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LCS Alternative Weekly

May 5, 2010
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The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) enters Port Everglades for the start of Navy Week Port Everglades.

Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams

Grandiose dreams of an all-high tech navy may instead sink the fleet, or at the very least leave little room for error. Here is Phil Ewing writing in the print edition of Navy Times (subscr. only):

In the coming year, Euro-BMD and LCS could prove to be a pair of shots in the arm for the surface Navy, bringing with them high-level political attention, new funding, and new opportunities for the fleet and its sailors. Standing Aegis BMD cruises in the Mediterranean — a new flavor of American seapower — could augur a surge of goodwill toward the U.S. A quick, clean decision about which LCS model will go into full production could guarantee an influx of new hulls into a fleet that sets growth as a top priority.

Or the cruises could drain away ships, money and sailors given the fleet’s growing operational tempo, forcing both U.S.-based and combatant commanders to make unpleasant choices about how to apportion a dwindling number of warships. Euro-BMD could drastically reduce the number of ships available for standard missions and tie up billion-dollar fleet assets with steaming racetracks in the ocean. And a drawn-out, legally fraught LCS selection could impose even more delays on a badly stalled program, depriving the Navy of new small ships just as its aging frigate fleet is set to sail into the sunset.

Speaking of the LCS, the new ships which was supposed to solve many of the Navy manning and shrinking number of assets, seems instead to be adding to the difficulties:

Beltway observers have quietly speculated that the loser of the competition could formally protest the Navy’s decision, potentially uncorking a legal whirlpool that could become the Navy’s version of the Air Force’s tortured tanker deal…

Even if there is no protest, the exact role LCS will play in the surface Navy remains unclear. The Navy wants to build 55 ships, a sizable chunk of the fleet, but what they actually will do is an open question. The interchangeable equipment LCS was built to carry is, if anything, further behind schedule as the ships, and LCS will probably sail without the surface-to-surface missile planned as one of its main weapons. So instead of the mothership for unmanned systems that planners originally wanted LCS to become, top Navy officials now characterize it as a new type of frigate.

Well, luckily that is the bulk of the Navy troubles. Aside of course the cost of the SSBN replacement, JSF and fighter gaps, ongoing difficulties with the LPD-17, the high cost and low capability of the American class LHA, problems with the CVN-78 EMALS catapult, the DDG-1000 order shrunk to 3 ships and so on…

*****

The Bermuda Triangle for Small Warships

This is an older post by Springboard, which I have previous referenced, that reveals “The Caribbean: Where innovative ships go…die?” via the USNI blog:

Anybody remember the Sea Bird Cutters (WSES-2)?  Or the Pegasus Class Hydrofoil (PHM-1)?  Outside of a small group of naval-gazing aficionados, you probably don’t. They’re all innovative vessels, a collection of strategic oddballs, doctrinal misfits and Big Navy orphans that ended their careers after a sunny Caribbean exile…

The Sea Bird Class is an interesting example.  Built as oil rig crew boats, the 105 ton (lite) Dorado (WSES-1), Sea Hawk (WSES-2), Shearwater (WSES-3), and Petrel (WSES-4) were pressed into Coast Guard service for a Stiletto-like mission: Fast interdiction in shallow waters (Calling Eagle1!).  A surface-effects ship (a 5 foot draft on cushion, 8 feet off), they were, just like Stiletto, an innovative hull form.  And, like Stiletto, the vessels had teething problems. The Sea Birds suffered vibration issues, were slow, overweight, had maintenance issues and were pricey to operate. After 10 years, they were sent to layup in 1994, never to be seen again…unless you consider these to be a foundation for Norway’s Skjold Class Patrol Craft.

In case of LCS, which recently paid a visit down south, and eventually be based in Mayport, we may not be so lucky.

