Friday, November 20, 2015

LCS and Netfires NLOS

I’ve stated repeatedly that the LCS’ major failing was the absence of a well developed Concept of Operations (CONOPS) prior to committing to the program.  This lead to pointless capabilities like excessive speed which had no tactical purpose, unfeasible concepts like module swapping in a tactical timeframe, missing capabilities like the lack of air defense, and cost overruns due to attempts to include all manner of capabilities because there was no CONOPS to evaluate usefulness against.

That said, what is the single biggest complaint voiced about the LCS?  It would probably have to be the lack of armament.  That brings us to the Netfires NLOS (Non Line Of Sight) weapon system.  The failure of that system lead directly to the lack of armament complaint.

Let’s take a moment to briefly review what NLOS was intended to be.  NLOS was a family of vertically launched missiles including a Precision Attack Missile (PAM) and a Loitering Attack Missile (LAM).  The 117 lb missile had a range of around 20-25 miles.  Missiles were to be equipped with IR, GPS/Inertial, and semi-active laser homing.  The system was to have networked the missiles, in flight, to provide autonomous target recognition and allocation, real time targeting updates, and damage assessment imaging.  The missiles were to be launched, arrive over the target area, autonomously identify and allocate targets, and attack.  Supposedly, the missile had a multi-target warhead with both shaped-charge capability and blast fragmentation.

For the LCS, the system was envisioned to provide both a land attack capability and anti-surface capability (the anti-swarm mission).

If the LCS had actually achieved this capability, we’d be having a somewhat different discussion about the LCS.  Yes, the LCS would still have the same inherent flaws but at least the armament complaint would have been largely alleviated for the ship’s intended role.  The LCS would still not be a frigate with long range anti-ship missiles but, to be fair, that was never envisioned as the LCS’ role.  And, yes, the modular concept would still be a weakness in that a LCS that was not equipped with the ASuW module would be helpless against a swarm.

The NLOS was certainly the key to the ASuW module and, arguably, key to the LCS’ success overall.

So, aside from historical enlightenment and amusement, what do we learn from this?

Among other lessons, we learn the folly of committing to a production run of a warship whose main weapon is experimental at the time of commitment.  Most experimental weapons never pan out and, in this particular case, the Army had already declared the NLOS a failure and cancelled the program.  I wonder why the Navy thought this would succeed?

The point of this post is two-fold:  to provide some historical perspective on the LCS’ armament issue and to try to recognize and understand the Navy’s failure.

It’s not just that the NLOS failed.  As I said, weapon programs fail all the time.  The real issue is the Navy mindset that chose to ignore the history of failure of weapons development, in general, and the Army’s pronouncement of failure for this system, in particular, and, instead, chose to believe that this would be the program that would defy the odds.  Any reasonable person would have opted to stop the LCS acquisition program at the point that the NLOS was cancelled and wait until a suitable alternative could have been procured or developed.  Of course, the truly reasonable person wouldn’t have even begun an acquisition program where the main weapon didn’t actually exist – but, I digress.


The Navy’s ability to ignore reality is legend but at some point you’d like to see some recognition of reality especially as the Navy pursues lasers, railguns, BMD, Fords, LX(R)’s, UCLASS/UCAV, etc.  If the Navy doesn’t start to do a better job of recognizing reality, I’ll be writing for the next 30 years!

24 comments:

  1. Nah, if the budget continues to balloon out of control you'll just have to type up one about outdated ships that can't can't be maintained and simply repost it for the next 30 years. :-)

    ReplyDelete
  2. CNO: When you discuss CONOPS, are we referring to 'The Burke should do X'; or are we referring to ' The Navy needs to do Y, and the 'Burke fits into it in X fashion'. (I guess to me I always thought of that as more strategic thinking).

    I know you've discussed the Navy's lack of that strategic thinking before as well, I just want to make sure I have my terms straight. It seems one flows to the other. Without strategy you can't have a CONOPS.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. CONOPS refers to the opertional and tactical use of a particular platform.

      Strategy refers to the broad, overall objectives and the methods to achieve that objective.

      Strategy informs operations and doctrine which in turn inform tactics.

      Hope that helps.

      Delete
  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Actually, the Original design concept for the LCS was pretty reasonable. It would have had a 38 knot top speed, the ASuW mission (including 8 Harppons) was to be Built In to all of them, and there were only going to be 2 changeable mission modules. A combined ASW/MIW module and an Area AAW module. It's original mission concept was as a light escort for the Sea base and connectors moving between the sea base & shore. Check the Navy Postgrad site for “SEA LANCE”
    LITTORAL WARFARE SMALL COMBATANT SYSTEM
    By
    Faculty Members
    Charles Calvano David Byers
    Robert Harney Fotis Papoulias
    John Ciezki
    Student Members
    LT Howard Markle, USN, Team Leader
    LT Rick Trevisan, USN
    LT Tim Barney, USN
    LT Karl Eimers, USN
    LCDR Garrett Farman, USN
    LTjg Ahmet Altekin, Turkish Navy
    LT Ricardo Kompatzki, Chilean Navy
    LT Chris Nash, USN
    January 2001


    Randall Rapp

    ReplyDelete
  5. Woops, wrong study!!

