Monday, October 19, 2015

The Death of Modularity

The Death of Modularity

Modularity was always an impractical fantasy for combat platforms and the LCS in particular.  A cursory thought exercise makes clear that the concept is fundamentally flawed.  The odds that a given LCS would happen to have the correct module for a given tactical situation are poor – 33% to be exact.  Further, requiring the vessel to retire from the combat zone for a couple of weeks to get its module changed not only weakens the overall naval force for that period of time but presupposes that the tactical situation and need will have remained unchanged until the LCS returns.  That’s a degree of situational rigidity that naval warfare has rarely or never exhibited.  Further, the Navy’s concept that modules would be warehoused and available in only three locations around the world was another flaw which could only serve to increase the transit times for ships wanting to change modules.  Worse, these warehouses would have presented lucrative and vulnerable targets.

This blog has also debunked the modularity myth from a combat performance standpoint.  I won’t bother repeating the analysis.

Despite all those easily seen flaws in the concept the Navy was adamant that modularity was the way of the future.  Come hell or high water the LCS would be modular.  So, how has that worked out?

Well, due to cost overruns in the LCS program and general budget concerns, the Navy quickly dropped the idea of purchasing extra modules and limited the module buy to just about a 1:1 module to ship ratio.  There would be no extra modules to swap out.  Of course, there were other problems like the instability of the Freedom variant that was unable to move module weights around without very careful and time consuming weight compensation efforts so as to avoid exceeding the vessel’s incline limits.  The swap which was envisioned to occur in hours was found to require several days.  So much for quick swaps!

Regardless, even though the Navy eventually acknowledged that LCS would rarely, if ever, change their modules, modularity was still touted as proper approach.  The fact that budgets and a few unlucky physical characteristics of the ship precluded implementing modularity didn’t sway the Navy’s opinion about the benefits of modularity.

That brings us to the present day.  The new LCS’s will be built with no modularity whatsoever.  As USNI website reports (1), the new LCS will be a conventional, non-modular, multi-mission ship capable of performing surface and anti-submarine warfare simultaneously.

The Navy must be disappointed, huh?  Their vaunted vision of future combat platforms has been completely abandoned.  I’ll bet they still believe modularity is the right approach, don’t you think?  I mean, they were so adamant that it was the only way to design a ship, they must still wish they could implement it.

Or, maybe not  ………….

Huh?

According to the USNI report the Navy now claims that multi-mission is superior.

“Instead, he [Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer, frigate program manager] said the frigate will be more lethal, more survivable, and will be able to conduct surface warfare and ant-submarine warfare simultaneously, whereas the LCS had to choose only one mission package to work with at any given time.”

So now the multi-mission capability of the frigate version of the LCS is a benefit?  Ah, wasn’t that what the LCS critics said years ago?  It’s certainly what ComNavOps has always said.

The Navy’s ability to positively spin either side of an issue is awe-inspiring to behold.  Really, though, what’s the alternative – to admit that modularity was an abject failure?  That would lead to some rather awkward questions about the continuing construction of modular LCS’s.  Say, now that I mention it, why are we continuing to build modular LCS’s when we’ve abandoned the modular swap concept and are now claiming that multi-mission is superior?  Only the Navy knows the answer to that.  Well, the Navy and ComNavOps.  The answer is that the Navy’s goal is not to build ships that are operationally and tactically useful.  No, the Navy’s goal is simply to get as many hulls in the water as possible in order to preserve their slice of the budget pie.  The fact that we’re continuing to build a ship whose operational premise has been abandoned and discredited does not matter to the Navy.  The only thing that matters is that the budget monies continue to flow.

You know, we should look at saving some money by seeing whether the LCS manufacturers would be willing to scrap the vessels as soon as they’re built.  That would be way more efficient and cost effective than having to wait 15 years or so and then find a company to scrap them.  It’s not like the LCS’s will do anything worthwhile while we wait.  But, I digress …

The Navy now officially recognizes what the rest of us have known all along – modularity in combat platforms is a bad idea.  Modularity is dead.


(1)USNI, “Navy’s Future Frigate Will Be Optimized For Lethality, Survivability; Will Not Retain LCS’s Speed”, Megan Eckstein, October 15, 2015,


54 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    1. Did you read the post?

