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LCS Alternative Weekly

April 7, 2010

See the Fire Scout? The guided-missile frigate USS McInerney (FFG 8), with a MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle on its flight deck.

LCS Competition-It’s Not about the Cost

Got your attention didn’t I? But its true. If the pricetag was the issue over the LCS competition, whether the Austal trimaran or the Lockheed monohull version, then it would be neither. I’ll explain more but first, here is Sean Reilly at the Press-Register:

In the winner-take-all face-off between Mobile-based Austal USA and a team led by Lockheed Martin Corp., the Navy’s main focus is sticker price, leaders have indicated.

“It’s crucial to us to get the cost of these ships down so that we can buy the numbers that we need,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said at a Senate hearing last month. 

But members of the Alabama congressional delegation have been pushing for a more expansive approach that considers not just purchase price but “capability,” and “life-cycle” costs, such as fuel.

Between the two, I’d have to go with capability. Before you accuse me of double standards, since I always preach the mantle of lower costs and numbers over capability, think about it. There is not that much different in price between the two very expensive ships. $60 million isn’t that much savings when you are talking about vessels costing in the many hundreds of millions. When you start adding up the cost of various mission modules, the price becomes further skewed.

For $60 million you could buy a Coast Guard cutter which could do most of the missions of either one just as well.

So if your choice is only between “two evils”, pick the lesser.


But Not the Ship in the Photo

The headline from Straights Times reads “US navy nabs pirate suspects“, which is correct and kudos to the Perry class frigate USS Nicholas and crew! But take a look at the headline picture.


LCS Has No Influence

Commander Henry J. Hendrix’s new and improved Influence Squadron, detailed in the Proceedings’ article “More Henderson, Less Bonds“, has a very notable omission:

Some might ask why the Littoral Combat Ship is not included within the Influence Squadron, and the answer would be is that it is, at more than $600 million a copy, too expensive for the capabilities it brings to the environment. Taken as a whole, each squadron will cost the nation $1.35 billion, less than the cost of one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer (or two LCSs), but having the ability to provide ten ships’ worth of naval presence, credibility, and compassion forward in the areas deemed most likely to serve as the seedbed of problems in the future.

New Wars is extremely pleased and a big fan of the Influence Squadron, which you can tell by our recent series of posts. Well done Jerry!


Laying in a Supply of Ginger

Scoop Deck’s Phil Ewing details that sailing on USS Independence can be quite lively:

It rolls. A lot. Independence had clear skies, calm seas and only moderate winds for its transit from Key West to Naval Station Mayport, but the ship rolls and pitches like a drunken whale. Early after it sailed from Mobile, Ala., the ship hit heavy weather and eight-foot seas, and wallowed so much that life was miserable for many crew members and riders. “I’ve never seen so many people get seasick,” one sailor confided; the Night of the Living Vomit is already a crew institution.

As Ace Commenter ScottB surmises:

…their poor seakeeping qualities won’t just be a problem for their skeleton crew, but also promises to seriously hamper vehicles launch / recovery and air ops.
Which were supposed to be their raison d’etre…
What a disaster !!!


Freedom versus the Rednecks

If capturing drug smugglers in speedboats wasn’t enough for the $600 million+ Space Age warship, the LCS is now the scourge of besotted fishermen everywhere! From the same Phil Ewing post:

(Freedom’s captain, Cmdr. Curt)Renshaw described a day in which the ship was making high speed runs and a certain fishing boat kept getting closer to the ship’s path, presumably because its occupants wanted to take pictures of the Klingon warbird bearing down on them.
Independence kept altering course, but the fishermen kept drifting in, clearly not comprehending the physics involved with a warship hitting their fiberglass boat at 40 knots. But the Independence’s crew was able to put enough distance between them and the boat that they passed — barely.
“There was Bubba, holding up his beer can, going, ‘wheeeeeeeew!’” Renshaw said. His bridge crew watched with baited breath to see what would happen when the ship’s wake reached the other vessel. What happened was, nothing — or at least, nothing a civilian fishing boat couldn’t easily handle.


