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LCS Alternative Weekly

May 26, 2010

One of the four landing crafts that EU NAVFOR warship Johan de Witt is carrying, outside of central Somalia coast. Photo via EU NAVFOR

Designing Canada’s Influence Squadron

Interesting post was pointed out to me in the Canadian Naval Review, which was titled “‘Influence Squadrons’ for Canada?” by J. Matthew Gillis. The author likes the idea of the Influence Squadron as designed by American Capt. Henry “Jerry” Hendricks (Buy Fords, Not Ferraris) a while back, which also inspired numerous New Wars posts, and is seeking to fit the revolutionary concept into the needs of the Great White North:

Firstly, $1.35 billion is a princely sum north of the border, particularly when some additional convincing might be necessary to break out of a like-for-like fleet replacement cycle. Secondly, personnel demands are steep in Hendrix’s suggested squadron.  As proposed above, the squadron would likely require a complement in excess of 500 personnel. Given present recruitment and retention woes in the Canadian navy, such a demand is problematic.

Problem is easily solved, since the cost for each IF is less than half the price of $3 billion the Navy is spending to modernize its expensive-to-operate Halifax frigates. Concerning manpower, this amounts to only a little more the complement of 2 frigates, or less than 2 Iroquois class destroyers. Still, the proposals for a Canadian Squadron remains intriguing:

  • A riverine detachment as above ($40 million);
  • Replacing the T-AKE ‘mother ship’ with something resembling the RFA Bay-class landing ship docks. This sacrifices absolute cargo capacity in favour of lower cost, lower complement, shallower draft, and added options for amphibious/sealift capability. Smaller craft incapable of traversing open ocean could possibly be contained within the well deck, which might also be reconfigured for landing craft as required. One unit costs approximately $230 million;
  • Deletion of the joint high-speed vessel. Though Hendrix argues for the HSV as the “critical logistics link” of the influence squadron, this capacity might be filled by smaller, less-expensive landing craft; and
  • The most room for creativity is in deciding between 150’ patrol craft and 295’ MRVs. My admittedly amateur impression is that existing frigates could possibly stand in when needed in place of an MRV. Alternatively, acquiring 150’ patrol craft edges into the turf of the Kingston-class MCDVs. An in-between option such as the Australian 186’ Armidale-class patrol boat might be ideal, at around $30 million per unit. Acquire, say, four, for $120 million.

Looks good, and such a force is the perfect fit for medium/small navies, as well as superpowers! Git ‘er done.


Canada’s Capable Kingston

While we are on the subject of the Canadian Navy, some interesting comments turned up in the post titled “Questioning Canada’s Naval Policy” the other day, concerning planned cuts in the Navy’s patrol forces. Immediately dismissed in the Media as not very capable, the Kingston class of of 12 coastal defence vessels (MCDV) were the first considered for the chopping block, but wiser heads and public outrage prevailed. Anyway, commenter JollyTar gave us the scoop on the supposedly “less capable” patrol ships:

The midlife refit was canceled several years ago, although systems continue to be upgraded, new radars, new ops room fit etc. The design life for these platforms was 25 years, and the oldest hull being 15 years. To upgrade the ship’s, you not talking a lot of money. To send a CPF to do a job a MCDV can do is say $100000 dollars a day compared to $10000 a day for a MCDV. MCDV’s for the past 15 years have saved the navy millions of dollars, often taking on less glamorous missions the regular force don’t want to do…

Did you know the MCDV’s have trialled and are capable of launching and recovering a UAV?, not to mention other mission fits. The strength of the MCDV is versatility. Often a “product ” will come along for the navy and the MCDV will get the job trialling it, for instance a remote control .50 cal weapon system. Generally the public doesn’t know what the ship’s actually do. I speak from experience, dollar for dollar they have been a success story for the navy.

The MCDV’s are more suited toward coastal waters, however deployed to Europe 3 times and to Pearl Harbor on the West Coast. They have been in storms with up to 15 meter seas with no problems. The MCDV are MARLANT asset, crewed mainly by reservists. The original model for the ship’s was to operate with part time reservist’s like the old gate vessel class, when the ships came out they become operational assets for MARLANT and have operated that way ever since.

The idea of small warships is often passed around they are “less capable”. While this may be true when compared with a high end missile frigate or destroyer, less capable might also mean economical, easier to maintain, eaiser to man, cost effective, spending less time in drydock, which are also dire requirements for operating a Navy. Maintaining presence is essential, even more than capability, especially for peacetime, but this is often an impossibility for a prestige fleet of big ships, which many times go to sea lacking adequate armament, when they are not tied up in port for repairs or lack of funds.