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India’s New, Ahem, Corvette

The headline from Strategypage says “New Indian ASW Corvette“, but the specifications spell differently:

The 3,100 ton P28s are 110 meters (341 feet) long and have a top speed of about 55 kilometers an hour. The engines and other machinery are mounted to reduce noise, making the ships harder for submarines to detect. Topside, the design also makes the ship more difficult to detect with radar or heat sensing devices.
Armament consists of a76mm gun, a 16 cell Barak anti-aircraft/missile launcher, an eight cell Klub-B anti-ship missile launcher, 30mm anti-missile autocannon, four torpedo tubes and two RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launchers. An ASW helicopter is also carried, along with sonar and radars (navigation and anti-aircraft).

To me this says “frigate”, though the Indians can call it anything they want. The point is, the new ships are exactly the same size of the American LCS, but the difference in armament is stark. The USN considers it can always depend on airpower to ensure its naval superiorty, which is interesting as they insists on only concentrating it 11 very large decks, only a small portion ever at sea at any given time. In a real shooting war, it would seem logical to make the surface warship more independent by adding SAMs, ASMs, even old-fashioned guns, as many as it can carry, seakeeping and range in a hull making little difference if you are dead.

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LCS-2 Kaput?

Speaking of el-morte, that’s how Brad Parsons at the Hawaii Superferry Blog describes the Austal LCS, Independence:

Austal can forget about LCS. They’re lucky to get any JHSV’s. Tough bloody luck, blokes.

What Brad is referring to is the recent CBO report detailing that the fuel costs for the lifetime of the LCS is lower than expected, and will make little difference in the selection of the Lockheed LCS-1, or the Austal ship. More from Defense News which understand this better than yours truly:

Actual figures have yet to be gathered for both designs, for while the first Lockheed ship, USS Freedom (LCS 1), has been in service for over a year, the first Austal USA ship, USS Independence (LCS 2), only left her builder’s yard a month ago and has yet to demonstrate a full range of operations.
The CBO based its analysis on several earlier classes of Navy ships and used Navy data for the new ships. The study was conducted by Eric Labs and Derek Trunkey.
The study, sent to Sessions on April 28, looked at three overall operating profiles for LCS 1 – low-fuel, where the ship operates most of the time at low speeds, running at 30 knots or more only about 3 percent of the time; moderate-fuel, where high-speed operations take place about 5 percent of the time; and high-fuel, where the ship spends about a fifth of its time at 30 knots or more.
Labs and Trunkey considered that the moderate-fuel ship is “the most likely of the three scenarios.”

In a nut-shell the report says there isn’t that much difference in the fuel savings of LCS-2, over LCS-1, despite what was reported earlier and the Alabama politicos were hoping. Sounds like some fuzzy math to yours truly, though we have great respect for Eric Labs. Still there is no getting around the fact that the Navy will use facts, figures, and Power Point slides to skew a costly program in its favor, keeping obsolete vessels in service long past their relevance to warfare, and ensuring a shrinking and stretched thin fleet.

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Of Arsenal and Littoral Ships

Tim Colton of Maritime Memos makes an interesting comparison:

The more I think about it, the more I deplore the Navy’s approach to this procurement: hasty, poorly thought out and prejudiced.  The institutional bias against LCS 2 reminds me of the arsenal ship, which was anathema to all those dimwitted surface warriors who couldn’t imagine commanding a warship on which they could not stand on the bridge and cry “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead!”

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Campbell Will Love This!

An avid supporter of the military airship in modern warfare, who I only know as Campbell, will likely appreciate the following news from Scoop Deck:

The Fire Scout may not turn out to be the only unmanned aerial vehicle that sails with the littoral combat ships of tomorrow, according to the Navy’s program manager for the LCS mission modules. Engineers with Naval Sea Systems Command have tested using a miniature blimp, also known as an aerostat, with the LCS mine countermeasures equipment, said Capt. Mike Good, and he said it worked well.

The following comment reveals more on the test:

In an aerostat test in Panama City, Fla., NavSea demonstrated that it could operate the LCS mine-countermeasures vehicle at distances of up to 35 miles, Good said…

So you got the robot vehicles and the blimp, why do you need LCS? Just stick a hook on the RPV and retrieve it when finished. No expensive ship in harms way! How’s that Campbell, ole buddy?

