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Surface Forces: Corrosion Cripples The LCS
   Next Article → INFORMATION WARFARE: The Worm That Won't Die
June 21, 2011: Just as the U.S. Navy decides to put its new "Littoral Combat Ship" (LCS) into mass production, serious structural flaws have been discovered in both ships. The most serious problem is in the USS Independence, a radical trimaran design. It seems that a "dissimilar metals" situation arose when salt water, the aluminum hull and some other metals got into close proximity with each other, and extensive corrosion resulted. Aluminum hulls tend to corrode more than steel, but the problem became so bad with the USS Independence that, 18 months after entering service, it is headed for dry dock, corrosion repairs and design changes to eliminate the problem. The more conventional design, the monohull USS Freedom has developed cracks, as long as 15 cm (six inches).

Cracks and corrosion are common in new warship designs, especially designs that are radically different (like the broad trimaran shape of the USS Independence.) Usually, these problems can be fixed, but there's always the risk that the new design will be seriously flawed, requiring extensive rework and a halt in building more ships of that class. 

This is all part of the expected years of uncertainty and experimentation, as this radical new combat ship design seeks to find out what works, to what degree, and what doesn't. There is some nervousness about all this. The U.S. Navy has not introduced a radical new design for nearly a century. The last such new design was the aircraft carrier, which required two decades of experimentation, and a major war, to nail down what worked. Even the nuclear submarines of the late 1950s and early 60s were evolutionary compared to what the LCS is trying to do.

In the last five years, two different LCS designs were built, and put into service. Problems were encountered. The much smaller crew required some changes in how a crew ran a ship, and how many sailors and civilians were required back on land to support an LCS at sea. It was found that, so far, the interchangeable mission modules take far longer (2-3 days instead of 2-3 hours) to replace. The LCS has still not seen combat, and the navy wants the first violent encounter to be successful, or at least not disastrous. It is expected that there will be surprises, which is about all that can be guaranteed at this point.

The navy surprised everyone last year by choosing both designs, and requesting that the fifty or so LCS ships be split between the two very different looking ships. While both ships look quite different (one is a traditional monohull, while the other is a broader trimaran), they both share many common elements. One of the most important of these is the highly automated design, and smaller crew. Both ships have accommodations for only 75 personnel. Normally, a ship of this size would have a crew of about 200. The basic LCS crew is 40, with the other 35 berths occupied by operators of special equipment.

The LCS crews are also modularized, so that specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules. Thus about 40 percent of the ship is empty, with a large cargo hold into which the mission package gear is inserted (and then removed, along with the package crew, when it is no longer assigned to that ship.) Thus the LCS has two crews when underway, the "ship" crew and the mission package crew. The captain of the ship crew is in charge, and the officer commanding the mission package is simply the officer in charge of the largest equipment system on board. There are a variety of interchangeable modules (e.g., air defense, underwater warfare, special operations, surface attack, etc.), which allow the ships to be quickly reconfigured for various specialized missions. Crews will also be modularized, so that specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules. The design and crew requirements for these modules is still a work in progress, but also shows a need for more people, or more automation.

So far, the heavy workload has not hurt morale. The small crew means that everyone knows everyone, and it's standard for people to handle a number of different jobs. Even officers pitch in for any task that needs to be done. This kind of overworked enthusiasm is actually typical of smaller naval craft. These included World War II era PT boats, with crews of up to 17, and current minesweepers (with crews similar to an LCS) and larger patrol boats. There's also the "new" factor. In addition to being new ships, there is a new design and lots of new tech. This gets people pumped. But the experience of using the LCS has to be used to develop changes that will make these ships viable for the long haul.