But what if he has to go to the Head?

The multimission mantra of the entire LCS Program extends to the crew as well, meaning fewer personnel are expected to do so much more. Here is Paul McLeary at Ares blog aboard the USS Independence:

With a crew of just 40 sailors, everyone aboard the Littoral Combat Ship Independence — the General Dynamics and Austal-made LCS, bidding against Lockheed Martin’s USS Freedom for the ultimate Navy contract — is expected to wear multiple hats.
Lieutenant Phil Garrow, the ship’s Main Propulsion Assistant, said last week while the ship was underway from Key West to Mayport that “everyone had to go to school to get out of their comfort zone,” of performing a few very specialized tasks prior to being able to staff the ship. Standing on the bridge of the ship, Garrow pointed to one of his engineers, who he described as his “resident expert on the MTU engines,” explaining that he in addition to that, “he gave me my flu shot this year. He’s also one of our range masters for gunnery, he’s one of our SAR [search and rescue] swimmers—every one of us had to go to a lot of force protection schools that I’d never gone to before. Me being the engineering officer, I’m also the auxiliaries officer, electrical officer, main propulsion system and the damage control assistant…the learning curve was significant.”

I can’t but help consider this an unbearable burden on the personnel, since they are required to continue excessive deployments little changed since the Cold War, except with a much smaller fleet. If you want smaller crews, why not just build smaller ships?

CBD-another one of our excellent Band of Readers, had this to say a while back on the issue of LCS manning:

“Lean manning saps morale, puts sailors at risk”
Agreed. But the difference is significant between trying to run a 3,000+t vessel (LCS-1) with 65-75 crew (clearly, from recent news, more like 95…with the balance in temporary berths) versus the types of crewing arrangements on most corvettes (where additional berths are to facilitate additional, not core capacities).

Baynunah Class: 660t vessel (full) (71.3m). Core mission crew: 50 + room for 12.
Sigma Class: 1,700t vessel (full) (<91m). Core mission crew: 62 + room for 20.
Qahir Class: 1,450t vessel (full) (83m). Core mission crew: 45 + room for 15.
Future Omani corvettes: 1,650t vessel (~90m). Core mission crew: 70 (incl. aviation)

Each of these currently have helicopter facilities that, were they downgraded to support UAV launches, would provide room (eliminating Av fuel, mechanical space, etc) for additional crew (by eliminating air crew and adding space), stores (like fuel for the main vessel) and small craft for VBSS.

Lean manning saps morale. True, but SMALL manning on SMALL craft is a different fish.

Lean manning means more work because the tasks of a ship don’t shrink with the crew. Small manning for ships with fewer tasks at better proportions (crew:tasks) allows your crews to rest between shifts. Hybrid sailors are good, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t need sleep…

Conflation of lean manning (small crew, big ship) with small crews (small crew, small ship) should be avoided.


LCS Alternative-Sigma class Corvette

Built by the Dutch Schelde Naval Shipbuilding firm, which also constructs the Holland class patrol vessels. Sigma stands for Ship Integrated Geometrical Modularity Approach and are in service with the Indonesian and Moroccan navies.


  • Displacement-1692 tons
  • Length-91 meters
  • Beam-13 meters
  • Draft-3.6 meters
  • Speed-28 knots
  • Range-4800 miles at 14 knots
  • Crew-20 to 80
  • Armament-Anti-air missile: 2 x quad MBDA Mistral TETRAL, forward & aft
    Anti-surface missile: 4 x MBDA Exocet MM40 Block II
    Guns: Oto Melara 76 mm (A position)
    2 x 20 mm Denel Vektor G12 (Licensed copy of GIAT M693/F2) (B position)
    Torpedoes: EuroTorp 3A 244S Mode II/MU 90 in 2 x B515 launchers
  • Aviation-Optional hangar for helicopter


KRI Diponegoro, an Indonesian Sigma class corvette. Photo author Wim Kosten via

23 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott B. permalink
    April 8, 2010 3:20 pm

    leesea said : “Hudson some attributes of good seakeeping can be remedied in the next-gen version of LCS (whichever wins the down-select).”