    Look here:

    “SEA SWAT”
    A Littoral Combat Ship for Sea Base Defense
    by:
    Student Members
    LT Robert Echols, USN LT Wilfredo Santos, USN
    LT Constance Fernandez, USN LT Jarema Didoszak, USN
    LT Rodrigo Cabezas, Chilean Navy LT William Lunt, USN
    LTJG Aziz Kurultay, Turkish Navy LTJG Zafer Elcin, Turkish Navy
    Faculty Members
    Fotis Papoulias Mike Green
    December 2003

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I gave that reference a quick skim. It's an interesting concept. It was not, however, the LCS CONOPS. It was a proposed concept ship that was one of many ideas thrown out in the early 2000's for a littoral vessel.

      The actual LCS had no CONOPS and, indeed, still does not that I'm aware of.

      Would this particular concept have been an improvement over the LCS? Perhaps, but to be fair, almost anything would have!

      An interesting find. Thanks!

      Delete
  6. CNO, the was a CONOPS, just not a directly tied to the LCS . The LCS was original nothing more that a "pickup truck" to support the concept of remote sensors and unmanned systems proposed in the late 1990s (I can't remember that programs title). It was never intended to be a fighting vessel,

    Still the LCS can be useful, if the NLWM (New Light Weight Mafia) had not got there hands on the design specification. They were the ones that insisted on using NLOS (aka NetFire) as a joint weapon for the LCS, and the use of the 11 Meter RHIB as the bases for all remote surface USV. They did not understand the problem such restrictions placed on these engineers designing these system.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The LCS never had a CONOPS. The Navy has acknowledged this and even gone so far as to admit that the lack of such may have caused some of the program's problems. I, of course, think it was the root of the program's problems.

      I'm not sure who you think the NLWM was. The NLOS was spec'ed in from the start. Yes, there were precursors to the LCS that had different concepts but the official LCS program never even considered any ASuW weapon other than NLOS, as far as I know.

      One of the major challenges facing the LCS was the weight margins. The combination of the hull design and heavy machinery requirements for the high speed engines resulted in a ship that had very little room for heavier weapons and systems. The obsession with speed boxed the designers in to a significant degree - all to obtain a characteristic that has no tactical usefulness and has since been downgraded, anyway.

      Delete
    2. The NLWM was the group of appointees the Donald Rumsfeld when he took over the OSD the second time. Most had an aviation background or a corporate management one. They were what most of you call Transformationalists. I called them the New Light Weigh Mafia because one, their close ties to Rumsfeld, two their preference for aviation system, such as JSF, RPV, and NLOS, third forcing the armed forces into using lighter systems, including armored vehicles and ships, and final forth, their obsession for speed and information as means of protection.

      OK yes the LCS can be consider the step child of that original proposal, so that CONOPS might not count for much. On the other hand I not sure that with the information at hand, the navy could had written a complete CONOPS. There were too many information gaps in 2003 for anyone to write and analyze a CONOPS for a ship like the LCS. Maybe that might have resulted in a different proposal, a more conventional multipurpose ship, but I not sure without the LCS's speed, it would survive the NLWM vetting process.

      Final, I always called the first LCS, the six originally order prototype. I believe they were mostly for research, to provide the information the Navy needed to create the CONOPS you want. What I do know was there was to be a second RFP for production after the first six were built, I know this because it was published.

      Delete
    3. "On the other hand I not sure that with the information at hand, the navy could had written a complete CONOPS."

      When a new design is envisioned, and before it is built, a series of studies are performed (or should be!) to analyze the requirements and alternatives. Also, when (or parallel with) the design requirements are developed, a concept of operations is laid out. How will the unit be used? How will it mesh with existing assets and doctrine. Where and when will it be used. This is done in detail, not just a vague statement that the unit will perform mine clearance, for example. The results of the CONOPS are compared to the proposed design specs to see which specs need to be dropped, modified, or added.

      The LCS did not have that and thus we got specs that serve no purpose, like speed, or concepts that are totally impractical, like tactical module swapping.

      So, yes, with just a conceptual design, the Navy had all the information it needed to formulate and test a CONOPS. Your desire to defend the LCS is altering the factual history of the program.

      Delete
  7. ComNavOps,

    I think this also proves the fallacy of depending on a joint program to have your service program succeed. I think that is especially true when the Army is involved. All services are struggling with acquisition but the Army is in a class by themselves (and not in a good way).

    All of that said, I think the Navy should have taken over PAM after the Army quit. I think that the main problem it had was the ATR in land clutter. The Navy may have been able to get it to work for ASuW with relatively little extra development.

    Otherwise, I think you are spot on. The LCS concept has shown and continues to show signs of never having been adequately thought through.

    Personally, I think LCS needs a longer range weapon than even PAM would provide.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Personally, I think LCS needs a longer range weapon than even PAM would provide."

