The LCS is in the fleet. The Zumwalt and Ford will be joining the fleet in the next few years. What do they have in common? -They’re all minimally manned. OK, so what?
Minimal manning means that there are no spare crewmembers. Only the absolutely necessary watch functions or battle stations are manned. Well, that’s the way it should be, right? In this time of constrained budgets the Navy has to cut personnel costs and minimal manning is the obvious way to do it.
Well, what happens when you take a few near misses in combat and lose several crewmembers to shrapnel wounds or other injury? The ship is relatively undamaged and still mission capable but now you’re down several crew. A minimally manned ship has no spare crew and no unnecessary functions or battle stations. How do you fill the manning holes? Do you have to return to port due to lack of crew? Have we reached a point where the enemy can achieve a mission kill simply by wounding a few crew???
What happens when the ship takes some damage? Flooding and a fire, perhaps. Nothing immediately fatal but requiring damage control efforts. Where do the damage control parties come from since there are no extra crew? If crew are pulled from active functions to provide damage control how do we fill the missing functions and how does the ship continue to operate? Do you have to return to port or, at best, immediately halt your mission at the first sign of non-fatal damage? Have we reached a point where minor damage is an automatic mission kill?
I’m sure someone is going to offer the comment that in war we’ll add additional crew. Really? The entire fleet is moving to minimal manning. The current fleet is something like 15% gapped in sea billets, right now, according to the Navy. There are no spare crewmembers lying around. In addition, service on an LCS requires a year long, specialized training program. You can’t just grab random sailors and throw them on an LCS. Finally, come war, the LCS is going to be at the bottom of the priority list. No one is going to pull sailors away from Burkes and carriers to man LCSs. For better or worse, the LCS is going to fight with a minimally manned crew.
The preceding applies equally to the Zumwalt, Ford, or any other ship that is minimally manned.
Consider the accidental explosions and fires that ravaged the
and Forrestal. The only thing that saved those carriers was large numbers of excess crew that were available for damage control efforts. The same was true of the Stark and Cole, among other notable examples. Enterprise
Do we really want to be writing off billion dollar ships due to lack of crew for effective damage control? Do we really want to accept mission kills due to a few injuries or minor damage? The Navy has made some epically poor decisions over the last couple decades but minimal manning may be worst of all.