Since the day the first LCS was announced, observers have analyzed the fundamental LCS concept and found it to be badly flawed. I won’t bother reciting the litany of flaws inherent in both the ship and its operational concept (to the extent that the Navy had an operational concept – the lack thereof being one of the flaws!). They are legion. My general sense is that 90% of observers outside the Navy viewed the vessel as badly flawed. The Navy, however, steadfastly ignored observers and pressed forward, undeterred, in the face of an endless series of failures of the ship, the modules, and the concept. Actual deployments only solidified and reinforced the critical observations. Still, the Navy trumpeted the “success” of the program, going so far as to falsify conclusions about the
’s failed deployment to make it seem like a success. Fort Worth
Now, the Navy has come out with the results of an internal review and are going to make fairly sweeping changes that effectively end the LCS concept and tacitly acknowledge that the program was a complete and utter failure.
Here are the specific changes that have been announced (1, 2) in a public statement released by VAdm. Tom Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Forces (3).
Manning – The vaunted 3:2:1 manning arrangement which would, supposedly, have produced previously unseen increases in actual deployment time while minimizing crew fatigue and without jeopardizing ship maintenance is being abandoned in favor of a blue/gold dual crew manning arrangement like the SSBNs use. Two crews will alternate on each ship every four or five months.
Modularity – The entire concept of modules being swapped out on a frequent basis as needs dictated is being abandoned. Each ship will be initially equipped with a given module type which will be permanently embarked for the life of the ship.
Crew Size – The minimal manning effort has been abandoned. The new crew size will be 70 core crew plus 23 aviation crew for a total of 93 crewmembers per ship.
Retirement – The first four LCSs (two of each version) are being removed from regular deployments and will be used as test/training platforms.
Organization – The remaining LCSs will be organized in four-ship divisions. All the Freedom variants (3 divisions) will be home ported on the east coast and the
variants (3 divisions) will be home ported on the
west coast. Each division will be
composed of four of the same type of ship (ASW, MCM, or ASuW). Presumably, this means that on each coast
there will be one division of each type of function. Each division will have one ship designated
as a training ship with a single crew.
The remaining three ships will operate on the blue/gold crewing system. Independence
Deployment – Ships are planned to be forward deployed for 24 months and then rotate back for refit and maintenance. The ships are planned to be operationally available for 50% of their life.
Maintenance – Additional Maintenance Execution Teams will be established within the division organization to augment the preventive and corrective maintenance efforts of the individual ships
Ownership – The statement by Adm. Rowden makes it clear that one of the underlying problems with the program was the lack of ownership caused by the 3:2:1 manning construct. The blue/gold manning is intended to increase the sense of ownership by the crews. By implication, it is hoped that increased ownership will help prevent the crew-related mechanical failures that have plagued the ships.
Now that we see the changes, let’s look at some of these in a bit more detail.
Manning – Do you remember the initial claims that the LCS would be crewed by a core of 40 sailors and a total of around 75 with module and aviation crews? Remember how the Navy crowed about how much smaller the crews were compared to the Perry FFGs? Of course, that was a false claim. Given the 3:2 manning concept, the Navy had 3 crews for each 2 ships which meant that it actually required 225 sailors to man two ships which is an average of 112 per ship compared to the 175 or so for a Perry. Even that ignored the dockside crew requirements that the LCS maintenance model required. So, the actual land and ship crew size was actually just about the same as the Perry.
Now, with the 2:1 crewing and the increased crew size of 93, it requires 186 sailors to crew one ship. That’s actually more than a Perry! And, that still doesn’t take into account the dockside maintenance crew and the newly created Maintenance Execution Teams. Those additions likely put the crew size up around 200 or so – well above a Perry.
So much for the vaunted minimal crew concept.
Modularity – Remember the claims that the LCS would be able to swap functions (modules) at a moment’s notice thereby making the LCS the most flexible and powerful ship in history?
So much for modularity.
Aside from the satisfaction of thumbing our noses at the Navy, there’s a bigger, lingering issue. What are we left with now that each ship will have a single function for its entire service life? We’re left with ships that are not optimized for whatever role they have. This has been the biggest problem with the entire LCS concept. By being modular in design, the ship is not, and cannot be, optimized for any particular function. The seaframe is sub-optimal (ill-suited) for whichever function it has. The LCS is far too loud to be a good ASW vessel. It lacks acoustic isolation of machinery, the water jets are hideously noisy, the self-noise precludes hull mounted sonars, etc. Similarly, the LCS is ill-suited for MCM or ASuW. We now have a class of ship (actually six classes – a Freedom and
variant of each of the three ASW, MCM, and ASuW
ships) that is, by design, ill-suited for its function(s). This is a fatal flaw that will become
painfully and bloodily apparent in combat.
Unfortunately, there is nothing that can be done about it but this
really drives home the inherent flaw in modular designs. Independence
Endurance – The LCS was only sized for about a two week endurance since the maintenance model had it pulling into port every two weeks for maintenance. However, as the crew size has increased, and now with the even larger crew (93), the endurance has got to decrease due to limitations in food storage, cold storage, fresh water capacity, etc. This is a ship that is going to spend very little time at sea during a deployment.
Lifespan – A target of 2 years continuously deployed between refits is absurd, especially for a lightly built vessel that is undermanned and has deferred maintenance built in to its operating concept. These ships will wear out very fast due to programmed systematic neglect. Expect to see these ships retired early – quite early.
Organization – The described divisional organization presumably means 8 LCS of each function type: 8 MCM, 8 ASW, 8 ASuW. That’s a very poor outcome. The LCS was envisioned as the replacement for the Avenger MCM vessels. There were 12 of them and now it looks as if we’re going to replace 12 MCM with only 8 (and no functioning MCM module, as yet !). This is a major blow to our MCM efforts that no one is talking about yet.
Well, the Navy has finally surrendered and admitted that the LCS was a colossal failure and is now correcting those aspects that it can. That’s nice but it would have been a lot cheaper and easier to do so from the beginning. They can’t even claim the problems were only apparent in hindsight because all these problems were apparent to everyone else from day one.
Unfortunately, many LCS problems remain. The basic seaframe has fundamental flaws built in. These ships will never amount to anything and will be retired early. What a shame. What a waste.
Navy, I accept your ignominious surrender. Maybe next time you’ll listen to the critics up front? Who am I kidding? No, you won’t.
(1)USNI News website, “Results of New LCS Review is Departure from Original Vision”, Sam LaGrone,
(2)Breaking Defense website, “Navy Sidelines First 4 LCS; Overhauls Deployment, Crewing”, Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.,