*****

Like Pepsi or Coke

When it comes to the two LCS prototypes, Lockheed’s USS Freedom (LCS-1) or the USS Independence (LCS-2), birth are pretty much the same, according to Chris Cavas at Defense News:

The most obvious differences – such as the single steel hull and aluminum superstructure of Lockheed’s vessel versus the GD all-aluminum trimaran – are well known. But of dozens of distinctions large and small, it is not always clear that one is superior.

Chris does a great job pointing out the numerous other little differences. Go there and decide for yourself.

*****

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  7. Hudson permalink
    May 6, 2010 1:06 am

    According to a diagram in the Wiki entry for “littoral zone,” the Navy’s definition of the zone is an area extending 200ft from the shore (littoral means shore), covering the shore, offshore and nearshore. If that is the case, then LCS-1 & 2 are grossly over-sized and over-specified, as well as too expensive a vessel, to operate in that narrow zone.

    But, as we all know, the LCS is slated to replace the Perry class frigates and well as the Navy’s remaining 25 or so mine warfare ships. As a replacement for MWS, again, LCS is grossly over-specified and too expensive. As a frigate, it makes more sense. At $600 mil+, it would not be the most expensive frigate in the water. It would not be the most capable, either. If the Navy wants a true replacement for the Perry ships, then it needs to get started building one right away or begin producing ships from foreign designs, including the Meko class and the ever-popular Absalon.

    If the Navy wants a true littoral combat ship, then it is looking for something much smaller and less expensive than LCS, possibly a series of bots launched from larger ships beyond the horizon, some to hunt for mines, others to reconnoiter the shore and return light fire, if necessary. There are a number of smaller riverine type vessels to land troops and ops teams ashore, including the ever-popular cb-90 series.

    The problem that the Navy got into in the first place, is that it didn’t focus narrowly on what a true littoral ship would look like and how different it would be in comparison to other types of ships. Instead, it became entranced with the notion of a “littoralness,” which it felt it was lacking in such capacity, while nonetheless planning to replace our entire remaining class of frigates with this new kind of ship. It also was beguiled into buying the European idea of modules as being somehow netcentric, a sexy new fashion that has turned out to be very expensive and would not work well, if at all, in war where you need fully capable ships on station, without picking up the bow on one island, the stern in another port, and the engine someplace else.

    That, combined with open bidding and countless alterations to the original concept as soon as the Navy could think of them (“I think, therefore you build”), has resulted in the mess we have today. I predict that when all is said and done, far fewer than 55 of these curious, somewhat inspired, but nonetheless Edsels of the Navy, will be built.

  8. leesea permalink
    May 5, 2010 10:35 pm

    Campbell and Mike, gee guys I just don’t get an HSV and a tethered aerostat which I believe can’t even withstand high winds when anchored ashore? Something about the mix I just don’t see?

    If you are going to come up with a real alternative to the LCS, you got to back to rqmts definition. Which missons are truly littoral in nature and what systems, modules and peformance do you need (not want!)? Pin down the ROC/POE. The start doing platform selection a real AOA.

    Remember how they used to talk about starting small and building up?

    Well in the dangerous green waters, starting small is absolutely an imperative. That goes to specific details. IF one truly needs an HSV then scrub the performance rqmts down to minimums.

    I just watched several videos of Skjold and CB90s. The Skjold in particular is nice combination of size, speed (outa sight) and multiple capabilities. It was designed specifically for Scandinavian littorals but the USN could learn something from that design. They tested a couple down at Little Creek and the SWCCs gave them good reviews.

    For a good small warboat, one can hardly beat the CB90s although I have lost sight of what NECC is doing with theirs?

  9. May 5, 2010 10:06 pm

    Mike,

    Like the way you quoted that.

  10. May 5, 2010 9:28 pm

    Hey Mike!

    Yep, I read that bit on Scoop Deck too; although, an “aerostat” as used, is merely a towed or tethered craft. Still gives them far more reach with coms/control of their robotic systems.

