Friday, December 2, 2016

Déjà Vu

We’ve beaten the LCS horse repeatedly, to the point that it’s not even fun anymore.  However, it bears one more examination in light of what’s about to happen – more on that later.  I want to examine one aspect, and only one, of the LCS program.  I want to state clearly what the main problem was with LCS acquisition process.

Let’s be clear.  The main overall problem with the LCS was the complete absence of a viable Concept of Operations (CONOPS) prior to committing to production.  This resulted in the disjointed set of design/construction requirements and the subsequent, repeated modifications of those requirements as various individuals attempted to put their own “stamp” on the design based on whatever they believed the LCS should be capable of doing – divorced from any coherent statement of needs derived from a CONOPS.  This lead to runaway costs, ill-suited capabilities, and an utter lack of focus on an operational endpoint – a lack which persists even today.  This, however, is not the problem I want to focus on.  This was the main overall problem but not the main acquisition process problem.

The main acquisition process problem was the commitment to purchase 55 ships before the design of the first one was even finalized.  Common sense and good business principles demand a “try, then buy” approach.  The Navy, in defiance of all common sense, intelligence, experience, and good business principles, opted to “buy, then try”.  The results were predictable. 

The product, the ship, failed to meet expectations by a wide margin.  Even the most ardent supporter has to acknowledge that the LCS has been a disappointment.  Had we bought only a single prototype, thoroughly exercised it, and seen all the problems it had, we would have refused to buy any more or demanded extensive changes prior to buying another.  Either way, we would have come out way ahead of where we are now.  Again, even supporters acknowledge that we should have prototyped the class before committing to the full buy.

If there is any lesson the Navy should have gotten from the LCS debacle it’s this – that you can’t commit to the purchase of an entire class before you even have a design.  Stated in other terms, the lesson the Navy should have gotten from the LCS debacle is that you have to “try, then buy”.  If nothing else, this should be hammered into the Navy acquisition psyche by now, right?

Well, you’re going to be disappointed.

The Navy is pushing Congress to approve the entire 12-ship “frigate” version of the LCS in the form of a block buy.  Here are the damning statements from the recently released GAO report.  Note the time frames.

“… early next year, the Navy plans to request authorization for a block buy of all 12 frigates …” (1)  [emphasis added]

“The Navy plans to request proposals for frigate-specific modifications later in 2017 …” (1)  [emphasis added]

There it is.  The Navy is going to ask for Congressional approval for a block buy of the 12 “frigates” before they have even requested design proposals from industry.  Thus, they are asking Congress to approve a ship that has no design.  This is exactly what happened and what went wrong with the original LCS.  The Navy is going to repeat their idiotic mistake.  Recall that the definition of insanity is to repeat a set of actions and expect a different result.  This is exactly what the Navy is doing.

Circling back to the main problem with the overall LCS program, the lack of a CONOPS, the Navy is set to repeat that mistake, also.  There is no CONOPS for the “frigate” version of the LCS.  Given that the “frigate” will not really be a frigate as compared to any other frigate in the world’s navies, a CONOPS is all the more vital to understand how we will utilize a sub-par “frigate” in a meaningful way so that we can set useful design requirements.  The Navy, however, has opted not to do that.

The magnitude of the sheer stupidity of Navy leadership boggles the mind.  It is incomprehensible.  One of the many definitions of intelligence is the ability to learn.  The Navy appears incapable of learning.  The conclusion is obvious.

The entire Navy leadership, civilian and uniformed, needs to be fired.


(1)GAO, “Littoral Combat Ship and Frigate”, GAO-17-262T, Dec 2016


  1. A common theme of your blog is the wastefulness of the USN procurement processes. Do you think there's hope that the incoming secretary of defence might address these. And where would you suggest he starts. It seems to me that the whole system, from congress through to admirals is corrupt.

    1. A good question. The answer is likely self-evident. The incoming SecDef is, apparently, retired Gen. Mattis (USMC). Thus, he was an active duty general and willingly participated in all the acquisition problems we're discussing. I recall no statements on his part while he served or in the time since, criticizing the acquisition process. I can only conclude that he sees no great problem with the current process. So, to answer your question, no, I see no reason to think he will address any acquisition problems. I hope I'm wrong.

