Monday, February 11, 2019

Go Play Right Field

This reference may only be understandable to American readers but …

When you played Little League or sandlot pickup baseball games, what position did the worst player play?  Right field, of course!  It was the position least likely to see action.  You could hide the least capable player out there.  I know, this offends the sensibilities of today’s “we’re all equal and everyone’s a winner” crowd but we’re not all equal and we’re not all winners so toughen up and deal with it.  Moving on …

It appears the Navy must have once played baseball because they’ve opted to send the LCS to right field to hide its lack of capability.  Right field, in this case, is doing drug smuggling interdiction.  That’s about the farthest thing from combat you can get.

A Littoral Combat Ship, with an embarked Coast Guard law enforcement detachment, will hunt for drug runners in U.S. Southern Command later this year …

Faller [Adm. Craig Faller, SOUTHCOM commander] told the committee that illegal narcotics were “at the heart” of the security concerns of the region and are the driving force as to why so many Central Americans keep heading northward for a better life. (1)

Now, I have no objection to drug interdiction and focusing on South/Central America.  Indeed, I just recently wrote a post advocating exactly that type of heightened focus and engagement (see, “The Daily Threat”).  However, the use of the LCS is both illuminating and disappointing.  This tells me that the Navy sees no capability in the LCS, either.  In fact, given the incredibly urgent need for mine countermeasures (MCM) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) in the fleet and, despite the fact that those are two of the LCS’ three core missions, the assignment of the LCS to drug patrols rather than combat MCM/ASW training is quite telling.  It’s telling me that, despite their public pronouncements of the wonders of the miracle warfighting machine called the LCS, the Navy internally, in the darkest, most secret recesses of their heart, acknowledge that the LCS is fit for nothing related to combat.  In other words, the Navy is acknowledging that the LCS is not a warship.

While I’m fully supportive of more engagement in South/Central America, including drug interdiction, this also illustrates another of my proposals: the need for a peace/war two tier force structure.  It makes absolutely no sense to send a several hundred million dollar LCS on a drug interdiction mission that can be equally well executed by a simple commercial-based vessel for a tiny fraction of the cost.  As a point of comparison, the Cyclone class cost $20M and could do the job quite well.

This is also telling me that the MCM and ASW modules are nowhere near ready despite the Navy’s never ending claims that the modules are almost ready.  If they were almost ready, the LCS’es would be training intensely for them … but they’re not.

We have thirty some LCS built or building that have, literally, nothing to do.  They have no capabilities and, therefore, nothing combat-related that they can do.  The Navy is looking for some way to keep them busy while the decades long wait for modules drags on.  With nothing productive to do, the Navy is sending the LCS to right field.


(1)USNI News website, “Littoral Combat Ships Headed to SOUTHCOM for Drug Interdiction Patrols This Year”, John Grady, 7-Feb-2019,


  1. There is a constitutional legal doctrine that states something like, “State is forbidden from using a bazooka to kill a fly on a citizen’s back if a fly swatter would accomplish the task”. This sounds kind of the same…but from a strict technology development aspect, the underutilization of any technology is usually due to the lack of time spent upfront defining functional requirements. Instead of just “defining” the features, you need to clearly define the “business” requirements that drive out the functionality. For example, a requirement stating, “The module shall perform inventory control” is easier to create but not as quantifying or complete as defining the business need for inventory optimization (e.g. reducing overhead, dead stock,rush orders, etc) and then match a technology feature to that requirement. I wonder if that is the case here or if it were something else (and forgive me if it is outlined in another LCS related post), I am relatively new to this site and I am planning to go back and look for the LCS keyword to see the trend that may have led to this unfortunate situation.

    1. You've pretty much got it. The failure of the LCS is due to the complete lack of a Concept of Operations (CONOPS) which is normally developed BEFORE a ship is designed and built. The CONOPS is what tells how the ship will be used, what role(s) it will fill, and how it fits into the fleet structure. None of that happened for the LCS and, as a result, the LCS is a haphazard collection of technology features (most of which don't yet exist) which don't support its intended missions/roles (to the extent the LCS has any!).

      And, yes, you should be spending every waking minute perusing the archives to get caught up!

    2. But lcs does have a concept of operation its trading maintenance people and making money for the contractors as well as doing everything else except sail under its own power

  2. The Zumwalts are pretty much useless too. The two ought to form a club, they can call themselves the Useless Ship Society.

  3. Apparently, the Navy heard you as they are creating an "experimental squadron" to look at new concepts and tactics and the Zummie and Lacking Combat Ship will both be in it.

    according to

    1. Yeah, I've seen that. I'm all for exploring tactics but you have to start with a strategy. Prior to WWII, we had a strategy (War Plan Orange) for dealing with Japan and then we used the fleet battle exercises to try out various operational and tactical approaches to executing the strategy.