      Did you have a particular weapon in mind? For what purpose would a longer range weapon be used? That's not an argument, just a question to try to understand your vision of the LCS.

      Delete
  8. "...Let’s take a moment to briefly review what NLOS was intended to be. NLOS was a family of vertically launched missiles including a Precision Attack Missile (PAM) and a Loitering Attack Missile (LAM). The 117 lb missile had a range of around 20-25 miles. Missiles were to be equipped with IR, GPS/Inertial, and semi-active laser homing. The system was to have networked the missiles, in flight, to provide autonomous target recognition and allocation, real-time targeting updates, and damage assessment imaging. The missiles were to be launched, arrive over the target area, autonomously identify and allocate targets, and attack.

    Supposedly, the missile had a multi-target warhead with both shaped-charge capability and blast fragmentation..."

    Hmm... IMHO aside of the loitering and all that over-confident promises of identify, allocate, etc... I think that that ranges and smart-guided munition guidance (GPS, Laser, IR) are currently achievable with a 5" naval gun using the Italian extended range Vulcano ammunition. Comparatively is low tech, but it can provide "good enough" (AKA affordable) results with proven technology like the Excalibur ammunition or that new Pike laser guided micro-missile from Raytheon that can be fired from an infantry 40 mm grenade launcher. Too bad that the US Navy made a bet on missiles instead of smart munition for guns. Now the LCS is stuck with a 2" gun or a 3" gun at best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. mareo2, if you're suggesting that the LCS should have had a 5" gun, remember that the LCS is not structurally capable of mounting one.

      Do you mean that the LCS should have been designed with a 5" gun from the start, with sufficient structural integrity of the seaframe to handle the mount and the firing stresses?

      Certainly in hindlsight, a gun would have been a better choice but recognize that the original NLOS was envisioned as a sort of cluster bomb using smart, networked missiles (yes, it had no hope of working but that was the idea). As such, one "shot" would blanket a large area as opposed to a 5" gun that would have to fire many rounds to achieve the same result. Also, the NLOS was supposed to be intelligent and capable enough to "find" targets rather than being dependent on ship based target IDs. A 5" gun would depend on the ship's sensors (or UAVs or other aerial spotting) for targeting. On paper, the NLOS solved a lot of problems. Of course, that was all fantasy and a functional 5" gun is clearly better than a non-existent paper capability!

      Delete
    2. Okay,

      so you're post answers one of my questions: Why re-invent the wheel. Why not make use VLS to house standards or maybe try to use Harpoons. Answer: They wanted something to hit wide areas to fight swarms.

      Okay, fair enough. But...

      "Also, the NLOS was supposed to be intelligent and capable enough to "find" targets rather than being dependent on ship based target IDs"

      in the crowded littorals when would they allow that to happen???

      Delete
    3. As I've said repeatedly, the Navy did not think the LCS through!

      Delete
    4. Do you mean that the LCS should have been designed with a 5" gun from the start, with sufficient structural integrity of the seaframe to handle the mount and the firing stresses?

      If the US navy wanted an affordable NSFS, then yes, the Maestrale class is about the same size and have 5" gun, so it is not a farfetched idea. The ONR have BAE developing a HVP variant for the 5" that promise to reach Mach 3 about half of the railgun. But I am a bit sceptic about being able to intercept some AshCMs (my guess is the slow sub-sonic ones). Mainly because they talk about "modularity" for multiple jobs and that sounds like the LCS.

      Delete
    5. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
  9. Very great pity the NLOS failed. Some great ideas.

    "Missile in a box" was a very good start.

    Perhaps if they had stuck to the more basic design spec, without the whole autonomous loitering robot concept it could have been done.

    Bit weird they didn't just trim down the specs, as they have with the rest of the LCS ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think costs were starting to run away as well.

      Delete
  10. just a common sense check / question here.. why not adding more HMG pintle mount or 25-30mm auto cannons as counter against swarm attack ? or bring back old 40mm bofors .

    using an expensive NLOS missile to hit a cheapo speedboat / zodiac is rather stupid solution , it reminded me of the expensive irondome folly in israel, where they use a 100.000 missile to hit a $1000 unguided warhead.

    why not using a 7.62 minigun stations on both sides of LCS to stop the swarm attack . that and additional 50 cal HMGs ? or use an anti materiel sniper rifle on the deck ?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "b", small machine guns won't stop speedboats and the range of the guns is too short. The LCS would already be receiving incoming rockets before the boats got within gun range. Also, trying to hit a fast moving, bouncing target from a fast moving, heeling firing platform is impossible.

      As far as Iron Dome, while it may not be the most cost effective solution, it is reasonably effective. The Israelis are spending the money to protect their citizens. That seems like a worthwhile use of money. Do you have a cheaper solution to offer the Israelis?

      Delete
  11. While we are talking about NLOS, I remember something I thought about when the program was still around. It occurred to me that NLOS had was able to fire fifteen round at a time, verse four for conventional AShMs. Logic and mathematics say that should increase the difficulty for a active defense system exponentially. What do other of you think of this analysis.

    ReplyDelete