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LCS Alternative Weekly

March 24, 2010
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The Commandant of the Coast Guard, recently announced the first of the Coast Guard’s new Sentinel class cutters will bear the name of enlisted hero Bernard C. Webber.(Illustration courtesy of Bollinger Shipyards)

LCS and the Air Force Tanker

 Here is Defense News’ own Chris Cavas warning of a potential delay in the littoral combat ship program, with an analogy we haven’t considered in “Why a Cutter May Be USN’s Best Option“:

By 2010, the service planned back then, 19 LCS ships would be in commission, under construction, on order or in the budget request. Navy officials frequently and loudly proclaimed the planned 55 LCSs key to the envisioned 313-ship fleet.
The service remains committed to the LCS, but simple arithmetic shows the LCS might not be the short-term solution to an impending nosedive in the number of small warships. Another ship – already in hand for the U.S. Coast Guard – might be the answer.

He’s talking about the cutter Bertholf, a ship with its own troubles, including flawed construction and dramatic price increases such as the doubling of its original price estimates. More on this proposal later. Lets stay on why he thinks there is more trouble ahead for LCS:

But what happens if the new ships aren’t ready?…There is a reasonable and, in the view of many observers, increasingly likely probability that the loser in the upcoming LCS downselect will protest the award. Navy officials, deeply mindful of the mess the Air Force tanker competition has become, are doing everything they can to avoid a successful protest. They’ve issued a detailed Request for Proposal (RfP) that, they hope, covers all contingencies, and they’ve striven, sometimes to excess, to avoid the slightest whiff of favoritism toward either design…

And what then? Let’s say the Navy announces an LCS winner in July. A protest is filed shortly thereafter, and toward the end of the 100-day decision period the award is overturned, with an admonition from the Government Accountability Office to go back and do the whole thing again. Now the Navy is unable to award any new LCS ship contracts. The service can’t buy any new small surface combatants, and here come the FFG decommissionings to whittle down the fleet’s numbers.

You get that? The desperately needed new hulls which should have been in service years ago, might now be delayed even further. The Navy has bet the farm on a single costly multimission platform, which might be held up at the starting gate. The admirals must simplify its procurement process, instead of placing so many hopes on technically complicated, too expensive, and too few warships.

*****

Again With the NSC Alternative!

New Wars posted on this subject before, after USCG Adm. Thad Allen mentioned his new National Security Cutter would do a better job than the Navy’s littoral combat ship. Specifically, here are reasons why Chris Cavas thinks the cutter would make a good stop-gap frigate:

  • The $642 million cutter might be cheaper, since the $615.6 million pricetag for the latest LCS doesn’t include mission module costs which reach $100 million each.
  • Cost of fuel for NSC is less since she can remain on station for up to 3 months while the LCS can’t remain at sea for much more than a week without refueling.
  • Crew costs are more on the 140 man Bertholf, but the Navy now sees the need to increase the LCS crew above 75 anyway.
  • The cutter doesn’t come close to the strict Naval Vessel Rules that oversee ship construction, but “since the ship already meets stringent Coastie requirements to operate in the extreme weather conditions of the Bering Sea in winter, another option would be to simply give the ships a waiver.”

Here is the problem I have with BOTH ideas. You still have very large and very few ships doing the work of patrol boats. It is the notion that multimission vessels (1 ship replacing 4) can be in more than one place at a time. It means overworked crews and hulls worn out prematurely. It also means putting off missions or fostering them off to others which often allow nautical lawbreakers to escape justice.

Currently, we noted how the massively expensive LCS is in the Caribbean chasing drug smugglers in speed boats. Off Somali they are using guided missile frigates to combat pirates in skiffs. If we are going to build warships then use them exclusively as patrol vessels, logically you would build patrol vessels for this purpose. The idea that only large capital type vessels costing hundreds of millions are required for modern threats is ludicrous when you see how these ships are actually used. So, you build as you fight.

*****

Thad Allen on Line One

Speaking of the Coast Guard, with the Navy now chasing smugglers in the Gulf, we wonder if the there are any jealousies cropping up between the two sea services. Story from Defense News:

Now floating off the coast of Colombia, the USS Freedom received high marks from Navy Cmdr. Randy Gardner, who delivered an assessment to reporters today from aboard the ship via telephone.

“The performance of the ship so far has been exceptional,” he said of the Freedom, which set sail Feb. 16 from Mayport, Fla. “We are learning a lot about what Freedom can do well.”