    The idea of putting a hook on an airship and picking up an RPV…is nice.

    Each week, whenever I come to read “LCS Alternatives”……..I smile, and think…..yep, toss out the surface candidates, all of em..and substitute (properly designed, constructed, and operated airships..not blimps). Heh! (know your audience would just LOVE that! LOL!)

    Ah well…..someday. In the meantime, this little step of using an aerostat tethered to LCS is a start.

  11. leesea permalink
    May 5, 2010 6:19 pm

    ScottB once again you have misunderstood and characterized what I said. So I am not going to rebutt a closed mind.

  12. B.Smitty permalink
    May 5, 2010 5:45 pm

    I have to wonder, given that the avg cost of each mission module is something like $58 million, why we are even bothering modularizing this stuff. Just put the kit from all three modules on a larger vessel. There is some commonality across the different types, and de-modularizing should save some, so it shouldn’t cost $58 million x 3 to equip a ship with the ASuW, ASW, and MIW components.

  13. Scott B. permalink
    May 5, 2010 4:31 pm

    leesea said : “That is NOT to say an Absalon is given answer. Great ship just too large and expensive”

    You’re WRONG on both counts : ABSALON is EXACTLY what LCS should have been.

    Contrast with the existing designs, which are PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE and/or TOO SMALL.

    Bottom line : THINK BIG, not small !!!!

  14. Scott B. permalink
    May 5, 2010 4:25 pm

    More nuggets from Cavas’ article @ Defense News :

    1) LCS-1 weight restrictions :

    “There are few distinctions between the two types of LCS in the CONOPS, although weight restrictions prevent the Lockheed ship, when already carrying an anti-submarine or mine warfare mission module, from carrying the two 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) needed for the maritime interdiction operations mission.”

    2) Seakeeping / weather restrictions :

    “The need to watch the weather – a high priority for all sailors – is even greater on an LCS, according to the document.

    Because of the LCS’ size and distinctive design, “weather is an important consideration when making operational decisions, and sea keeping and sustainability are important factors that must be considered,” the document said, adding that operational limitations need to be delineated.”

    3) AAW limitations :

    Air-warfare limitations on the LCS are spelled out as well.

    “Although the ship can detect, identify, track and defend itself against many anti-ship cruise missiles and threat aircraft, it is not designed or intended to operate in a high-intensity air defense environment unless these operations are being conducted under the air defense coverage of a carrier strike group or amphibious ready group.”

    4) Reliance on shore support :

    Because of the small crew and the heightened need for continuous support of the ships from shore, the need to keep communications open is crucial for an LCS.

    “The electromagnetic spectrum must be managed and remain clear to protect frequencies required for autonomous vehicles, information operations, and to maintain reach back to support infrastructure ashore and within strike groups,” the CONOPS document said.

  15. Scott B. permalink
    May 5, 2010 4:15 pm

    leesea said : “you are right questioning the effectiveness of mission modules.”

    The excellent Chris Cavas obtained a copy of the September 2009 version of the LCS CONOPS, which contains quite a lot of interesting nuggets, including this on the much touted *modularity* :

    Changing mission packages takes considerable time and effort.

    “A mission package change-out is a complex, challenging and expensive evolution. It involves moving scores of tons of equipment, potentially a helicopter with a new aviation detachment, ammunition, and new mission package crews to a distant port, changing the MPs, and then retrograding the previous MP and crew back to their respective home facilities,” according to the document.

    More nuggest from the same source in the next post.