All factors then should be considered when planning the future fleet, not just having the kind of ships you want but also what is most imminently needed, and what you can afford. The idea being that a patrol ship on the scene is better than 2-3 battleships tied up in port.


Where are the Destroyers?

Interesting history from from an older Navy League article on the first American destroyer USS Bainbridge (DD-1) from the early last century, that conjures up surprising modern images:

Commissioned in 1902, the Bainbridge was designed to counter the growing threat posed by the swarms of steam-powered torpedo boats that, taking advantage of their small size and high speed, were able to streak suddenly toward larger capital ships in coastal waters and wreak havoc with their torpedoes. The Bainbridge and her eight sister ships were built as torpedo boat destroyers. The first several classes of destroyers, in fact, resembled larger versions of the torpedo boats that they were designed to sink.

Bringing up the question, where are today’s destroyers? Though there are plenty large warships spouting the most sophisticated weapons available, from missiles, guns, helicopters, and even robots, there are few which are specially geared for tackling small yet lethal threats in shallow waters. Today’s destroyers and frigate are more kin to large cruisers and even battleships from the Bainbridge era, in that they are so expensive only a few can be afforded, centralizing power, and enhancing risk.

Needed are small ships able to follow pirates and smugglers into their shallow water haunts. Also, to contend with enemy swarming tactics which threaten our large warships in coastal waters, ancient tactics revived recently by the navies of China and Iran. Though large warships have been known to tackle torpedo boats on occasion, such few and far between vessels can’t be everywhere at once, but the need for presence and numbers to contend with unknown and known enemies is always vital.


Giving Small Waships a Bad Name

The LCS costs and complications keep making the USN’s $2 billion destroyers look better all the time. Here is Greg Grant:

Navy sources tell DoD Buzz that there is a lot of dissatisfaction on the Navy staff with the LCS. “It’s sucking up money better spent on a real warship,” said one source. It’s way over-engineered for the missions it will conduct, such as counternarcotics and counter-piracy, said another. Those same sources said they’re hearing not altogether encouraging things about progress with the LCS mission modules, particularly the mine sweeping and the anti-submarine warfare modules.

Now here’s a no-shocker which New Wars has been insisting all along, concerning the planned by of 55 Littoral Cash Shockers:

From what we’re hearing, there’s a good chance the final number may end up being much lower.

A safe bet, for sure!


Small Warships Cheaper, Duh

The Navy keeps seeking elaborate tricks to make giant billion dollar warships seem “cost effective”, such as the use of new bio-fuels, reducing manning, etc. A sure-fire way to deploy a less costly fleet without comprimisng numbers and capabilty would be very many small ships. No rocket science required to figure this out. From the Congressinal Budget Office, via the Examiner, we get some comparison on the price to operate various ships:

The Congressional Budget Office recently released a study it conducted at the request of Senator Jeff Sessions which calculates the costs of four classes of Navy combat ships over their entire life-cycle…The analysis focused on the following ship programs (including their annual operating costs in millions $$):

  • MCM-1 Avenger class mine countermeasures ships-21
  • FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry class guided missile frigates-50
  • DG-51 Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyers-87
  • CG-47 Ticonderoga class guided missile cruisers-115
  • LCS-1 Indepedence littoral combat ship-47

Note also our favorite big-budget boondoggle the LCS has a much smaller personell expesne than all of the above, $161 milllion annually compared to $243 mil. for Avenger. This doesn’t mean of course, that the sailors work-load will be any easier, probealy worse, but at least he will be more “cost effective”!


Dutch De Witt Proves Mothership Concept Viable

Though the following article is short on details, (such as how many pirates is the ship blocking, how much of the coastilne is she patrolling etc.), it does give the reader an idea how the mothership concept is a workable alternative to only sending in Cold War era frigates and destroyers to contend with the world’s most minor threats, the pirates. Story is from EU NAVFOR Somalia:

EU NAVFOR HNLMS Johan de Witt has effectively blocked known pirate access on the Somali coast from access to the open sea. As an amphibious ship, HNLMS Johan de Witt is able, from a dock within the ship, to launch a number of smaller vessels, LCVPs (Landing craft for vehicle and personnel transport), that can provide a blockading role on selected known pirate areas of the Somali coast…EU NAVFOR HNLMS Johan de Witt is providing an excellent blocking force and very effectively denying pirate access to the high sea at a time when worsening weather conditions is making pirate operations increasingly more difficult.

