Wednesday, December 30, 2015

LX(R) and LCAC

The LCS received intense scrutiny at its inception and that scrutiny continues to this day.  The Zumwalt, by comparison, has received almost none (baffling, huh?).  Somewhere in between is the LX(R).  Let’s take a couple of posts to look a bit closer at the LX(R).  We’ll start with just a quick peak at the LCAC carrying capacity of the LX(R).  This is just setting the stage for a few upcoming LX(R) posts and is not intended to be a deep analysis.  Read this post as a simple factoid, so to speak, that acts as a lead in to more posts.

The Navy intends to replace the LSD-41/49 class ships with a new LX(R) class.  One of the key differences between the old and new ships will be the well deck space and, in particular, the LCAC capacity.  Let’s take a closer look.

The LSD-41 Whidbey Island class dock landing ship is an 8 ship class with the ability to carry 4 LCACs or 5 LCACs if the cargo ramp is raised.  That’s 32 or 40 LCACs, total.

The LSD-49 Harpers Ferry class dock landing ship is a 4 ship class with the ability to carry 2 LCACs.  That’s 8 LCACs, total.

In total, the LSD-41/49 class has a capacity for 40-48 LCACs.

The Navy is planning to replace the 12 LSDs with 11 LX(R)s.  Each LX(R) will carry 2 LCACs for a total of 22.

So, the amphibious fleet will go from 40-48 LCAC capacity to 22.  That’s quite a drop for an amphibious fleet that is already sorely lacking sufficient ship to shore connectors.  Does that signal that the Navy/Marines are getting out of the amphibious assault business altogether, or that the Marines are betting on shifting from amphibious assault to vertical assault, or that they’re just idiots?  I have no idea what the official line of thinking on this one is.  For the moment, ponder this and we’ll take a closer look in a bit.

LSD-41 Class - 4 LCACs

LX(R) Class - 2 LCACs

Sneak peak:  There is actually another, more likely, explanation (although don’t discount the idiocy explanation!) which we’ll cover shortly.


  1. The question is that if these 22 new ships are as good as about 2x as many old ones. Somehow I doubt it.

    Call me a cynic, but knowing the USN's record, they will somehow get this ship overbudget, with various problems that cost a lot of money to resolve, and that this new replacement will somehow not meet expectations in some way.

    Yes it does seem like the USN is leaving the amphibious war business. Whether or not it was a realistic target ever against a capable enemy is open to debate.

  2. I suppose this has a surprising parallel in comparing the cost of the Ford vs the Nimitz class - does the Ford offer improved capability in proportion to the cost? The answer is very likely a "no".

    1. Good point although this is probably not too surprising. This has been the Navy trend in recent decades.

    2. Look, I still surprise how little education there is on engineering economics and non-MBA management of development projects. It seem that every time the lead ships of a class come is over budget, it assume that every ship of that class would cost exactly the same amount. In fact with proper budgeting and planning control, that cost would drop by a third, and maybe up to half that cost is not unheard of in private industry for like projects. all that is necessary is to applied the principles of mass manufacturing, and design simplification.

    3. GLof, the theory is fine but the reality is quite different. Let's look at the carriers. Ford will cost $13B. CVN-79 is projected to cost around $12B and CVN-80 is projected to cost around $14B. These numbers are off the top of my head so they may be off a bit but they illustrate the absence of production cost drops of the size you suggest. Similarly, each Virginia sub is the same or a bit more costly than the preceding one. Likewise, the Zumwalts show no decrease in cost. The Burkes have not gotten cheaper although it is quite difficult to get accurate costs for this class due to Navy accounting changes and manipulations over the years (GFE, hull only contracts, deferred construction, etc.).

      The assumption that follow one ships of a class will cost about the same is actually pretty close to documented fact.

      If you have a ship class that has shown the kind of cost drops you suggest, please share the example.

    4. @G Lof the problem is that historically, the "learning curve" has not happened in the military projects. As CNO notes, we should based on historical data, assume the exact opposite.

