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LCS Alternative Weekly

January 27, 2010
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In case you missed it, the new littoral combat ship, USS Independence (LCS 2) was commissioned on Jan. 16.

LCS is No Perry 

Craig Hooper of Next Navy breaks down the numbers to compare the Littoral Combat Ship with the older Oliver Hazard Perry class frigates from the seventies: 

Look closely at those cost estimates.  Plug the first FFG-7 cost estimate into an inflation calculator and the result is $230 million–almost exactly the same amount of money the Navy first programmed for the LCS. 

Shove that final 1977 FFG-7 cost estimate of $168 million into an inflation calculator, and the end result is $595 million in 2009 dollars.  Today, the LCS-3 and 4 cost $548.8 million and $547.7 million respectively.  If one of the two LCS designs functions as advertised–and are hiding no major flaws–then we’ve got a pretty interesting higher-end FFG-7-like replacement platform. 

Here’s the problem with this analogy–The Perry’s of the seventies could hardly be described as possessing “a patrol boat armament for the price of a destroyer“. The FFG-7s as built were armed for bear, with an area SAM weapon in the SM-1 Standard, the same that was equipping cruisers and destroyers of the era. Also Harpoon cruise missiles which were considered the scourge of the sealanes in the late Cold War. (You have to wonder if the remaining FFG-7s which were mostly disarmed , were neutered so as not to make LCS look bad? I’m just saying.) 

The LCS has, well, a 57mm Bofors gun, somewhat smaller than the OTO Melara 76mm equipping most one-third sized corvettes she would have to face in the shallow water haunts. The Perry’s also come with the 76mm. Also, when the USS Stark FFG-31 was struck by two Exocet cruise missiles in the Gulf in the 1980s, she managed to survive, sailing back to port on her own power . The LCS, on the other hand, has serious stability issues.

The final problem is not just with the LCS, but with the frigate type warship itself, now costing as much as a destroyer, when its well armed or not. At 3000 plus tons it is too big for operating in shallow seas facing swarming tactics from small boats, and as we have seen too expensive to be considered a “low end escort”, impossible to build in adequate numbers unless you neglect everything else.

For this reason, Capt. Wayne Hughes, Milan Vego, Commander Henry J. Hendrix, myself, and countless others have called for the purchase of many small patrol boats and corvettes to work alongside frigates, or in the future motherships, to fill out the numbers. They are also more closely connected to the population of the sea in these waters and better able to contend with smaller threats (unless you just want to sink everything in sight from stand-off ranges using helos, which would be nice but not always practical.)

***** 

Israel Wants German LCS 

Here’s is the story from Defense Update

Israel is interested in acquiring two corvette size ships to extend its naval operational capabilities. After analyzing the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), Israel decided these vessels would be too costly. While each LCS would have cost $480, Israel was prepared to spend up to $300 per ship, which roughly corresponds with what the Malaysian Navy spent on a similar design (MEKO A-100 Kedah class)… 

While the CSL model is still in a blueprint phase, MEKO A class corvettes are already operational with several navies worldwide. The joint operation comprising the TKMS Blohm + Voss Nordseewerke group, with Kockums in Sweden and Hellenic Shipyards in Greece has delivered more than 160 naval surface vessels since 1980. More recently South Africa has received four Valour class (MEKO A-200) large corvettes, Malaysia has ordered six Kedah class (MEKO A-100) corvettes and Germany received two of the five Braunschweig class 5 K130 corvettes on order. In addition, Poland plans to acquire up to five MEKO A-100 Gawron class corvettes. 

MEKO has not been an obvious choice for the Israelis. The German Mehrzweck-Kombination (MEKO – short for ‘multi-purpose combination’) is 91 meter long vessel – only four meters longer than the existing Saar V class corvettes which are in service with the Israel Navy since the 1990s. The most attractive features of the German design being 25% larger volume (displacement of 1,650 tons) enabling the MEKO A-100 design potential endurance of extended missions at longer range, exceeding 6,000 nautical miles – 50% beyond the range of Saar V. Both vessels have a mission endurance of three weeks at sea. 

I think instead of clinging to a failed frigate design, the USN better call MEKO

***** 

I Thought It was “One Ship Replaces Four”? 