    Under the current plan, the next 15 LCS will be Flight 0+ and I’m not sure any of the Technical Baseline Changes listed in Attachment J-34 of the RFP will solve the problems observed with seakeeping on both seaframes.

    As Bill pointed out, seakeeping performance was not considered important (not TRANSFORMATIONAL) and this concious neglect is something that they will have no choice but to live with.

    Unless sanity finally prevails and the LCS program gets cancelled as it should have been a while ago…

  2. Scott B. permalink
    April 8, 2010 3:10 pm

    Jane’s on LCS :

    LCS seaframes not yet proven to work with mission watercraft

    “While unmanned vehicle launch and recovery is essential to the completion of LCS mine-countermeasure and anti-submarine warfare missions, the GAO report stated that neither seaframe has undergone significant testing with the semi-submersible Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV).”

  3. navark permalink
    April 7, 2010 11:18 pm

    Scott B. said: “It’s like saying the only difference between a Ferrari and a Ford is the powerplant, which obviously is not true.”

    Touché, perfectly valid and topical.

    The point I was trying to make was that the cost of a ship is able to be predicted. It may be part calculation, part estimation, employing empirical data and future trends, and every bit a black art, but the fact remains that costs should be accounted for. This is done routinely in every commercial yard in every part of the world that is not protected by protectionist legislation.

    There is nothing about these vessels that is so technologically transformational that it couldn’t have made its way into the costing – whether this were carried out prior to or post construction. Even after two of these ships have been built, I would challenge anyone from government or the contractors to show exactly where the money has gone. It cannot be done, because they don’t know.

    Ship costing models are sufficiently robust to account for aluminum construction, or large mission bays, or a specific type of electrical wiring, or whatever. Your point above is valid, these vessels are not just plain old OPVs with a couple of GTs thrown in… but the differences in hull shape, structural design and construction, mechanical systems, etc., should have been captured relatively accurately.

    Remember that a $250m price tag is still only for a large, empty ‘speedboat’ (or whatever you want to call it). Traditionally a significant part of a warship’s cost is in the weapons systems. Of which the LCS carries virtually none. The accounting smoke and mirrors of not including ‘mission modules’ in the cost of the ships should allow the price to come down even further, as we all know well armed, albeit slower, OPVs can be built for ~$100m, including weapons.

  4. leesea permalink
    April 7, 2010 11:14 pm

    Hudson some attributes of good seakeeping can be remedied in the next-gen version of LCS (whichever wins the down-select). Remember that #&4 are already being built and the follow-ons may have some further changes. But I do not think LCS-1 can alter its over-weight problems without a significant redesign something that will porbably not happen. Stabilization systems may help attenuate whatever ride problems have/are indentified in OT&E.

    Mike I missed the most part but honestly which cutters are configured to perform *most* of the LCS warfare missions? MIW ASW for instance. My basic observation is that cutters are not warships but of course conversions are possible if not desirable.

    I still maintain that both should be fully tested and then a modified version should be selected using different performance rqmts and system specs. AND another small combatant similar to but not same as Cdr Hendrix mentioned needs to bought by the USN in the same time frame as next-gen LCS. It is very obvious that the LCS will end up in the blue water so smaller warship for the green is then needed right?

    Acquistion note: GAO protest comes after source selection announcement. That may well happen but my contention is that is too late in the acqusition process.

    P.S. the JMSDF always played games with it warship type/size. Its the way they have of dealing with the perceptions of their countrymen.