      I would love to know why. Accounting is my area of profession, so I am especially interested to see the cost drivers.

      Yes, in the civilian world there is a learning curve. I did once work for one of the big three automakers as a Cost Accountant, so I do have some familiarity with this concept.

      However it does not seem like the military has a learning curve. Whether that is due to sheer incompetence, corruption, a desire to add features (in software this is known as "feature creep"), or some other reason remains to be seen though.

    5. @ CNO & GLOF, your questions are well taken.
      Why did the USN decide to use the LPD-17 Flight II design as a baseline for LXR. First off, Flt II was an admission by Ingalls that they screwed up the original design.
      Secondly you don't have to refer to the carriers when it comes to new ship designs costing MORE just look at HII/Ingalls record. Goto the Shipbuilding History website.
      Thirdly, when ANY ship design is changed as much as the LPD to LXR will be the cost efficiencies tend to evaporate. Even by descoping the design, it still ends up costing more because a complete NEW baseline has to go through the design review process to even get to a final CDR. This is another area where some Marines are not too good at. I hate to see them make ship & construction statements that are obviously wrong~
      (I am not a navrarch nor marine engineer, just a ship acquisition practioner with about two dozen ships to my credit).

    6. leesea, tell me about your acquisition experience. Your observations and experiences might make for a good post subject.

  3. Given all that, the number of LCAC's in a typical ESG will be reduced from 9 to 7. But, since the America and Tripoli lack a well deck, those strike groups will be limited to 4 LCAC's.

    This story doesn't sound like it has a happy ending.

    1. An ARG which includes an America and an LX(R) will have insufficient LCACs to mount or sustain an assault. You have to wonder, then, if it wouldn't make more sense to simply forego the connectors in favor of an all-aviation MEU? It's a stupid idea but it would at least be consistent with the Marine's demonstrated desires and logic. Hmmm ....

    2. There hasn't been an Iwo Jima class LPH in the fleet since 2002. And only the first two Americas will be without a well deck.

    3. CNO,

      How do you come to the conclusion that ARGs with an well deck-less America and an LX(R) will have insufficient LCACs? Did you run the numbers? How many LCACs is "sufficient"?

      A two-LCAC LX(R) will have a lot more cargo cube and vehicle square than one with four LCACs.

      For comparison,

      Vehicles: 11,831 square feet
      Cargo: 8,970 cubic feet

      Vehicles: 20,200 square feet (70% more)
      Cargo: 67,600 cubic feet (750% more!)

      Everything is a trade off.

    4. We did an entire post on sustainment of an assault as a function on numbers of connectors and it was very clear that the current MEU/ARG is incapable of sustaining an operation. Having a few less LCACs just moves the needle from impossible to ridiculous, if there's a distinction. All the cargo space in the world doesn't matter if you can't get it ashore in a timely manner. In fact, I've read nothing that indicates the Marines thought they were previously volume or space limited so additional room is not all that helpful.

      Everything is not a trade off in this case. In this case, it's all about connectors, connectors, connectors.

    5. If you haven't read about MAGTFS being volume, space and weight constrained, then, respectfully, you haven't read enough. ;)

      There's a balance point where adding more LCACs really doesn't buy you much. Offload will be constrained by other factors.

    6. I've read that as the various vehicles and whatnot have gained weight and volume the storage is becoming an issue, yes. I have not read that any piece of Marine gear has been left behind on deployment due to space limitations. Do you have any evidence that that has occurred?

      There's a balance point where adding more cargo room really doesn't buy you much. Offload is constrained by connectors.

      The current amphibious assault and sustainment is connector limited.

    7. Every 3-ship ARG configuration, using existing classes, and only one large deck, is deficient in cargo cube, vehicle square and other capacities.

      It's standard practice to tailor the MEU's equipment and cargo set to fit the constraints of the ARG. In short, they always leave something behind.

      In that last one, see page 25 for a modeled example of what I meant. The MEU offload curve flattens at around 6 LCACs.

      Of course, distances and other factors play a role.