The headline by Chris Cavas at Defense News says it all–“U.S. Navy Releases LCS Bidding Rules“: 

After evaluating the company proposals, the Navy plans to choose one design in late spring or early summer as the basis for up to 41 more LCS ships in future years… 

Each company already has delivered one ship and is working on another. The Navy plans to buy 55 of the roughly 2,800-ton, 400-foot-long ships. If those plans hold up, by 2020 one in six ships in the Navy will be an LCS. 

Which may mean we will have only 6 LCS in commission at this rate? But someone else is more optimistic than yours truly, in the next post. 

***** 

55 By ’23 

Ron O’Rourke has a hopeful prediction, here from Reuters

Ronald O’Rourke of the Congressional Research Service told lawmakers last week the Navy’s reported 30-year shipbuilding plan raised questions about affordability of the LCS program. The ships are subject to a congressional cost cap of $480 million per ship, but the Navy’s reported plan shows a cost of close to $600 million for each ship, O’Rourke said. 

He said the plan also showed the Navy buying just two of the new ships a year starting in fiscal-year 2018, after it brings in a second shipyard to build them, which suggested the Navy could eventually settle on just one shipyard after all. Maintaining production of four LCS ships a year would wind up the 55-ship program in fiscal-year 2023, in line with Navy statements about the urgency of getting the LCS ships into the fleet to close gaps in its capabilities.  

Don’t hold your breath on this, as Hope isn’t a Shipbuilding Strategy. At the rate of production so far, and declining USN budgets, we may be lucky (unlucky?) to get 30 ships out of this program. I am predicting 15 before Congress wises up and cancels this yet another example of faulty USN ship procurement. 

***** 

Sub Magnet 

Scoop Deck’s Phil Ewing reports on a new plan to install a towed sonar array on LCS. Its his commentary that caught my attention: 

As Scoop Deck waits for Navy officials to respond to requests for comment on this, it’s worth thinking through how an onboard sonar could change the way LCS could operate. 

It could mean the ships might get their own torpedoes — as designed, they have no launchers, and an LCS must use its helicopter to drop on an enemy sub. 

It could mean that LCS has an on-board backup in case its sub-hunting robot breaks, but it also takes away one of the main selling points for doing missions with remotely operated vehicles: Part of the strategy for LCS is to “take the sailor out of the minefield,” enabling the ship to stand off while its accessories do the work hunting for mines or enemy submarines. But if a ship has its own towed array, it could become a target, especially if it has arrived at its patrol box anywhere close to its 45-knot sprint speed, which seems like a great way to alert every submarine in the hemisphere that you’re there. 

Oh well. There will be plenty of DDG-51s out there to protect these destroyer-priced, patrol boat armed warships. Not like they have anything better to do. Right? 

***** 

LCS Alternative-Hybrid Catamaran Air Cushion Ship (HCAC) 

Here is some specs on Textron’s original LCS proposal. Even had it been a failure, it would have been less a blow than being stuck with the over-priced and underarmed Lockheed and General Dynamics ships, without a Plan B:

  • Length-295.27 ft
  • Beam-98.42 ft
  • Draft-6.56 ft (on cushion, 16.4 ft off)
  • Displacement-1,640 tonnes full
  • Crew-42
  • Max. Speed-55 kts
  • Max. range-5,250 nm
  • Aircraft-Hangar for MH-60R/S aircraft
  • Armament-20mx20mx6m
     CIWS
    CROWS (4)
    Ram launcher
    NULKA/SRBOC launchers

More info here

*****

25 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 31, 2010 1:32 pm

    sail Bad wrote “If HCAC was the answer we would see more in operation in the high speed ferry market!”

    Makes alot of sense! Could be also the internal bias against shallow water vessels in particular, the Austal catamarans being an exception.

  2. Sail Bad the Sinner permalink
    January 31, 2010 8:42 am

    There has always been a big problem with Hover/Air cushion vessels; to many (high speed) moving parts. OK water jets are are fast moving, but the construction is strong and they are reliable. LCS 2 will exhibit excellent seakeeping characteristics, awareness of this will build now that the USN has taken delivery.

    Leakage from the “skirt” in rough seas was also an issue, I would much rather be in an “amah” tri in heavy seas!

