“BEWARE BUYER’S REMORSE: WHY THE COAST GUARD NEEDS TO STEER CLEAR OF THE LCS” –CIMSEC

USS Freedom (LCS-1), decommissioned 29 Sept. 2021.

CIMSEC has a post, written by a serving USCG engineer, about why the Coast Guard should not take on the Navy’s unwanted Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). For this discussion, it may be important that you see the author’s qualifications.

“Lieutenant Joey O’Connell has served aboard two Coast Guard cutters as an engineer. He is currently a Medium Endurance Cutter (MEC) port engineer, planning and overseeing depot-level maintenance on the aging MEC fleet. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and two masters degrees—one in naval architecture and the other in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “

It appears the author makes a convincing case, but I would add additional caveats.

The maximum range of the Freedom class, on their installed diesels, is about one third that of the Offshore Patrol Cutter and about half that of the over 50+ year old 210 foot Reliance class WMECs. That is totally unacceptable for typical Coast Guard operations.

The semiplaning hull required to allow the Freedom class to make its exceptionally high speed does not handle rough seas well. The resulting fatigue will limit the performance of the crew, and ship’s motion can preclude helicopter and boat operations in demanding environments. Earlier evaluation found that the OPC could conduct boat and helicopter operations in conditions when the LCS could not.

While the Freedom class have spacious aviation facilities, I have seen very little about their boat handling facilities and these are a cutter’s main armament for law enforcement. They might require extensive rework. Video from USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) below:

“All Freedom Littoral Combat Ships in Commission Tapped for Early Disposal” –USNI

Littoral combat ship Little Rock (LCS 9) is underway during a high-speed run in Lake Michigan during acceptance trials. Lockheed Martin Photo

The US Naval Institute’s news service reports, that the Navy intends to decommission all nine currently completed and commissioned Freedom class Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) including one commissioned in 2020 and three commissioned in 2019.

Does this make any sense?

We are told the Freedom Class cost as much to maintain as a Burke class DDG. I have to wonder if we are talking total operating costs? Does that include manning? Fuel? Manning is a very large part of the operating cost of a warship, and even with two crews per ship, the manning for the Freedom class (2 x 75) is about half that of a single crewed DDG (303 to 323).

Also sighted in the report is the decision to terminate Raytheon’s AN/SQS-62 VDS program that was to be the primary sensor for the ASW mission module and was expected to equip the new FFG has been cancelled. On the FFG it will be replaced by the CAPTAS 4.

While it showed promise in early testing, the Raytheon-built AN/SQS-62 VDS suffered stability problems and had towing issues with the Freedom-class, several Navy officials have told USNI News. As a result of the poor performance, the Navy announced it had terminated the mission module on Monday.

The report seemed to suggest that because the VDS was not working, the Freedom class could not be used in the ASW role that was intended.

“With no mission module and unexpected costs for the repair to a complex combining gear for the Freedom-class ships, Navy officials said it wasn’t worth keeping the ships in commission.”

Elsewhere I have seen Navy officials quoted as saying the two decisions, while announced almost concurrently, were in fact unrelated. It also would not account for the decommissioning of nine ships because, only a third of the completed or funded Freedom class (after Freedom was decommissioned) that would have remained were expected to have the ASW mission. That meant, at most, five ASW equipped ships.

It also would not make sense because, while the CAPTAS 4 might not fit the LCS, it is only one of a family of related towed array systems. There is a lighter, modular CAPTAS 4, as well a other smaller and lighter members of the CAPTAS family, that could have given these ships a significant ASW capability. A question remains, what is to become of the Independence class LCSs that were to have been equipped with the ASW module?

These ships were built by Marinette Marine. Marinette also has the contract for the new guided missile frigate (FFG). If the Freedom class LCSs were returned to Marinette to be fixed, it might delay completion of the FFGs, which must certainly be a higher priority than fixing the Freedom Class ships. That could be a reason. Still the repairs could be done elsewhere.

One thing is for sure, this decision will save the builders of these defective ships a huge amount of money, in that they will no longer be required to fix the problems they created. Could this be the real reason?

Some good may come of this debacle:

It appears six, as yet uncompleted Freedom class LCS, will be retained. They are to be split between 4th and 5th Fleet. That probably means three in Jacksonville and three forward deployed in Bahrain. The ships in Jacksonville will probably do a lot of drug interdiction patrols for 4th Fleet. Still three ships could not continuously support more than one ship underway, whereas the norm has been two ships for some time now.