    8. Where to start? Well, let me begin by saying thanks for the links. I hadn't seen that one.

      Now, this is a comment so I simply can't offer a rigorous analysis of the report. Suffice it to say that the holes in this report are big enough to drive a tank through. Just a few examples,

      Did you note the LCAC transit times used in the analysis? 10-30 minutes!!! Not exactly in line with the 50+ mile standoff that the Marines/Navy want to use.

      The "performances" were not defined. For example, the "off load of the MEU" was not defined. Off load just troops? Everything the MEU brought?

      The numbers don't stand up. 6 LCAC to off load a MEU in 18 hrs. 2400 troops in a MEU and 180 (probably less, now) troops per LCAC lift equates to 14 LCAC loads. Factoring in time to load, unload, refuel, transit (50 miles at 30 kts is around 2 hrs, one way), we can perhaps posit a cycle time of 8 hrs, generously. That gives us 12 LCAC loads in 16 hrs and a couple of loads of troops left over. So, that 18 hr figure is close but not correct and covers troops only, not an offload of the entire MEU.

      In addition, the analysis did not consider combat losses of LCACs (huge effect!), maintenance losses during the operation (these are finicky beasts, at best!), or the fact that LCACs are not considered first wave landers!!!

      In short, this report was an example of a conceptual analysis totally divorced from reality. That said, it contains interesting data that is worth additional study.

      Reflecting on our previous analysis of assault sustainment deficiencies and the loss of LCACs in the ARG, this only reinforces the conclusion that we are not serious about amphibious assaults.

      By the way, did you catch the part about the MEU not being adversely affected by any equipment shortages?

      If it were not such a dry and technical subject that would appeal to so few people, I'd love to do a detailed analysis of the report. Oh well ....

    9. Offloading the MEU is likely a combination of helo lift and LCACs. They don't give distances involved but do consider both "near" and "far" scenarios.

      They assumed 85% availability for LCACs.

      Troops don't normally move on LCACs. They move via aviation, AAV, or LCUs.

      Lastly, remember, the MEU does not conduct forcible-entry operations. That's the job of the MEB or MEF.

      A MEB resides on seventeen amphibious ships. If the average LCAC capacity is 2 per ship, then a MEB-sized MAGTF will have 34 LCAC spots vs a MEB requirement of 27 LCACs.

    10. Though not explicitly saying so in this post, I'm concerned with BOTH the transport of troops and, far more importantly, the sustainment of those troops. Again, I refer you to our previous post on the subject and the grim arithmetic. The report did state the distance in the slide show - 10-30 min transit - entirely unrealistic for both transport and sustainment. There is just no way to manipulate the data to come up with a conclusion of adequate connectors. If the Marines truly believe these kinds of reports (and they are just student offerings) then they're kidding themselves just like they're kidding themselves about gun support from the Navy.

      Just to be clear, I'm concerned only with forcible entry against a peer (opposed assault). Any other lesser scenario takes care of itself as a subset of that. Troops will NOT move ashore via helos/V-22s (well, not alive anyway) in an opposed assault.

      The report totally ignores attrition. Throw in a 20%-30% attrition per wave and the entire operation quickly breaks down and certainly becomes unsustainable.

    11. Again, troops don't go ashore via LCAC. LCACs have to be outfitted with a special personnel transport module to carry more than a handful. That isn't normally done.

      You have unrealistic expectations. Your replay of D-Day would likely require multiple divisions - a full corps-sized assault.

      The Marine Corps and the amphibious fleet aren't sized for that. The entire amphibious fleet can only lift two brigades.

      Think Tarawa or Tinian, not Normandy. Maybe Inchon, if we scrape together every ship in the fleet and pack them tightly.

      The ENTIRE active Marine Corps is only 60% of the size of the force that landed at Okinawa and only a quarter of the size of the Normandy landing force.

    12. Actually, I have no idea what your "forcible entry against a peer" would require.

      Let's stop being vague. How about defining a realistic example of what you expect the Marines to do.