      "The Navy now officially recognizes what the rest of us have known all along – modularity in COMBAT platforms is a bad idea. Modularity is dead."

      "COMBAT"

      Modularity in support functions or non-critical tasks is fine.

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    3. The problem is the concept itself is quite flawed.

      If you want hyper-specialized modules, then you must:

      1. Be able to change these modules very quickly or you will be in port for weeks/months during critical times

      2. Have your sailors and maintenance crews be very competent at every possible module (lots of training there)

      3. All modules must be very reliable. These sorts of things tend to fail when you need them the most.

      Otherwise the Module concept simply cannot work.

      Finally, the cost of these "modular designs" needs to be evaluated vs building more hulls that are cheaper.

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    5. 1. If you have the time to customize your force, pre-deployment then you have time to assemble the ships you want from half way around the world. Plus, if you have any notice of impending hostilities you will undoubtedly already have determined what types of ships you'll need.

      2. It's not enough to just be able to operate the module equipment. Someone needs to understand the tactical application. Who is going to "run" the ship in ASW mode? The Captain? A module specialist? Is it likely that a single Captain can master ASW, MCM, and ASuW? All are full time jobs, individually. No Captain, especially on a chronically undermanned ship, can be a master of the tactical application of all three modes.

      There is a reason why you can't mix and match module components. The modules are supplied in boxed containers. In order to mix and match, you either have to carry the containers for each module which the LCS has neither the space (?) nor weight margins to do or you have to create a new module container containing the mixed components. Then, you have to have software to allow the components to interface and co-operate. Not knowing which components will be mixed and matched, that becomes a huge combination of possibilities. As we've seen with so many programs, software is a severe challenge. Mixing and matching just doesn't seem to be a viable option for the LCS. Also, you suddenly need to mix and match specialist crew. These specialists won't be trained to work together, tactically or technically. Who will command the mixed components tactically? The Captain who hasn't got the time to master all of the individual module tactics?

      What if we find in the next 10-20 years that all of our modular ships have been sunk because they weren't optimized for combat? Remember, if having a modular ship gains us three capabiilties (it doesn't because any single ship can only be one "thing" at a time) then losing a modular ship loses us three capabilities.

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    7. "Lastly, we've already established that modular ships can be "optimized for combat"."

      No, we have not. Quite the opposite. We've established that we cannot produce a modular "hauler" that is optimized for combat.

      If we build all the specialized features into the basic seaframe that would allow the vessel to function effectively in the various roles, we will have lost the fundamental characteristic that defines the modular seaframe - cheapness! Adding extreme quieting, specialized sonars, specialized engines, stealth, armor, or whatever a basic seaframe would need to be "optimized for combat" would add so much cost that we would no longer have a CHEAP "hauler".

      So, no.

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    8. "Honestly, though, if the ASW module is only $21 million, i'd consider just hard wiring it into every ship."

      And now you're recognizing the value of the multi-function ship as opposed to the single function, modular ship that can only perform one function at a time. Welcome aboard the non-modular train. It took you a while but better late than never!

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    9. "You can't just "assemble ships you want". Ships are on certain force rotation cycles, and are assigned to different AORs."

      Oh, good grief. You think we'll have a war and won't reassign ships because they're on deployment or the war is outside their theater? We'll assemble whatever forces we need from wherever they happen to be.

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    11. "Sure, if you're willing to wait 40-60 days ..."

      How many wars in history have started with absolutely no warning? None. There is always plenty of buildup to the actual conflict - plenty of time to assemble forces.

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    12. "Why does a modular ship have to be single function?"

      Because if it's multi-function, it's no longer modular. It would be a Perry or Burke or whatever.

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    15. You're engaging in revisionist history!

      We knew war with Japan was coming for years. We wargamed it to death. We even knew almost to the day when Pearl Harbor would occur. Why we did nothing about it is a mystery to this day but we had months and years of warning and preparation. We fortified Wake and other islands. We were building up our forces in anticipation of war.

      Likewise, everyone knew Germany was gearing up for war. There was no surprise. Europe opted for appeasement and paid the price but the French built extensive fortifications (to no avail) which demonstrates that the war was not a surprise.

