow the department to keep up the numbers of battle force combatants without breaking its budget.199 As Eric Labs has observed, there is simply no more affordable TFBN warship option than the Littoral Combat Ship—including off-cited alternatives such as the National Security Cutter, which already costs nearly $600 million to build and cannot perform any of the LCS’s wartime missions without substantial upgrades."

    6. B.Smitty, sadly, Mr. Work's revisionist history is just another example of his enthusiasm getting the better of his facts. He has a long and well documented pattern of providing "misinformation", to put it politely.

      The separate nature of the basic hull contracts (and their amounts) and the GFE has been well documented by GAO, CRS, and numerous other sources. I'll take those over anything Mr. Work has to say.

      Regardless, that doesn't change the fact that no one knows what the GFE equipment is or what it costs. I'm comfortable with my estimate, given the data I have to work with, but it's certainly possible that your view is correct. Maybe we'll find out someday.

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  15. Shallow draft had much less of a design penalty for the LCSes than the requirement for high speed.

    The Gearing and Sumner DDs were of similar size and had their draft wasn't that much deeper.

    OTOH, quest for speed required exotic hull forms, massively overbuilt power plants, and much greater weight sensitivity.

    LCS-1 has 85MW of installed power and four waterjets for propulsion on a 3000t hull.

    The OHPs only needed 31MW and a single shaft on a 4,200t hull.