      Today, the Navy is just floundering, hoping they'll stumble across some magic tactic. Turning ships over to sailors and seeing what they come up with is idiocy. If the sailors can really come up with better uses than the Admirals, why do we need Admirals?

      We need a fully developed strategy for dealing with China and then, and only then, is it productive to explore operations and tactics.

      This is typical Navy bass ackwards approach. The tail is wagging the dog.

    2. For the experimental squadron it would also be nice to have functional ships. I suppose the LCS captain can sit on the bridge on his eternally docked ship yelling "phew phew phew" into the radio to simulate the state of the art weapons his ship doesn't have.

      While you are quite correct the Admirals should be coming up with the proper use of/need for ships--they aren't. Perhaps a fresh perspective from eager sailors who have seen firsthand the mess the admirals have made, and more importantly have their asses in the line of fire might be better suited.
      I would certainly think survivors of the Fitzgerald and McCain disasters would be thinking more practical about survivability than anyone at the Pentagon. As for innovation, it was an army colonel named Mitchell not a navy admiral who risked his career showing the threat of air assets in a naval war.

    3. " Perhaps a fresh perspective from eager sailors "

      My denigration of the idea of sailors developing missions for a ship is that they don't have the background. Missions (CONOPS) should flow from a military strategy. A military strategy flows from an in-depth understanding of our geopolitical goals, the enemy's capabilities, our overall military capabilities, and, of course, our desired end victory conditions. The average sailor, indeed, even officers below flag rank don't have those understandings to be able to develop CONOPS/missions. The analogy would be that if the adults can't figure out how to govern the city, let's turn it over to the children. I'm sorry, but the children don't understand taxes, housing, transportation, resource utilization, zoning, etc. The answer isn't to turn it over to the children, the answer is to replace the idiot adults (in our case, the idiot admirals).

      I have nothing against sailors coming up with tactical innovations or specific survivability enhancements but those aren't CONOPS. If our admirals truly can't figure out how to use a ship then the answer is to replace the admirals. Congress should be looking at the pathetic state of naval ship design and utilization and firing admirals by the barge load.

    4. Exactly to your point, CNO, is the recent article in Proceedings by Master Chief Lohr asking for the ASW and MW mission modules to be scrapped, the LCS to be equipped with the Naval Strike Missile to fight Iran's corvette/patrol ships as well as Chinese and Russian frigates.

      I really don't want to fisk this article, and I'm sure that Master Chief Lohr knows more about ASuW than I ever will, but there is no rigorous analysis backing up this proposal! I can see problems with this proposal, which is exactly why careful analysis with vetted assumptions and requirements, performed by trained and responsible people and organizations is required.

      Our Admirals are derelict in their duties if they expect fighting sailors to determine the purpose and CONOPS of the fleet's warships.

    5. I think Master Chief Lohr has simply spotted something that the LCS hull and engines could be used for with some actual chance of success. After all, righting Iranian speedboats was the original idea, a basis for a possible CONOPS.

      However, it was made far larger and more expensive to get political buy-in, and then lots of people's pet ideas got pasted on because this was the new thing, and thus the USN ended up with an incoherent mess.

  4. Drug smuggling interdiction, it's easy, you know.
    You can be without mission modules and you can carry minimal am-mo
    That's why I'm here in the Gulf of Mexio
    Just watching the cocaine flow

    Off in the distance, the Fleet Problem's dragging on,
    There's air strikes on the enemy, some drones are flying on.
    I don't know who's winning, I've forgotten the score.
    The whole SAG is yelling on the radio and I don't know what for.

    Then suddenly everyone's looking at me
    My nav plot has been wandering; what could it be?
    My officers are trying to use the CEC cap-a-bil-it-y
    They point at the sky, they point at the screens, and we try to count
    And an ASCM blasts into my main gun mount!

    Here in the Gulf of Mexico, it's important you know.
    You gotta know how to catch smugglers, you gotta know how to stop that blow,
    That's why I'm here in Gulf of Mexico, just watching the cocaine flow!

    I apologize ahead of time if this doesn't reach of the level of discourse CNO prefers for his blog.

    1. I don't mind a colorful comment, at all!

      Check out the 'humor' keyword for some entertaining posts.

  5. So the navy has come around to its just doing the USCG's job? Is there any reason not to just build more of the far less expensive and probably far more effective (for drug interdiction) Sentinel class cutters and let the Guard hire more sailors?

    I'm going to start writing a script to email all my Representatives constantly, the Literally not a combat ship should die everyone built is a waste of money.... If their are doing Coast Guard work that budget is better spent on you know the Coast Guard.