An excellent operation and an antidote to the mindset that “piracy can only be defeated on land”. So with the mothership you have a solitary high end vessel, which alone can’t contend with numerous low tech swarming enemies, but tied to several of her own small patrol craft, her influence is greatly extended, and magnified into the littorals. This is how the future Influence Squdron will work. Instead of displacing the navies fleet of Blue Water battleships, it could extend its reach into waters large deepwater vessels dare not tread. Will the established navies ever get it, that its not a matter of a Blue Water or coastal fleet, but a Hybrid Force ready to sail into waters prohibitve to deep draft vessels.


14 Comments leave one →
  1. Matthew Gillis permalink
    October 4, 2010 2:59 pm

    Jed, I’ve only just stumbled upon this blog (and your comment), so forgive me if my reply isn’t exactly timely. But I thought you raised some good points and I wanted to reply them.

    The logic behind a Canadian squadron is simply that, as the Canada First Defence Strategy declares, the Canadian Forces must be prepared to contribute to international peace and security in addition to defending North America. You’ve touched on some of those international engagements with Canada’s [unfortunately now rather diminutive] peacekeeping efforts.

    To that end, Maritime Command has identified four objectives for the incoming strategic concept that will replace Leadmark and Securing Canada’s Ocean Frontiers. These are 1) to protect a regulated ocean commons at home and abroad; 2) to promote ‘good’ around the world in the national interest; 3) to prevent conflict wherever possible and; and 4) to prevail in combat.

    The latter two are not exactly new, and are IMHO timeless ‘bedrock’ functions of navies around the world. But the former two are evolutionary. Post-2011 when the army pulls out of Afghanistan, it makes sense to expect that the navy is going to be at the forefront of Canadian foreign policy and military activities abroad. Not only are there political reasons for this – the government and public alike will probably be fairly ‘gunshy’ of large-scale interventions for a long time – but it’s also going to take the army a long time to regenerate its people, equipment, and capabilities.

    In an ideal future, we’d have a navy well-suited to deliver focused impact in trouble spots like Somalia and Haiti. Now, conducting counter-piracy patrols and delivering humanitarian assistance is not a worthwhile use of a 5,000 tonne frigate or anti-air destroyer. In fact, those ships are inherently BAD at these sorts of duties. As an example, the men and women on the ground in Haiti did good work, but the naval components of Op HESTIA were hamstrung by their very narrow capacity to ferry troops and transport supplies and machinery. See Brian Stewart’s article “Just how shipshape are we?” for an extended discussion of these shortcomings. Link here:

    So, it’s reasonable to take issue with the navy’s priorities for the future, but that’s another debate. For what the navy wants on its plate for the near future, the squadron outlined by Hendrix provides the best bang-for-buck.

    That’s what makes it relevant for Canada.

  2. Heretic permalink
    May 27, 2010 10:00 am

    L uxury
    C ash
    S iphoner

  3. Scott B. permalink
    May 26, 2010 5:57 pm

    Now the question is : why did the CBO folks such a sloppy job with their LCS estimates ?

    Is accountability is this specific case such a *rhetorical question* ?


  4. Scott B. permalink
    May 26, 2010 5:52 pm

    1) The GAO, in its latest report of major weapon programs reported the R&D cost for the MPs to amount to $480 million for 64 units as of 08/2007, meaning :

    R&D per unit = $7.5 million (= 480 / 64)

    2) As we’ve seen earlier, the average procurement cost for the MPs is about $70 million per unit.

    3) As reported by the GAO, the O&S costs for the MPs amount to $20.8 billion for 64 units, meaning :

    O&S per unit = $325 million.

    Now, let’s inject these costs into the life-cycle equation :

    R&D : 20 + 7.5 = 27.5
    Procurement : 680 + 70 = 750
    O&S : 1,165 + 325 = 1,490

    Total : 2,267.5

    Average LCC per year : $90.7 million (= 2,267.5 / 25)

    $90.7 million per year ? That’s roughly the same LCC as the DDG-51 class and almost twice as much as the FFG-7 class.

    Now, that would be quite a shock, wouldn’t it ?

  5. Scott B. permalink
    May 26, 2010 5:37 pm

    I’ll give yet another reason why the CBO figures don’t really make sense.

    3) Footnote g, page 8 :

    “Other O&S costs are mostly for maintenance. The figures for the LCS are based on 2009 data, which may not match future maintenance costs. In addition, maintenance costs have not been adjusted to reflect ships’ operational tempos.

    That’s essentially a lot of caveat to explain that the CBO folks take whatever number the Navy gave them without even trying to figure out whether or not these numbers matched the operating profile of LCS.