      Where? Against what sized enemy? How large of a landing force?

      Are you expecting them to invade mainland China? Retake Taiwan after a Chinese invasion? Assault an island in the Pacific held by the Chinese?

      Lay out some parameters for this "peer" assault.

    13. "You have unrealistic expectations. Your replay of D-Day would likely require multiple divisions - a full corps-sized assault."

      Have you been reading the blog for awhile??! I have no expectation that we can conduct a sizable forcible entry assault. Quite the opposite! I've stated that I don't believe we have the capability to conduct such an assault. I don't believe we have the capability to conduct even a lesser opposed landing. Further, I don't foresee a realistic scenario involving an opposed landing (which calls into question the existence of the amphibious fleet and the size/structure of the Corps!).

      I'm simply examining the Marine's claim that they can conduct an opposed landing. Nothing in their doctrine suggests that they qualify their claims of amphibious assault. Quite the opposite. Their doctrine talks about unlimited opposed landings (taken to mean up to the entire Corps). With that the case, I'm examining whether they can do what they claim. Sadly, the answer is, not even close.

      I hope that makes what I'm talking about clear.

    14. "How about defining a realistic example of what you expect the Marines to do."

      I don't expect them to do anything!!!!! The purpose of these and other posts is to examine the Marine's own doctrine and point out the shortcomings (huge!). When I talk about them conducting assaults, I'm "quoting" their own doctrine, not my opinions/beliefs. I don't think they and the Navy have the ability to conduct anything but unopposed landings which a cruise ship could also do.

      Somewhere along the line you've acquired a distorted view of my writings (which may be a scathing indictment of my writing ability!).

      Does this make things clear?

    15. This was produced by the Marine Corp's Amphibious Capabilities Working Group,

      They never mention assaulting a peer (i.e. China).

      They wargamed three scenarios: a small, a medium, and a large assault.

      The large scenario featured a MEF(-) sized force with 28 amphibious ships. It required 51 LCACs and 9 LCUs.

      All three scenarios included the expected range of A2AD threats.

    16. I read that buzzword bingo, ah, I mean report. It was a waste of time. If that's what's passing for critical thought in the Corps, we're in trouble.

    17. Still, there is no requirement to have a Marine Corps capable of invading China.

    18. There are no qualifiers in any of the doctrine documents. Nowhere does it say the Marines will conduct assaults only up to a certain point. They all simply say that the Marines will conduct amphibious assaults. Either they need to qualify the doctrine or they need to be able to carry out the worst case which would be an opposed landing against a peer. It's really pretty simple.

    19. The qualifiers are in the overall force planning, going back through multiple QDRs and other strategic reviews.

      The size of the Marine Corps is determined by the need for sustained forward presence, as well as combat in one or more Major Regional Contingencies (MRCs): always assumed (for better or worse) to mean roughly Desert Storm-sized conflicts.

      The 2014 QDR states, "If deterrence fails at any given time, U.S. forces will be capable of defeating a regional adversary in a large-scale multi-phased campaign, and denying the objectives of – or imposing unacceptable costs on – a second aggressor in another region."

      A "regional adversary" means someone like Iran or North Korea, not a "peer" like China.

    20. "A "regional adversary" means someone like Iran or North Korea, not a "peer" like China."

      Nothing I've read even hints that "regional" has been defined to exclude China. Do you have something that specifically says this? If not, you're applying your own definition.

      The QDR is not for the Marines, it's for the US. I absolutely do not take it as our position that we are stating in writing that we are incapable of defeating China!

    21. Invading China is never specifically ruled out because it doesn't need to be. The notion is absurd.

      The active PLA alone has over 2 million men under arms. That's larger than the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines combined!

      The Chinese have around 230 nuclear weapons that would be launched against any targets they could find if they weren't able to beat down our tiny landing force by conventional means.

    22. Would you say the notion of building an aircraft that needs two and half decades to enter service and hollows the rest of the military is absurd and would never happen? Would you say prioritizing gender norm'ed training to the overall detriment of our combat capability is absurd and would never happen? Would you say attempting amphibious landings from 50+ miles with AAVs that can't swim more than a mile or two is absurd and would never happen? I can go on but you get the idea.