    2. Mattis has not done a tour at Marine Corps systems command or at PP&O (Plans, Policies and Operations) so far as I know. He'll need an experienced Pentagon acquisition manager as his number 2.

  2. So the USN which does not appear to think it needs a frigate since it got rid of all the FFG’s and has no program to replace them will convert the LCS a program which the Navy has said was not a frigate into a frigate by welding in place some weapons and sensors of unknown type and capability.

    Its sounds like the same people are in charge who got us into this mess.

    I am waiting for them to announce that instead of converting one of the two types of LCS into twelve “frigates” that they instead do six of one type and six of the other since this will increase the waste in the program.

    1. "by welding in place some weapons and sensors"

      While a few extra weapons will help, that does not make the LCS a frigate. Worse, all the same inherent problems that the LCS has will still exist in the "frigate" LCS. It will still be structurally understrength, have very short endurance, insufficient food and water storage, undersized crew, no weight margin, borderline stability, loud water jets (how's that ASW going to work?), weak flight decks, etc.

      Bolting a few extra weapons on does not make the LCS a warship.

    2. The Perry's were more destroyer than frigate, so comparisons of an LCS frigate with ASW/ASUW weapons and a destroyer sized ship with a larger AAW missile magazine than the DDG 2 or the DDG 37 class is not accurate.

    3. "comparisons of an LCS frigate "

      The Perrys were at the low end of the frigate spectrum. Setting that aside, though, what would you consider a typical frigate, from among the world's choices, that the LCS could be legitimately compared to and how do you think it stacks up in that comparison?

  3. If you were in charge of the LCS program, what CONOPS do you see as most important for the LCS program and what design changes would you make?

    1. That's a long, involved answer that encompasses geopolitical strategy, force structure, acquisition reform, etc. I've covered much/most of it in previous posts. Peruse the archives and you can get a good feel for it.

      In short, I see no use for a general purpose frigate of the type that most people think of when they imagine a frigate. We already have around 70 Burkes. We don't need a three-quarters Burke that we'll call a frigate. Instead, we need a small, inexpensive, dedicated ASW vessel. We need some other small dedicated vessels that tie into this but I can't cover that in just a comment.

  4. The Washington Examiner reported, "The current fleet of eight ships "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," Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test And Evaluation."

    But, hey, on the bright side . . . there's nothing on the bright side to report.

  5. "we need a small, inexpensive, dedicated ASW vessel."

    More like a Knox class?

    ASW is the thing I'm really confused about with the Navy. I shouldn't be given its other issues, but I've seen more than one example of things like this:

    where a sub is able to penetrate a CVN screen and do some serious damage.

    We know that there is a proliferation of AIP capable subs that are within range of a CVN when a CVN has to operate close off of a coast due to the short legs and limited tanking of the SuperHornets.

    With the Pacific pivot, We know the Chinese use Kilos, AIP type 39's, and are working on type 95's that are supposed to be pretty good. We know the Lada class is starting up again. Even if we ignore CVN's, it looks like our CLF's aren't nearly as well escorted as our other ships, and in a fight in the pacific, they would be key....

    why are we not paying more attention to ASW escorts??

  6. Navy says LCS shock trial results were positive.Test and Evaluation's J. Michael Gilmore had very different message about the success of the test event. My take is that the navy should have tested prototypes thoroughly before advocating full rate production.

  7. As POGO and the defense reformers say "fly before you buy" - or in this case, test the ship before buying.


    @Guest, If there's a discrepancy between the USN's clams and DOT&E's head, Mr. Gilmore, assume that Gilmore is right.

    Judging by what Gilmore rote, the Navy rigged the test.

  8. CNO
    Without getting into a fight with you,
    And I'm not saying you raise many valid points, you do, but i find the premise that you base this particular argument on flawed.
    When faced with an acquisition tender thats likely to be multi billion, and involve over 50 hulls, in terms of the pitch the companies make, theres an enormous investment in tooling infrastructure to facilitate the build. You know this. So, a try, and then buy, supposes asking a private company to potentially bankrupt itself, in the hope that what they produced is to your liking after the fact they've borrowed heavily against a possible 50 more ship order. Its simply unrealistic.
    Yes, there should have been a much more robust and clear cut, and lets face it, curtailed set of requirements for these ships, but a "try and then buy" premise isn't the answer.
    Unless i've misunderstood what you meant by that.

