Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Freedom To The Rescue!

The USS Freedom (LCS-1) is being dispatched to the Philippines, laden with 10 pallets of supplies.  That’s right, a 3000 ton vessel carrying a whopping 10 pallets!  I guess every little bit helps in a disaster but that’s the definition of a little bit. 

Is it just me or does this smack of a PR ploy?  The mighty LCS rushing to save the day with enough supplies to feed a family of four for a couple of days? 

Setting aside my absolute disgust over this transparent stunt, has the Navy considered what will happen if Freedom experiences another one of its all too frequent mechanical failures?  Unlike the Singapore deployment where no one really cared or kept too close a track on the ship’s activities, a failure during this operation, with international press keeping a close watch, would be an enormous embarrassment for the LCS program.  You’ve got to believe there will be some Admirals keeping nervous fingers crossed for the duration of this PR operation.


  1. If they had deployed immediately after the Typhoon hit when every little bit could help it would make sense but at this point its at best a training exercise mixed with lots of PR.

    And ten pallets, the crew will probably eat more then that during the operation.

    Question, I was never on the supply side of the Navy but does the Navy have lists made up of the kind of things that would be needed during a natural disaster so that the ships can draw on local civilian supplies and transport to the needed area? Is there funding for buying this stuff? Navy ships carry a lot of stuff but its all geared toward shipboard use not supplying a town or city after a disaster. Even Amphib ships are geared toward supplying the Marines not supplying large numbers of civilians, ie some MRE’s not tons of rice and rice cookers, some tents, not miles of plastic tarps to temp house a city.

    If the USN is going to be in the disaster response business shouldn’t there be funding, planning, training, etc for this instead of a ad hock rush ships to an area but not having the plans, training and especially material to do much.

  2. Ten pallets, is that one 20 FEUISO box?

  3. It is also bringing an MH-60R and a pretty substantial hangar and flight deck. That's a lot more important in HA/DR than you may realize...

    1. Isn’t the MH-60R interior filled with anti-sub equipment? Can they remove that to increase their ability to act as a transport? I don’t know, I was not a aviation type.

    2. Anon, the aid fleet already consists of the carrier George Washington, two amphibious ships (Germantown and Ashland), plus all their escorts. That's dozens of helos and acres of flight deck scatered over a dozen or so ships. The LCS' single helo and flight deck don't offer any significant addition. It's a PR stunt.

    3. It does have quite a bit of ASW kit... but I think a lot of it removable.

      An MH-60S would actually be better for hauling cargo. No reason they couldn't put a Sierra on LCS.

  4. ComNavOps. GW supposedly going home.

    There are shallow areas where you can"t or won't send a carrier. A shallow water ship that can act as close-to-shore "lillypad" could be quite beneficial to flight ops.

    1. You're serious, aren't you? You really think that the LCS' single helo and flight deck are a significant addition to the dozens of helos, Marine MV-22s, dozen or so flight decks, existing airport/airfields, and thousands of personnel already in place?

      Given the LCS' very short endurance, it's quite possible that the LCS will consume more supplies and cause more disruption with its own refueling and reprovisioning needs than it will distribute and assist!

      The LCS is minimally manned (undermanned!) and, therefore, has no personnel to contribute to the operation.

      Shallow water?! The Philippines is a tiny island(s) surrounded by an ocean. It's not like a carrier, or any ship, needs to anchor 20 ft of shore. GW could stand 1/10/20/50 miles off shore and conduct this work just fine.

      Well, you're entitled to your opinion!

    2. I would not call the Philippines tiny, it covers hundreds of islands, and cover thousands of square miles.
      The Freedom's main usefulness will come after she arrives, not in the ten panels of supplies she cared there. Freedom is design to operate in littoral waters, which describes most of the waters in the
      Philippines. She should be able to carry a couple hundred tons of emergency supplies and equipment and deliver them to those small port that these bigger USN ship could reach. In this way, she and the Western Express would be the most valuable vessel sent by the USN.

    3. GLof, you indirectly raise a very interesting question. You suggest that an LCS can deliver a couple of hundred tons of supplies. This bumps up against two issues. One is the weight margin (reserve) of the ship. Freedom, as you know, had to have water wings welded on to maintain stability and buoyancy reserve. The weight margin is reportedly zero. Could the LCS accomodate a couple hundred tons (400,000 lbs) without exceeding its weight margins? It sounds unlikely given the need for external buoyancy tanks and a zero weight margin but I've not heard anything definitive about cargo loadings.

