Tag Archives: LCS

Quantity over Quality

This article is part of our “Sacred Cows Week.”

As articles and blog posts often point out, US naval forces have been largely unchallenged at sea since World War II. Today we face the largest danger since 1945, in the form of severe budgetary cutbacks and fiscal austerity that affect our manning and readiness. After nonnegotiable items like paychecks and food supplies, there is little leftover for R&D, systems upgrades, or the planned expansion to 300 vessels in the next decade.

We face a paradox: while the Navy’s budget is downsizing, its mission requirements are expanding. With the rebalance to the Pacific, there is a lot of ocean that the Navy has to cover—64 million square miles in fact. Our forces are occupied daily from maintaining ballistic missile defense off the coast of North Korea to aiding efforts in Japan after the nuclear disaster at Fukushima to monitoring territorial disputes in the East China Sea to conducting counter-piracy operations among the Indonesian archipelagos. In the words of Admiral Greenert, Chief of Naval Operations, “Presence is our mandate. We have to be where it matters. We need to be there when it matters. And we need to be ready when it matters.” How can we be there, from the Strait of Malacca to the Second Thomas Shoal, when we’re $14 billion dollars short?

It requires the reversal of an adage, a sacred value we pride ourselves on and indeed have executed expertly: “Quality over Quantity!” If we are to achieve Forward Presence and Power Projection, we must instead turn to the new values of “Quantity and Distribution.” We are accustomed to having the highest quality maritime assets on the seas. But in the current times, and for the foreseeable future, the US Navy cannot finance these types of assets in the quantity necessary to maintain a presence across the world’s oceans.

Instead we need smaller and simpler vessels that are relatively inexpensive to produce and maintain. What they sacrifice in capability, such ships gain in speed and affordability—speed to respond quickly, affordability to be mass-distributed. Such a fleet would promote regional stability and establish a forward US Navy presence everywhere they are deployed. If a situation requires bigger guns, the Navy’s more capable (and accordingly more expensive) assets can be dispatched as backup. Smaller ships also offer the advantage of reducing vulnerability. Expensive gray-hulls are single high value targets compared to a dispersed group of low-cost vessels.

130214-N-IC228-003What platform would fill this role exactly? Perhaps a new program is needed, or perhaps an existing program can be adapted such as the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) or the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV). One thing is for sure, it won’t be the DDG1000 or the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier. The Mobile Landing Platform (MLP) and its variant, the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), are promising programs. John Glenn, the second in this line produced by General Dynamics, was just floated in San Diego this past September. Essentially a modified oil tanker, these 840-foot vessels offer a plethora of storage space, a large open deck, and ballast tanks capable of flooding parts of the deck to take on hovercraft. MLPs may not be the quality of technological superiority that we are used to; but at a mere $500 million a copy, they bring capability for a price at which we can afford the quantity.

As the US continues to shift from large-scale conventional wars to geographically diverse low-intensity conflicts, the Navy’s forces must be tailored with the current financial hardships in mind. With changing times come changing values, and it is finally time to shelf the demand for quality and instead favor quantity.




Sea Control 7: Defense Knitting Circle

Sea-ControlGrant Greenwell and Chris Barber join us for the 7th edition of Sea Control. We careen around the road, covering with particular attention intelligence collection, the DDG-1000, and force planning for Amphibious Operations. Join us for Episode 7, the Defense Knitting Circle (Download).

Sea Control comes out every Monday. Don’t forget to subscribe on Xbox Music or Itunes!

Nihil Novi Sub Sole

LCS: Screening The Battle Force from Littoral Threats

Using historical examples and parallels to predict the future can be dangerous, but is better than operating in a vacuum. It can also serve to break down to relatively simple and illustrative terms sometimes overwhelming complexities, in contrast with the more sophisticated analytic tools available.  The simpler method further helps to mitigate the marvelous talent of the human mind to justify whatever it is we want justified by framing the arguments in easy to follow logic.  What does this extended introduction say about LCS’ future development?  LCS has quite a long story, which CAPT Carney Powers tells in the pages of Proceedings’ September issue.  But if we draw a line between the past and present and try to answer the simple question, “What is LCS?” in no more than 10 words, my attempt would be something like this:

LCS screens battle force from asymmetrical threat of the time.

100 years ago, in 1912, the asymmetrical threats to a battle force were the torpedo, carried by the already well established flotillas of torpedo boats, and the rapidly maturing technology of submarines.  In this respect LCS is similar to early destroyers, which were basically outgrown torpedo boats.  Its mission was defined in the most direct way by the French name of this new class of ships – contre-torpilleur.  They were better fighting small and agile torpedo boats than cruisers, which formed the battle-force screen of the time, but they lacked seakeeping and range to keep pace with the fleet.  With time, due in part to the growing threat from submarines and later aircraft, destroyers evolved into two subcategories – escort and fleet destroyers.  In his recently published interview, Dr. John Lehman points to the problem of LCS’ inability to deploy with Carrier Battle Groups as a similarity with the early destroyers, and calls for a battle group-deployable frigate program that would replace the FFG 7s.  As FFGs were never intended to be a part of Carrier Battle Groups there is a danger that his idea would end  up as an attempt to procure fleet destroyers at the cost of escort destroyers, or using contemporary nomenclature to buy DDGs for the price of FFGs.  

Another way to look at LCS could be as a drone carrier.  Norman Friedman recently made this kind of parallel.  During the interwar period, the U.S. Navy searched for more scouting capabilities by pursuing many ideas in parallel.  One of them was a seaplane tender like Curtiss AV-4.  The task was to put at sea a maximum number of possible scouting planes.  Today we speak about autonomous vehicles but the mission is similar.  Quite contrary to destroyers, sea plane tenders disappeared from the seas.  What is the difference between these two parallels?  Contre-torpilleur is a statement of mission, screening the battle force, while seaplane tender is description of capabilities.  Capabilities will naturally evolve with stated mission and technology.  The art is to match both at given level of evolution.  Our ancestors used to say nihil novi sub sole.  Translated into modern language and applied to the Navy we can say that managing the fleet is not a mysterious science but an art of applying already invented ideas.

Przemek Krajewski alias Viribus Unitis is a blogger In Poland. His area of interest is broad context of purpose and structure of Navy and promoting discussions on these subjects In his country