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 ………….
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,