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LCS Alternative Weekly

April 21, 2010
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Two versions of Patrol Boats. The U.S. Coast Guard coastal patrol boat Cochito (WPB 87329) is underway near the littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2).

LCS Checklist

The ever-vigilant Phil Ewing has the “scoop” on LCS Freedom’s track record so far after its trial deployment to its California homebase:

  • Just as advertised, Freedom is nimble, very fast and apparently networks well with others. In two conference calls with reporters over the course of the mission, Freedom’s captain, Cmdr. Randy Garner, talked about how pleased he was with the ship’s ability to pounce on suspected bad guys, talk with other U.S. and international units, and use on-board eyes and ears to track small-boat targets: “The ships’ sensors are performing well… we’re able to detect go-fast vessels with unique sensors that other ships might not be able to. Our [Electro-Optical Infrared] cameras have been very helpful,” Garner said.
  • Just as feared, Freedom burns a lot of gas. Garner said the ship had done “several refuelings” from oilers, as well as once from the carrier Carl Vinson. Although the crew seems to have a handle on refueling at sea, critics could point to the number of times they performed it as a bad limitation.
  • Just as it had on its post-commissioning voyage in 2008, Freedom needed to stop because of problems with its diesel generators. Garner said the off-the-ship repair system worked well, because technicians and parts were waiting when the ship got to Panama, but this makes old-style Navy engineering types nervous.
  • Space is tricky on ships the size of LCS: Sailors and their gear were packed into every cranny on Freedom when it sailed in February from Naval Station Mayport. When the ship brought aboard smuggling suspects, it had to hold them in a roped-off part of its helo hangar, rather than a dedicated brig.
  • Now my own opinion on the findings one by one:

    1. Gee Whizz Ship-It is an amazing warship, no doubt, sadly falling under the description of “so heavenly capable it is of little earthly good”. Because of the great expense to deploy the vessels, and the support needed from motherships and AAW vessels, the expense of the $637 million ship is just beginning. We are unlikely to see the 55 required by the Navy. Lee Wahler and myself are at odds whether it will be as low as 15 or no more than 30.
    2. Gas Guzzler-The fuel is a problem for such a very large ship, meant to do long-range patrolling at distances like the Persian Gulf and the Western Pacific. If this was a patrol boat, short range would be a given. It is the size of a frigate using up a frigate’s weight in fuel very quickly.
    3. Diesel generators-Nothing.
    4. Space or lack thereof-Highly automated for a reduced crew, it is uncertain if this will be its Achilles Heel. A ship meant for combat needs a many as possible to fight the ship and for damage control. It seems the Navy has found a unique way to spread the burden of an over-deployed fleet to the crew itself. This means the multimission warship concept which gave us a very costly and shrinking fleet is now married to the multimission sailor, and we wonder of both will break under the strain.

    *****

    Maybe Some Mirrors Would Help

    Apparently, the “small” LCS hull is a chore when it comes to docking, according to Phil Ewing at Navy Times:

    Instead of bridge wings, the ship has roll-down windows like a classic car, so watchstanders can lean out to see what’s alongside and behind the ship. They still can’t quite see everything, including the bow or stern, but topside video cameras are supposed to make up for that…

    This makes docking and undocking tricky. When Independence moored at Naval Station Mayport, Fla., Renshaw and the harbor pilot decided to leave the bridge and stand on the weather deck below to better see how the ship was aligning with the quay wall. Sailors around the ship equipped with laser range-finders reported distances to the pier and other nearby ships over the radio, because it was too tricky to judge the ranges from the bridge, or not possible with the topside video cameras.

    Making some Navy vets flabbergasted:

    “If someone falls over the side, how are you going to see them?” the former cruiser skipper asked, worrying that a sailor could be lost at sea if he went overboard in a blind spot between topside cameras…

    But that won’t last long, he said, because captains won’t stand for it.
    “They’re going to say, ‘You mean, every time I come into port I’ve got to just sit there and be pushed onto the dock by tugs, and I’ve got no say in that? No way — I’m going to disable the positive pressure and open the windows so I can see out.’ ”

    *****

    Oh, the Humanity!

    Not a lot for the crew to do on LCS Independence, according its captain Cmdr. Curt Renshaw, and Corinne Reilly at  
    The Virginian-Pilot:

    There are two keys to operating a 3,000-ton ship with only 40 people, Renshaw explained: automation and cross-training.
    Aboard the Independence, nearly every function that can be performed without a human is done by machine or computer – from fire suppression to engineering to combat.
    Video cameras cover watch stations. Roomba robots vacuum the floors.
    Even steering the ship can be done without people; sailors can program a course, then switch to auto-pilot.
    “We let the ship do a lot of the work for us,” Renshaw said. “And all the jobs that are left – everyone knows all of them.”

