Sunday, August 18, 2013

LCS Lifespan

Depending on the source, the target lifespan of the LCS is 25 years.  That seems a bit optimistic given the recent history of early retirements of various ship classes.  For instance, several Aegis Ticonderogas are being retired before the completion of their lifespan, if you can believe that!  As of last year the average age of retired Ticos is just under 21 years.  The most powerful ships we have, and they’re being retired early.  Do you really think the LCS will make its full lifespan?

As a point of comparison, here are the average lifespans of several recently retired or retiring ship classes.

Perry FFG  29 yrs
Tico CG  21 yrs
Los Angeles SSN  33 yrs
Carriers CV  44 yrs
Tarawa LHA  32 yrs
LPD  41 yrs
MHC  11 yrs

Add to that the weak structural design of the vessels and the extensive or exclusive (depending on which version) use of aluminum and the likelihood of achieving the full lifespan becomes even more remote.  Few people realize just how lightly the LCS is constructed.  Even the steel hulled Burkes were built too lightly and are now being forced to undergo a program of structural reinforcement.  The LCS will need major structural modifications and reinforcements to have any chance of reaching their target lifespans.  ComNavOps hears feedback from active duty sailors that the USS Freedom’s passage to Guam and Singapore took a physical toll on the ship and will require repairs and that was for a simple passage in normal seas at moderate to low speed.  This does not bode well for a 25 year lifespan.

Further, the maintenance model for the LCS relegates all routine maintenance to pierside or dockyard availability periods.  The normal, day to day maintenance that is a part of everyday shipboard life will not be performed.  Thus, corrosion will not be dealt with on a regular basis.  This can’t help but take a toll on the ships and their equipment.  We’ve already seen rampant corrosion of internal ship’s equipment on Freedom from saltwater infiltration.  This corrosion is normal saltwater corrosion, not the galvanic corrosion issue, and is not being treated on a daily basis as it would be on other ships.  Add in the fact that maintenance fleetwide has been relegated to an afterthought and it’s not hard to imagine that the LCS’s are going to be worn and tired before their time.

Finally, consider the crewing and deployment arrangement for the LCS.  The LCS model is 3-2, meaning three crews for every two ships so as to allow greater deployment time.  While this sounds fine on paper, it has resulted in worn and tired ships in every instance where it has been tried.  Ships wear out faster when deployed more often.  Kind of obvious, huh?

Considering the above factors, one can’t help but be highly skeptical about the likelihood of the LCS achieving a 25 year lifespan.  A 15 to 20 year life is much more likely.  What does this mean for the Navy?  Well, that mythical 300 ship fleet (assuming one counts the toothless LCS as part of the fleet !) isn’t going to happen and the Navy is going to have to come up with new construction funding much sooner than anticipated.  Worse, given the rampant problems with module development and the greatly reduced number of modules being procured as well as the likelihood of future acquisition reductions, we may actually see some LCSs retired without ever having deployed with a module!


  1. Compare that to the US Coast Guard Cutters. The LCS would not survives as long as the US Coast Guard Cutters. Most US Coast Guard cutters have been rode hard and been built since the Korean/Vietnam war days.

  2. It is worth mentioning that the avg age of the Tico's is brought down by the transition to VLS based Tico's significantly reducing the value of keeping the Arm Launcher based Ticos.

    It is surprising how long the Perry life span has been considering they came fully on the wrong side of a significant technological shift: VLS and have been for year one of the weakest combat ships in the world. They have to rely almost entirely on their embarked Helicopters to do anything.

  3. All you have to do is look at the Australian Navy Armidale class patrol boats which are built by Austal and of aluminium design. While fantastic boats of which i have served on, they are constantly having issues with hull cracking and enduring a high operational tempo which is crippling the platform.
    The LCS may in the future have to look at a continuing production line if it wants the numbers they hope for in a long term planning, they may need to do upgrades and new build ships for LCS-1 and LCS-2 and decommission one at a certain age(say 15 year mark) and build a new ship to replace, keeps the production line jobs going, and allows a vessel to be used and abused and decommssioned with pride then scrapped well after use by date. A little left field but continues capability now and into the future.

  4. ats, remember that the only reason the Navy decommissioned the Mk26 Ticos is because they simply did not want to modernize them with the Mk41 VLS. This modernization was feasible in both forward and aft missile modules. The Navy simply didn't want to keep those 5 CGs.

    There are problems at the core of the Navy.

  5. “”””The LCS model is 3-2, meaning three crews for every two ships so as to allow greater deployment time””’

    I thought that the LCS was doing Blue/Gold manning? That would be 2-1.

    If it is 3-2 that would be worse since crew would be going back and forth between two ships and would not have the strong loyalty to one ship and its condition.

    1. DJF, the 3-2 manning model is mentioned in several sources. For example, the Congressional Research Service report of May 2013 (7-5700) describes the 3-2 manning on page 5.

