If you want to learn how to invest your money successfully, would you go to learn from someone who went bankrupt or someone who made a million dollars? I think it’s safe to say that all of us would choose to learn from the millionaire. It’s pretty simple, really. Learn from those who have succeeded. With that in mind, I was struck by the following statement from Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, Commander of Naval Surface Forces.
… the service is working hard to take lessons learned from years of struggles with the LCS and ensure the upcoming frigate program can hit the ground running. (1)
Referring back to the investing example, do we really want to take lessons from the most flawed ship program in modern history and use them to guide the frigate program? Wouldn’t it make far more sense to apply lessons from a successful program … of course, we don’t actually have a successful program to learn from, do we? So, that’s a problem. Still …
we started building [the] frigate, we looked a lot at LCS and what we can learn
– for example, the way we train on LCS, train to qualify, is a really good
model and we’re going to leverage that for FFG-62.” (1)
Admiral, are you sure you want to apply the same training program that resulted in almost every LCS that put to sea being sidelined with major propulsion system problems, many of which were blamed on training deficiencies? I would also remind the good Admiral that the entire LCS manning and training model was deemed a complete and total failure, was abandoned, and now a new model is being implemented with no discernible positive results, as yet.
Now, I understand that it is possible to glean negative lessons – how not to do something – from a failed program and there’s nothing wrong with that but the Navy is not using the LCS experience to do that. They’re doing the opposite by pulling flawed results out of the LCS program, branding them as positive lessons, and using them to mold the frigate program. Can anyone see any problem with that?
Moving on …
The following statement is the heart of this post:
“And then the manning, we just looked at what we’ve done on LCS, the blue/gold concept, and how we’re going to fit them out. And we think that is probably the way to get the most presence” out of the frigate hulls. (1)
Again, let us recall that the LCS program originally concocted a bizarre 3 crews for 2 ships (3:2) manning model in an attempt to keep the LCS actively deployed for longer periods with the three crews rotating and shuffling between two ships. That, of course, failed miserably as the Navy quickly found that maintenance was being ignored and problems were simply being passed on to the next rotational crew. There was no pride of ownership (or consequence of ownership) and it showed in degraded ships. Of course, there was also the problem that the Navy couldn’t get an LCS to deploy long enough to rotate crews.
None of that mattered, in the end, since one of the various LCS study groups ultimately decided that the highly trained crews were actually not well trained and were responsible for multiple major system failures. The entire manning model was abandoned and a Blue/Gold (2:1) model was adopted whereby two crews would rotate on a single ship - of course, that doubles the effective crew size and totally negates one of the major claimed benefits and justifications for the LCS which was minimal manning but, I digress ...
Let’s consider the implications of a Blue/Gold manning scheme. Even if perfectly executed and the result is longer ship deployments by using rotating Blue/Gold crews, there’s a fundamental flaw with the concept and that is that the ships will be deployed longer! The blindingly obvious result of longer deployments is less maintenance and shorter service lives. We’ve already seen the detrimental effect of longer deployments demonstrated repeatedly across all ship classes that have tried extended deployments.
For example, the carriers have been routinely double deployed and extended deployed and when they finally get maintenance time they’ve been invariably found to require far more maintenance than anticipated. Carriers have been nearly doubling their maintenance times and it’s resulted in carriers sitting pier side for months on end waiting for their turn at maintenance while other carriers are forced to do even more double deployments which further exacerbates the problem – a vicious cycle, if ever there was one.
The Navy is engaged in a fundamental contradiction. They claim to want extended ship service lives (40+ years) and yet they want extended deployments which means less maintenance, shorter service lives, and premature retirement.
What we should want is the opposite of Blue/Gold manning with multiple crews and maximally deployed ships. Instead, we should want single crews and ships that are minimally deployed and maximally maintained and trained. In fact, ComNavOps has argued against any deployments (see, “Deployments or Missions?”).
Unless adequate maintenance time is built into the manning model, as with SSBNs, the Blue/Gold manning model is just a premature retirement and scrapping model.
The Navy is drawing lessons from a failed LCS program and now seeks to apply those failures to the frigate program. Someday, we’ll look back and wonder how the frigate program got so screwed up. Well, the answer is it started here and now and it was painfully obvious why it happened: the Navy turned to a failed program for guidance. Failure begets failure. Don’t duplicate and propagate failure, abandon it!
(1)USNI News website, “SWO Boss: Study Pushing Further Changes to LCS, Informing Frigate Manning Plans”, Megan Eckstein, 10-Jan-2021,