Freedom and its crew grabbed headlines in recent weeks after interdicting three vessels transporting illicit drugs through the western Caribbean. Military officials say the ship’s speed, which at roughly 46 miles per hour is significantly faster than U.S. frigates that max out just below 30 miles per hour, is responsible for much of its counter-narcotics success.

The 100+ knot helicopter and crew being on break at the time. Apparently the Navy still can’t explain if the Freedom is supposed to be a frigate or a anti-narcotics patrol vessel. Admiral Roughead, the Coast Guard called and wants their Congressionally-mandated missions back!

*****

 LCS Alternative-Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutter

If the Navy needs a speedy patrol boat (leaving out what they might want for a sec) I’d like to recommend the Sentinel Class. Here is a small warship, at just the right price for chasing cocaine smugglers but also pirates if need be. It runs about $47 million each or one-twelth the price of LCS for the same function. The following is an excellent story from the Coast Guard Commandant about the naming of these 154 feet long craft:

It is with great pleasure that I announced today the name of the first Fast Response Cutter in the Sentinel Class will be the BERNARD C. WEBBER. Named for Petty Officer First Class Bernie Webber who executed one of the most famous rescues in U.S. Coast Guard history…With great pride I also announce that all of the 58 Sentinel Class cutters will be named after enlisted heroes. In the words of Alexander Hamilton, “a few armed vessels judiciously stationed at the entrance to our ports, might be useful sentinels of the law.” Our cutters will be named after our enlisted “sentinels” … not only of the law, but safety of life at sea as well.

Here are the specs for the Sentinel class:

  • Length-49 meters
  • Draft-2.9 meters
  • Displacement-353 tons
  • Speed-28 knots
  • Range-2500 nm or 5 days endurance
  • Crew -22
  • Armament-1 x remote controlled 25 mm chain gun autocannon
    4 x crew-served Browning M2 machine guns

The Coasties plan to procure 58 of these useful vessels. More here.

*****

Relief For USA Shipyards

I occasionally get jeered for suggesting that Congress would ever approve the Navy using foreign alternatives to beef up the fleet. In part , this is happening anyway, through the back door if you will, with at least 2 overseas firms, Australia’s Austal, and Italy’s Fincantieri Corp, both working on the 2 LCS prototypes. Read this from Defense Daily (subscr. only):

Since Fincantieri committed to investing $100 million in Marinette Marine Corp.’s shipyards, more than $70 million of that will go to the Marinette Wisconsin facility, Paul Lemmo, business development director for Lockheed Martin, tells Defense Daily. “They have owned [Marinette marine] for over a year now. They have been making investments in ‘low hanging fruit,’ things that were obvious,” he adds. For example, Fincantieri has improved crane capacity, installed some pipe bending machines, and added new steel cutting machines, Lemmo says. “Over that year they have studied that [yard] in detail, the layout, the flow, the capacity, and they have developed a detailed plan, which they just kicked off, of significant investment,” Lemmo adds. That plan includes extending the main indoor ship construction building. Fincantieri broke ground on that project earlier this month, he says.

So we see the Italian firm greatly expanding, and improving conditions, which has been neglected for some time apparently. Here’s more improvements:

When Freedom was being built at Marinette Marine, the ship actually extended out beyond the indoor ship construction building. “When the ship was completed, from stern to bow, she stuck out of the building because the building wasn’t long enough,” Lemmo says. “They are extending the building well beyond the length of the ship.” And once the expansion project is completed, Fincantieri will be able to build two complete LCS indoors. “Subsequent to that there will be other pieces of the facility that will be renovated or new,” Lemmo says. “For example, the panel line, the paint facility…they did a whole analysis of throughput so they know exactly what they need to do to get the shipyard up to the capacity and the efficiency that they want.”

Naturally, I would prefer American designed ships built in America, but Washington cares little for our shipyards, despite much rhetoric to the contrary. When you only buy 5,6, or 7 warships a year there just isn’t enough work for smaller yards to survive or the larger ones to upgrade as we see going on here. The worse of it is, when you only construct very large and complicated ships, with there not being enough experienced workers, inevitably these turn out flawed as happened with the LPD-17 class ships, and inevitably the shipyards get the blame.

This foreign investment here at home becomes the next best thing. Not a perfect solution but much better than closings and layoffs.

*****

Frigates Not Worth Saving

Most of the Perry’s will be gone by 2015, as they are too expensive to rebuild, according to Inside the Navy (subscr. only):

Rep. Gene Taylor (D-MS) continued to express concern at a House Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing on March 16 that the Navy plans to decommission more ships next year than it will add to the fleet. The Navy plans to decommission 26 frigates by fiscal year 2015, and Taylor has suggested that the service should try to slow its losses by extending the lives of those ships.

Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told the panel that the Navy has examined that option, and did a close study of five or six frigates, including their hulls, mechanical and electrical condition.
   “We need to take a broader look at the combat systems, but what we found out is, about $4 billion, we think that is about right to extend those ships five years to be able to employ them with the systems that we have out there today,” Greenert said.
   However, he pointed out that the aging ships are already struggling to keep up with the rest of the fleet in terms of command and control systems, and the $4 billion price tag would not include the cost of upgrades.
   “Most of our FFGs operate almost independently because they just can’t integrate with the strike groups today,” Greenert said. “They don’t have the command and control. It is where they are and the age and the life of those ships.”

Not a lot to argue with considering the extreme age of the hulls, except to point the finger of blame at the Admirals for getting us into this position in the first place. It’s their responsibility to provide the fleet with hulls and replacements as needed. Someone dropped the ball. Blaming the shrinking fleet on wars or on Congress no longer holds water, since these issues are always with us.

*****

Nail on the Head

The following from Metal Miner, an Industry website, pretty much sums it all up:

The first design as above is General Dynamics futuristic high-speed trimaran, based on Austal of Australia designs and experience with vessels like the US Marines’ Westpac Express high-speed transport and the Army and Navy’s TSV/HSV ships…

The second is led by Lockheed Martin and offers a proven high-speed semi-planing monohull based on Fincantieri designs that have set trans-Atlantic speed records…

The Navy is calling for 55-60 of these vessels at a probable in service cost of US$600m each. They want to replace 30 frigates, 14 mine counter measures vessels and 12 coastal mine hunters. And therein lies the problem. The LCS is being asked to be a high speed shallow draft mine and submarine hunting jack of all trades. As a result, it lacks the firepower to play an effective role as a conventional frigate, the cargo carrying capacity to field serious helicopter support or the endurance needed by a global naval power and is meeting widespread criticism even from within the Navy.

*****

12 Comments leave one →
  1. waverider permalink
    March 30, 2010 11:17 am

    “…the Coast Guard called and wants their Congressionally-mandated missions back!”

    What are the Congressional mandates that would exclude the Navy from anti-narcotics missions?

  2. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 24, 2010 11:02 pm

    The Coast Guard is not going to fall for that one.

  3. Jed permalink
    March 24, 2010 8:48 pm

    I do really understand the need for long endurance cutters – honest ! I am sure the coast of Alaska is huge ….

    I was playing devils advocate a bit to see if I could get anyone to bite on the swap over, LCS for CG, NSC for Navy, but no one wanted to pick up that one…. :-)

  4. B.Smitty permalink
    March 24, 2010 3:52 pm

    Mike B said, “I have yet to hear anyone suggest how we can build such a fleet, when individual platforms are increasing in size and price.

    B. Walthrop suggested how.

    B. Walthrop: “I do not share the NW thesis that vessel size is the primary procurement cost driver. As far as I can tell, the push for smaller ships is aimed primarily at curtailing the cube and GM to keep the cost of C4 and combat systems (the primary cost drivers in my thesis) relatively low. This would be an irresponsible move by the admiralty (if true) when a healthy dose of capability requirement discipline could accomplish the same goal without needlessly saddling the USN with a fleet of marginally capable patrol vessels.

  5. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 24, 2010 3:30 pm

    Even the 270 foot Bear Class WMECs have a range of over 10,000 miles at 12 knots.

  6. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 24, 2010 3:28 pm

    Actually there are several Coast Guard 110 foot cutters (five I believe) working alongside the PCs to protect the Iraqi oil terminals.

  7. papa legba permalink
    March 24, 2010 3:23 pm

    Jed,

    Even working in purely domestic missions, the coast guard has plenty of jobs that require long-term endurance. It has to patrol the US possessions in the Caribbean, the coastline of Alaska, and our fishery rights in two oceans. It also runs drug interdiction missions throughout the Caribbean.

    That’s ignoring the historic tendency of the Coast Guard to pick up slack for the Navy. In World War 2 and Vietnam, the CG ranged far away from our coast. There are CG personnel (not ships, to my knowledge) in the Persian Gulf.