Adoption of the CAPTAS 4 may open up the possibility of use of other members of the CAPTAS family including, perhaps, application to cutters.

“Littoral combat ships in Mayport make the most of a year of restricted operations” –Defense News

Littoral combat ship Little Rock (LCS 9) is underway during a high-speed run in Lake Michigan during acceptance trials. Lockheed Martin Photo

Defense News reports on the activities of the eight Freedom class Littoral Combat Ships based in Mayport during the year since recognition of their combining gear problem. (LCS-5, 7, 9, 11, 13, 15, 17, and 19. LCS-1 and 3 are in San Diego.)

All their deployments have been with Forth Fleet, primarily doing drug interdiction with a Coast Guard LEDET aboard.

“But, the squadron commodore said, the formation also has seen its greatest operational achievements during that same time, conducting seven successful deployments to U.S. 4th Fleet that took hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of drugs off the market, interrupted trafficking networks across SOUTHCOM, supported partners throughout Central and South America and pushed back against excessive maritime claims.”

The report provides some insights in the nature of the class problems. The problems were not limited to when both turbines and diesels were operating together, to achieve maximum speed.

they are forbidden from operating in two modes to achieve top speeds — operating both the gas turbine and the diesel engine for full power, and using the diesel engine in “boost mode”

It appears the clutches for the diesel engines were not up to the torque those engines provided and this has meant that the ships are using turbines for cruise speeds that the diesels would have been expected to provide.

What we found out then later after that was, when Detroit had the failure, is that it was more than just that combined mode; it was actually the torque on that clutch when the diesel engine was operating under the higher loads, causing the same degradation and failure,”

This has impacted their already short range.

“…diesel engine is your most economical mode, so you just have to watch the operational employment of the ship more to make sure that you’re managing your fuel consumption” as the ships relied less on the diesel engine and more on the gas turbine.”

These ships continue to have reliability problems.

Defense News reported in June the LCS Strike Team, alongside the newly established LCS Task Force, had identified 32 reliability problems and were focused on five for the Freedom-variant ships. In addition to the combining gear, that list included issues related to the diesel generator rigid mount, fuel lines, water jets and boat davits.

That means they are being kept on a short leash. That is to some extent good news for 4th Fleet and the drug enforcement effort, since they are still not ready to be deployed to Bahrain.

On the other hand, that means PATFORSWA is to some extent covering missions that the LCSs should be doing.

I am not sure it’s true, but it seems the LCS are not as effective as cutters in drug enforcement. It would be interesting to do a study of that. To determine if it is true, and if so, why.

Another impression is that while we have deployed HITRON helicopters on foreign vessels engaged in drug enforcement, the LCSs use only Navy helicopters.

Navy to Decommission Cyclone Class Patrol Craft

Cyclone-class patrol coastal USS Zephyr (PC 8) crew conducts ship-to-ship firefighting to extinguish a fire aboard a low-profile go-fast vessel suspected of smuggling in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean April 7, 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Barney

I learned recently that the Navy expects to decommission their 13 Cyclone class patrol craft in FY2021. This is significant for the Coast Guard for a couple of reasons.

The three based in Mayport have consistently been used to augment Coast Guard vessels, hosting Law Enforcement Detachments for drug enforcement (a recent example). .

Second, these vessels frequently partner with Coast Guard patrol boats of PATFORSWA based in Bahrain. Their decommissioning may put a greater load on the Coast Guard unit as it begins to receive Webber class as replacements for the existing six Island class patrol boats.

ARABIAN GULF (Sept. 16, 2018) A MK-60 Griffin surface-to-surface missile is launched from coastal patrol ship USS Thunderbolt (PC 12). (Photo by MC2 Kevin Steinberg)

For the Island class cutters in the Persian Gulf, the Cyclone class have served as better armed, big brothers, adding a bit of muscle to escort missions where Iranian Fast Inshore Attack Craft might be encountered. While the Webber class, that will be replacing the Island class, are a bit better armed than the 110s, unless they are extensively modified, they will not come close to replacing the missile armed Cyclone class. LCS are supposed to replace the Cyclone class, but they still have not demonstrated the ability to sustain a reasonable number of vessels in a remote theater. LCS are also too large to go many of the places the Cyclone class were able to.