    Well, technically thats not true that they have little to do, thinking of the previous article. They’ll all have their heads out the window helping Independence to dock! Thats important…

    *****

    Sail at Your Own Risk

    Prematurely dubbed a “pirate buster” by the Media, it is difficult to imagine how yet another solitary frigate like LCS, however speedy will add to the frustratingly deficient anti-piracy efforts in the Gulf. Story from Strategypage:

    With about 40 warships off the Somali coast, fewer ships are being captured. But it’s still profitable to be a pirate, and not very dangerous. So the pirates keep coming. While it costs $300-400 million a year to maintain the warships off the coast, what worries the naval commanders the most is that their efforts only inconvenience the pirates. Naval commanders want merchant ships to either arm their crews or carry armed security personnel. Most shipping companies resist this, for legal (some ports forbid weapons on merchant ships) and liability (accidental injuries on board) reasons. But the merchant sailors are fine with guns on board, while the ship owners prefer to take their chances. That’s what insurance is for, to pay the ransom if needed. The crews don’t like to endure months of captivity, but jobs are hard to come by, and shipping companies sometimes pay “captivity bonuses.” Currently, twelve ships, and over 250 crew, are being held captive. On average, the period of captivity lasts about 120 days.

    There are few who are inspiring confidence. Certainly not the following comment from Navy Adm. Mark P. Fitzgerald, commander of U.S. naval forces in Europe and Africa via Defense.gov:

    “We could put a World War II fleet of ships out there,”  Fitzgerald said, referring to the Gulf of Aden and the Mozambique Channel off the Indian coast, “and we still wouldn’t be able to cover the whole ocean.”

    The admiral’s advice? The merchant navy is pretty much on its own, so it should arm itself accordingly. So who needs a Navy? Funny though, those same WW 2 ships backed by aircraft managed to contain and defeat an even worse foe in Hitler’s U-boat arm. More recently the Sri Lankan Navy recently routed a terrible threat from Tamil Tiger suicide boats, with its own small craft and some renewed lessons of sea control. But I guess the admirals know best.

    *****

    9 Comments leave one →
    1. D. E. Reddick permalink
      April 24, 2010 3:47 pm

      Graham,

      “Limping Choleric Ships”…

      Simply excellent and perfect!

      Especially following the abject failure of NLOS with the US Army canceling that program.

    2. Graham Strouse permalink
      April 24, 2010 2:29 am

      Just sink the Limping Choleric Ships. SINK THEM! And chain their legislative supporters & contract engineers to the hulks before the operation. Simplifies matters.

    3. CBD permalink
      April 22, 2010 4:33 pm

      If you need crew with laser rangefinders, it sounds like a few more cameras would be useful…

    4. Mike Burleson permalink*
      April 22, 2010 6:32 am

      “the winding-the-windows-down evolution is for the LCS-2”

      Actually, thats the one thing I like about LCS!

    5. Retired Now permalink
      April 21, 2010 9:45 pm

      LCS-1 does have a problem for OOD and JOOD’s. Their visibility abaft the beam is terrible. Either the OOD or JOOD must open the bridge wing door often and go outside to take bearings on any vessel on the beam or on the quarters. This visibility limitation is something that really should be redesigned if the Navy decides to build 55 LCS-1 versions. It’s more than just inconvenient to actually exit the pilot house in order to visually search and check for any bearing drift on contacts on the beams and quarters.

      LCS-2 does not have these very limiting visibility designs inside their Pilot House.

      Safety of ships that may routinely cruise at higher speeds than most Naval warships. The OOD and JOOD onboard LCS-1 designs will do alot of walking and opening and closing the bridge wing doors. Not so bad in nice daylight hours, but this will get old with high winds blowing on those bridge wing doors, rain, humidity, darkness, etc.

      LCS-2 OOD and JOOD will experience far superior visibility as well as maintaining the environment comfortable inside the Pilot House. A big plus for such a tiny (and overworked) crew size.

    6. navark permalink
      April 21, 2010 5:12 pm

      Actually, the winding-the-windows-down evolution is for the LCS-2. The monohull does at least have wings.

    7. Heretic permalink
      April 21, 2010 3:33 pm

      Yet more proof (as if we needed it) that LCS-1 is an incredibly bad design …

    8. michael permalink
      April 21, 2010 2:43 pm

      Laser range finders to dock and undock a ship!!

    Trackbacks

    1. Military And Intelligence News Briefs — April 22, 2010 « Read NEWS

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