      1. We have no idea what we'll actually want to do someday.
      2. The military routinely engages in absurd enterprises.

      Before you continue an argument that I haven't engaged in, I, too, believe an invasion of mainland China is absurd. However, that doesn't rule it out and Marine doctrine IN NO WAY rules it out either explicitly or implicitly.

    23. You are conflating comparatively trivial absurdities with a gross, holistic absurdity (nuclear Armageddon).

      The Marines can't invade Mars either, but that isn't specifically spelled out anywhere in Marine doctrine.

      It should be obvious, because the US military is specifically sized to fight one to two "Major Regional Contingencies" (in the Desert Storm model), and that invading China would be orders of magnitude more involved (not to mention the likelihood of nuclear exchange), that the Marine Corps is not sized, equipped, or doctrinally prepared to invade China.

      So let's drop this "amphibious assault on a peer (aka mainland China)" bar you've set for them. The country has set the bar far lower.

    24. Only you have put forth the nuclear response to an amphibious assault. If China (or anyone else) will begin nuclear warfare over something as militarily minor as an assault and that, therefore, rules out our doing it, then we can pretty much rule out firing a single bullet out of fear of nuclear retaliation. We have our own nuclear weapons and doctrine which would ensure the destruction of the offending country. Having laid that concern to rest ...

      No one but you has limited the military from conducting the highest end possible assault. Probably no one envisioned Normandy or any of the larger Pacific assaults prior to WWII and yet we did them rather than rule them out. No one envisioned an amphibious assault on Japan and yet we were fully prepared to do it.

      I fear we've reached a dead end on this so I'll give you the last word, if you wish, and move on.

    25. D-day wasn't an opposed landing. Inchon wasn't an opposed landing, the island hopping in the pacific were not opposed landings.

      Omaha was only a problem because the americans messed stuff up, and didn't bring any armor.
      Same reason the Dieppe raid failed.

      To amphibiously invade you need a port to dock ships and land/supply troops, you need to seize a port asap
      This means you need to land ARMOR, to seize the port, which will be garrisoned & defended.

      How does that work with current doctrine?

      They need to dump this over the horizon concept, and accept that they actually will have to _LAND TROOPS & TANKS_ to conduct an invasion.

    26. 4,414 Allied dead, 10,000 Allied casualties. But D-Day was not "opposed"?

    27. CNO said, "If China (or anyone else) will begin nuclear warfare over something as militarily minor as an assault "

      Invading mainland China is "militarily minor"? Maybe I'm not understanding what your meaning is here.

      If China decided to invade the US, I think it might be front page news... Maybe. ;)

      Do you consider D-Day a "militarily minor" incident?

    28. Dakota Wood at the CSBA agrees with me,

      "Currently, China is able to field approximately fifty-one divisions of conventional ground forces (infantry, mechanized infantry, armored, airborne, and amphibious) in its (active) standing army of 1.25 million. By any measure, the United States would be hard-pressed to field land forces at a comparable scale, much less deploy them to the region for use against mainland China. Given that the Navy only has sufficient lift to support 2.5 brigades of Marine combat forces—units specifically designed for forcible entry operations from the sea—it is clearly implausible to suggest that the United States would consider deploying large numbers of ground forces for sustained operations against the People’s Liberation Army on its home soil. Aside from the amphibious ships in its naval fleet, the only means the United States has of introducing ground combat units into a theater of operations is to ship such forces through large commercial ports capable of handling the deep-draft vessels the Military Sealift Command uses to ferry all of the heavy equipment associated with such units. Since China possesses the means to hold all port facilities at risk within any operationally relevant distance from its shores, a large-scale landing of US ground forces appears to be out of the question."

      (pg 56)

      Read the rest for a better idea of how the Marines would be used in a conflict with China.

