Some interesting documentation on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program suggest the CG may have a better handle on the required accommodations for the Offshore Patrol Cutter, than the Navy had for the LCS. Congress required a report on the manning of the LCS ships and it is out. You can read it here. It is surprisingly short. Once you get passed the forwarding letters, there are actually only four pages of actual content.
To put things in context, the LCS program has tried hard to reduce manpower costs. The Coast Guard agrees that manning is the largest single cost over the life cycle of a ship and estimates that it represents 60 to 70% of the operating costs. The LCS program is also attempting to deploy three new sets of equipment (mission modules) that are still not fully developed, and for which, support requirements are not fully understood. With as much uncertainty as accompanied these programs, you might have thought they would have left themselves some wiggle room in terms of adding extra people.
The LCSs were originally to have a core crew of 40, plus 20 for an aviation detachment, and 15 for mission module personnel. Total 75, so they provided how many racks? You guessed it, 75. In 2012 the Aviation detachment was increased from 20 to 23–Change the design, add three more racks. Now they have decided a core crew of 40 cannot cut it, so they are adding 10 more as a pilot program, and they are still not sure 15 is the right number for the mine-countermeasures detachment. Change the design again. They are now going from two high to three high to make room for the additional crew.
“Conclusion: Based on current analysis and lessons learned from FREEDOM’s deployment, LCS will be configured to support up to 98 total personnel, to include core crew, Mission Package detachment, and aviation detachment. Projected costs to modify ships to accommodate this manning level are $600,000 for LCS 3 and $700,000 for LCS 4.”
But the problem is not just number of racks,
“This habitability modification does not include modifying the ship for other necessities that come with increased crew size, such as the capability for increased food storage, potable water generation, and sewage collection. The habitability modifications for LCS 5 and follow-on ships in the initial block buy will require a design and engineering study which will cost approximately $6 million to complete both ship classes –$3 million for the INDEPENDENCE class and $3 million for the FREEDOM class. This cost is associated with the non-recurring engineering elements required to modify each ship for increased food storage, potable water consumption, solid waste storage, and changes to the HVAC equipment. A design and engineering study will determine the change order cost of each following ship in the block buy. Future programming submissions will fund these habitability modifications.”
“The costs to modified follow on ships will be addressed in future budgets.”
The Coast Guard’s latest Manpower Estimate for the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), completed 18 March 2011, was 104 (15 officers, 9 CPOs, 80 E-6 and below) plus an aviation detachment (five personnel) and Ship’s Signals Exploitation Space (SSES) detachment (seven personnel) for a total of 116. Accommodations are planned for at least 120 (threshold requirement) and hopefully as many as 126 (“objective”).
I’m not sure that will be enough, even though the Coast Guard has apparently been more realistic in its manning assumptions, the manpower estimate does make some optimistic assumptions and it recognizes these. They conclude:
“The risk of crew size and total system personnel requirements changes remain significant as the program remains dynamic. Any labor drivers that we cannot eliminate through engineering and design, but are required to achieve mission capability and capacity will be mortgaged with increased manpower requirements.”
If history is any guide, we can expect crew requirements to increase over the life of these ships. They say the Navy expectation is 10%, but their ships don’t live as long. Additional systems and the manpower to operate and support them are added. 327s, which began life with a complement of 62 in 1934, had a complement of 144 in the 1980s. If they should go to war, manpower-intensive systems that did not seem to make sense when looking at a 30+ year service life, start to make sense when you are just trying to keep the ship from being sunk for the duration of the conflict. It was not uncommon for the crews of ships to double from their peacetime complement before the start of WWII until the end of the war in 1945. Destroyers, which were similar in size to these ships, had crews approaching 300 even though 50% of their hulls was stuffed with propulsion machinery and they had virtually no accommodations above the main deck.
Providing excess capacity and relatively roomy accommodations upon commissioning, buys much greater flexibility over the life of the ship.