    If HCAC was the answer we would see more in operation in the high speed ferry market! This is where low costs, speed, capacity and reliability are essential. They were a 70s dream, an 80s fad. Ok for landing on flat beaches!

  3. Bill permalink
    January 28, 2010 11:05 am

    Scot said: “That’s because, as an insider, you look at it from a technical POV”

    That is true as far as it goes, yes. But I also looked at it with a layman’s hat on; If a choice is clear by virtue of it being the most correct one, only a damned fool or an idiot would willfully make a different choice anyway.

  4. Bill permalink
    January 28, 2010 11:01 am

    Scott/all: Did you know..that the USN has been funding the development of the propulsion technologies, particularly fusion, to be able to build, amongst othe things..the “Nuclear [fusion] Powered Hydrofoil Battleship?

    I kid you not the least bit..and if I’m lucky I will even be able to find the artists conception of what one might like. An amazing beast to say the least…

    Something tells me that your friend Slade, on the other hand, thought he was being highly sarcastic. Nope..he was just getting partway up the curve.

    ;-)

  5. Scott B. permalink
    January 27, 2010 5:23 pm

    Bill said : “Picking anythting else therefore made no sense.”

    That’s because, as an insider, you look at it from a technical POV. As an outsider (who never had any connection with this entire LCS fiasco, and never wanted to anyway), I look at it from an organizational POV.

    Keep in mind that when the decision was made, the influence of Cebrowski and consorts had reached its peak and that these guys could care less about *technicalities* as long as it would look *TRANSFORMATIONAL*.

    My excellent friend Stuart Slade pretty much came to the same conclusion on the basis of his interactions with the Transformation crowd.

    And he pretty much illustrated the dominant feeling in the business with his Nuclear Powered Hydrofoil Battleships parable.

    Inject some individuals like John J. Young, Jr. into the mix, and you get the exact kind of outcome that doesn’t and cannot make any sense from a pure technical POV.

  6. Bill permalink
    January 27, 2010 5:14 pm

    “There was a clear perception within NAVSEA that the requirement process was not under control, but that had to make it happen no matter what.”

    Ahhh..now I’m picking up more of what you are laying down. Yes indeed…requirements creep always equals weight growth if all requirements are not firmly settled and completely understood before you stop running hydrostatics and before you start making shop floor drawings.

  7. Scott B. permalink
    January 27, 2010 5:08 pm

    Bill said : “Your last reason implies that NAVSEA anticipated early on that they could not weigh-manage this program. I don’t buy that.”

    There was a clear perception within NAVSEA that the requirement process was not under control, but that had to make it happen no matter what.

    From an organizational POV, one of Vern Clark’s biggest mistake in terms of leadership was his inability to lock this specific process, and this comment extends well beyond the sole LCS program.

  8. Bill permalink
    January 27, 2010 4:27 pm

    Scott;

    Item 1..I cannot disagree with that one. The program was botched (although not as much as NAVASEA tried to amke everyone believe..it was actually on solid footing at the yard) and the bad tastes still lingered in NAVSEA.

    Item 2. I saw that differently. I too expected on ‘low risk’ option would be picked and expected it to be Don Blount’s monhull. But I and others full expected one of teh SES options would be the other pick puick because only the SEs options so easily dominatd the competition when it came to speed and range at speed..and that was being pointed to then as sooo important. Picking anythting else therefore made no sense.

    Your last reason implies that NAVSEA anticipated early on that they could not weigh-manage this program. I don’t buy that.

  9. Bill permalink
    January 27, 2010 4:12 pm

    *snicker..snort* In reviewing my ‘notes’ I ran across a number that is now hopelessy amusing. I had completely forgottent that, lik all other attributes in the LCS RFQ, build cost too had ‘objective’ and ‘threshold’ levels to meet.

    220 million per ship was the threshold level. The objective level was…150 milion. Giggle..laff..oh my..they’ve gone and spent practically the original objective total ship cost in fixes and mods to LCS-1 after it was accepted.

    But then I guess we all agree that whatever they were smoking in those dark halls of NAVSEA when those costs were guessed at..it should not ever be legalized.

  10. Scott B. permalink
    January 27, 2010 4:07 pm

    Bill said : “I can speak to the risk issue..I deal with it every day specifically for those platforms.”

