Thursday, April 13, 2017

For LCS; Patch, Bridge, Build

With the April 6, 2017 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Littoral Combat Ship on the street, it is time to do another LCS post.

Let's start on page 20 of the report and then wander from there. This summary that is always good to review;

The analytical foundation for an acquisition program can be strengthened by performing three formal, rigorous analyses prior to the start of the program: – an analysis to identify capability gaps and mission needs; – an analysis to compare potential general approaches for filling those capability gaps or mission needs, so as to identify the best or most promising approach; – an analysis to refine the approach selected as the best or most promising. …

As discussed in CRS reports covering the LCS program going back a decade, the Navy, prior to announcing the establishment of the LCS program on November 2001, performed the first and third studies listed above, but it did not perform the second.

Knowing this, when we restructured the program to move to FF/FFG from LCS, what did we learn?

The Navy's restructured plan for the frigate design may have a weakness in its analytical foundation due to two formal, rigorous analyses that do not appear to have been conducted prior to Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's announcement on February 24, 2014, of the effort to restructure the program. Specifically, neither the Office of the Secretary of Defense nor the Navy has presented – a formal, rigorous analysis to identify capability gaps and/or mission needs that was done prior to the Secretary of Defense Hagel's February 24, 2014, announcement, or

– a formal, rigorous analysis that identified "a capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate" as not simply one way, but rather the best or most promising way, to fill those capability gaps or mission needs that was done prior to the February 24, 2014, announcement.

Well, there you go.

In a way, I'm OK with this. The program has been intellectually loosey-goosey from the start through downselect to restructuring, so why change now? The important thing is to get to the end game; Sal's endgame is that we build what we have the best that we can to in order to build the fleet until we can get a better design displacing water. Use LCS as an object lesson, and get ready for the challenges mid-century.

Good_idea_fairyThe design team at Sow's Ear Naval Shipyards are busy throwing around different ideas for the SILK PURSE class of FF/FFG conversion of flagship of the Tiffany Navy the last few months. The latest update on some of the ideas being thrown around can be found in Chris Cavas's article from the 10th.

In general, the ideas are sound – try as one can to put some more teeth and tactical utility in to a sub-optimal ship. We are a few more iterations of the back and forth between the engineers and the good idea fairies, but hopefully we will have some discipline to have a firm timetable to make a decision and start cutting steel/aluminum.

The acting SECNAV has the longest acceptable timetable;

Both builders of the littoral combat ship — Lockheed Martin and Austal USA — have developed frigate variants of their LCS designs in anticipation of the Navy issuing a formal request for proposals, which had been expected in the fall. The switch from an FF to an FFG design would likely involve significant redesign of each company's frigate proposal, which could push back the RFP.

"I don't want to get pinned down on a date" to issue the RFP, Stackley said. "Obviously we want to get through the requirements first. But we want to get it out this fiscal year," which ends Sept. 30.

For reasons familiar to everyone following the LCS saga with us for the last decade+, we really have no option right now. The right call was to shift from LCS to FF/FFG, but for the long term answer to what our navy needs, one question has yet to be answered: what will replace the two classes of LCS in production now?

My bias is sooner more than later, and I think the best plan out there right now is within a half standard deviation of the proposal in February's CSBA report, Restoring American Seapower: A New Fleet Architecture for the United States Navy .

Here's the operative paragraph;

Small surface combatants. …

In the proposed architecture, the LCS/FF program would be truncated as soon as the design of a new FFG is ready to build. This would ideally be in FY19, but may be FY20 or FY21. The 4000- to 5000-ton FFG would be designed with the endurance to accompany the Maneuver Force or for convoy escort; an active and passive EW suite; an ASW suite including a VDS sonar and passive towed array; and a 16- to 32-cell VLS magazine with ESSM for medium range area air defense, long-range surface-to-surface missiles, and a standoff ASW weapon capable of quickly putting a submarine on the defensive more than 50 nm away.

Patrol vessels.

The proposed fleet architecture includes a new class of 600- to 700-ton patrol vessels patterned on fast missile craft such as the Egyptian Ambassador-class or Swedish Visby-class ships. They have an endurance of about 2 weeks and carry four to eight SUW/strike missiles. Patrol vessels would have sufficient air defense capacity to protect them against enemy attacks until they expend their offensive weapons. For peacetime operations, the patrol vessels would conduct maritime security operations using embarked small boats and CUSVs.

Sold. Sooner more than later. This is a good plan. There are others, but this is first among quasi-equals.

Our navy would be well served by such a plan.

UPDATE: Don't hate me because I am beautiful.

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