    1. This takes us back to the war/peace, two tier force structure.

      see, Hi-Lo, War-Peace

    2. We already have that in the USN and USCG... Except for the part where the USCG is chronically underfunded and the navy is allowed to waste billions of dollars building really pointless USCG ships. And The USCG is asked to do the navy's job because you know the navy hates patrol boats that actually work. Right Now both Russians and bloody Norway will have more armed Ice Breakers and Ice tolerant ships than the USN or USCG put together (excepting subs). It may sound silly but want to win that arctic fishery stand-off you need a boat that can be there to even have one.

    3. "see, Hi-Lo, War-Peace"

      Read it. If the Coast Guard can be deployed from South America to Bahrain and to the South China Sea. Than it already is the Lo. Put it under the Pentagon so its people don't need to work w/o pay and it can fight for its share of defense budget pie properly.

    4. The Hi-Lo made me think that perhaps instead of a blue/gold manning model for the LCS, it should be a blue/white--white as in Coast Guard. This theater of operations is mostly a LE mission, and even the Naval units will probably have a CG boarding team. The LCS armament is basically that of the NSC and the CG is still using tired medium cutters while waiting the OPC. Sharing the hulls gives both services experience in a low-threat environment--the navy definitely needs the seamanship expericent--and it reduces manning needs for both services. The the OPC comes online and those CG crew will have experience (assuming the LCS can leave the dock) as will the Navy for when/if they ever actually field a functioning module.

      Ironically, I think this area of operations might actually be a good one to field test/train the ASW module. The Narco-subs are noisy and unarmed (except for small arms) but an actual enemy vessel trying to avoid detection and mostly working in littorals. A good training target for noobs with a new system, and if they actually detect and sink some all the better for the drug crisis here. Even without the modules (if they ever work) they can at least carry SH-60 ASW helos in conjunction with a Burke (to process the info and provide coordination) to hunt narco-subs as well as strafe the occasional fast boat.

    5. " instead of a blue/gold manning model for the LCS, it should be a blue/white--white as in Coast Guard. "

      Hmm … interesting. Might be worth trying. Good thought.

    6. A blue/white model could also give a replacement for the Cyclone class. The CG's Fast Response cutter is roughly the same size and displacement. The Navy & CG could share costs on buying a baker's dozen of them. They already have a 25mm and 4x .50 mounts. The USN could use them on 6 month deployments to the Gulf, with added armament then rotate them back to the states, remove the extra weapons, and then the CG could use them off the east coast. So the USN gets an already tested and proven PC cheap and easy.

    7. "A blue/white model could also give a replacement for the Cyclone class."

      Maybe. Bear in mind that there are no real cost savings to be had because the Cyclones don't cost anything to begin with. The Cyclones cost $14M-$20M though, admittedly, that was some years ago. The point being that, relative to Navy shipbuilding budgets, the Cyclones are pocket change.

      Also, the idea of a 6 month deployment followed immediately by Coast Guard use ignores the need for maintenance. Somewhere in that cycle there needs to be some serious maintenance!

      All that said, there's nothing inherently wrong with this kind of sharing.

  6. Off topic, but in case you missed it. But, a Los Angeles-class submarine will take part in a submarine competition with Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Forces. The cherry on top is that we're embedding a sonar technician on a Japanese sub.

    1. I hadn't seen that one. Thanks!

      I note the use of a Los Angeles class sub rather than a Virginia. I wonder if that's just a quirk of availability and scheduling or if it's an attempt to keep the Virginia capabilities secret? DOT&E has stated that the Navy's refusal to allow Virginias to participate in exercises is hindering the evaluation of the subs capabilities. This may be a case of secrecy taken too far - or, it could just be a simple availability. However, you would think that availability could be easily adjusted given that the exercise has long been scheduled. On the other hand, not knowing the sub's role, perhaps a Virginia isn't needed?

      Anyway, thanks for the heads up.

    2. You're probably right about the sub choice because I'm sure the Russians and Chinese will be nearby. I suspect the Navy doesn't want to put a Virginia sub in an environment where it can't fully protect its capabilities. I hope this something we'll see more of with our Pacific allies.

  7. CNO, I've been reading your blog for a long time and would like to comment on your "The Daily Threat" post with some interesting references to stuff I've read about in another blog, but comments have been locked on that article. Can you restore comments on that post or would you prefer that I contact you one-on-one (via e-mail or something similar) to discuss it?

    On the topic of this post, what kind of "Right Fielder" would you like to see in this role if you could design one? A river-capable monitor-type vessel maybe?

    1. Comments were locked because the discussion was unproductive. I'll open it back up to see your thoughts. Post away.

  8. If the LCS has little combat capability, no primary mission, is oversized, and is limited to auxiliary duties...shouldn't they transfer it to the Coast Guard? It's fast and lightly armed, and has a shallow draught. So...harbor patrol?

    1. I've addressed this before. The Coast Guard wants no part of the LCS and for very good reasons. It would make a terrible CG asset. It's too big, too expensive to maintain (would have to set up the entire shoreside maintenance train), to cumbersome for small boat operations, etc.


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