  6. CNO, one problem you constantly show is your lack of practical engineering practices. Freedon and Independences, plus Fort Worth and Coronado, and possible several of the follow on ships as prototypes, ie ships which primary purpose is to show what is wrong with a certain design, these ships are never indended to have long service lifes as they a full of design mistake that are corrected in latter vessels. If these first vessels have a service life of more that fifteen years it sill be more thought expensive rebuilding than original design.

    Basically that means you can't makes estimates on thing like ship's life expectance based on the first few years of the first ship. The fact is we won't have enough data for even a guessament for seven to eight years. Therefore let stop running out and making grand prediction before we do the first experiment.

    1. GLof, I'm not basing my conclusion on performance of the first ships. I'm basing it on analysis of standard and typical Navy practices and actual lifetimes for various sized ships. The Navy has demonstrated a pronounced tendency to early retire ships, a failure to provide proper maintenance for maximizing lifespans, a preference for new builds versus upgrades, a tendency to underbuild ships in terms of structural strength, etc. None of that is specific to the first few LCS. My conclusion stands.

      By the way, how many LCSs are you willing to allow the Navy to build before you begin to hold them accountable? You mention that the first two ships and up to "several of the follow on ships" should be considered prototypes. Really? The first two (which is fine) plus several follow ships are still prototypes??? Where do you think we should consider the class to no longer be prototypes? LCS-10? LCS-20? Where's your cutoff where you begin to expect actual shiplike performance?

    2. What I look for in ship development programs like the LCS is an ongoing process of improvements. I will accept as the program gets further along, there will be less and less thing that need work, but I expect the Navy to continually look for way to improve these ship. That being said, I kind of think of all ships of a class a something of prototype.

      In classical terms, where prototype means the first ship/ships I say the first six LCS deserve this title as they were indented to be first in ships. Freedom and Independences are frist in research prototypes. Fort Worth and Coronado are more development prototypes, intended too test solution for the problems. And Milwaukee and Jackson are the frist in production prototypes that have most of the bugs work out of the design, but wll continue to need tweaks, as will the follow ships.

      What the Navy is accountable for is continuing too improve the designs, and look for better ways to do things in the future. Something I feel they mostly neglected over the last twenty year.

    3. GLof, I'm not quite sure what to make of that. In a sense, you consider all ships of a class to be prototypes. That's unorthodox but if that's how you want to view it, OK. The problem with that is how do evaluate a class and decide whether it's offering value and should be continued or whether it's a failure and should be discontinued? You seem to be arguing for granting a HUGE benefit of the doubt because you consider the first several ships still prototypes. I'll repeat my question, at what point are you willing to look at the LCS and make a judgement call on the program? Or are you one of those who just wants to grant an open-ended pass on the basis of mythical future improvments?

      We've already built or contracted for 24 ships and several are completed or nearly so. Isn't it fair to assess the class by now?

      I look at a class that's 24 ships into production and still can't contribute anything useful to the fleet and assess that as a failure.

    4. This may seem novel, but I look at not wheither or not a class is successful, but if improvement is possible. The answer then become one of weither it worth continuing the process. A class would become "unsuccessful" and should be replaced when you could not improve it anymore.

      What you want to know is when a class as a group become unsuccessful. I think a class becomes unsuccessfull as a group when you CAN NOT reach their predetermined target or goal. There is always going to be some target to reach, there has to be if the engineers are going to design them properly.

      But as some point, even the most successful ship design must become "unsuccessful". Some may call this obsolescence or being "outdated", what ever you call it, it at the point were improvement is no longer possible and it time to look for a new ship design.

    5. GLof, wow! You are the kind of person the Navy would love to have voting on appropriations, for sure! Given that it's virtually impossible to ever argue that a ship/class CAN'T be improved, you would deem every ship class every built to be a success. Well, you've laid out your criteria and it's not one that can be argued so that's the end of that discussion. I just hope Congress holds the Navy to a higher standard than you do!

      Whether I agree with it or not, your position is interesting, at least. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. ONe point to also consider.

    At the rate the mission packages are getting to Operational Test the first ships will be almost 15 years old.

    Over half the life without its reason for existing? I think on TICO we did it the other way around for a MUCH better result.

    1. Anon, to expand on your point about modules, the modules are being developed and delivered in what the Navy calls Increments. The first few Increments of each module will not meet the program threshold requirements for module performance. It's looking to be around 2020 before the Navy begins to receive module Increments that meet the original threshold requirements. The module delivery/operational dates that the Navy is publicizing are for sub-standard (relative to the threshold requirements) modules.

      For example, the mine countermeasures module will initially provide no improvement over existing capabilities and, in fact, will probably be less capable.

      Similarly, the ASW module uses only existing technology and offers no improvement. While there's nothing wrong with packaging existing technology into a platform (I've actually argued for exactly that under different circumstances!) it can't justify a $50B program intended to comprise a third of the fleet.


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