  16. Scott B. permalink
    May 5, 2010 4:08 pm

    Repost #3 :

    The Dry Dock Queen strikes again :

    LCS Freedom Heads for 5-Day Dry Dock Repairs

  17. Scott B. permalink
    May 5, 2010 4:07 pm

    Repost #2 :

    Paul McLeary’s views on LCS-2 @ DTI :

    Fast Mover

    Some quotes from the above :

    1) Modularity : More importantly, with a goal of 55 ships, some wonder if enough crew can be trained to perform all of these tasks. “Has the Navy thought those issues with sufficient clarity ?” wonders naval analyst Martin Murphy. “The answer I think is a resounding no”. Murphy says he finds it difficult to conceive how the Navy can efficiently swap out a ship “from being a countermine-warfare ship to an antisubmarine-warfare ship. There is no evidence that the Navy has thought this through clearly. What happens when you have to do this forward-deployed ? The logistic problems are a bit of a nightmare.”

    2) Manpower : According to LT. Phil Garrow, main propulsion assistant, “the workload is excessive, frankly”

    3) Seakeeping : And then there is the issue with rolling and pitching. Even in calm seas, like those found off the coast of Florida, the ship experiences significant pitch and roll, only steadying once it picks up speed.

  18. Scott B. permalink
    May 5, 2010 4:05 pm

    Some reposts from the Breaking News section.

    Repost #1 :

    LCS-1 vs LCS-2 by Chris Cavas @ Defense News :

    LCS 1 Vs. 2: Both Meet the Requirements, But Similarities End There

    A good companion is this March 2010 overview in National Defense Magazine.

  19. May 5, 2010 3:51 pm

    I don’t buy into this mission module business for small ships; especially for mine warfare. That function would be better undertaken with small remotely operated vessels that can be lifted into theatre. Not having a crew on board would solve all sorts of problems. I bet for for the price of 1 SRMH you could build a dozen ROV.

  20. leesea permalink
    May 5, 2010 3:24 pm

    smitty, you are right questioning the effectiveness of mission modules. After touring the LCS-1 it was obvious that the mission decks were NOT properly designed to maximize mission module stowage.

    Maybe we need to start with how many mission modules in TEU terms are minimum IOT determine ship interanl volume?

    Another part of the size equation is how volume/weight does a LCS alternative need for POL tankage and store room space?

    In my formula Payload is defined it these terms: volume, weight, and dimensions. But hey those what cargo mates think about~~

    More current weapons to me is given.

  21. B.Smitty permalink
    May 5, 2010 1:08 pm

    Lee,

    Personally, I’m not against a larger ship. It’s just that a ship the size of LCS-1 seems to be about as small as you can go and still have a globally deployable vessel that can carry a full LCS module. Also the USN has a long, successful history with ships of this size.

    However it may behoove us to wait for great mission module maturity before diving in whole hog with the modularity concept. Seems like a lot of the components are having development problems. Maybe the first ships should have a more conventional, less modular fit (e.g. hull/towed sonar, VLS, AAW suite), with successive flights adding greater modularity.

  22. B.Smitty permalink
    May 5, 2010 12:46 pm

    Mike said, “I agree it would have made a better frigate but is this a needed capability? It still would have you lacking in littoral ships. Frigates aren’t suitable for this, being a blue water animal, plus you can’t afford enough of them to properly cover your gaps. We see the demise of the frigate in the operations within the Gulf of Aden.

    Why are frigates not suitable? A 4m (13.2ft) draft is only a foot and a half more than a Sea Fighter.

    Demise of the frigate? Has one been sunk by the fearsome pirates that I didn’t hear about? ;)

    How can you afford to deploy, support and sustain enough smaller vessels to cover these so-called” gaps”? Just buying them is only part of the battle.

  23. leesea permalink
    May 5, 2010 12:12 pm

    We got to watch comparing FLD tons of conventional ships with tonnages being thrown about for HSVs. I think that is mixing apples and ah..cantalopes??

    Smitty is right the place to start with a new small warship is capabilities of the LCS that are right, i.e. large flight deck and hanger (at least on LCS-2 not the -1), the mission deck must have good dimensions that are usable for boats, crews and support. And there must be more accomodations!

    That is NOT to say an Absalon is given answer. Great ship just too large and expensive in USN form I think?

    BTW the real first place to start is with foreign ship design companies. Buy their designs throw in foreign ship construction techniques and build warships in US yards NOT controlled by corporate overseers.