  5. Scott B. permalink
    April 7, 2010 8:54 pm

    LCS downselect (and its aftermaths) will be much fun :

    In high-stakes LCS competition, disagreement on how to rank the best deal

  6. Scott B. permalink
    April 7, 2010 8:37 pm

    LCS-2 rolling on a clear day with calm seas : check the video here

    H/T : Phil Ewing @ Scoop Deck

  7. Scott B. permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:28 pm

    Bill said : “In the case of both vessels, though most particularly LCS-1, the need for and use of active stabilization was given less attantion than it deserved. Yet that kind of technology is an essential part of the solution for these types of vessels and even then…”

    Seakeeping is not transformational. Why even bother with such *platform-centric* attributes in the missile age ?

    BTW, Bill, any progress made on the Skjold section of your website ? I don’t mean to be pushy, I’m just really curious. ;-))

  8. Scott B. permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:09 pm

    navark said : “Yes, two gas turbines and associated systems cost a little more (relative to the program cost) to procure and install, along with a little more metal and welding required for the additional internal volume.”

    It’s like saying the only difference between a Ferrari and a Ford is the powerplant, which obviously is not true.

    The reality is that both designs were specifically designed for high sprint speeds, and designing a ship for such grossly excessive speeds goes faaar beyond just the powerplant.

    Which has the following consequences :

    1) Speed is expensive : going from 30 knots to 45 knots probably produced a cost increase in excess of 25-30% for the semi-planning monohull, i.e. at least $150-200 million. As a matter of fact, in his 1985 NEJ paper, Peter Mantle, the Technical Director of the infamous ANVCE study estimated that a frigate in the 3,000-ton class designed to achieve 40 knots in SS3 would cost 80% more than an FFG-7. Peter Mantle stated at the time that “the cost of going faster increases almost linearly until the dynamic (lift) vehicles come into play (i.e., hydrofoils, air cushion vehicles, and surface effect ships).”

    2) Cost penalty is permanent : once excessive sprint speed gets factored into the equation, you cannot take it out, e.g. with a more modest powerplant. IOW, the cost penalty is in there FOREVER. About a year ago, the Navy supposedly examined the effect of dropping the required speed to about 30 knots. I’m willing to bet that, if they ever did this analysis, what they found out was that reducing speed in the existing designs wouldn’t save more than 10% on the acquisition costs.

    Actually, I believe they did the analysis, just to be able to say (in case somebody asked, which never happened) : “hey, see, it saves only 10%, so the excessive sprint speed required is not what produced the prohibitive cost of LCS”.

    Some people have been playing (and continue to play) with taxpayer’s dollars ever since the inception of this failed program.

    Payback for this abject failure is long overdue…

  9. Chuck Hill permalink
    April 7, 2010 5:08 pm

    I think Mike referred to the Fast Response Cutter, which should ultimately have an average price of $44M. No mine sweeping, no ASW, no helo, no medium caliber gun.

    But it can do boardings.

  10. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 7, 2010 4:46 pm

    Lee asked “Mike which $60 million CG cutter can do all the missions of the LCS”

    I believe I said “most”. I am against “do it all nothing well”, swiss army knife warships, which have plenty of capability, but is self defeating because you can’t afford enough to matter. Then you get decline in the midst of plenty.

    Back in the 60s, the Japanese deployed ships without helicopters, they called destroyers but were about the size of frigates and corvettes today. Then they sent these out with a few specialized large destroyers equipped with several helos each. This is maintaining capability without compromising on numbers.

  11. navark permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:48 pm

    Guess who – I agree with your points, especially the last one regarding cost. I’ve seen and conducted several detailed costing analyses using current military and commercial methods, and the result is always a ship that should be in the $200-$300m range. Note that this is quite a large range (upper value 50% greater than baseline) so should allow for variations in specification, efficiencies, etc., but these estimates can in no way be configured to reach a $700m+ figure.

