Thursday, January 30, 2014

DOT&E - LPD-17

The San Antonio, LPD-17, class amphibious ship has had a troubled and challenging history, to say the least.  The DOT&E 2013 annual report sheds light on the current status of the class.

The class consists of 11 ships, 9 of which are completed and 2 building.  The lead ship was completed in 2003.  At this point the class should be fully operational and working out any final bugs in the design.  The DOT&E report, however, paints a different picture.

The Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) revealed numerous, serious deficiencies that led DOT&E to evaluate the class as

“… not operationally effective, not operationally suitable, and not survivable in a hostile environment.”

The ship’s combat system, the Ship Self Defense System (SSDS), was found to have major problems which have yet to be corrected.  In fairness, the SSDS is problematic on all ship classes that it is installed on although the LPD-17 class seems particularly affected.

Reliability issues across many different systems continue to plague the class.

The enclosed mast which proved troublesome early on and almost led to the deletion of the feature in the earlier ships continues to be a problem.

Improvements and fixes that the Navy claims to have made have not been validated in follow-on testing (FOT&E).

DOT&E lists many other problems and you can read the report if have an interest in the details.  The salient point is that, now, ten years after the lead ship was completed, the class is still not deemed survivable in combat.  There’s just no excuse for this.  As has been repeatedly pointed out, the Navy is so focused on new construction that existing ships, however new, just don’t get the attention they need.  This is how you build a hollow Navy.


  1. - Building Hulls should not be the challenge.
    - The drive-train is a somewhat modernized current version of the 4-Diesels-on-2-shaft-to-variable-pitch-props geometry proven in the 1980-90s 12-vessel LSD-41/49 classes

    Self-defense systems, very important at 12-25nm inshore, would matter much less with the ARG protected by sheer distance at OTH-100-200.

    Still too big and expensive, with too many eggs in each basket.

    One alternative that has come up is that
    - corrected for inflation,
    - at 2012-14 SLEP-levels of modernization (e.g. all electric systems),
    - even with modest radar-signature-reduction,
    a re-run of the updated smaller LSD-41 class would come in at $650-700 million.

    Cheaper and smaller (16,800 vs. 25,000tons) LSD-41/21 would allow fewer eggs per basket, with more baskets greater forward-deployment flexibility.

    And most importantly, able to carry 6x preloaded LCU-F, ten LSD-41/21 would offer 60 LCU-Fs versus the current twelve LPD-17 offering just 24 LCU-Fs due to their 'shorty' well-deck.

    LPD-17 can carry a lot more into the theater than LSD-41 - BUT can not actually bring that assault-load to the shore in any tactically-effective fashion due to the 'shorty' well-deck, allowing for only 2 LCAC or 1x LCU-1610.

    Designers of LPD-17 had clearly dismissed
    - the relevance of ship-to-shore heavy-lift capacity (astonishing, really !!);

    - assumed no further development in shore-defense capabilities (more astonishing !!) with the class's incapacity to field enough lift to allow the vessels to move further out to OTH-75/100/150/200;

    - clearly assumed the eternal presence of a Carrier-Group to somehow protect the ARG this close to shore, even though DDGs would really want to be further out... quite apart from the time-, logistics-, and political-issues of getting a CSG 'in time' (?) to where a rapid intervention may be called for pronto. That is, if you are willing to risk a Carrier in support of an under-evolved amphibious doctrine based on 12nm ship-to-shore distance...

    Good thing, that the ARG stand-off distances may be significantly moved upwards.

    But that would require matching Connector-capacity... which LPD-17 might offer a modest additional of with 2 LCU-Fs (versus 1x LCU-1610) with an LCAC perhaps on a cross-transom davit, making for 24 LCU-Fs plus 12 LCACs for that LPD-class of 12 vessels.

    Better than nothing, like some well-deck-free or eternally dry well-deck flavors on offer...

    Considering the strategic and tactical opportunities in at least 1.5-1.8 long-well-deck LSD-41/21 per single 'shorty' LPD-17 building again that late 1970s-early '80s design seems quite attractive indeed. After all, offering 6x go-fast heavy-lift Connectors versus 1x or 2x would seem to reflect the USMC's needs more than fewer bigger 'comfy' baskets at mega-cost.

    Connectors matter as they structure the amphib.-ship design and life-time cost-effectiveness in so many ways.

    What is comforting is that no other navy is even remotely as coherent at the USN/USMC team despite these dissonances in vessel-conceptualization such as in LPD-17 or well-deck-'free' 'amphibs'...

  2. Make that 11x LPD-17s... Based on reflexive assumptions from a while back. No change in the argument though !


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