      The Iraqi invasion was preceded by months and years of tensions between Iraq and Kuwait over finances, oil, and borders among other things. It was a slow, inevitable buildup to war.

      Wars do not happen spontaneously and instantaneously. They are always preceded by months and years of warnings.

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  2. I have to believe that the original concept of modularity is not flawed, but rather the reality of executing the concept was flawed. One of the earlier concepts of LCS modularity had one platform entering the fight as an ASW platform, retiring for a matter of days to swap modules, and then coming back as an MIW or SUW platform. Its appealing, and makes a lot of sense. Instead of building a large number of single mission platforms, let a single hull host the different capabilities, albeit not simultaneously.

    It quickly became apparent that the concept of swapping hulls “on the fly” was flawed, and so a new concept arose where the modules would be semi-permanent. Modules could still be swapped, but not as rapidly, and only in reaction to a change in the need for the fleet. In many ways, it would embrace some of the best features of both sides of the LCS argument...a cheap, single mission hull that could still evolve through the module mission packages to meet the requirements of an evolving fleet. If the mid-term planning indicated that more ASW platforms would be required, additional hulls would be equipped with the ASW mission packages. If SUW is the mid-term threat, then MIW or ASW packages would be swapped with SUW packages. The common hull would offer up front cost advantages, and the modular mission packages would offer life-cycle cost advantages as the common hulls could be upgraded inexpensively rather than retired as threats or needs evolve.

    Disappointing that the execution was not able to meet the vision.

    - interestedparty

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    1. I get tired of repeating this. A non-optimized, modular platform will lose to an optimized one every time. You can't send a very noisy, non-optimized LCS to perform ASW and expect it to survive. The concept of modularity for combat platforms is fundamentally flawed.

      Quit focusing on cost efficiency. In combat, the only thing that matters is combat efficiency. Stop thinking like an accountant and start thinking like a sailor on a ship who is looking at riding a sub-optimal ship into combat and realizing he doesn't what it takes to win and survive. Combat doesn't care about cost. The winner is the one that fights best not cheapest. Modular vessels, by definition, are not the best.

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    3. There are multiple thoughts/concepts being discussed in the original post and in the replies. Is modularity dead, or the concept of modularity with the LCS dead? The recent announcement for the new frigate based on the LCS hull certainly suggests that the concept of modularity with LCS will not be expanded to that hull, but there is no reason to believe that modularity cannot be successfully implemented. The flaw in LCS was in developing a sub-optimized "truck" focusing on the wrong performance parameters (speed) while not providing nearly enough margin in what turned out to be more important (SWAP).

      And, as B. Smitty pointed out, cost is always a factor. And that's even when including combat efficiency. Combat effectiveness can be driven by sheer numbers, which includes cost. While it's certainly scenario dependent, having four $500M LCS-like platforms with their single mission packages can be superior to a single $2,000M DDG 51 Flight III. There needs to be a good mix of platforms to accomplish all the missions that might be expected to be performed.

      - interestedparty

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    4. "Combat certainly DOES care about costs. Costs impact numbers. Numbers matter in combat. You have said so yourself."

      C'mon, Smitty. I'm talking about the act of combat not an overall campaign or war. Certainly numbers matter - hugely - but the outcomes of the ndividual combats, the one on ones, don't recognize cost, only capability.

      I know you understood that. You're just arguing for the fun of it!

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    5. "... there is no reason to believe that modularity cannot be successfully implemented."

      IP, let me give you an example. If we want to make a modular vessel, let's call it a shallow water (maybe littoral is a better word) combat ship, to conduct surface warfare and ASW by switching out modules, what would the ship need for basic, seaframe characteristics? Well, ASuW would call for high speed, for one thing. That means loud, noisy engines. What does ASW call for? Well, that would be very quiet engines and machinery. You see? The two tasks call for engines that polar opposites. We can't build a single, modular platform that meets the basic seaframe requirements of both tasks unless we're willing to spend enormous sums to, for example, build dual engine trains that we would switch between as the need changes.

      This is why (well one of the reasons, anyway) modularity is just plain unworkable in combat vessels. So, no, there was no reasonable way to implement modularity in the LCS, even in hindsight. Could it have been done better? Yes. Could it have been done well? No.