    Ever since I read the CBO report, I’ve had a question on my mind : did the CBO folks even read the recent GAO report on LCS ?

    I think they didn’t, otherwise, they would have noted some differences with the numbers they came up with (pages 10-11) :

    (emphasis added)

    The Navy has estimated operating and support costs that include most elements of the LCS program. Our analysis of the Navy’s 2009 estimates showed that the operating and support costs for the planned seaframes and mission packages could total $84.8 billion which amounts to about $61.7 million per seaframe annually to operate and support both the seaframes and mission packages.

    For the seaframes, the Navy’s 2009 estimate of operating and support costs projected a total of $64.1 billion based on a 25-year service life. According to Navy officials, this estimate assumed a nearly even split othe two seaframe types as the seaframes have different operating and support cost profiles. However, the Navy has announced that it will choose one of the two seaframe designs in 2010 so the associated operating and support costs will likely change depending on the design selected.

    For the mission packages, operating and support costs could total $20.8 billion. The Navy provided us with its estimate of the average annualoperating and support costs of each mission package. Therefore, to calculate the total operating and support costs, we multiplied the average annual estimates by the number of packages of each type with an expect 30-year service life. The Navy’s most recent estimates were prepared to support the fiscal year 2010 budget but did not include the antisubmarine package since its contents are under development; therefore, we used the prior year’s estimate to calculate the operating and support costs for this mission package.”

    OK, let’s see what we got here :

    a) O&S costs (seaframe + MPs) : $84.8 billion for 55 units and 25 years, i.e. $61.7 million per unit per year. So far, so good…

    b) O&S costs (seaframe only) : $64.1 billion for 55 units and 25 years, i.e. $46.6 million per unit per year.

    Now compare this last number with the *estimate* by CBO :

    O&S costs = Personnel + Fuel + Other O&S = (161 + 112 + 89) / 25 = $14.5 million per unit per year.

    Basically, what this means is that CBO not only left the MPs & aviation detachment outside the scope of their *study*, but also underestimated GROSSLY the costs for the seaframe alone, by something like $30+ million per unit per year !!!

    To find out what the impact of such an underestimate might be, let’s inject the GAO numbers for O&S into the CBO study (and exclude the MP / aviation detachment for the moment) :

    R&D : 20
    Procurement : 680
    O&S : 1,165 (= 64,100 / 55 = 46.6 * 25)

    Total : 1,865

    Average LCC per year : $74.6 million (= 1,865 / 25)

    Say what ? Just with the seaframe, the lifecycle costs involved with LCS as almost as high as those of a DDG-51 ($87 million), and 50% higher than those of a FFG-7 ($50 million).

    Now, that would be a shock, wouldn’t it ?

    But, hey, let’s reinject the MP and aviation in the scope and see what happens (next post).

  6. Scott B. permalink
    May 26, 2010 5:06 pm

    Below are some of the reasons why the LCS figures given in the CBO report don’t make any sense at all :

    1) Footnote f, page #8 of the CBO report :

    “Procurement costs for the LCS-1 and LCS-2 are estimated, not final. They include outfitting and postdelivery costs but exclude costs for mission packages.” (emphasis added)

    Procurement costs for the mission packages are not included in the total ? That’s a very convenient way of excluding something like $72.35 million per unit out of the scope !!!

    2) Footnote b, page #8 of the CBO report :

    “CBO assumes that there will be 4 crews of 8 officers and 32 enlisted personnel for every 3 LCSs. Air detachments and mission packages will involve additional personnel.

    Let’s see : as explained in a GAO report released not too long ago (page 2) :

    “a deployed LCS will have a total of 78 personnel on board comprised of 40 core crewmembers to operate the ship, 15 to operate the mission packages, and 23 for the aviation detachment.”

    When you exclude the MP crew and air detachment, you take almost 50% of the personnel costs out of the scope (i.e. [15 + 23] / 78 = 48.7%).

    IOW, the CBO way of counting *things* underestimate the personnel costs for LCS by about a factor of about 2, meaning that once you account for the MP crew and air detachment, personnel costs are somewhere between $300 and $320 million per ship, rather than the $160 million given by the CBO.

    Before we move to the next point, let’s see how much money CBO already left outside the scope of its *study* : about $70 million for the procurement cost of the MP, and another $150 million for the MP crew and air detachment, i.e. a sub-total of $220 million so far.

    Let’s add these *exclusions* to the CBO total for LCS-1 (moderate speed) and see what we end up with : 1,063 + 220 = $1,283 million.

    And now, let’s re-run the average life-cycle per year, i.e. divide these $1,283 million by the expected service life of 25 years :

    1,283 / 25 = $51.3 million.