USS Hurricane (PC-3)

These little ships have seemed to count for very little to the Navy. Regularly we see a count of “Battleforce ships”“Battleforce ships” that includes everything from aircraft carriers down to civilian crewed, unarmed fleet tugs (T-ATF), salvage ships (T-ARS), and high speed intra-theater transports (T-EPF, really aluminum hulled, high speed ferries). The Cyclone class were only included in the count one year (2014), so their loss will be largely invisible. (Significantly, this count of what many must assume is the National Fleet also makes no mention of Coast Guard assets either.)

Until ten of the class found a home in Bahrain, the Navy seemed to have had a hard time figuring out what to do with them. Originally intended to support the special warfare community, they were considered to large for that mission. Of the original fourteen one was transferred to the Philippine Navy. Five had been temporarily commissioned as Coast Guard cutters.

Other than the far larger LCS, the navy has no plans to replace these little ships, that have reportedly been the busiest ships in the Navy.

DAHLGREN, Va. (Nov. 6, 2004) Coast Guard Cutter Shamal (WPC-13) . USCG photo by Joseph P. Cirone, USCG AUX

Sea-Air-Space 2019 Virtual Tour

Like most of you I did not make it to the Navy League’s 2019 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, so I have found some YouTube reports that can at least provide some of the information passed along at the event. The descriptions below each video are from the YouTube description.

Day 1 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. In this video we cover:
– Boeing MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone with Rear Admiral Corey
– Future USVs and XLUUV/Orca programs with Captain Pete Small
– Austal USA new range of medium and large size USVs
Textron Systems CUSV with surface warfare payload
– ST Engineering range of USVs

Day 2 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. In this video we cover:
– Raytheon SPY-6 radar
– Raytheon / Kongsberg NSM for USMC
– Northrop Grumman PGK for naval 5 Inch and 155mm guns
– Lockheed Martin Freedom-class lethality and survivability upgrade
– Lockheed Martin FFG(X)
– Navantia / BIW FFG(X)

Day 3 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. Washington-based naval expert Chris Cavas is our guest speaker for this third and final day at Sea Air Space 2019. Cavas covers the follow topics:
– Bell V-247 Vigilant VTOL tilt-rotor UAV in U.S. Navy configuration
– Austal USA USV concepts
– Austal USA FFG(X) Frigate
– Fincantieri FFG(X) Frigate
– GD Bath Iron Works FFG(X) Frigate
– Lockheed Martin Type 26 CSC
– Lockheed Martin hypervelocity missile
– Mic drop

Surface Navy Association 2019 –Virtual Attendance

Like many of you, I was unable to attend the Surface Navy Association Conference, but I did find a number of videos which may provide some of the information that would have been available there. The Coast Guard Commandant had been scheduled to speak but cancelled, apparently in response to the partial government shutdown.

I have provided three videos, each about ten minutes, that may be of general interest, and links to four others, typically 20-25 minutes. The descriptions are from their respective YouTube pages.

The second and third videos have specific Coast Guard content, which I have identified by bold typeface with the beginning time in parenthesis. Some of the other equipment may have Coast Guard applications in the future.

Day 1 video coverage at SNA 2019, the Surface Navy Association’s national symposium. In this video we cover:
– Austal latest frigate design for FFG(X)
– Raytheon DART Variable Depth Sonar (VDS)
– Raytheon / Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM)
– Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti Ship Missile (LRASM)

Day 2 video coverage at SNA 2019, the Surface Navy Association’s national symposium.
In this video we cover:
– Fincantieri Marine Group FREMM frigate design for FFG(X)
– General Dynamics NASSCO John Lewis-class T-AO (New Oiler)
– Raytheon SM-2 restart
– Raytheon SM-3
– Leonardo DRS Hybrid Electric Drive for U.S. Coast Guard’s Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) (time 11:10)

Day 3 video coverage at SNA 2019, the Surface Navy Association’s national symposium. In this video we cover:
– Atlas North America’s solutions for mine counter measures, harbor security and unmanned surface vessels
– Lockheed Martin Canadian Surface Combatant (Type 26 Frigate, Canada’s Combat Ship Team)
Insitu ScanEagle and Integrator UAS (time 4:30)
– Raytheon SPY-6 and EASR radar programs

NAVSEA’s Moore on Improving Ship Repair, McCain & Fitzgerald, Ford, LCS

Vice Adm. Tom Moore, USN, the commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, discusses US Navy efforts to increase public and private ship repair capabilities, lessons learned from repairing USS John S. McCain and Fitzgerald, the new Ford-class aircraft carrier, getting the Littoral Combat Ship on regular deployments and more with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia.

