Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Future of the Surface Fleet - Cato Panel

On 21-May-12, the Cato Institute hosted a panel discussion on the Future of the U.S. Navy Surface Fleet.  I listened to the hour and a half or so discussion and came away with a few interesting points that I'd like to pass on to you.  Despite the somewhat general title of the discussion, most of the attention was focused on the LCS.  In no particular order, here are a few quotes made by panel members and worthy of note.

Eric Labs, Congressional Budget Office, while discussing the LCS's roles and concerns about its ability to function as a warship offered this observation.

"However, over the past two years the Navy's justification for the LCS has evolved more to peacetime missions that the navy spends almost all of its time doing anyway."
He then went on to list several peactime missions:  maritime security, engagement with allies, port visits, exercises, and sanctions enforcement.

His point was that in the face of criticisms of the LCS's warfighting limitations even the Navy has started to emphasize that the LCS is going to be more useful and justifiable as a peacetime vessel.  He then went on to suggest that if peacetime operations are the justification it might be worthwhile to look at cheaper alternatives that can conduct the same peacetime missions.  In particular, he suggested that an up-armed version of the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) at $180M per copy might be a better alternative.  Combine Mr. Labs observation with the Navy's own recognition that the LCS is not combat capable as evidenced by CNO Greenert's comment that LCS would not be taking part in combat in high threat environments and you've got to really give some serious thought to the up-armed JHSV concept.  I'm not familiar with the JHSV costs but they're anywhere near the $180M level that Mr. Labs stated, this alternative is well worth considering.

Up-Armed JHSV?
Christopher Preble, former Navy SWO, while discussing the balance between U.S. forces (LCS in particular) and other countries had this to say.

"We're building Coast Guard cutters for other people's coasts"
His point was that the presence of U.S. naval forces may be tempting other countries to refrain from building their own naval forces, knowing that they can always count on the U.S. to protect them.  He cited the current Chinese-Philippines conflict as an example.  This is a very thought-provoking comment.  If we weren't there, would the Philippines or any number of other smaller countries be more likely to build up their own coastal forces?  I don't know whether that's true but, regardless, we should be putting as much pressure as possible on other countries to step up in their own defence, to the maximum extent possible. 

Robert Work, Undersecretary of the Navy, spent the entire time defending the LCS in a rather strident manner.  He flat out stated that if someone doesn't recognize the overwhelming value and capabilities of the LCS, it's because they just don't get it.  In essence, if you don't agree with him, you're just too stupid.  He pretty much explicitly said that, repeatedly.

After listening to this man, I've got to tell you that he is delusional, seriously misguided about the strategic threats in the world, myopic about the LCS, and comes across as a zealot.  Here's an example of one of his delusional mini-rants.

"Cost ...  There is nothing out there that can match the cost of this ship.  Period.  End of story.  If you can find a ship that can do what this ship [does] for a smaller price, we'd be buying it right now."

Upsized, Upgraded Cyclone Class?
Umm ...  OK, even the LCS supporters readily admit that the ship has had serious cost problems and that the cost to value ratio is out of whack.  There are numerous small patrol vessels around the world that have far more capabilites than the LCS and cost less.  Don't want to consider foreign ships, you say?  OK, how about Mr. Labs' up-armed JHSV for $180M?  What about an upgraded, possibly upsized, new build Cyclone for around $40M - $100M per copy?  One of my favorites is the Ambassador MkIII being built in the U.S. by Halter Marine for Egypt at a cost of around $140M per ship.  It's even possible that the Coast Guard's National Security Cutter could be had for less money than the LCS if 55 were purchased.

To say that there is nothing out there that can match the LCS's capabilities for less money is seriously deluded.

Anyone interested in an intelligent, sober, and thoughtful discussion (with the one noted exception!) of the LCS and it's place in the Navy should listen to the panel discussion.

1 comment:

  1. I have listened to the panel discussion sevearl times now, and I agree. Deputy SECVNAV Bob Work deperately tried to make the case that LCS is the only platform on the market that can do the job of a "low end surface combatant". His emotional speech illustrates a scued but analytical view of the issue. He (or his position) is so invested in the preservation of LCS that he does not address the fatal design issues involved with LCS. He does not address many facts associated with the poor performance of both hull types (LCS-1 and LCS-2). He instead makes a great case for a high/low mix.
    While the National Security Cutter would be more expensive to the Navy than an LCS with 1 mission module, the NSC would provide a ship equiped to do any one of the missions without having to leave the AOR, rearm a differnt module, and try to re-enter the engagement zone again.
    While Under SECNAV Work tires to justify the LCS, all he is doing is telling us is that even though the LCS might be a steaming pile of's the only ship we have invested in, so it's the only ship we can purchase for the next 5-6 years...
    That, to me, is a fatal flaw in his logic and approaches USN acquisition on more of a "bean counter" mind set than a "warship" mind set. It is a shame.