The two different LCS designs are from Lockheed-Martin (monohull) and General Dynamics (trimaran). The first LCS, the monohull USS Freedom, completed its sea trials and acceptance inspections two years ago. The ship did very well, with far fewer (about 90 percent fewer) problems (or "material deficiencies") than is usual with the first warship in a class. USS Independence (LCS-2) was laid down by General Dynamics in late 2005 and commissioned in January 2010. Corrosion and hull cracks were expected eventually, but appeared much earlier than anticipated.

Both LCS designs were supposed to be for ships displacing 2,500 tons, with a full load draft of under 3.3 meters/ten feet (permitting access to very shallow "green" and even "brown" coastal and riverine waters, where most naval operations have taken place in the past generation). Top speed was expected was to be over 80 kilometers with a range of 2,700 kilometers. Basic endurance is 21 days, and final displacement was closer to 3,000 tons.

LCS is currently armed with a 57mm gun, four 12.7mm machine-guns, two 30mm autocannon and a 21 cell SeaRam system for aircraft and missile defense. The RAM (RIM-116 "Rolling Air Frame") missiles replace Phalanx autocannon. SeaRAM has a longer range (7.5 kilometers) than the Phalanx (two kilometers). Last year, the navy decided to equip LCS with a surface launched version of the Griffin air-to-surface missile. The Griffin is an alternative to the Hellfire II, which weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds) and carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead and has a range of 8,000 meters. In contrast, the Griffin weighs only 16 kg (35 pounds), with a 5.9 kg (13 pound) warhead which is larger, in proportion to its size, than the one carried by the larger Hellfire missile. Griffin has a pop-out wings, allowing it to glide, and thus has a longer range (15 kilometers) than Hellfire. UAVs can carry more of the smaller missiles, typically two of them in place of one Hellfire. The surface-launched Griffin weighs about twice as much as the air launched version, because of the addition of a rocket to get it into the air, after which it can glide to the target.

Ultimately, the navy hoped to have between 50 and 60 LCSs by 2014-18, at a cost of $460 million (after the first five.) The USS Freedom ended up costing nearly $600 million, about twice what the first ship in the class was supposed to have cost. The navy believes it has the cost down to under $450 million each as mass production begins.

 

 

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doggtag    cracker jack box?   6/21/2011 8:09:49 AM
 
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doggtag    awesome buggy software...all that text gone. Way to go, SP   6/21/2011 8:11:01 AM
 
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Tamerlane    enginers????   6/21/2011 8:24:44 AM
 
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HeavyD       4/13/2012 6:11:00 PM
Apparently corrosion isn't the only thing that can cripple the LCS:
 
 

As for the ship’s ability to survive in a combat environment, missiles could more easily penetrate its hull and do more damage than to a larger, more powerful ship. It also has fewer and far less sophisticated defenses. Still, the Navy argues that it will be heavily armed with guns and missiles and will operate in hostile waters, like the Persian Gulf, only with larger ships nearby.

“If you use smart tactics, techniques and procedures, we believe the ship is survivable,” [Undersecretary of the Navy Robert] Work said, making an argument that Mr. Hunter, the congressman, finds specious.

If seven Iranian attack boats should come at the new ship, Mr. Hunter said, “it backs away, it can’t take any major hits.” In short, he said, “it’s not going to stand there and trade punches with anybody.”

 
We're building and deploying a $500 million dollar, 3,000 ton ship that can't defend itself against current or future threats?  Really?
 
I guess we can argue that our Avenger-class minesweepers can't defend themselves either, but it's a wooden-hulled 1400 ton ship.
 
It seems like all too often 'multi-mission' means the new platform is mediocre at best on each of the missions, and excels at none.
 
Look up the 'Leander' class frigate from the UK:  Same tonnage, 5x the armament (one of the reasons for the high complement.  A modernized design could more than halve this).
 
 
 
 
http://www.strategypage.com/CuteSoft_Client/CuteEditor/Load.ashx?type=style&file=SyntaxHighlighter.css);" target="_blank">link
 
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LB       4/13/2012 9:59:36 PM
It's far worse than that.  Not a single mission module currently works or is projected to work anytime soon.  The surface warfare module is geared toward fighting small boats and will feature a missile with a range of 3.5 miles, less than the 57mm gun.  The modules are also an extra cost in addition to the $500 or so million for the ship.
 