    And what happens then ? The average life-cycle cost per year of LCS-1 becomes superior to that of the FFG-7.

    But that’s not finished. More in the next post.

  7. CISCO Router permalink
    May 26, 2010 4:47 pm

    Off Taiwan, their Navy has serious patrols by frigates and other warships constantly circling their small island. When a frigate experiences a failure of some important engine or radar, etc. the frigate simply pulls into port and a replace frigate takes it place immediately. Then the frigate that has just returned mostly go ashore and go home, while tech’s literally wearing white coats come onboard and fix the casualties. I guess the US NAVY could do this exact same CONOPS with LCS. Right ? Not sure anything else would work. So, lets copy TAIWAN !!

  8. Scott B. permalink
    May 26, 2010 4:37 pm

    Mike Burleson said : “From the Congressinal Budget Office, via the Examiner, we get some comparison on the price to operate various ships:”

    At the risk of repeating myself again, here is my opinion on the aforementioned CBO report :


    This *report* is a complete waste of taxpayer money, which is a SHAME considering it was done by the Congressional Budget Office.

    1) In the absence of meaningful data on the GD/Austal design, it’s pretty much a waste of time as Tim Colton accurately pointed out.

    2) Virtually every single cost line on the LockMart design is GROSSLY UNDERESTIMATED, which really makes you wonder why the authors of this report, intentionally or not, wanted to make LCS look much better than it really is.

    Why the people of CBO have suddenly become so supportive of the entire LCS boondoggle (again intentionally or not) is not entirely clear, but I am willing to bet that this may have something to do with one of their former pals being the current Under SECNAV…

  9. Joe permalink
    May 26, 2010 2:02 pm

    This blog posted several months (or years ago, cant remember) about arming the Sea Fighter (FSF-1) and sending it, i think thats the best idea. Its small (relatively), fast, can go long periods without refueling, can carry two helos, can even use LCS mission modules, can deploy fast boats, i mean its everything we want as a fleet escort ship and LCS ship at a fraction of the price and a lower cost of man power.

  10. Heretic permalink
    May 26, 2010 10:05 am

    If find it interesting in the referenced CBO report that for the life cycle costs of 2 LCS you could afford a FFG-7 and a MCM-1 … with money left over. Furthermore, on an annual basis, for the price of 2 LCS you can afford *TWO* MCM-1 plus a FFG-7 … or *TWO* FFG-7.

    This right here tells me that the Lousy Craps Shoot … er, uh … LCS … is a remarkably bad return on investment. If we’re going to be using it as a (carrier escorting) FFG … why aren’t we building upgraded FFGs? Heck, the FFGs cost just as much to build! ($662 million, FFG … vs … $680 million, LCS)

  11. Scott B. permalink
    May 26, 2010 9:44 am

    Greg Grant said : “Navy sources tell DoD Buzz that there is a lot of dissatisfaction on the Navy staff with the LCS”

    I find it encouraging that some within the Navy finally decided to break the omerta and start telling (some of) the truth about the LCS disaster.

    I can’t help thinking that lucid efforts by people like Mike B. or CDR Salamander to shed light on this failed program are starting to pay off !!!

  12. Scott B. permalink
    May 26, 2010 9:36 am

    Mike Burleson said : “They have been in storms with up to 15 meter seas with no problems.”

    Here is what Captain (N) Viateur Tremblay, Deputy Commander, Naval Reserve, Department of National Defence, said about the Kingston-class MCDV before the Canadian Senate Committee on National Security and Defence on September 25, 2003 :

    “I know that they are pretty rough at sea. My son is a naval reservist. They have their challenges in rough seas.”


  13. Jed permalink
    May 26, 2010 9:12 am

    But why on earth would Canada need an influence squadron ? Who is going to influence ? Other than supporting the US policy on Afghanistan by providing troops to that country, Canada has a history of deploying peace keepers (generally the army). So, as far as I am aware, our foreign policy actually has no need of an influence squadron.

    What we need is a Navy / para-military Coast Guard that can secure access to the resources of the “great white north” including the EEZ’s in the Pacific, Atlantic AND Arctic oceans. We need AIP subs that can operate under ice. Some Schelde Enforcer class type ships able to deploy Helo’s AND Hovercraft – if those ships could be “summer ice” capable that would be even better. If such capabilities for “home land defence” have uses elsewhere, as in anti-piracy ops, then all well and good, but Canada does not need influence squadrons, because it is not the US and does not try to wield hard or soft power influence on every corner of the world stage.


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