  8. Chuck Hill permalink
    March 24, 2010 2:26 pm

    Although I would not suggest the Navy buy the NSC without modifications, the problems with the NSC seem to have been resolved. The appropriation for the fourth ship is $538M. Still expensive, but less than the LCS and they have a longer life expectancy, 30 years including 185 day per year actually underway not just away from homeport. Given VLS and a towed array combined with its already good facilities for two MH-60s and command and control systems that include a Sensitive Intelligence space much larger than that in the LCS, it could make a useful addition.

    Jed, the NSCs are not going to the Caribbean, the way the Coast Guard uses its large cutters is in patrols off Alaska and South America. If you take a look at Alaska, it is a long way between gas stations. In one patrol I was on, we left San Francisco, transited to Kodiak, then out the Aleutians, up to the Pribilofs then patrolled the EEZ north of Midway, seized a Korean vessel fishing illegally and then returned home. Unlike the Navy there is no oiler support for these missions. Generally the Coast Guard sends smaller ships like the 210s and 270s to the Caribbean.

    The Coast Guard is developing a replacement for the Active and Bear Class cutters that is predicted to cost $188M each. I expect they will be 2,000-2,500 tons full load, 25 knots, one helo with hanger, at least two boats launching one from a stern ramp. Sounds almost like what Mike has been advocating.

    http://www.uscg.mil/acquisition/OPC/default.asp

  9. Mike Burleson permalink*
    March 24, 2010 2:11 pm

    “Anyone who has bothered to look at a globe and think about the implications of our nation’s geography should be able to reasonably analyze why a fleet centered around a low individual tonnage flotilla is probably a bad idea for our maritime security.”

    I have yet to hear anyone suggest how we can build such a fleet, when individual platforms are increasing in size and price. There is no restraint, and not even the Navy seriously thinks they can get all the ships they need, so they will settle for what they can get even to the detriment of our seapower.

    So I have to continually ask, how do you pay for ships in a sparse era of defense spending, when they continually double and triple in cost? How do control the constant size increases and increased technicality? You aren’t even keeping ship numbers stable, let alone increasing, but shrinking.

    But small warships seem good enough for the type of threats we face the most.

  10. B. Walthrop permalink
    March 24, 2010 12:12 pm

    Jed:

    As more and more of the Arctic Ocean becomes ice free in the summer it appears that the USCG is taking the prudent path of developing a cutter that can operate effectively in that environment.

    That same situation appears to argue for a true blue water fleet an not a flotilla navy that NW frequently promotes.

    One of the interesting things about ship (and to a slightly lesser degree aircraft) procurement is that the projected service lives span decades. In my mind this fact alone argues for building larger vessels that have the cube and excess metacentric height to allow future upgrades in order for these vehicles to remain relevant over their life.

    I do not share the NW thesis that vessel size is the primary procurement cost driver. As far as I can tell, the push for smaller ships is aimed primarily at curtailing the cube and GM to keep the cost of C4 and combat systems (the primary cost drivers in my thesis) relatively low. This would be an irresponsible move by the admiralty (if true) when a healthy dose of capability requirement discipline could accomplish the same goal without needlessly saddling the USN with a fleet of marginally capable patrol vessels.

    Anyone who has bothered to look at a globe and think about the implications of our nation’s geography should be able to reasonably analyze why a fleet centered around a low individual tonnage flotilla is probably a bad idea for our maritime security.

    V/R,

  11. Jed permalink
    March 24, 2010 11:02 am

    Mike said: “Here is the problem I have with BOTH ideas. You still have very large and very few ships doing the work of patrol boats”

    But is he not suggesting the Bertholf class NSC would make an ‘interim frigate replacement’ to replace the FFG’s going out of service ? So he is suggesting they might make good ASW focused escorts NOT patrol boats.

    Your suggesting the Navy needs patrol boats – he does not appear to be suggesting that.

    The LCS is chasing drug boats in the Caribbean – why ? Well because there is nothing else it can do with out a working mission module. Is not chasing drug runners in the Caribbean a Coast Guard job ?

    I simply don’t understand why this is so backwards. Why does the Coast Guard (operative word being COAST) need a long range, long endurance “cutter” when it could be using the 3000 tonne, under armed 45kts speed boat for drug / weapons / people smuggler interdiction because there are lots of U.S. ports where it could pop in to refuel.

    At the same time you have a Coast Guard cutter that has got into trouble with TEMPEST qualification of its military grade command and communications systems. A vessel which with a bit of tweaking looks like it could take VLS cells for NSSM and should have been way cheaper to build because its not to full Naval standards. A cutter which looks more useful to the blue water Navy.

    I just don’t get it.

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