Friday, May 13, 2016

An LCS Without Requirements

What requirements do you design a warship to?  That’s seems like a simple question.  You design a warship to its mission requirements, of course.  Mission requirements will set design parameters like speed, range, firepower, armor, survivability, and so forth. 

Unfortunately, the Navy has been designing warships to non-mission requirements like

  • Likelihood of funding
  • Ability to obtain Congressional approval
  • Politics
  • Preservation of the industrial base
  • Cost
  • Public perception
  • Industrial support relative to future jobs after retirement
  • Ability to bypass oversight and reviews

Actual mission requirements have been relegated almost to an afterthought.

Let’s consider the LCS.  The ship was designed to a largely arbitrary set of requirements that were, by the Navy’s own admission, not linked to a concept of operations (CONOPS), since the Navy did not develop a valid CONOPS prior to committing to a full production run.  Further, the LCS failed to achieve many of its key performance requirements such as speed, endurance, range, weight margins, stability margins, etc.

How can the failure to achieve performance requirements be avoided in the future? 

Well, one could make sure that requirements are tightly linked to actual operational needs rather than being arbitrary and unachievable.  One could also make sure that the technology inherent in the desired requirement actually exists.  One could clearly state the requirements in the purchase contract and then absolutely insist that the requirements be met prior to acceptance.  And so on …

Of course, there is one other way to meet requirements and that is to make the requirements not-requirements.  One could write a contract in which the requirements aren’t really requirements so that when they aren’t met, it doesn’t matter.  This seemingly worst possible approach is, naturally, the route the Navy has chosen for the “frigate” version of the LCS.  From the 2015 DOT&E Annual Report comes this stunning paragraph.  Please read it slowly and carefully and then reread it and think very carefully about the implications.

“In August and October 2015, the Navy delivered two drafts of the Capability Design Documents (CDD) that relegate all mission performance measures, other than the two measures for force protection against surface and air threats, to Key System Attributes rather than Key Performance Parameters (KPPs), which permits the combat capabilities desired in these follow-on ships to be traded away as needed to remain within the cost constraints. As a result, the new SSC could, in the extreme, be delivered with less mission capability than desired and with limited improvements to the survivability of the ship in a combat environment. In fact, the SSC could meet all its KPPs without having any mission capability.” [emphasis added]

Realizing that they’ve failed repeatedly to obtain the contracted performance requirements (LCS class, LPD-17 class, and Ford being notable recent examples), the Navy has opted to make the requirements tradable, if desired.

The “frigate” LCS will, apparently, have only two KPPs and could meet those “without having any mission capability”, whatsoever.  Is that stunningly unbelievable?

From the above, we see that the Navy’s main design criteria are not-mission related but cost and public relations related.  The Navy is willing to trade performance requirements for cost and resulting good PR!  They’ll trade away combat effectiveness just to be able to say that the ship came in on time and at cost.  Rather than run an efficient acquisition program, exercise competent oversight, and make the hard call to reject a ship that does not meet requirements, the Navy would rather trade away requirements.

Do you see why I have such a hard time finding things to praise the Navy about?  Do you see why I’m so critical of Navy leadership?


  1. WOW, just wow !

    That is stunning.

    What kind of contract is that ?

    You may as well say you give us all the money and we will maybe let you have a dingy and an M4.

    Airtight legal mumbo jumbo!

    So so many sacking there in various legal and contractual departments I would have thought, even before we start to consider the engineers and managers that should have been involved on both sides of that discussion !

    And it has nothing to say about ASW, NGS etc etc etc ?

  2. Two things struck me:

    A) The Navy never wanted this 'Frigate' LCS. They did it because they were told to. And so now, like my five year old being told to clean up his room, is doing a half arsed job to just satisfy the bare minimums.

    B) And this is where I might be cynical, but the business school grads I run into would LOVE this contract. They already have a ship on the ways and in production that is making them money. Here, they can do all sorts of research to make the frigate, get paid for that, then hang a huge price tag on the sucker at the end so that those frigate requirements get tossed and they can just keep building what they have without incurring any extra cost. They get paid for research that goes nowhere while still making money on the ships they have. Thanks Navy!

    1. "The Navy never wanted this 'Frigate' LCS."

      Why not? I'm not disagreeing, just wondering what you think the reason is? They've never said they didn't want it so what leads you to that conclusion and what would be the Navy's reason for not wanting a more powerful (however slightly) ship?

    2. I'll have to dig, but IIRC the Navy was just going to bang out the 52 copies of the LCS and call it good.

      Chuck Hagel was the one who called on them to truncate the LCS at 32 hulls and then directed them to look at alternate proposals for something more lethal.

      From that I deduced that the Navy didn't want it. Had they wanted a more lethal version of the LCS, they would have built it originally or truncated the buy on their own in order to pursue something more lethal.

      This deduction was reinforced for me when, after being directed to come up with something more lethal, they just shined up the LCS with some vapor ware and said 'Presto!! A more lethal combatant! In fact! We'll call it a Frigate!'


      A) Had nothing happened, no 'Frigate', no 'Small surface combatant'comes to pass.

      B) When directed to truncate true LCS hulls and come up with something more lethal, they came up with.... an LCS with more (theoretical) lethal stuff.


      C) They aren't even holding the 'new' ship to the requirement that it gets all that lethal stuff.

      That tells me they don't want it, and aren't really committed to it.

      As to why don't they want it?? Ultimately, I think they just want hulls to command.

      Oh, I think there is a split of folks in the Navy. Some are True Believers. Read some of the folks over at Information Dissemination to see some. They think the LCS really is the answer for the Navy going forward.

      They see groups of forward based LCS providing presence like crazy and acting as mutually supporting missile platforms in case of war. They see them also doing open ocean escort, anti swarm duties, mine warfare, and humantarian missions. All on the cheap with their blue/gold crews!