GE Marine’s Awiszus on LM2500 Engine Outlook, Future Shipboard Power

George Awiszus, military marketing director of GE Marine, discusses the outlook for the company’s LM2500 engine that drives warships in more than 30 nations and the future of shipboard power with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia.

US Navy’s Moran on Improving the Surface Force, Culture, Ship Repair & Information Sharing

Adm. Bill Moran, USN, the vice chief of naval operations, discusses dialogue with China, improving the surface force in the wake of 2017’s deadly accidents, refining Navy culture, increasing ship repair capabilities, harnessing data, improving information sharing across the force and the new Design for Seapower 2.0 with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia.

US Navy’s Coffman on New Expeditionary Warfighting Concepts, Organizations, Unmanned Ships

Maj. Gen. David “Stretch” Coffman, USMC, the US Navy’s director of expeditionary warfare (N95), discusses new expeditionary warfighting concepts, the recent deployment of Littoral Combat Group 1 — composed of USS Wayne E Meyer (DDG-108) and USS Somerset (LPD-25) — to South America, new formations to replace the current Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit, unmanned ships, the performance of the F-35B Lightning II and more with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian.

Will We Start Seeing LCS in SOUTHCOM?

USS Independence (LCS-2)

Are we going to see any Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) joining the Coast Guard in interdicting drugs? They seem to be saying yes, but the level of effort, and when it will start, is still not clear. In April DefenseNews reported, “The Pentagon is poised to send the LCS to thwart narcos.,” but then the first line said they were “poised to decide,” which is not really the same thing.

The report indicated that four ships would deploy in 2019 (“The Navy has been piecing together a strategy to get at least four ships back down to SOUTHCOM to perform counter-drug ops.), and that 24 LCS deployments are planned between 2019 and 2024.

August 22 we had another DefenseNews report, “Newly reorganized littoral combat ship program faces its first big test in 2019,” that reported , “Four littoral combat ships are on track to be available to deploy in 2019,” but it is still unknown when that will be, for how long, and even what kind of deployment.

SOUTHCOM and others are pushing for additional assets from the Navy, but it is unclear what, if any, additional support he will be given.

Both articles had the same quote from Secretary of Defense Mattis,

“Is it primarily law enforcement? Do they need to have people with badges, which would mean Coast Guard cutters were going to have to shift and go to the Department of Homeland Security? Or is it LCSs, because of the nature of an evolving threat?” Mattis said. “We don’t have the answer yet, sir, but we’re working it.”
I find that statement a bit troubling. It looks like SecDef does not know how the ships are used. There certainly seems to be no urgency. So when will we see them? Given the current lack of commitment, probably not until mid to late 2019 at best, and even then we are unlikely to see all four committed to SOUTHCOM. The Navy will probably want to send at least one to IndoPacific Command (INDOPACOM) and one to Central Command (CENTCOM).
Ships expected to be deployed in 2019 are two of the trimaran Independence class,
USS Montgomery (LCS-8) and USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), both based in San Diego, and two mono-hull Freedom-class, USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9), both based in Mayport. One of these, USS Detroit is now expected to deploy with Naval Strike Missile installed. I can’t believe they have accelerated integration of this anti-ship cruise missile so that they could go chase drug runner. Detroit is likely to go to INDOPACOM, although it might pass through SOTHCOM AOR in transit.
There are potentially a couple of interesting things to watch if they do deploy.
  • How long can they deploy given their apparent strong dependence on contractor support and the short cruising range of particularly the mono-hull Freedom class? Hopefully deployment will be more than a photo-op.
  • If they bring an MQ-8 Fire Scout, particularly the larger “C” model which the Coast Guard has not had a chance to try, it will be interesting to see how useful it is for a Coast Guard mission.

MQ-8C Fire Scout Ground Turns and Telemetry Testing onboard USS Montgomery (LCS 8)

Photo: MQ-8C seen in the hangar of USS Montgomery (LCS-8)

 

Navy Selects Kongberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile for their “Small Surface Combatants”

Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile. Kongsberg Photo

The US Naval Institute News Service is reporting the Naval Strike Missile has been selected to provide the long range surface to surface capability for the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and presumably the new frigate as well. This is no surprise since the other two candidates had dropped out of the competition, “…Boeing Harpoon Block II Plus and the Lockheed Martin Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) were both withdrawn by their respective companies from the competition last year. Both Boeing and Lockheed complained that Navy requirements for the OTH missiles did not value the networking capability of their offerings, several sources confirmed to USNI News.”

There are a couple of points to look at here.

