Sunday, April 26, 2015

LCS Operating Costs - Follow Up

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 Singapore trip.  If all 32 LCSs are putting into port every couple weeks for routine, scheduled maintenance, that’s going to require a 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?


  1. If I were in charge I would cancel the LCS, and immediately buy a couple dozen Ambassador Class boats and call them frigates.

    I'd then consider buying a couple frigate tenders to support them if deployed, and go through the decades long search for a future ship. (I see these operating out of Bahrain and doing blockade work at places like Yemen and duties in SouthCom.) Meanwhile, these new proven boats will fill a gap I'm surprised Congressmen have not pushed this idea.

    1. It's a reasonable concept and might be attractive to Congress as the Ambassador is built in the US (addresses the jobs issue for Congress).

    2. The Ambassadors aren't frigates. They are relatively short-ranged fast attack craft. Different missions.

    3. Anon is proposing a fairly specific mission for which an Ambassador might be a good fit. I don't think he's proposing them as general purpose frigates. Of course, to be fair, the LCS isn't a frigate either by modern standards.

    4. He's saying cancel a ship that's meant to perform ASW, MIW and limited ASuW (the LCS), with one that's really just a very short-legged missile boat (ASuW) with no aviation, and call it a "frigate".

      I don't see how this is a good fit.

    5. Smitty, oh come on! Be fair. He didn't say that would be his entire plan. He simply highlighted one particular aspect.

      Let's also be fair. Cancelling the LCS is a good first step to almost any plan!

    6. To be fair, he never mentioned any forthcoming parts of his plan, other than the "decades long search for a future ship".

    7. This comment has been removed by the author.

    8. I like those ships, but I don't see them as filling our needs due to no ASW or range. From what I can glean from what the Navy says they want, we need:

      * Small (ish) vessels that are cheaper and more appropriate to anti-piracy, etc. duty than 'Burkes

      * Ships that can do open ocean escort for things like replenishment ships

      * Mine warfare ships

      * ASW ships

      * Littoral presence ships

      * Ships with range (so they are available for the Pacific Pivot.

      To me, the best thing going forward that is buildable right now might be to let the current LCS' focus just on MW and get that module working as well as possible, and then spend the rest of the money slated for the LCS on something like HI Patrol Frigate 4921:

      28kts top speed; 8000 nm range, 12 cell VLS capapble of quad packing 48 ESSM, and launchers for Harpoon (or whatever). It also has a towed array and on board torpedoes.

      It has its own issues I grant you, but I think it fits the Pacific far, far better. And we do our best to get reasonable MW ships out of the already launched LCS.

      Now, its draft is an issue (22ft) but the 'We have to have a Corvette/frigate sized ship in next to the beach' argument never swayed me much.

    9. From Webster's, for those confused by English:

      Full Definition of FRIGATE
      : a light boat propelled originally by oars but later by sails
      : a square-rigged war vessel intermediate between a corvette and a ship of the line
      : a modern warship that is smaller than a destroyer

    10. The modern definition of a frigate is a blue-water surface combatant bigger than a corvette but smaller than a destroyer, often used as an escort. In the USN, the term implies an ASW-focused combatant, with limited AAW capability, but able to perform secondary MIO and other missions. Other nations do build AAW frigates.

      Frigates for most major navies are expected to be globally deployable alone, or as part of a task force.

      The Ambassador class is squarely in the large Fast Attack Craft (FAC), small corvette category. It's combat suite is exclusively ASuW-focused, with short-ranged AAW point-defenses.

      It is very short ranged (significantly worse than even the LCSes). Wikipedia lists 2,000nm at 15kts.

      It is designed to race out of port, find targets, fire its missiles, and retreat back to port under the cover of its CIWS/RAM. In other words, the typical FAC mission.

    11. Anon, lets try to be a little less snarky please?

      Websters isn't the sine qua non of Naval definitions. And naval definitions have been quite confused recently. You have the 9000 ton 'Burkes as Destroyers, which outweight some CL's in WWII, IIRC. You have the Tico's (Cruisers) and the old Spruances (destroyers) built on the same hull....

      Lets look at Mr. Websters definition:

      "A modern warship that is smaller than a destroyer"

      Okay. Does that make the Cyclones Frigates? Their smaller than the IIA Burkes? Are the old Pegasus class Frigates? What about the old swift boats?

    12. We're all aware that modern naval ship designations have become muddled, to say the least. I'm not sure that an on-going debate about definitions is productive unless we somehow tie it to some specific aspect of naval operations or technology. This is probably a good point to let this tangent die.

  2. Personally, I still think we should be employing modernized Super-Gearings in the role of escorts. On-ship crews of ~200 are appropriate damage control for vessels of those sizes; and this allows on-ship repairs.

    I seem to recall a civilian-side study at one point (post 2000) that indicated a Super-Gearing with your 'full range of modern equipment' including an on-board hanger could be achieved for a little under a billion a piece.
    Of course, that's double the cost of the LCS' and naturally that price would have gone up even more by now (due to inflation, etc), but better to have 35 ships that actually do something worthwhile than to have 75 that only look ugly and sink.
    And then you could reduce the costs some by removing some of the Destroyer-style equipment, the study was for replacing the Burkes (of the time, thus Flight I or possibly Flight II) and Spru-cans with Super-Gearings, so there's that.
    (Not arguing in favor of that study, I'm just saying that it was a thing)

    In the old days, Escorts and Destroyers used to share enough similarities that one could be used as training for the other, so having a mini-Burke (or whatever) could actually be a good thing considering training (and part/maintenance) commonality.