    Likely, the biggest issue that has affected the LCS build is the fact that they took a project that wasn't HUGE to start with, and split it between 2 very disparate contenders, whom pitched 2 totally different ships. At half the contract, looks like neither could be economically produced, hence we have all these latent issues. I'd say its a case of political stupidity/expediency, they needed to keep 2 sets of constituencies happy and left the United States with a failed product.

    1. "Unless i've misunderstood what you meant by that."

      Yes, you've misunderstood. I don't mean that a company should build a ship entirely out of its own money for the Navy to try. I mean that the Navy should pay the full cost for a prototype to try out before buying any more.

      For example, the Navy paid for the first two LCS out of R&D funds rather than conventional SCN funding. That's perfectly reasonable.

      Does that make sense?

    2. You likely know a lot more of how shipyards work, but from what little i know of manufacturing process's that sounds highly unrealistic.
      While it may work for a small parol boat of a few hundred tons, for a fully fledged ship, the tooling for the mass production of the parts that get used to build a ship must run into the billions.
      With that in mind, i dont see how a single ship could possibly be built as a try before you buy concept.

    3. The Navy has a long history of building prototypes. Examples include Long Beach, Enterprise, Skipjack, Nautilus, Wasp, Bainbridge, etc. It's only somewhat recently that the practice has been abandoned.

  9. GAO and DOT&E are playing a DoD power game in regards to LCS. The littoral combatant sea frame has completed all of its testing. Gilmore and Francis have no more bureaucratic influence over the program and are desperate to maintain a negative cast over LCS, so they demand to make the FF variant a separate ACAT 1D program. DOT&E and GAO are the real villains here and not the Navy. LCS is a modular combatant and is intended for changes in CONOPS depending on manning, and what is loaded aboard. Changes should be expected! The ship has in fact met nearly all of its expectations, especially in the LCS-5 and LCS-6 units and forward (LCS 1-4 are developmental.) Gilmore's "operational" tests are at best canned exercises. Most Navy ships fail these DOT&E tests. Francis' GAO claims about LCS costs are equally unfounded. Congress put a cost cap on LCS of $460m (that could be adjusted for inflation) in 2009, and the ship has met this mark ever since. Deliveries of LCS have equally been on time, other than when interfered with by sequestration (a congressional, not a Navy problem.)

    The whole LCS "debate" is a manufactured one of DoD watchdogs like DOT&E and GAO seeking continued relevance. They are the real villains of thr story.

    1. "desperate to maintain a negative cast over LCS"

      Why? What motive do they have?

    2. "DOT&E and GAO are the real villains here"

      So, two separate organizations are both out to "get" the LCS?

      At some point, when enough people/orgs line up against something, we have to begin to at least entertain the possibility that they may be right? Otherwise, it's the Capt. Queeg syndrome - paranoia.

    3. I note that you didn't address the premise of the post - that the Navy is about to repeat the same acquisition mistake they made originally - buying before trying (well, buying before they even have a design in hand). Do you support that or see it as a mistake?

  10. If I get your goal, what we would be looking at is more akin to a updated version of the DE from WW2 than the current Frigates which are basically just lighter armed destroyers.
    The DE's were lighter and cheaper than the destroyers and fulfilled ASW and short range AAW less for the battle fleets than for merchant shipping and coastal protection.
    Part of the problem is that every ship nowadays does EVERYTHING. Burkes are expected to do AAW, ASW, and ASuW, and pretty much everything except launch jets...although some F-35B advocates want that too. A zumwalt is everything plus stealth and big guns with no ammo.
    The DE even with WW2 armament could handle the lesser missions of anti-piracy we are wasting billion-dollar Burkes on.
    What we are basically talking about is a hull-mounted sonar, torpedoes, a SeaRAM or MK56 VLS, and a 30mm.
    Yes, this is what is proposed for the 300-500 million dollar LCS frigate but on a cheaper hull. One choices already being made for the US is the USCG's Fast Response Cutter. A stretched version would cost about 70 millions plus armament/sonar fit. It would be slower than most of the fleet but remember it would mostly escort merchants or forward deploy. And the USCG owns the design so it could be made at multiple yards.