    However, there is no entry for ‘lack of client (USN) supervision/oversight’ or ‘managerial incompetence’ or ‘commercial yards riding the gravy train with cost-plus contracts’. Could these line items result in a 250-300% markup over any other reasonable figure?

    The fact that Congress has agree to pay ~$460m for one of these monstrosities, and USN has awarded contracts at $100m above the approved figure, seems to prove the commercial viability of the concept.

    Btw, the high speed issue seems to have been made a scapegoat for the cost profligacy, imo this is simply not true. Whilst it might result in a hull form that is totally unsuited to 90% of its operational profile speed, possess undesirable seakeeping characteristics, require an exaggeration of installed power, etc., the combination of these would not account for the documented price explosion. Yes, two gas turbines and associated systems cost a little more (relative to the program cost) to procure and install, along with a little more metal and welding required for the additional internal volume.

    Through life costs would be certainly higher, primarily due to fuel and maintenance, but this has never been part of the LCS discussion.

  12. Bill permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:36 pm

    What ’causes’ poor seakeeping? Everything on Hudson’s list can..and more. But in the case of the LCS(s) you can add to that a disconnection between unrealisitic and even wishfull expectations and actual fact. LCS-1 would be expected to exhibit marginal roll performance at anything below planing speeds; and that behavior may or may not be exacerbated by her weight problems. LCS-2..again..will have what I would consider very predictable ride characteristics at various speeds..some good, some not so good.

    In the case of both vessels, though most particularly LCS-1, the need for and use of active stabilization was given less attantion than it deserved. Yet that kind of technology is an essential part of the solution for these types of vessels and even then…somebody forgot that most of it is very dependent on good old ‘speed-squared’ effects for the lift used to control motions.

    The main point is that nobody should be the least bit ‘surprised’ about any motions these vessels exhibit, good or bad. We’ve known how to accurately predict the motions (analytically and via model testing) for decades. IF seakeeping performance was not considered important, then fine….a concious neglect that they will have no choice but to live with.

  13. Hudson permalink
    April 7, 2010 2:16 pm

    What causes poor seakeeping?

    Poor design? Bad engineering of design? Poor distribution of weight in fixed objects (machinery)? Movable objects (stores)? Keel out of kilter? Top heavy? What?

    In the case of LCS, can problem(s) be solved for completed vessels? New vessels?

  14. Guess who? permalink
    April 7, 2010 1:39 pm

    I like the concept of LCS however what annoys me the most is the fact that the USN are oblivious to the fact that the littorals are the most hazardous region in naval warfare and is under the impression that her speedboats will be able to move around the littorals in the dead of night without anyone noticing and launching USVs, UUVs etc. whilst it’s not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that her only method of defence is waving the shitty end of a stick around

    IMO the best solution is for a small escort/large corvette vessel optimised for the high threat environment!

    57mm Mk.110 is a great development however is no replacement for mk.45, to design a vessel to operate so close to shore without adequate NGS is a crime, Mk.45 is a must!

    1x Ram and 1x Mk.110 isn’t exactly ideal an ideal CIWS package, 2x RAM (one fore and one aft) and 2x Mk.110 mounted amidships is a more preferable solution! (Mk.110 supposedly has minimal deck penetration lending itself further to this application) providing a dual-layer hardkill CIWS package with a range extending to several miles! in tandem with comprehensive soft-kill systems would provide a formidable anti-missile defence and more than capable shore bombardment!