It's actually ridiculous paying $500+ million 45 knot frigate to do mine hunting given that is a slow deliberate process.  Similar thoughts on ASW.  The last USN report on the ASW module notes that it doesn't any capability and that it's unacceptable that the ship has to stop to deploy the systems.
 
LCS is non cost effective for mine warfare.  It has very minimal capacity to deal with surface and air threats and assuming they get the ASW module to work only those equipped have any capacity for sub surface threats.  The only virtue of LCS is that it carries two helicopters or Firescout.   Why one needs to travel at 45 knots carrying two 140 knot helicopters is a mystery.  It's certainly not worth the cost.
 
LCS was originally a 500 ton fast ship when the concept originated under Street Fighter.  The USN added the aircraft and increased the size to 3,000 tons.  They wanted a proper ship for blue ocean career minded ticket punching officers.
 
So instead of small cost effective mine warfare craft, general purpose frigates, patrol craft (the Cyclones aren't being replaced and the mission will be handed off to the USCG), and possibly a cost effective NGS ship, we get LCS.  Frankly the USN is out of it's mind.
 
To cite one example the DDG-51 III might be so expensive to purchase and operate that more DDG-1000's might be cost effective and have the virtue of doing shallow water asw very well.  Think about that.  The USN might purchase more 15,000 ton cruisers for shallow water asw.  If that's a requirement one might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps they might want to think about some small cost effective frigates, like the majority of the world operates.
 
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WarNerd       4/15/2012 2:32:17 AM
It's actually ridiculous paying $500+ million 45 knot frigate to do mine hunting given that is a slow deliberate process.  Similar thoughts on ASW.  The last USN report on the ASW module notes that it doesn't any capability and that it's unacceptable that the ship has to stop to deploy the systems.
 
LCS is non cost effective for mine warfare.  It has very minimal capacity to deal with surface and air threats and assuming they get the ASW module to work only those equipped have any capacity for sub surface threats.  The only virtue of LCS is that it carries two helicopters or Firescout.   Why one needs to travel at 45 knots carrying two 140 knot helicopters is a mystery.  It's certainly not worth the cost.
 
LCS was originally a 500 ton fast ship when the concept originated under Street Fighter.  The USN added the aircraft and increased the size to 3,000 tons.  They wanted a proper ship for blue ocean career minded ticket punching officers.
 
So instead of small cost effective mine warfare craft, general purpose frigates, patrol craft (the Cyclones aren't being replaced and the mission will be handed off to the USCG), and possibly a cost effective NGS ship, we get LCS.  Frankly the USN is out of it's mind.
The old style minesweepers are out because they can no longer do the job. Mines have gotten smarter to make them harder to fool and to sweep, and those slow wooden vessel no longer an advantage of being able to work closer in, which was dangerous enough before. A lot of the work has been transferred to helicopters, that is part of why the Navy insisted on having 2 on the LCS, and the rest will be done with UUV’s. And there is no reason the minesweeping modules cannot be mounted on a vessel of opportunity (an offshore support vessel, freighter, or seagoing barge) with the deck space for the modules and the helicopters required for operating in safe areas.
 
