Here’s a follow up note about the LCS operating costs. The LCS was sold, in large part, as a lower operating cost vessel whose operating concept would establish the pattern for future ship classes of all types. The crew would be minimal. Maintenance would not be performed at sea but would be deferred to, and performed by, shore support groups. Multiple crews (similar to Blue/Gold of SSBNs but on a 3 crews for every 2 ships ratio) would maximize underway time. Ships would be forward deployed. And so on.
All of this was supposed to minimize operating costs. The main impact in minimizing costs was, presumably, the greatly reduced crew size given that the Navy claims that personnel costs are the biggest contributor to operating costs. As we saw in the previous post (see, "LCS Operating Costs and Lessons Learned"), that has not turned out to be the case. The issue we want to address today is not whether the original operating cost estimates turned out to be inaccurate but whether the original estimates were ever even remotely realistic.
Smaller crew size means smaller operating costs. Seems straightforward, right? But was it? Setting aside the issue of core crew size, which everyone but the Navy knew on Day One was ridiculously undersized, there is a bigger issue. The twin concepts of reduced manning and multiple crews per ship meant that the personnel costs were going to be bigger than simply adding up the core crew size costs. With the new core crew size of around 50 and the 3:2 crew:ship ratio, that means that the Navy is maintaining 150 crew for each pair of ships or an average of 75 crew per ship. Throw in a helo detachment and the module specialists and the average crew size increases to around 110-120.
On top of that are the mandatory shore maintenance personnel. We don’t know exactly how many of those there will be but we’ve seen that the manning has already tripled over the original estimates, to 862 according to the Navy. Averaged over the initial buy of 32 LCS, that adds an additional 27 crew per ship.
Added to that are the contractor personnel that are dedicated to the LCS. The Navy used teams of 30-70 for Freedom’s
trip. If all 32 LCSs are putting into port every couple weeks for routine, scheduled maintenance, that’s going to require a Singapore LOT of contractors. They, too, have to be accounted for in the operating costs – say, the equivalent of an additional 20 crew per ship.
If you add the total crew and crew equivalents you get an average crew size of somewhere around 165. That’s around the Perry class crew size. Is it really that surprising that operating a Perry size vessel requires a Perry size crew?