    There are a couple more reasons why the Raytheon proposal was not selected in the end :

    1) Following the MSH fiasco in the mid 1980s, the ‘institutional memory’ in the Navy did not favor composites, and the Orkla incident didn’t exactly improve the situation (all the more as it was quite masterfully amplified by the competition).

    2) In a *transformational* program like LCS, the unwritten rule was that one of the design chosen had to look like a mature / safe / low-risk / low-cost option (therefore monohull) and the other one had to look futuristic. Problem for the SES was the “been there, done that” effect : after all the experiments conducted since the 1960s in the US Navy, the SES option was deja vu all over again. A trimaran, on the other hand…

    But fundamentally, Bill gave the real reason why the SES option was eventually rejected : even before the winning designs were selected in 2003, a growth in FLD well beyond 10% was already anticipated, which would have killed any SES design (as opposed to simply turning it into an abject lemon).

  11. Bill permalink
    January 27, 2010 3:58 pm

    From my ‘notes’, the Raytheon design was presented to USN with the following numbers after the final design effort and down-select:

    Full-load: 2070 tons FLD with 180 ton mission payload and max fuel.

    Range: 2836 nm @ 50 knots, 3329 nm @ 44 knots, 4392 nm @ 21.6 knots

    Given those numbers above..yeah..no problem really with the Textron claim, not knowing any of the other factors behind it.

    Note the FLD number of 2070 tons…doubt if that would have survived NAVSEA intact. The FLD of LCS-1 was not much more (2250) at exactly the same point in time.

  12. Scott B. permalink
    January 27, 2010 3:34 pm

    Bill said : “The SES that Umoe proposed for LCS was very much a ’scaled up’ version of Skjold’ (of course). The range of their design was through the roof at speeds in the 40 kt range. In fact..it was nearly equal to that of LCS-1 operating at 18-20.”

    What sort of range did the Raytheon SES proposal offer at speeds around 18-20 knots ?

    And BTW, does the range of 5,000+ NM @ 18 knots in CAT Mode given in the Textron HCAC flyer sound credible to you ?

  13. Scott B. permalink
    January 27, 2010 3:30 pm

    Re : 1,000-ton (ish) SES

    Back in the glorious days of the SES (1980s), the French studied an SES corvette called EOLES (Escorteur Oceanique Leger a Effet de Surface), with a displacement comprised between 1,000 and 1,500 tons.

    Below are the specifications given for the 1986 baseline (clearly geared toward ASW, which was perceived as the #1 problem at the time) :

    ***************************************************************
    Normal displacement : 950 metric tons

    Propulsion : CODLAG
    * 2 x 27,000 SHP gas turbines (on cushion, high speed)
    * 2 x 5,000 SHP diesel engines (off-cushion, cruise speed)
    * 2 x 1,000 SHP electric motors (quiet mode)

    Speed :
    * cruise speed : 18 knots max. (off cushion)
    * maximum speed : 50 knots (on cushion)

    Range : 2,000 NM @ 35 knots

    Armament :
    * 2 x twin launchers for 12.75″ torpedoes,
    * 4 x MM-40 Exocet,
    * 2 x Mistral SADRAL sextuple launchers,
    * 2 x Dagaie DLS

    Aviation : 2 x Super Puma helicopters

    Crew : 90
    ***************************************************************

  14. Scott B. permalink
    January 27, 2010 3:03 pm

    Heretic said : “Makes me wonder what would “happen” to the design if scaled up to around 1000 tons(ish) while maintaining the same fit of weapons/systems and using the additional tonnage to improve overall range/endurance (ie. fuel fraction, consumables stores, environmental controls, etc.) so as to make the ship more “expeditionary” in nature.”

    It’s not that difficult to make a quick and dirty estimate :

    1) Use Textron’s HCAC as the baseline for your 1,000-tons (ish) SES.

    2) Discard fuel aviation (55 tons) and add the figure to ship’s fuel (i.e. 275 + 55 = 330 tons)

    3) Adjust ranges accordingly : gives you about 1,700 NM @ 50 knots.

  15. Matthew S. permalink
    January 27, 2010 2:54 pm

    Hopefully the LCS will get towed sonar array and torpedoes. That would at least make its armament about even with the post missile arm OHP frigates. Also then it could actually function as an anti submarine vessel.

