LCS Manning–Lessons for the OPC?

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.

6 thoughts on “LCS Manning–Lessons for the OPC?

  1. The LCS is worse than you think. I have been on the Freedom for a portion of their current deployment. All of the added racks were not matched with added lockers. This means 15 or so crew members do not have enough space to store their belongings. Also you need to add the 3 to 6 contractors that are always on the ship.

  2. Completely agree with your assertions here, Chuck.

    In your non-marine-engineer 😉 knowledge, I’m sure you’ve run across some guidelines or recommendations for square footage of compartment space recommended for crew comfort. Obviously, submariners are a special breed, but they probably show the absolute minimum space needed for habitability. A better guideline for CG crews and operations would be trans-oceanic commercial ships, which must attract commercial mariners, which in part means comfortable accomodations. Certainly with a general concept of Sq.Ft./crew-member, we could estimate the volumes of the proposed designs, their machinery and equipment, and know how much internal volume is left for crew. The smaller sq. Ft. left for crew, the less comfortable and the less flexible for future expansion is the design. This is probably pretty far down the list of priorities for selecting a design though…

    • Expectations have certainly increased. “Back in the day” a crewman could expect a piperack (with no storage) stacked as much as four high, a 2ftx2ftx2ft locker and a head and shower 30 feet away that he (and it was only hes) shared with 50 close friends.

      I think the plan for OPC is no more than four racks in a room, stacked two high, an adjoining head and more generous storage (although it is still small enough to make a college dorm look palatial).

      Providing decent accommodations pays dividends a lot of ways, but it also means there is some built in flexibility. In war time we could probably increase the crew by 50% without undue hardship.

      I recently took a three day train trip across country. We had a sleeper, the food was great, but generally I would have been better off on a cutter.

  3. For enlisted E-5 or E-6 and below, the Navy recently (well, in 2000) adopted these “sit-up” racks.  Great advancement in comfort while maintaining compact space use.  I think assigning 2-personnel per rack with the third, “flat rack” reserved for overflow or expansion for later is the best use.
    http://www.marinetalk.com/articles-marine-companies/art/Sit-Up-Berth-xxx00030222TU.html
    Two of these racks per compartment would provide semi-private 4-person rooms with overflow space to make them 6-person.  Plus, with sit-up racks, if someone wants more privacy, they can pull the curtain and not be forced to have that privacy in a reclined position.

    Of course, I can’t help but point out the X-bow design has great volumes of space for personnel comfort, which equally provides overflow/surge capacity when needed.  And then we have the smoother ride in rough seas which improves crew comfort in a different, and unique, way.  Chuck recently posted a story about an X-bow which won a design-of-the-year award, and the thing that jumped out at me was the crew space in the background behind the smiling dignataries.  In the video below from about 2:50 to around 3:10, there are shots of several crew spaces: 

    Combine these open spaces in the X-bow design with the Navy sit-up racks, and both private/confined space and open/spacious areas are available, which provides both extremes people look for.  Add in the X-bow’s smoother ride in heavier seas, and we’re talking great habitability.

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