  24. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 5, 2010 11:21 am

    Smitty wrote “If we had built a 30kt LCS with approx. dimensions of 115m x 15-17m x 4m (around the same as LCS-1) using a displacement monohull, we could have a ship with a FLD of ~3600 tonnes’

    I agree it would have made a better frigate but is this a needed capability? It still would have you lacking in littoral ships. Frigates aren’t suitable for this, being a blue water animal, plus you can’t afford enough of them to properly cover your gaps. We see the demise of the frigate in the operations within the Gulf of Aden.

    Great ships, but they are being beat, not in the individual battles but in the war.

  25. Jed permalink
    May 5, 2010 9:48 am

    Mat R – there are plenty of towed noise makers, and rocket thrown off board decoys – but a lot of ASW countermeasures stuff is not open source. Google will help you find some stuff, such as this rocket launched system from Finmechanica of Italy:
    http://www.docstoc.com/docs/28749854/Anti-Torpedo-Countermeasure-System-for-Surface-Ships/

    The question is what do want it to do ? torpedo guidance can be active (a pinging sonar), or passive (listening for your engine / machinery noise) or Soviet / Chinese style “wake homing”.

    I seem to remember reading somewhere about the US experimenting with super-cavitation rounds fired from a Phalanx as a way of detonating incoming torpedos !

    As I have a weird fixation with modern 120mm automatic breach loading mortars, I have wondered if these could be used in place of Russian RBU type rockets, firing a HE round with a hydrostatic fuse. With good fire control and rapid fire and simultaneous time on target from something like the Patria AMOS system, could you put enough HE in the water in the path of an incoming torpedo to destroy it or at least wreck its guidance system ???

  26. B.Smitty permalink
    May 5, 2010 9:38 am

    Personally, I think they got the size right for LCS, just not the hull form.

    If we had built a 30kt LCS with approx. dimensions of 115m x 15-17m x 4m (around the same as LCS-1) using a displacement monohull, we could have a ship with a FLD of ~3600 tonnes (think Aussie Anzac, French La Fayette, or even a WWII Gearing class destroyer)

    It would have plenty of payload tonnage for mission modules, additional armament or sensors.

    Plus, it could return to more a traditional survivability concept.

  27. May 5, 2010 9:18 am

    It is hard to come up with a balanced design isn’t it? Personally I think anything below 2,500 tons (I would say 3,000 tons, but…….)

    The more I look the more confused I become!

  28. MatR permalink
    May 5, 2010 8:25 am

    Re. D.E. Reddick’s design choices – Nice to see the emphasis on close-in air defense on a corvette. Scares me witless that so many larger, 5-10,000 ton ships only have a couple of point defense tools.

    What do you guys think about the state of modern ASW defense options, decoys or countermeatures? I’m concerned that’s a generic weakness in modern platforms (maybe VISBY aside because of its low EM and acoustic footprint).

  29. Mike Burleson permalink*
    May 5, 2010 8:17 am

    X wrote “I am still awaiting for those corvette spec’s”

    I have a great number of favorites. The Victory class, Sa’ar 5, Visby. I am more interested in seeing the Navy shipbuilding return to basics, and I think the 1500 ton hull is a good starting point. It should get them away from adding so many extras onto a hull, making it heavenly capable, but too costly to afford in adequate numbers, numbers being the life of a global navy. Neither can capability replace availability.

    D.E. Reddick pointed to an excellent design.

    http://newwars.wordpress.com/2010/05/04/not-a-smaller-but-different-navy/#comment-16423

  30. May 5, 2010 7:32 am

    I typed floored I meant flawed obviously. Whoops!

  31. May 5, 2010 7:30 am

    Barack Obama is scared to against the grain. I think those who question the LCS just need to keep active and build up knowledge of this floored program. Heck if BO can cancel NASA’s manned programmed he is capable of anything.

    I am still awaiting for those corvette spec’s………. ;) :)

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  1. Littoral Combat Ships are they useful? - Page 12 - Defence Talk Forum
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