  16. Heretic permalink
    January 27, 2010 2:09 pm

    It’s a blue water speed boat. That’s it.

  17. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 27, 2010 1:22 pm

    So obviously, the only thing outstanding about this vessel is its speed. But is that even an atribute for a war vessel intended for patrol duties?

  18. DesScorp permalink
    January 27, 2010 12:25 pm

    Not only are the ships barely armed, their sensor suites suck; they’re more appropriate for a Coast Guard vessel than a US ship of war. And while LCS 2 certainly has a striking look, it’s all-aluminum construction would be disastrous in any missile fight or mine strike. I was open to the idea of a light aluminum ship for some limited duties, but not for this cost. For 600 million, we could buy new Aegis frigates (like the ones the Spanish are currently building), and would should probably do so. Give the LCS’s to the Coast Guard and be done with them.

  19. Bill permalink
    January 27, 2010 11:01 am

    Only the current RNoN incarnation of the design has short legs..and very much by design. Not requiring range for the coastal denial mission they are built for..the payload was used elsewhere; they are armed to the teeth for their size.

    The SES that Umoe proposed for LCS was very much a ‘scaled up’ version of Skjold’ (of course). The range of their design was through the roof at speeds in the 40 kt range. In fact..it was nearly equal to that of LCS-1 operating at 18-20..

    T-Craft is very close in size to the proposed LCS SES’…but from there the similarities diminsh a good bit. Quite a difernt animal is T-craft.

  20. Heretic permalink
    January 27, 2010 10:32 am

    Skjold boats are great, but they have “short legs” (which is perfectly fine for a defensive/coastal patrol boat). They weigh in at 274 tons fully loaded.

    Makes me wonder what would “happen” to the design if scaled up to around 1000 tons(ish) while maintaining the same fit of weapons/systems and using the additional tonnage to improve overall range/endurance (ie. fuel fraction, consumables stores, environmental controls, etc.) so as to make the ship more “expeditionary” in nature. Yes, that would mean no helicopter (since the baseline Skjold doesn’t have one). Only thing I’d really want to “add” to the design would be a capacity to launch and recover small boats for boarding party operations. Being able to operate ISR UAVs however would be a very nice “plus” to such a theoretical ship for air/surface search when going pirate/smuggler hunting in foreign (or domestic) waters.

  21. Rob permalink
    January 27, 2010 10:14 am

    Mike- understood, I was thinking more in line with the SES as one of the two designs rather than a second “plan b” acquisition. It will be interesting to follow the ONR T-Craft program over the next few months as(if?) they make the transition into Phase III and the large-scale demonstrator (speaking of Textron and Umoe).

    Take a look at Colton’s post today to see what the “solution” is to the LCS1 problems: http://www.coltoncompany.com/

    Does anybody else see a real solution that doesn’t end in adding length to the midbody and doing a structural redesign? Wonder how much that will cost the taxpayer…

  22. Bill permalink
    January 27, 2010 9:28 am

    I can speak to the risk issue..I deal with it every day specifically for those platforms.

    The risk areas for the SES variants in the original FMS/LCS mix were/are, in order of risk level from highest to lowest:

    1. Weight management and weight growth control
    2. Bow and stern seal materials
    3. Structural design

    The first was by far the biggest risk area..the second problematic in the sense that new materials would have to be used vice the traditional seal materials used on existing SES/ACV for decades.

    The last was quite well in hand at both Textron and Umoe..only the Navy considered it a risk area because it was beyond their current understanding of naval ship design and construction. But so is/was LCS-2 and its trihull.

    Hmmm..hang on. The highest risk area ..weight management..how did managing that work out for LCS-1?

  23. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 27, 2010 9:02 am

    Rob-Risk? Look what we ended up with! Talk about risk, and there is no plan B. The navy must like it or lump it.

  24. Rob permalink
    January 27, 2010 8:30 am

    The HCAC makes for a nice rendering, but the risk associated with building that design would have been through the roof. If the Navy cannot manage affordable mostly-traditional hullforms (there was some technical risk associated with an all aluminum trimaran, but at least Austal had similar designs built and in the water), I can only imagine what a SES acquisition might have looked like.

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