    Speed is a secondary concern, high speed is preferable but 45kts+ is overkill and creates excessive over-engineering, reducing this requirement to 35-36kts could have saved budget managers heartache and would have allowed for a much simpler design and would only require a single MT30

    Large EMF accommodation and a stern RHIB support is a great design consideration, the excessive cargo capacity isn’t. necessary as a littoral combat vessel, however armament of a ship designed for the littorals could lend itself for the use as an ocean going frigate as a secondary consideration with minimal design changes wherin a larger logistic capability would be prefered

    Capability of 2 MH-60 helicopters.. I have a great fondness for ships with multiple rotary platforms, the fact that they’ve managed to find space for 2 on such a small platform is little short of amazing

    ASW… ASW shouldn’t be a major design consideration, there is argument enough for a hull mounted sonar and if there was a threat of submarines if the needs required one or both of the helicopters could be MH-60R (as opposed to MH-60S), however great detail should be payed on reducing detection range of the vessel by methods such as IEP to reduce acoustic signature,

    Containerised mission modules have become a bit of a marketing strategy but depending on the mission they are an effective method of utilising small combatants if required for tasks that they wouldn’t normally be expected to perform.

    LCS was always going to cost an arm and a leg by comparison to a no-frill corvette and wouldn’t come up much cheaper than a 5,000T GP frigate with ESSM but mass produced in the US $275m is a reasonable target.

  15. Scott B. permalink
    April 7, 2010 1:19 pm

    leesea said : “For those who have not been to see ALL ships have their own ride peculiarities.”

    Fictional Dialogue :

    CNO : “Why is it that so many people got seasick during the transit from Key West to Mayport. Anything wrong with the ship ?”

    LCS PEO : “Seakeeping is absolutely fine, Sir. It’s simply that the ship has her own ride peculiarities”.

    Pure NEWSPEAK in action : things are not bad, they are simply ungood; problems are not problems, there are simply challenges.

    Change the narrative and everything’s gonna be all right.

    Meanwhile, there will be many more nights of the living vomit for the skeleton crew. On both USS Freedom and USS Independence.

  16. Scott B. permalink
    April 7, 2010 1:10 pm

    leesea said : “Maybe some congressional folks can convince the Navy to wait a few more months?”

    Getting congressional folks involved won’t be necessary. Lodging a formal process with the GAO will do the trick.

  17. leesea permalink
    April 7, 2010 11:00 am

    Before we all go crying about which LCS will win, perhaps we should review the current RFPs Evaluation Factors?

    As background some reading of Tim Colton’s site might offer some insights as well?

    And to reiterate, the LCS is the Navy’s Program of Record. There is no hand of God which will come down and stop the downselect from happening. One can certainly hope they postpone the decision until both existing ships get throught OT&E. Maybe some congressional folks can convince the Navy to wait a few more months? Ya’ see there are times when the checks and balances might work for the Navy.

  18. leesea permalink
    April 7, 2010 10:55 am

    Mike which $60 million CG cutter can do all the missions of the LCS even one at a time? Pls specify?

    For those who have not been to see ALL ships have their own ride peculiarities. Which is not the same a seakeeping. I might also point out that the launch envelopes for helos and boats are different.

    Large ships have been dodging small boats since ships have gone to sea. HSVs have some characteristics which makes that easier. The wake problem is differetiated by hullform.

    Of course all generalizations suffer but those who have been to sea know the differences.

  19. April 7, 2010 9:06 am

    From what I’ve heard these Sigma’s are commercial hulls with radars and guns, to put it simply. They would never pass US military demands on shipbuilding. Those demands tend to be much higher than European demands, but the military demands of the Netherlands would also rule out a Sigma for the Dutch navy. So the Holland class is several steps up, although not up to US military standards.

    The Sigma’s for Marocco are not in service yet but still being built (and displacement is 2x 2100t and 1x 2300t).

  20. Mike Burleson permalink*
    April 7, 2010 7:35 am

    Ooops! Thanks Scott!

  21. Scott . permalink
    April 7, 2010 7:17 am

    Mike Burleson said : “Scoop Deck’s Phil Ewing details that sailing on USS Freedom can be quite lively”

    That should read USS Independence.

    That said, it’s also true USS Freedom offers very poor seakeeping qualities at slow and moderate speeds.

    Yet another outstanding success for the entire LCS program I guess…


  1. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — April 7, 2010 « Read NEWS
  2. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — April 7, 2010 « Read NEWS

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