Saturday, February 2, 2013

Mr. Work's Wild History Ride

Well, it was bound to happen, I guess.  Not only is the Navy spinning the LCS program and current status as a phenomenal success despite all evidence to the contrary but now they’re going to spin the past as well.  Undersecretary of the Navy Robert Work has penned a 58 page tome (read it here) purporting to describe the history of the LCS’ development.  Shockingly (or maybe not, considering the source), his conclusion is that the Navy got pretty much the exact ship they wanted, at the price they wanted, with the features and performance they wanted.  He uses the “history” to prove his conclusions. 

This is revisionist history at its finest!  He takes known facts such as dates and people and then ascribes thoughts, desires, and motivations to the people that, shockingly, all support the current LCS! 

We’ve previously examined an article published in the Naval Institute Proceedings by one of the originators of the LCS, Capt. Robert Powers (1), in which he describes the origins of the LCS.  Please re-read the post, here.  Capt. Powers article contains virtually nothing that agrees with Mr. Work’s “history”.

For those of us who have followed the LCS program from birth, we recall an endless stream of missteps, contradictory statements from the Navy, complaints from the manufacturers about a total lack of criteria, specifications, and guidance, and a general sense of a program floundering around trying to come up with some semblance of a rationale for the ship and its design.  We recall the original target price of $200M which grew to $700M for LCS-1 and -2.

I’ve spoken with two engineers from LM’s LCS design team and both tell the same story about the total confusion associated with the Navy’s input and guidance.

We’ve listened to various Navy leaders state that the LCS would sail with carrier battle groups, that the LCS would never sail with a carrier battle group, that the LCS was a combat ship and could sail in harm's way without needing any protection beyond what it carried, that the LCS would only operate under the protection of an Aegis umbrella, that the LCS would conduct ASW by releasing a horde of remote unmanned sensors and weapons while standing well out of danger, that the LCS would conduct ASW by using on-board sonars (which it didn’t have!), and so on. 

The LCS clearly never had a realistic concept of operations or a guiding vision driving its development.  The LCS we have now is the result of a sequence of fumbling steps.  Whether the LCS eventually becomes something useful remains to be seen.

Despite all this, Mr. Work’s “history” claims that the development of the LCS was the result of a very careful, thorough, deliberately planned concept and design and is exactly what was desired all along.

No reasonable observer, having watched the LCS development, would believe even a fraction of what Mr. Work has written.  The best I can say about his “history” is that it represents a highly subjective and unlikely interpretation of the actual history.  More realistically, I can say that his piece is a blatant attempt to spin and further demonize critics of the program.  For example, his claims that the LCS costs exactly what the Navy wanted are patently false.  When citing costs, he totally ignores the fact that the costs are for the empty, bare hull only and that the government supplied equipment (sensors, computers, weapons, and everything else that the ship needs to function) probably doubles the actual cost.  He suggests that the modules are just what the Navy wanted and that they turned out to cost far less than anticipated.  As we all know, the modules all failed and the current versions are stripped down shells of what was desired and are largely based on existing technology rather than the futuristic magic modules that were described in Navy Powerpoint slides.  So, sure, the costs of the modules are less than the anticipated $200M per module (which is what the first, aborted module actually did cost!) because they have no capabilities!

I have rarely seen a man so devoid of integrity and honesty and yet so willing to publicly and loudly show it.  The best thing Mr. Work can do is retire which, fortunately, seems to be his plan.  Best wishes, Mr. Work, and please leave as soon as possible.

The really unfortunate aspect of this “history” is that it will, over time, come to be accepted as truth.  Future historians will read it and, not knowing any better, accept it at face value.

(1) United States Naval Institute Proceedings, “Birth of the Littoral Combat Ship”, Captain Robert Powers (Ret), Sep 2012, p.42


  1. Good comments. Too bad your blog is not more widely read.

  2. Mr Works report supports what all the critics of the LCS have said. This was a top down wish based project based more on what the Navy wanted then based on reality.

    The Navy wanted a ship to run with a base crew of 40 so that is what it had without even testing things to see if it could run with 40 personnel

    The Navy wanted a ship that could change out modules in a couple of days without any evidence that they could

    The Navy wanted modules that would outperform ship mounted weapons and sensors not only without evidence but without even knowing what would be in the modules

    The Navy wanted one ship that could do the job of three and poof there was the LCS.

    Even the latest problem with the helo towed mine hunting sonar shows the top down wish approach. They wanted a helo towed sonar so they spent lots of money building it but nobody seems to have tested whether or not a Seahawk helo could tow something the size and weight of the proposed sonar. In a reality based system that would have been the first thing to test with something cheaply made out of welded together steel or aluminum just to see what could be done. The top down approach wanted a towed sonar so it was built whether or not the helo was capable of towing it.

    “””Third, Admiral Clark believed LCS answered the loud calls for defense“transformation” then being made by Secretary of Defense DonaldRumsfeld.””

    This quote stood out to me. While I don’t blame everything on Rumsfeld, the idea of transformation has wrecked many a Pentagon project and wasted huge amounts of money and time. It did not start with Rumsfeld and it has not ended when he left but the idea that the US is somehow going to win based on weapons that are generations ahead of our enemies is something that must be challenged. Its hard enough to come up with a working weapon system, trying to jump generations and even transform warfare is just asking for failure.

    This does not mean they should not experiment, it means first experiment and then when you have some hard data then make the decision to go into production. Instead they want to take what is written on power point, and then go right past experiment and testing to full scale production and base the budget on the hope that what looked good on power point will be available on time and on budget.

    Finally I would point out that while we all like to bash Congress, it was actually Congress which tried at least to get some reality into the LCS program while it was the Pentagon and Navy leadership who was deep in the “transformation” fantasy.


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