    29. He's 100% right - as I've stated repeatedly. I'll try one more time to get you to understand what I'm saying. NOTHING in the Marine assault doctrine and documents rules out assaults over a given threshold. That being the case, I'm examining the Marine's assault capability and finding it lacking - severely - even for much lesser levels. I know of no serious student of military theory who believes the introduction of US ground forces into mainland China would be a good idea. On the other hand, an assault against a seized Taiwan is a possibility as are assaults on any of the first chain islands that China might seize. You're trying to argue a point that I haven't made.

    30. Hmm, well it sure seemed like a point you have consistently tried to make. "Amphibious assault against a peer" has been a frequent refrain. Perhaps I have misread.

    31. Amphibious assault against a peer is the Marine's claim via their doctrine and documentation. I'm simply examining the viability of that claim.

    32. Once again, they don't "claim" that.

      You won't find any writing in Marine documentation or documents that asserts the viability of invading mainland China. Perhaps, as Dakota Woods says, Marines would be used to attack Chinese outposts, but that's a different animal entirely.

      They just don't specifically rule it out in their doctrinal writings. They also don't specifically rule out everything else they can't do. That's not the purpose of doctrine.

      Doctrine speaks in abstracts about how to fight abstract opponents. Much doctrine in the past has been geared towards fighting Soviet-style formations, but that didn't mean the Marines claimed a viable ability to assault Russia.

  4. First, I don't know where you were while me and the rest of the Naval Interest Groups were fighting about the DD-21/DD(x), but I assure you she receive their far share of scrutiny. Starting with the size and shape of the hull, to type of their generators and motors, the numbers of missiles carried by each unit and of course their automation and crew size. It was this ships that inspired my naming Rumsfeld's staff the New LightWeight Mafia. As things have turn out, my prediction about their cutting the Zumwalts size has was wrong, the result were far worse than even I expected. Have any of you wonder what the critical flaw in the SPY-4 was, could it be that the working version, like those on the FORD class, was too heavy, and there as not enough margin left to grow the superstructure?

    Now lets talk about why the number of LCAC was cut in half. Do any of you know why the numbers of missiles carried by the Zumwalts was cut from 128 rounds? It was the because the bureaucrats did not want to buy missiles to fill those missile cells. Those missile would increase their life cycle cost prediction too much. You can look it up if you want, it was clearly stated as the reason the last 16 missiles were cut from the DD(21) requirement.

    I suggest that there is a similar reason the number of LCAC to be carried was reduce. It is because some one want to cut the number of LCAC rebuilds, to save a few pennies.

    1. Do you have any documentation for your claims of SPY-4 flaws and VLS cell cuts? I have not heard those so I'd be very interested in seeing some evidence.

      Regarding your speculation about LCAC quantity reductions, that's a plausible possibility. On the other hand, I tend to lean towards the Marine's demonstrated desire to become a vertical assault force as the rationale.

    2. For the number of missile tube, that was publish some a couple defense industry magazines, and it will take me a little while to dig up the exact issue,it was 9 years ago after all. I seem to remember it was also discuss in the yearly GAO reports, but I don't have that downloads any more.

      The Ford is more due too my personal analysis of the public information. First we know that the SPY-4 is a function radar, if an expensive one due to the low production rate. WE know this because she is being installed on the FORD. Yes the JFK will have a different set of Radars, but that change was driven by cost consideration, not functional.

      The Zumwalt OTOH did have trouble with topside weight. And not even with use of Composite matter , did not generate enough stability improvement to offset the increase weight for the superstructure.

    3. Wow. We should have built the additional missile cells. You can always leave them empty until there is a major war. Hopefully, we could anticipate a conflict and ramp up missile production before hand. It should be easier to build more missiles that refit the ddg, and having the extra capacity matters ifb there is a war.

  5. Former Secretary of the Navy Jim Lehman has a piece on the bloated bureaucracy in the DOD in the Wall Street Journal that's worth a read.

    1. Good thoughts and a nice summary, though nothing surprising to those of us who follow the military. Thanks for the link! I hadn't seen it.


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