Dr. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E), revealed a great deal of previously unknown (at least to me!) information regarding issues with the LCS in a statement to Congress before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee (1). Here’s some highlights with my emphasis added. This is a long post but worth the read.
Regarding survivability, we see what ComNavOps has been saying all along about the LCS’ lack of shock hardening and failure to meet even Level 1 standards, contrary to the Navy’s explicit lies on this matter.
“With respect to survivability, neither LCS variant is expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat because the Navy’s requirements accept the risk of abandoning the ship under circumstances that would not require such an action on other surface combatants. As designed, the LCS lacks the shock hardening, redundancy, and the vertical and longitudinal separation of equipment found in other combatants. … Thus far, the results of the LCS Live Fire Test and Evaluation (LFT&E) program confirm this assessment.”
“…the LFT&E program has already identified over 100 technical improvements that could be applied to improve LCS’s performance against threat weapons, although, given the ships’ fundamental limitations, none of these improvements will make the ships’ survivability comparable to that of the Navy’s other surface combatants.”
Moving on, Gilmore calls into question the very concept of the LCS - that it will free up larger ships for more important missions.
“… the Navy’s CONOPS require LCS, in some scenarios, to remain stationed near much slower units who are providing the LCS with dedicated air defense support to have any reasonable chance of surviving attacks using ASCMs… Moreover, this CONOPS implies that destroyers and cruisers will be required to provide this protection to LCSs, which is contrary to the concept that independently operated LCSs will free up the Navy’s destroyers and cruiser and “allow [them] to focus on the high-end missions,” which is what the Navy has touted in the past.”
DOT&E’s overall assessment is bleak.
“…DOT&E has sufficient data to conclude that both seaframe variants are not operationally suitable …”
“Not operationally suitable” – ouch!
Here’s some failures that weren’t widely known.
“During this last year, problems with main engines, waterjets, communications, air defense systems, and cooling for the combat system occurred regularly …”
It’s distressing that the listed problems occur regularly given that the ships have been in production and operation for several years. They’re no longer first of class problems. At this point, they’re systemic problems.
Gilmore had this to say about reliability,
“… when averaged over time, and accounting for both planned and unplanned maintenance downtimes, LCS 4 was fully mission capable for SUW missions just 24 percent of the 2015 test period.”
“Both variants … have a near-zero chance of completing a 30-day mission (the Navy’s requirement) without a critical failure of one or more seaframe subsystems essential for wartime operations.”
Crew size comes under fire.
“… the small crew size has limited the
from operating with sufficient watchstanders to maintain an alert posture for
extended periods of time.” Independence
The fundamental maintenance concept for the LCS whereby on-board maintenance is deferred is cited as a limiting factor in LCS effectiveness.
“An example of this limitation occurred during LCS 4’s operational testing during 2015 and 2016, where the ship’s primary air defense system, SeaRAM, suffered from seven long periods of downtime (greater than 48 hours).”
The inherent helplessness of the LCS was further highlighted.
“During the LCS 3 operational test period, the crew was unable to repair multiple critical systems, such as the ship’s navigation data distribution system, the air search radar, and Link 16 tactical link, each of which resulted in multiple days of downtime while awaiting assistance from contractors to troubleshoot and repair the systems.”
The LCS air defense capability is also questioned along with previously unreported revelations about SeaRAM problems.
“it is unlikely that LCS will be able to meet the Navy’s requirements for air defens … More recently, limitations in the SeaRAM system (currently installed on
revealed some significant classified concerns.” Independence
One of the oft called for “solutions” to acquisition problems is to buy foreign. DOT&E, however, offers some practical warnings about problems with foreign purchases.
“… the Navy stopped work on the air defense modeling and simulation test bed because it did not have the intellectual property rights and detailed technical information for the ship’s air defense radar (AN/SPS-75). The lack of intellectual property for these foreign radars has been a problem for both variants of LCS, making it difficult for engineers to develop high-fidelity models and understand the capabilities and limitations of these radars or effect changes when problems are found.”
Although the Navy plans to eventually replace the Freedom variant’s RAM with SeaRAM, DOT&E notes an issue with the Navy’s related decision not to test the RAM system.