    1. Yes, the equivalent of a WWII DE is approximately what I'm talking about. It would have hull mounted multi-freq sonar, towed array, dipping sonar (think helo dipping sonar on a ship), acoustic isolation on all machinery, Prairie/Masker, ASROC, torpedoes, and a Russian style RBU. This would be a completely focused, state of the art ASW platform on the smallest hull that could accommodate the weapons and sensors.

    2. It should NOT be tied to a specific contractor but rather a design that could be implemented by multiple smaller yards. That would promote competition and speed the rate of production.
      It's too bad the National Security Cutter comes in at 700mill, while it would make a good Perry-style frigate, that is too much for what we are discussing.
      The USN should look at current patrol boat or corvette designs as starting point (hence my mentioning the FRC). Unfortunately, many of the latest offshore patrol vessels are running around 400m, what we are paying for the LCS Even though I would rather pay 400m for a vessel that meets combat standards, it would be hard selling that to a Congress whose members are backing the LCS as being a ready design.

      You could almost look at a new DE as a ASW chopper but with one heck of loiter time. Dipping sonar, torpedoes, maybe sonar buoys.

    3. "implemented by multiple smaller yards."

      Agree completely!

    4. You don't want any of the following: CWIS, helo, or deck gun? Also, do you want the ASROC in VLS cells?

    5. "You don't want any of the following: CWIS, helo, or deck gun? Also, do you want the ASROC in VLS cells?"

      Hey! Cut me some slack! I just sketched the barest bones of the concept. Yes, it would have a CWIS of some sort and a gun.

      The interesting question that you ask is the need for a helo. I'm torn on this. Helos are indisputably useful for ASW but they impose a huge penalty on ships in terms of size (due to hangar and flight deck), cost, and support (av gas, munitions, personnel, berthing, maintenance shops, etc.). Is it worth it? Tough question.

      A single helo borders on worthless due to its limited availability. Multiple helos rapidly increases the size of the vessel and the resulting cost.

      All that said, I tend to favor skipping the helo for this vessel. There are enough other ships around to supply the helos.

      I recognize that this would be a highly debatable point!

    6. Do you have any speed or endurance numbers in mind? I would think this ship would need to keep up with the ships it is protecting.

    7. You should do a post about this dedicated ASW frigate concept. I am really excited about this idea and think it merits more attention.

      Instead of having LCS's, the Navy would be far better off with purpose built ASW frigates. These ships would be low cost so we could use them aggressively against subs and produce them in large numbers. The ASW frigates would operate around valuable ships with the task of protecting those high value hulls from submarine attack. The valuable ships would provide helicopters or fixed wing aircraft to assist the ASW effort. The frigates (which would lack air defense radars) would rely on AAW protection from a Burke or Tico. Since these frigates will be the closest ships to the enemy, they will need strong CWIS and could likely be in the best position to engage targets detected by other assets in the fleet. I can see the frigates possessing 32 VLS cells - 16 loaded with vertical launch ASROC, 8 with quad-packed ESSM, and the last 8 with SM-2. The Frigates would also have the torpedo launchers, rocket depth charges, sonars, quieting, and prairie masker you mentioned. I would also want a deck gun.

      For speed we should probably target no less than 30 knots and a range of 4000 nmi.

    8. Anon,

      I agree with much of what you said with a dedicated ASW platform. You kind of lost me though with a couple of comments.

      "could likely be in the best position to engage targets detected by other assets in the fleet."

      What kind of targets did you have in mind? If the ship is designed to find and eliminate subs, not sure why it would be used against other types of targets.

      Next you said:

      "32 VLS cells - 16 loaded with vertical launch ASROC, 8 with quad-packed ESSM, and the last 8 with SM-2."

      That is a fairly capable AAW package. Combined with your "strong CIWS" platforms, I think your low cost goal and singular focused ship is quickly disappearing.

      "The frigates (which would lack air defense radars)"

      What good are these AAW weapons without the accompanying sensors to detect threats and fire on them??