    Of course, MORE new construction is hardly the thing we need the most right now, but considering the hole that our navy's choices have pushed us into, I don't see much of a choice at this point.

    - Ray D.

    1. I very much like the Fletcher-Gearing concept within the overall fleet force structure.

  3. CNO,

    Nice analysis. And, I dare say, known to some as well. I bet N80 had this on a spreadsheet.
    In 2009, I escorted a VIP to NAVSEA where he received a briefing on LCS; specifically the cost benefits of a low manned, mission module based system. Briefing sounded good, but the hair stood up on the back of my neck for a few thoughts:
    --when working at OPNAV, the whispers were that "hardware is cheap, people and software are expensive!" So, the personnel savings would likely be offset by the mission modules.
    --But the biggest issue that had me cringing was that since no one knew which modules and how many would be necessary for a specific operation/conflict, each LCS would need to have a full set of modules available. But, if people and software are expensive, and different modules required different manning expertise, the cost of each LCS just skyrocketed.

    It was obvious to me then, and I'm not bright, and it is still obvious now, except, well, none of the modules actually work.


    1. UGH, you bring up an excellent point which I had not accounted for and that is the specialization and, therefore, extraneous nature of the module specialist crews. In order to maintain an inventory of spare modules, it is necessary to also maintain an inventory of spare module specialist crews. These crews must be averaged out and added to any accounting of LCS crew size and operating costs.

      As you state, these issues had to have been known all along. Navy personnel aren't stupid despite the seemingly unending chain of poor decisions they make. They have to know the problems. Why they choose to ignore the problems is a bit baffling but it cant' be from lack of realization.

      Very nice comment. Thanks!

  4. I am convinced that at the Flag Officer Charm Schools they only learn Political Economic Analysis. Whatever sounds politically good, and is a budget plus up passes as sound economic analysis.

    1. Sadly, that all too often does seem to be the end result of flag decision making.

  5. The whole program needs to be scraped and a better ship designed. This is a sunk cost at this point.

    I suspect though that the Navy has lost the criteria as to what constitutes a good ship though.

    1. To repeat a point I've harped at length, what the Navy lacks is a solid CONOPS which would tell them what kind of ship, if any, they need.

  6. Re. Operating Costs of the LCS.

    Another minor point is that the each Freedom class will require its own tanker to support it due to the limited operational range.

    The Navy envisaged a range of 4,300 nautical miles at 20 knots, the original design specification for a Perry-class FFG-7, it then specified a 3,500 nautical miles at 18 knots as physical reality partially impinged on their wishful thinking as to what could be achieved with a 3,500 ton semi-planing 50 knot hull before before a further cut back to current requirement of 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots.

    The DOTE (below) endurance estimate based on actual trials for the Freedom LCS is 1,961 nautical miles at 14.4 knots, assuming it most hold reserves for emergencies of say 30% then the actual operational range would be approx. 1,400 nautical miles at a max.14.4 knots. So unlikely to be operationally effective in the Pacific, Atlantic or Indian oceans except on the fringes.


    Abstract from the FY 2014 DOTE Report Jan. 2015
    "During operational testing, LCS 3 did not demonstrate that it could achieve the Navy requirement for fuel endurance (operating range) at the prescribed transit speed or at sprint speed. Information provided by the Navy indicated that between 91 and 92 percent of the ship’s total diesel fuel (F-76) tank capacity would actually be available for use since some room must be left for expansion when the tanks are filled, a portion of the tanks’ volume is filled with piping and structural members, and a small amount of fuel remains inaccessible when the tanks are emptied. Based on fuel consumption data collected during the test, the ship’s operating range at 14.4 knots is estimated to be approximately 1,961 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 3,500 nautical miles at 14 knots) and the operating range at 43.6 knots is approximately 855 nautical miles (Navy requirement: 1,000 nautical miles at 40 knots). In an emergency, the ship could use its aviation fuel (F-44) to extend the transit and sprint ranges by 360 and 157 nautical miles, respectively. The shortfall in endurance may limit the flexibility of the ship’s operations in the Pacific and place a heavier than anticipated demand on fleet logistics."

  7. I see an opportunity! Add VLS to the SSC and you can have it just be a tanker escort asset; saying in the Pacific it won't be able to stray far from the Tankers anyway!


  8. It's also futile to "save" money on a smaller crew and spend it on a larger number of contractors because the ship is less reliable.

    The other problem is this magnifies any combat problems. If a ship is so unreliable in port, what happens in combat? What will the damage control characteristics be?

    If we want to talk about expensive, talk about the costs of losing a ship and the risks that entails.

  9. Off topic here, but the USAF's latest refueling tanker has also become problem plagued:

    This seems to be the norm in the DoD right now.

    1. Interesting report. Thanks. As a military, we seem to have gone way too far along the "technology for its own sake" path.

    2. I don't agree with everything on that website (the main writer there, Tyler Rogoway does seem at times to be pro-technology), but he does call out problems when he sees them.

      Anyways, here are a couple more of his articles:

      On the USS America and the F-35B:

      He's generally anti-LCS too:


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 30 days in order to reduce spam.