The initial contract is for $14,856,016. This reportedly includes, “…encanistered missiles (EM) loaded into launching mechanisms (LM); and a single fire control suite (FCS). This contract consists of EMs (tactical, telemetered and inert operational); FCSs; LMs; mission support equipment, training equipment and courses; engineering services; and travel and other direct costs. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $847,611,857.” So it appears the initial contract includes at least one full ship set. The cumulative value is 57 times greater. There are only 52 Small Surface Combatants planned including both LCSs and the projected frigates (FFGs). Given that we would expect the price to go down in a quantity buy, it looks like these missiles may also go on other platforms as well.

We don’t know how many missiles will go on each platform, but Raytheon seems to indicate each LCS will support two quad launchers. While reportedly launchers are available for one, two, three, four, or six missiles, all the installations so far have been in the quad format. “USNI News understands the Thursday award buys about a dozen missiles.” Presumably some missiles will be expended in tests.

Raytheon Image

NSM is smaller than Harpoon, comparing NSM vs surface launched Harpoon.

  • Weight: 900 lb (410 kg) vs 1,523 lb (691 kg) with booster
  • Length: 13 ft (3.95 m) vs 15 ft (4.6 m)
  • Warhead: 276 lb (125 kg) vs 488 pounds (221 kg)
  • Range: 100 nmi (185 km) vs in excess of 67 nmi (124 km)

It is in targeting where the NSM’s superiority shines compared to the legacy Harpoons..

“The Pentagon is poised to send the LCS to thwart narcos”–DefenseNews

USS Freedom (LCS-1)

DefenseNews is reporting,

“The military is poised to decide whether it will use the littoral combat ship to stop illegal drug shipments from South and Central America to the United States.

“The move, amid pressure from lawmakers and the military command covering the Southern Hemisphere, would signal a new intensity in combating the importing of illegal drugs amid a tidal wave of opioid deaths in the U.S. It would also mean a program that has seen near-constant churn as the Navy has struggled to integrate the ship into the fleet may see more changes ― if it does have to gear up for a new mission.

There are some surprising remarks by a retired Navy Captain, reflecting what many of us believe.

“…Ultimately, if the Congress was serious about combating drugs in SOUTHCOM, he said, it should adequately fund the Coast Guard.

“What they oughta do is take a few billion from the Defense Department’s budget and give it to the Coast Guard,” Hoffman said.

“Operating Navy ships is expensive, and, at that cost, it may not be practical to send gray hulls,” he said, adding that the Coast Guard can do the job cheaper and better.

This may also reflects a desire among many in the Navy to avoid this mission.

As a side note, I would observe that the frequent assertion that the Navy is being run ragged bears some examination as to why. It does not seem to be because the ships are underway that much. The US Naval Institute News service provides a weekly “Fleet and Marine Tracker.” You can see the most recent here. Among other things it provides a number of ships in the fleet and number of ships underway. Generally the number underway is only a little over one quarter of the fleet total, and it almost never exceeds one third.

Note, I am not saying the crews are not overworked, I am just saying, it is not because they are underway too much of the time. As I recall my days afloat, we got a lot done while underway, away from the inport distractions.

Mine Countermeasures Modular Mission Packages for Cutters

Types of Naval mine.A-underwater,B-bottom,SS-Submarine. 1-Drifting mine,2-Drifting mine,3-Moored Mine,4-Moored Mine(short wire),5-Bottom Mines,6-Torpedo mine/CAPTOR mine,7-Rising mine–by Los688

Earlier I suggested that LCS Modules, manned my Navy Reservists, might provide a mechanism that could cut mobilization time for Cutters from months to weeks. I also noted, 

There are very few Navy mine counter measures assets in the US and those we have are not spread out geographically. If there were to be a peacetime mining incident in US waters, it might be possible to airlift an MCM module to the nearest cutter to allow the problem to be dealt with more quickly.

The US Naval Institute News Service has provided access to the “Littoral Combat Ship Mission Package Annual Report, and there is a note included that addresses this possibility. Nine Mine Countermeasures Mission Packages (MCM MP) are to be provided “for use on other Vessels of Opportunity (V OOs) to meet the warfighting capability requirements and account for MCM maintenance cycles.”

If there is a mining incident at a US port, the air and, in some cases, the unmanned surface vessel portion of the package could be operated from shore. Those portions that might need to operate from a ship could possibly be operated from buoy tenders or other cutters, not just the large patrol cutters.

We probably ought to be exercising this once the MCM MPs become available.