Before we go any further, let’s acknowledge that you can say anything you want about operating costs by manipulating the list of what’s included or not. Therefore, citing actual numbers borders on pointless. With a common set of criteria, you might be able to compare operating costs of various platforms on a relative basis but that’s about it and even then the criteria will determine the outcome. That said, let’s take a conceptual look at the operating costs of the LCS compared to other ships.
The LCS has an added hurdle in trying to quantify operating costs and that is the fact that the operating and maintenance systems have yet to be worked out, even on paper. Add to that the fact that the Navy still hasn’t figured out the crew size and the attempt to come up with numbers is nearly pointless. Nonetheless, we’ll plunge ahead!
The Navy has identified personnel costs as the single biggest factor in operating costs. With that in mind, the Navy designed the LCS to be minimally manned (some would say that was the main design criteria rather than combat capability!). Of course, with minimal manning the crew is unable to perform shipboard maintenance or repair. That function will be handled by permanent shore based support groups. So, we see that the LCS, by design, has a dedicated “crew” that stays on shore rather than going to sea with the ship. Thus, the effective crew size is not just the number of sailors on board the ship but is, instead, the total of the shipboard crew plus the maintenance personnel on shore. A rational discussion of LCS operating costs must include the shore based personnel and recognize that the shore component supports multiple ships so it’s not a simple “add’em up” situation.
Further, the Navy is using a 3:2 system of crewing. Three crews rotate among two ships.
Thus, the effective crew size for discussion of operating costs is not the single ship, apparent crew size of around 40 (or 60 or whatever number the Navy eventually settles on) but, rather, three crews plus some portion of shore based personnel all divided by two ships. See how difficult it is to discuss this?
The Navy is proudly proclaiming that the LCS is minimally manned and will save huge amounts of money in lifetime operating costs (mainly personnel). While I don’t know the basis for their claims, I’m fairly confident that they aren’t accounting for the factors we just described. A reasonable estimate of effective per ship crew size is probably on the order of 120 for the ship itself and an additional 40 or so helo crew/support and module specialists. That would be a total of around 160 per ship. Hey, wait a minute, isn’t that about what a Perry FFG crew size is? But I digress …
The other unknown aspect to the LCS operating costs is the shore based maintenance system. We’ve already seen that the Navy has had to scramble to fly in parts to support the USS Freedom in
. That kind of dynamic supply system for even simple parts will impose a huge cost burden. Also, due to Singapore law, the maintenance personnel must be from US companies. Specialized maintenance personnel will be hopscotching around the world trying to take care of the ships. When you factor in the personnel costs, the custom travel, the aircraft required for personnel and parts transportation, the maintenance of the transport aircraft, and the many other factors, it’s easy to see that the postulated maintenance system will be very expensive. To be fair, conventional ships make use of shore based support, also, but not anywhere near the extent to which the LCS will. US
I’m not even going to attempt to guesstimate an actual lifetime operating cost number (and if the Navy does so, they’re making it up). Suffice it to say that the costs are most likely going to be far higher than what the Navy has suggested and the LCS is probably going to turn out to be more expensive then a conventional ship, not less.