      I think at most the ship would need a 21 missile RAM or (even better) a 11 missile SeaRAM. That would cover you out to 6 miles for self protection.

      I agree with everything else. Dedicated platform. No helo deck. Always works in concert with Carriers (or something capable of launching helos), 30 kts to keep up with fleet, strong torpedo countermeasures, etc.

    9. Joey and Anon, you both have the right idea. Joey, you're correct about the AAW issue. A dedicated ASW vessel will operate either in a low threat environment or under the Aegis/Standard umbrella. There is no need for Standard missiles. Some combination of ESSM (maybe), RAM/SeaRAM, and CIWS is sufficient.

      I might add a flight deck (no hangar) to allow ASW helos to refuel and rearm without having to return to their ship. As I said, I'm of mixed mind on that one.

    10. I could be talked into a flight deck. I think an even better allocation of the space would be to house 2-4 smaller boats (30-50 ft) equipped with dipping sonars or a towed array/variable depth. You could have small four man crews or (ideally) they would be remotely controlled and therefore drastically increase their staying power.

      It would extend the detection range of the ASW ship (who would still process all the data on board) and extend the on-station time of dipping sonars from a couple of hours with helos to a couple of days with small boats. You could even have one speedy version equipped with torpedoes for prosecution.


    11. I was thinking about using the frigate as a platform to shoot planes or ASM's detected by Aegis ships or E-2's. This concept might not work due to missile guidance or networking issues. However, it does not hurt that much to have 8 extra VLS cells as future proofing. The cells could contain additional VL-ASROC or could be left empty.

      The flight deck becomes more valuable the further apart the frigate operates from the Aegis ship.

      One or two small boats would could take over roles from a helicopter. These boats could be cheaper to operate than an SH-60. The frigate could serve as a command control node for autonomous vehicles like DARPA's ACTUV.

  11. ASW frigates need an acoustic towed array sensor for distance detection to improve the signal-to-noise ratio by signal enhancement and noise reduction of the frigate. A 'cheaper & lighter' ship than a Burke for an ASW frigate must still be designed properly to be operationally effective.

    1) To minimise ship underwater radiated noise need a dedicated hull design.
    2) Ship platform noise to be offset by attenuated mountings and insulation of engines.
    3) Onboard generated noise and vibration causes structural and airborne noise which need to be attenuated by minimising the noise and vibrations propagation paths .

    It's more difficult with a surface ship than a submarine due to noise associated with the air/water interface. So the larger the array the higher resolution and able to reject the noise by using a towed array as far away from the ship as possible.

    Not cheap or able to be designed quickly.

    1. Read my Dec-3 0900 hr reply to John Zolman.

      A conceptual design could be done in a week. A construction design would take longer. None of this is new technology - just repackaging of existing stuff.

      If you eliminate anything that isn't ASW, you're left with a cheap ship. Ships get expensive when you add in a multitude of features. A Flower class corvette or Buckley class DE would probably be about the right size as a design starting point.

    2. While Nick makes some good points> It should be pointed out that a small 24 knot diesel-electric ship will be naturally quieter than a large turbine warship. You not only have less machinery/equipment noise but a smaller crew also reduces noise made by personnel.
      You could also add in a small "trolling motor" that is acoustically isolated but only provides for a quiet crawl, with the main drive used for when more speed is important.
      To provide an example of how do-able a new DE is:
      Buckley class was 1700 tons, 1940’s technology and materials.
      The UK is buying BAE 90 Offshore Patrol vessel as the River class.
      The batch 1 was 1700 tonnes. Newer Batch 2 is 2000 tonnes. 5,500 nm range, 35 days endurance, 24 knots
      The UK is paying for roughly $450mill US for 3 batch 2 with support and spare parts included. The British OPV is kit it with a 30mm cannon, mini-guns and mgs, and a helo deck. .A Thai navy version has a 76mm and two 30mm.
      If the USN buys the design rather than a sole contract, we can have yards competing to build and maybe drop it down to say $120-150mill before fitting it out. Add sonar, better radar, SeaRAM or CIWS fore and aft, or maybe a 76mm fore/SeaRAM aft, and torpedos.
      Even if the fitting out costs $150-250 million more, you are still talking 300-4 million which is less than the LCS “frigate” but more capable. You could even recycle the CIWS and 76mm off retiring Perry’s to save even more. If we made the Burke Flight IV focus AAW (leave off the the ASW suite) then the cost that would go for that could instead be funnelled into the same gear but for the new DE. For the same price as 3 all singing-all dancing Burkes you would get 2 AAW/ABM specialized Burkes and 5-6 ASW specialized ships. And while 3 Burkes placed on ASW picket could do well, For the same price you could have an ASW squadron with 5 DE’s spread over a larger search area with those two burkes providing AAW protection for the squadron.