      The second issue is the loading process, itself. Navy tests of the module swap process demonstrated that the stability issue is a major concern. They found that shifting 15,000 lb module containers required careful counterbalancing so as not to exceed the ship's inclination limits. As a result, the loading process of a single module took multiple days. That suggests that loading a couple hundred tons (400,000 lbs) of supplies would have to be conducted very slowly and carefully and would require days in order to complete, especially since the LCS has no extra crew to work the loading. Unloading would be equally problematic or more so given the probable lack of unloading facilities and crew.

      The weight margins and stability limitations would seem to almost preclude the LCS from a cargo role and the lack of crew would seem to make loading and unloading virtually impossible in any useful time frame.

  5. Sorry... you are wrong on many counts.

    The Philippines is an archipelagic nation. Many little islands, some of which are hard to get to with a supercarrier.

    My point was that LCS should function quite fine as a hello lillypad. The number of crewmen is largely irrelevant.

    Nowhere did I attempt to compare an LCS to a CVN. My point was that CVN is probably going home soon. No reason we can't use LCS as a lillypad. Manning of ship has little to do with effectiveness in that role.

    Your postulations on endurance are just that. I'm fairly sure the ship can stay at sea for a couple weeks. That seems adequate for HA/DR.

    I am not a fan of LCS, but I am even less of a fan of poor, one-sided analysis.

    1. "... hard to get to with a supercarrier." ? What are you trying to do, park the carrier in the middle of town? Seriously, there is no place in the Philippines that isn't in easy reach of a helo from a carrier no matter where the carrier is.

      Hey, I get a kick out of your comments so keep writing!

      You're Matt, aren't you?

    2. Naval helicopters are actually quite limited in their radius of action (ROA). An MH-60R/S fully loaded with supplies and evacuees is limited to an ROA of around 100 nm. And the affected area of Typhoon Haiyan is actually quite large. Try drawing a 100 nm circle around a notional carrier position and see how much of the impact area you can cover.

      Helicopters require routine stops for planned maintenance, crew swaps (If I recall correctly, NATOPS limits are 8 hrs/day for pilots and aircrew). Positioning aviation capable ships close to the scene of action gains maximum efficiency from your helicopters and crews by cutting down on the time ‘wasted’ in transit. It also provides a rest area for aircrews and a ready deck in extremis.

      CVNs are incredibly valuable assets in this type of HA/DR scenario – but they can only be in one place at a time. If I were a C7F HA/DR planner, what I’d really want are multiple “spokes” (i.e. aviation capable surface combatants) which can be distributed in several directions around the “hub” (i.e. aircraft carrier).

      I believe that is the potential value provided by the LCS in this specific HA/DR scenario. I agree the ship itself brought very little in the way of supplies to the problem (10 pallets). And with less than 100 crewmen, it certainly doesn’t have enough manpower to throw at efforts ashore. But does any of that really matter? It isn’t a supply ship, nor is it a gator freighter. A DDG would only be moderately more capable than LCS in the same tasks.

      The LCS does have a relatively large flight deck and hangar for a ship of its size, a shallow draft to get into inlets and other hard to reach places, and plenty of storage space to stage supplies and temporarily house evacuees. As I’ve stated in other posts, just about the only thing LCS designers ‘got right’ was ensuring it had an outsized hangar and flight deck for a ship of its size.

      I’m far from a fan of LCS, nor am I attempting to address its many shortcomings in an actual combat situation. However, I really do think the LCS needs to be examined a bit more objectively in this specific peacetime scenario (HA/DR).

      Questions I would ask:

      1. How will it be employed in this scenario? Does this differ from a destroyer or cruiser?

      2. Is shallow draft actually beneficial or was it unused?

      3. How was the MQ-8B Fire Scout employed? A VTUAV could be very useful for surveillance of impacted areas.

      4. Can LCS provide the same level of utility in HA/DR as larger (and more expensive) surface combatant? We’ve deployed 2 CGs and 2 DDGs, yet and as far as I can tell the ships served solely as airbases for their helos.

    3. The supposed "shallow water" capability of LCS is a myth.
      A cursory examination of history will show that warships have operated extremely close shore all through WWII. The difference in how the navigational draft of LCS and other combatants affects how close to shore ships can get is negligible. And even ten NM in the context of HA is meaningless.

      The gradient in most Pacific islands is actually quite steep.


  6. That is certainly true of most mid-Pacific islands. I am not so sure about Philippines and its 7,000 plus islands.

    I will be interested to see if LCS shallow-draft is meaningfully employed. If not, then that entire design feature (which drove many other compromises) was flawed.


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