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    8. Good grief, I know you understand this. I'm not going to belabor it.

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    10. Smitty said: "We've fought plenty of ASuW battles with ships that did not have high speed. In fact, our last major ASW engagement, Op Praying Mantis, included at least three "ASW optimized" ships. None of the ships could make more than 30kts."

      You switched from ASuW to ASW in the middle of this paragraph, then started talking about the speed of ASW ships, when the subject was the speed of ASuW ships. I honestly have no idea what you are trying to say here.

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  3. I think the problem occurs when you have a vessel that is very nearly 100% about the module.

    An LCS is little more than an ocean patrol ship without its modules. Which means when it does a module swap it has to 100% from one role to another. So it goes from 100% ASW asset to 100% Anti surface.

    That’s kind of a problem when the module only makes up 20% of the actual mass of the vessel ( less I think ? ).

    I know this is a bit of a simplistic physics based take on the issue, but I think valid ?

    This is all MASSIVLY compounded by the seemingly random requirement for the LCS to be stupidly fast and tiny. I can’t help but think you might have gotten away with a better success with about 2000 more tonnes to play.

    Two variants of course hasn’t helped.

    The only combat advantage I will laffing postulate is that this modularity “might” help adapt to the fast moving face of …. No sorry I cant finish the sentence, I tried. You could easily just upgrade and separate part of a ship as quickly as a module in nearly all situations.

    Beno

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  4. There is another more serious flaw with Modularity. That is that it allows the Servic3e/PM to say this platform can do anything, with the right add-on. Therefore Admiral or Congressman, you can use this platform for your pet project once you get the money for the add-on. This intellectual corruption strikes at all of the rigor that should do into making a combat vessel.

    So folks are right that applying modularity in an environment where everyone stays focused on building an effective combat vessel is possible. BUT in the present beltway alternate universe, where only money flow counts, it is so corrupting that you get an LCS and NOT a combat vessel.

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    1. You have a possibly profound though there. It's an aspect I hadn't considered. Can the lure (false promise) of magical capability cripple our desire and ability to sit down like professionals and design an actual combat ship?

      Hmm .... Good comment. I'll have to put some though into this.

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  5. Mine warfare ships were always wooden and more recently fiberglass to thwart magnetic/metal sensor activated mines. So how can a metal hulled LCS hunt mines safely?

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    2. You don't put the ship in the minefield. There's a reason that just about every advance in MIW systems are either unmanned or deployed from an aircraft. With the way things are going, a well deck and landing space will be the most important characteristics of an MIW platform.

      -interestedparty

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    3. That's what every Admiral knows, but then we never know where the minefields are which is why so many ships are lost. There are floating mines and other mobile mines, and even "minefields" might be spread across hundreds of miles. Enemies are never kind enough to provide maps. Yes the remotes are best, but you still need a mine warfare ship in the area, and no need to have some blown to bits for "modularity".

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    4. And my design would be hybrid diesel electric, so it can go quiet with little heat signature. There is no reason an anti-helicopter mine cannot be deployed. It hears a loud slow whomp whomp and an AMRAMM is shot to the surface and begins to circle looking for an easy target. Subs should have those too.

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    5. Sub launch anti air missiles already exist.

      German Navy IDAS

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IDAS_(missile)

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    7. "UAV/UUV/USVs."

      That's the theoretical answer. Unfortunately, the LCS' UXXs are limited to pretty much line of sight which means the LCS must stand awfully near, or in, the minefield. The long distance UXX MCM hasn't yet panned out. This was pointed out in a GAO or CRS report. I can't recall the exact reference off the top of my head.

      The LCS may not be operating in the exact center of the minefield but it will be very, very close, especially given the difficulty in determining the exact boundary of a minefield.

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    8. "... I don't get why neither LCS design has a mine and obstacle avoidance sonar. They aren't that expensive."

      Good question. I don't know, either. Hull mounted ASW sonars are reportedly not feasible due to self-noise. Maybe the same reason?

      Maybe the shallow draft results in too much suface noise for a hull mounted sonar? Pure speculation on my part.

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    10. You're probably right although that doesn't explain why, now, we haven't opted to add them. Like so much of the LCS program, it's baffling.