  12. Worse:

  13. Can anyone speak to the effectiveness of an ASW ship versus a coordinated helo/P-8 ASW effort?

    If it is the case that ships are inherently disadvantaged acoustically because of the air/sea interface, would something like the Independence hull make more sense with its large flight deck for more helicopters?

    1. Helos are fast to respond and versatile and can cover a lot of area. They are also expensive to operate in terms of maintenance and fuel, and carry a smaller loadout in armament and equipment than a ship. Hence the proposal for an ASW Helo-carrier popping back up every decade or so. (Which is an idea I could get behind if done correctly...which is doubtful)
      A ship can loiter for a long, long time. They can also carry a better sonar array. And a CIWS/SeaRAM is better defense against missiles than a helo has.

      As to the P-8A, while I like it quite a bit it requires air/sea supremacy above the water to really be anything other than target for AAW missiles and Jets. I defer to some of the questions about P-8 effectiveness on this site by ComNavOps for any more than that.

    2. ASW is inherently difficult and the more platforms available, the better. So, it's not an either/or choice between an ASW ship and a helo/P-8. We need both. The obvious advantage of the ship is persistence. A P-8 is sporadically available for a very short period. A ship can be on station, anywhere, for an extended time.

      The obvious approach to ASW is helo mother ships (like the old ASW carriers) supplemented by small, dedicated ASW (DE) vessels. Something similar to the WWII hunter/killer groups would probably be effective.

      To specifically answer your question, an Independence LCS can only operate two helos (maybe only one). That's not much return on the size and cost of the LCS. A better approach is a small helo carrier that can operate 6-12 ASW helos.

    3. Thanks for the response John and CNO. I think you make a good point CNO that the more platforms the better.

      I actually think an Independence has the potential to act as a helo mothership. The flight deck is large enough to house two additional helos besides the two that have hangars. Admittedly this is not ideal for keeping all the helos in the best condition. Perhaps a telescoping hangar of some kind could be developed. Ideally they would have put in an elevator that could store additional aircraft below the flight deck. Regardless, if four helicopters could operate from an independence in an ASW role, and be somewhat complimented by the ship itself being equipped with ASW tools, the value of the ships drastically increases.

    4. There's a reason why ships that operate helos have hangars. Helos aren't meant to sit out and be continually exposed to the sea. Plus, helos are maintenance intensive and hangars are required for maintenance. Now, a rebuild of the LCS into a helo carrier is possible, as you suggest, and might be worth a look.

      Also, remember the old saying, if you have one helo, you have none. That's a recognition that helos are very high maintenance and you're lucky to get 50% up time from them. Thus, even four helos only offer the coverage of two, in effect. Hence, my suggestion that a helo carrier with 6-12 helos is a better approach.

      Finally, there is the issue of distributed employment and support. Each helo-ship, be it LCS or a helo carrier, requires the same spare parts, tools, fuel, munitions, maintenance shops, etc. to support the helo(s). It's obviously far more efficient to concentrate the helo support on fewer ships rather than many. There's a balance between maintenance efficiency and combat dispersal. My feeling is that you need a minimum of four helos to be efficient and 6-12 would be better.

      Helos are a double edged sword. They offer a lot of potential usefulness but it comes at a high price in ship deck and internal space, personnel, and cost to the host ship.

    5. "the more platforms the better."

      In these blog discussions we so often devolve into comparisons of one item versus another when the reality is almost always that both items are necessary.

    6. Good thoughts. I appreciate your insights.

      It seems like the Navy itself might have envisioned similar possibilities. It would be hard to understand why they put such a large flight deck on a ship otherwise.


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