“… the Navy does not plan to test (at all) the existing Freedom-variant air defense systems installed on LCS 1 through 15. This is a high risk for deploying crews, given that many Freedom-variant ships will deploy between now and 2020 when backfits of the SeaRAM system on those hulls are scheduled to begin.”
Worse, the Navy has cancelled plans to test the
variant’s SeaRAM system. Independence
“The Navy had planned to conduct the first of the planned operationally realistic live-fire events on the self-defense test ship in FY16, but postponed the test indefinitely because of anticipated poor performance predicted by pre-test modeling and analysis of the planned test event scenario.”
Setting aside RAM issues, the Freedom variant has additional AAW issues.
“For the Freedom variant, these tests revealed that because of the limited capabilities of the air defense radar, the crew was unable to detect and track some types of air threats well enough to engage them.”
variant also had threat detection issues. Independence
although the ships relies on the SeaRAM system, the ship’s air surveillance
radar provided LCS crews with only limited warning to defend itself against
ASCMs in certain situations.” Independence
“In the Navy’s developmental test events, we learned that the electro-optical system used to target the seaframe’s gun was unable to provide reliable tracking information against some targets.”
“…the program decided to cancel all subsequent live-fire events, including those scheduled for operational testing, conceding that the
variant is unlikely to be consistently successful
when engaging some of these threats until future upgrades of the tracking
system can be implemented.” Independence
The LCS’ cyber security is also problematic.
“Much of my assessment of the two seaframes’ cybersecurity posture and capabilities is classified and covered in detail in my recent operational test reports. However, I will state that the testing conducted in FY14 on LCS 3, testing conducted in 2015 on LCS 2, and finally the most recent test aboard LCS 4 have revealed significant deficiencies in the ship’s ability to protect the security of information and prevent malicious intrusion. … the severity of the cybersecurity problems discovered on LCS will degrade the operational effectiveness of either variant until the problems are corrected.”
I have repeatedly discussed the shortcomings of the 57 mm gun and opined that reliance on it to stop swarm attacks was flawed. Here is DOT&E’s thoughts.
“The inaccuracy of the targeting systems, the difficulty in establishing a track on the target, and the requirement to hit the target directly when using the point-detonation fuze combine to severely impair effective employment of the gun, and limit effective performance to dangerously short ranges.”
The electro-optical fire control has always been a source of puzzlement and DOT&E singled it out for criticism.
“The ship’s electro-optical/infrared camera, SAFIRE, is the primary sensor for targeting the 57 mm gun. The system suffers from a number of shortcomings that contribute to inconsistent tracking performance against surface and air targets, including a cumbersome human-systems interface, poor auto-tracker performance, and long intervals between laser range finder returns.”
The LCS’ single function limitation is noted.
“LCS will have no capability to detect or defend against torpedoes unless the ASW mission package is embarked … The lack of capability implies that a submarine could launch an attack on an LCS, without the crew knowing that they were under attack …”
The LCS’ single function limitation requires that multiple LCS be used to accomplish a given mission and, worse, may require the addition of an Aegis destroyer to provide the AAW capability that the LCS inherently lacks.
“The original vision, therefore, of a nimble, mission-focused ship has been overcome by the realities of the multi-mission nature of naval warfare combined with the multiple threat environments of high-intensity naval conflicts.
Providing additional warships for LCS protection means stretching already limited battle group air defense assets.”
What about ASW performance? Apparently, the LCS sonar is not optimized for littoral ASW. Wait, what now? Doesn’t the “L” in LCS stand for littoral?
“LCS’s sonar system is specifically optimized for deep water and will not be suitable for some very shallow-water environments such as in the littorals.”
If the LCS does find a submarine, there’s not a lot it can do about it.
“LCS has no organic capability to engage submarines and must rely on a single embarked helicopter to deliver torpedoes …”
In summary, Dr. Gilmore’s assessment of the state of the LCS was brutal and paints a picture of a Navy that is blind and zealous in its pursuit of hulls in the water regardless of capability or lack thereof.
(1) “Statement By J. Michael Gilmore, Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, Office of the Secretary of Defense, Before the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Program”, Dec 8, 2016