Navy Ships to Return to the Drug War

USS Freedom (LCS-1)

The US Naval Institute reports, “SECNAV Memo: Navy Won’t Reactivate Perry Frigates for SOUTHCOM Mission; Will Send Ships to Fight Drug War in 2018.”

The Navy has not been providing ships in support of the SouthCom drug interdiction mission since the last USN Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate was decommissioned in 2015, but it looks like the Navy will return to the mission.

SecNav has directed the Navy provide four ship years in the form of either LCS or Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transports (T-EPF)(formerly called the Joint High Speed Vessel).. In addition, they will be bringing with them an unmanned air system, probably Scan Eagle.

They will certainly need Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments aboard, but the mention of Scan Eagle makes me wonder about the aviation support planned. No mention of helicopter or the larger MQ-8 UAS. Are they going to want a Coast Guard Airborne Use of Force helicopter detachment?

The Military Sealift Command joint high-speed vessel USNS Spearhead (JHSV 1) (Now T-EPF-1)conducted high-speed trials, reaching speeds of approximately 40 knots off the coast of Virginia. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Phil Beaufort/Released) 130820-N-ZO696-135

LCS Progress, Coast Guard Implications

USS Independence (LCS-2)

USNI reports that the Navy is pushing harder than ever on getting the LCS mission modules operational. In wartime these systems would likely be used to upgrade cutters. Some of these systems might be applicable to Coast Guard’s NSCs and OPCs, including particularly UAS and ASuW systems, even in peace time, so they bear watching.

There is an interesting note that, “…Freedom also conducted its first Coast Guard helicopter landing on the flight deck earlier this year and hopes to do more interoperability testing with the Coast Guard going forward.” This suggest the Navy is at least thinking about sending LCS to assist the Coast Guard in its drug interdiction efforts.


Navy Rethinks the LCS–Manning, Crew Rotation, Homeporting


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.


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


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.