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  6. "The odds that a given LCS would happen to have the correct module for a given tactical situation are poor – 33% to be exact. Further, requiring the vessel to retire from the combat zone for a couple of weeks...."

    I dont think the change of modules is about 1 month this another month that, but about moving in different theatres. Whats important in the North Atlantic could be different for the Gulf.
    The other big advantage of modularity it makes producing a new mission package much much easier and the flip side , ditching the useless one.
    Im think of these modules in terms of their usefulness of around 10-12 years, not whether they are changed every other month. But that quick change works too if your fleet is is split in 3 different locations and the need arises to reduce numbers slightly in one place and boost in another.

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    1. "I dont think the change of modules is about 1 month this another month that, but about moving in different theatres."

      Ztev, don't fall into the trap of after-the-fact rationalization for the LCS. The original intent absolutely was to provide short term tactical flexibility, popping in and out of the operational area, changing modules on a daily to weekly basis. None of this panned out, of course, and now there won't be any module swaps.

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  7. The part that really bothers me is why didn't USN just lease or buy a STANFLEX and used it for a couple of years before deciding to build LCS? It seems to me that we could have saved ourselves a lot of time and money if only we had spent a little money upfront to find out if this works and how to operate it in the real world, we tried to save what? maybe $500 million to a $1 billion but instead spent/spend 10s of billions building a class for nothing.

    USN would have realized this isn't going to work or not quite what they want, we could have avoided the whole LCS fiasco.....


    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/StanFlex

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    1. We also had the opportunity to hold the LCS construction at one of each type and experiment but instead opted to commit to a production run of 55 before the first was built. Truly baffling.

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  8. I've come to the conclusion that the LCS program is more about maintaining DDG procurement than anything else. Specifically, the LCS was the cheapest ship the Navy could purchase will still buying two Burke's a year. Having two manufacturers was sold as a way to keep the price down and the modular concept was an attempt convince people that the Independence and Freedom Class ships would have the equivalent potential of the FFG's they were intended to replace.

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    1. Jay, I don't recognize your name so if you're new, welcome!

      That's an interesting take on the LCS production rationale. I haven't heard that one before. So, you're thinking that if the Navy were to buy a more capable (meaning more expensive) ship, it would threaten the production rate of Burkes and the Navy prioritizes those over a lesser ship. Hmmm ....... Interesting. I'll ponder that.

      Thanks for commenting.

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    2. Not sure you can say that odds a given LCS will have correct module is 1 in 3.

      That implicitly assumes modular configuration is random, and that any mission type is equally likely.

      If we're smart about it, we'd know where to forward deploy a given module. We probably don't for example need a MIW or ASW configured ship off Horn of Africa.

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    3. CNO,

      I've posted sparingly under vandiver49 before. As for the theory, I used the NSC as the point of reference, since I don't think the U.S. could recognize the savings potential of a licensed foreign design built by either HII, or Bath. The Legend Class runs about $700M, but as designed it isn't optimized for the Navy. I don't know how much a Naval version would cost, but I think the Navy's price cutoff for an OHP replacement is $500M. I think the FF version of LCS is going to top out at $600M, but they will but enough of the ships that the price will get below the $500M ceiling.

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  9. Well somebody likes LCS ?

    https://ukdefencejournal.org.uk/saudi-arabia-to-purchase-littoral-combat-ships/

    Look at the sales blurb on that mission set.

    I was so excited I bought four myself.

    Go Saudi Arabia.

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  10. Modularity is far from dead, as the first group of LCS remain modular combatants.

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    1. Lazarus, actually, modularity is dead for the LCS program as the module procurement quantities are going to be limited to essentially one per ship. So, while the capability to swap will still, theoretically exist, there will be nothing to swap with. Once upon a time, we were going to purchase enough modules to enable a 1.5:1 module:ship ratio, as I recall. That subsequently got whittled down to 1.1:1. That's one per ship. No swapping. Modularity is dead for the LCS due to the module inventory numbers, if for no other reason.

      Of course, we could buy more modules buy no one has even broached the subject and given the current budget situation that's high unlikely.

      It doesn't matter whether you or I believe modularity is good or bad, the simple fact is the Navy isn't going to purchase enough modules to enable swapping. No swapping = no modularity.

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