Navy Rethinks the LCS–Manning, Crew Rotation, Homeporting

800px-USS-Freedom-rear-130222-N-DR144-367

Photo: USS Freedom (LCS-1)

The US Naval Institute news service reports “Results of New LCS Review is Departure from Original Vision.”

Why should we care?:

For one thing the LCS were planned to be multi-crewed. Their plan was a bit different from our Crew Rotation Concept, but the idea was the same, multiple crews rotating among multiple ships to provide more deployed time. The Coast Guard had planned to apply the Crew Rotation Concept to the National Security Cutters, but I have also seen it referred to with regard to the Offshore Patrol Cutters.

Earlier I called the Offshore Patrol Cutter, the other LCS, and it does look like they will continue to share some systems and training. If the OPCs emerge with space for modular systems, we may see even more cross talk between the programs. The two types (LCS and OPCs) are similar in size, so comparisons are inevitable.

Hopefully we can learn from their experience.

The results: 

The Navy is abandoning their planned rotation of three crews among two ships in favor of a plan that would assign two crews to a single ship, much like the way SSBNs are manned by blue and gold crews. The significant difference is that the crews “own” the ships, they don’t expect to walk away to a different hull and never see it again.

The size of the crews is to be increased. Originally there was to have been a core crew of 40. That was increased to 50, and it is now planned to increase the core crew to 70 plus a 23 person air detachment. Maximum berthing is reportedly 98. Adding a CG LE team should max out the berthing. This pushes the crew much closer to what the Coast Guard was planning for the OPC, (pdf) a crew of 104. That means a full crew for each LCS is really 163, two core crews of 70 and 23 in the air detachment.

Instead of basing a mix of both types of LCS on each coast, the new plan would put the trimaran Independence class, with its longer range, on the West Coast (San Diego) while the shorter legged, monohull Freedom class will be based on the East Coast (Mayport, FL). That makes a lot of sense.

The ships will be organized into six four ship divisions with each division assigned a single mission (mine countermeasures, anti-surface, or antisubmarine). The four oldest ships will be single crewed, will not be assigned to a division and will instead be used for training and testing. Again this makes sense since subsequent ships are somewhat different, having incorporated lessons learned on the first ships.

That doesn’t necessarily mean there will be one division of each class assigned each of the three missions although that may the result. To me the Independence class appears better suited for ASW and the Freedom class by default better used as minecountermeasures ship.

uss_independence_lcs_2

Photo: USS Independence (LCS-2), U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Justan Williams 

Lessons: 

When the Coast Guard finally decides to abandon the Crew Rotation Concept, as currently envisioned–four crews for three ships. They can point to the LCS experience as justification.

As a means to allow increased time underway, permanently augmenting the NSCs’ crews to allow generous leave and TAD assignments is probably a better solution. After all, if we have a crew of 160 or so assigned to each NSC or OPC, we could probably keep them underway at least as much as the LCS are.

Applying a division staff organization to the NSCs and perhaps the OPCs is probably a good idea. In addition to a post command captain, that could, among other things, provide initial advice to newly arrived COs and possibly a relief CO function; it could provide personnel augmentation for those specialists positions that have little or no redundancy in the typical ship’s organization, allowing them some leave and/or TAD while the ship is underway, with the objective of keeping the crew members underway time at 185 days or less, while the ship is away from homeport for a considerably longer time.

5 thoughts on “Navy Rethinks the LCS–Manning, Crew Rotation, Homeporting

  1. One option would be to assign a Blue & Gold crew to a single ship, designate 2 ships to share 3 crews and sit back 4 years and see how they compare to a single ship/single crew plan.

    One of the 3 options will turn out best… and 4 years and 3 ships is a small slice of the 8 or 9 ship fleet / 30 year lifespan of the NSCs.

    Best yet, you’d have your answer before the OPCs start sailing on the King’s Business.

    • Blue and gold crews are probably a non-sarter for the Coast Guard. Crews are the most expensive part of the lifecycle costs of a ship. They work for the SSBNs because the asset is so expensive and their numbers are also limited by treaty.

      It may work for the LCS because (1) they have a very austere crew, (2) their operating areas are very far from their homeports, so rather than accept long transit times, they plan to keep the ships forward deployed and rotate the crew. The key statement is here: “Unlike a traditional destroyer or cruiser designed to operate forward about 20 percent of the time between maintenance periods, the less complex LCS was planned to be operationally available for up to 50 percent of the ship’s life. ”

      Because ships still need a certain amount of time in maintenance, because our crews will be larger and our transit times to useful employment are shorter, it just not worthwhile to double the crew cost to get perhaps a third more time underway.

      • Agreed. In fact, I think crew rotations are not worth it.

        However, crew rotation was part of the plan that sold 8 ships to do the work of 12, and the CG uses WMSL CREW X vice USCGC X in orders. Either drop the concept or execute the plan.

        Try out some options, document the pros and cons, pick a winner and move on.

  2. Also it appears that Mayport will be getting its first LCS, USS Milwaukee early. That means more hulls for deployment on Fourth Fleet missions. Plus with training ship(s) in Mayport, there will be standby vessel(s) to go south.
    In addition, Mayport is on the short list for MQ-4C Triton RPVs. Those should be nice long range ISR assets.

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