      To them, presence is just as, if not more, important than warfighting ability because they feel presence can deter aggression. Your billion dollar cruiser can only do its task in case of war. So if it goes through its life and isn't used that war, or is just used for mundane stuff, it is, in a way, wasted. Their cheap presence boats, however, do their missions ALL THE TIME. Presence presence presence. More hulls = more presence. They are also often the ones who keep quoting the cheap prices.

      I also believe there are others that are more cynical and who don't want something more lethal because it would be of necessity more complex and expensive. And you likely couldn't buy as many in our current acquisition environment. Less hulls, less presence, but for them, less hulls really means less chance for jr. officers to command and less shipbuilding $ from Congress.

      To be clear, I'm not against cheap, purpose built ships.

      When they were being designed, IIRC, the Navy was ruthless about keeping the Perry's within design specs. They had the one armed bandit, the Slick-32, a wierdly placed gun, a tail, and the ability to ship a Helo.

      The Knox frigates weren't mega multi purpose ships. I think they had limited anti surface ability and anti air ability. *But* both were designed to certain survivability specs, and both had what they needed to do their main job. And if you didn't account for them, both could put a Harpoon in you.

    3. A fair analysis. The odd point, though, is that once the decision to procure a more powerful LCS was forced on them, why wouldn't the Navy embrace it? They'd get just as many hulls and they'd potentially be more powerful. That would seem like a win for the Navy. Any yet, they didn't do that, opting instead for the polished up LCS, as you put it.


      Presence is a good argument except that if that were really the reason, they'd get just as many hulls either way and if they truly believed in presence they could build many, many more hulls by building an Ambassador class or upgraded Cyclone class. Something isn't quite right here. There's another line of thought at work in Navy leadership and I don't know what it is.

      If it's not presence, what is it?

    4. Given the unit costs of the LCS, presence is a poor argument. You could get a far better ship for less money than the LCS with more hulls if desired.

      When you factor in the modules, the problems that will no doubt cost a lot of $$$ to be fixed, I would not be surprised if this LCS program ends up at $1 billion per hull, and that is not counting operating costs.

      The "frigate" version will no doubt be even more expensive.

      It's not presence. It's making money for the defense industry. They chose the hull that would get them the most profit.

      The well being of the American people and taxpayer do not matter to the decision makers - only profits.

    5. Great comments Jim Whall and AtlandMain!

  3. I am not very knowledgeable about the USN, but I wonder if this might not be the factor explaining some decisions.

    When looking at a proposed design, ask: if there were another release of Star Wars involving a surface navy, would this design (whatever its real-world defects) be acceptable for inclusion? That would account for the Zumwalt and both versions of LCS.

    Is there a better explanation?

    1. Star Wars? I'm missing your point. Try again.

    2. Will the LCS/frigate have a greater range than the base LCS ?

    3. Unless it's lengthened, and reports indicate that it won't be, it will be slightly heavier so slightly slower and slightly less range.

    4. Point is, if you look at some of the ground-warfare episodes in Star Wars you see futuristic fighting vehicles, many of which are vaguely like contemporary ones only much sleeker and bizarre. When you look at the LCS and particularly the Zumwalt ...

    5. I'm afraid I'm still missing your point. Are you suggesting that sleek, bizarre appearances of vehicles and ships confers some sort of inherent combat capability?

    6. Not at all. What I'm trying to suggest is that a sleek, bizarre, futuristic appearance, vaguely suggestive of Star Wars, may be attractive to persons in the Navy concerned with ordering ships, irrespective of inherent combat capability. If it looks as if it comes from the future, it will be very impressive in PowerPoint presentations, no matter what it does in reality.

    7. Ah, I get your point, now. That's certainly possible although I think the LCS and Zumwalt appearances are more due to stealth (slanted hull and superstructure) and manufacturing considerations (Zumwalt superstructure shape was due to fabrication issues for the wood/resin panels).

  4. Ok here's a question that i haven't seen answered recently

    What class of ship had been tasked with naval warfare being its primary goal verses it being anti air or anti submarine?

    1. No Navy surface ship has surface warfare as its primary mission. You could consider a carrier (meaning the air wing) as a surface warfare ship, depending on how you want to view the question. Also, submarines have anti-surface warfare as a primary mission along with ASW.

  5. "The lessons of the Littoral Combat Program" by Lawrence J Korb.
    " Analyzing the events of the past 15 years reveals at least four reasons for the current mess."

    1. Guest, the article/author fails to note the more important lessons. Care to take a shot at identifying them?

    2. Lesson #1 is that the military industrial complex has a lot of sway with congress and the military.
      Lesson #2) The LCS was designed as a test bed and 24 have been ordered before developmental systems have matured. ( The modules for ASW and MIW for example.)
      Lesson #3) The design of the ship left out enhanced war fighting capabilities such as anti air and anti ship. It seems that the design did not take into account the latest concept of distributed lethality.
      Lesson #4) The navy needs a vessel capable of performing MIW.The latest modules have been failures.
      Lesson #5) The LCS has poor range.

    3. You're right there in the ballpark. There are a host of lessons to be learned but the two main ones are,

      1. Have a concept of operations (CONOPS) when you design. The LCS did not and wound up with capabilities that are of no use (speed) and with a lack of capabilities that it should have (AAW, ASuW), as you point out.

      2. Never commit to a design that involves non-existent technology. Almost none of the module technology existed at design/construction and all have since failed.

      All the other lessons are secondary on a relative basis. For example, the entire collection of cost control and project management failures/lessons could be forgiven or lived with if the ship was actually useful. Another example, lack of range, was a result of not having a CONOPS during design. And so on.


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