The problem is that most of the areas where these systems will be needed can no longer be considered ‘safe’ for small, unarmed, vessels. Even up until Viet Nam a vessel over 12 miles (20,000 yards) offshore was pretty safe. Now with cruise missiles that probably extends to 100 miles or more depending mostly on the range the target can be tracked at. In the area of anti-missile capabilities the LCS is possibly more capable than larger vessels because of the gun mounted, assuming of course that what the larger vessels have is sufficient.
To cite one example the DDG-51 III might be so expensive to purchase and operate that more DDG-1000's might be cost effective and have the virtue of doing shallow water asw very well.  Think about that.  The USN might purchase more 15,000 ton cruisers for shallow water asw.  If that's a requirement one might be forgiven for thinking that perhaps they might want to think about some small cost effective frigates, like the majority of the world operates.
Most the cost increase is caused by the new Air and Missile Defense Radar system and a second helicopter with hanger on the DDG-51 Block III. Probably a lot of the cost for the DDG-1000 is likewise, the weapons and electronics of the 2 vessels are very similar in capability, though different in layout. You have to pay for the capabilities if you want to have them, and the hull you wrap around it does not make a huge difference in the final cost.
 
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Reactive       4/15/2012 12:19:48 PM
The LCS is truly absurd, it's the zenith of procurement folly - while many criticise the F-35 program it's hard to deny that the design itself (if affordable) will significantly enhance the capability spectrum of its operators  - with the LCS programme you can't even say that, it seems to offer almost nothing in terms of new capabilities and anything it does do it does for about 1000% of the cost of comparable systems.
 
It boggles the mind..
 
 
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HeavyD       4/15/2012 1:57:15 PM
We can only pray that it is the zenith of procurement folly. As far as mine sweeping capabilities what about using diesel/aip submarines and UUVs? Much harder to detect and attack with land-based assets, and the stealthy capabilities could allow the mines to be neutralized without he enemies knowledge. For example a quiet UUV attaches a demo charge to or near the mine (i dont know exsctly how they are neutralized so lets assume there is a way to do this) that is command detonated. When it serves the mission the enemy minefield is cleared.
 
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Reactive    Also...   4/15/2012 1:59:02 PM
Modularity is excellent in principle, the problem is that it always relies on a degree of compromise - Stryker, LCS and F-35 all have that in common - with F-35 the A B and C variants are derived from an initial set of enormously demanding requirements - as the inevitable problems of commonality and modularity have arisen on the program the three platforms have essentially become far more discrete entities than was initially envisaged which means that maintaining systems commonality (reducing cost) while also configuring each variant in its own right as a specialised system means that the inevitable result will be reduced commonality between the variants and in a worst-case scenario one or more variants might no longer be economically viable. If one assumes that the greatest level of risk is in the 'B' variant, whose STOVL requirement dictated the overall airframe (and systems) design of A and C then you would consider it an enormous irony that of all 3 variants it is by far the most vulnerable as a program, in which case one might reasonably also ask to what degree the STOVL requirement has helped or hindered developments of the far more numerous A and C variants that can broadly be termed as strike fighters..
 
Baking modularity in from the start is a wonderful premise so long as the goalposts don't change and that the level of divergence from the original design is minimal (i.e. the level of engineering risk is accurately assessed at outset (unlikely))- otherwise it seems to offer enormous additional complexity and guaranteed performance compromises- that is not "as a result of sloppy workmanship" but perhaps theoretically assured from the outset. 
 
It is possible that the only way to design a system intended for modularity is to first describe a "base model" and then allow others to optimise it as they see fit (F-teens) - if the requirements are too broad it might well fall victim to the "jack of all trades" argument (LCS?) or alternatively become an engineering nightmare (F-35). 
 
The likelihood is that the touted mission modules won't be swapped all that often - the likelihood is that eventually the mission modules will grow in complexity until they are no longer modular, at which point you will have specialist units that no longer have to compromise so drastically for the ill-conceived notion and guaranteed reduced operational effectiveness of "plug and play" modules versus specialised mission fit-out.
 
You could also mention STRYKER of course...
 
 
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LB    Mine Hunters   4/15/2012 4:33:17 PM
It's a rather problematic argument to assert traditional mine hunters are obsolete because they don't posses self defense capacity given LCS has very limited capacity to deal with air and/or missile threats.  Yes mine warfare today utilizes off board assets but these are not platform limited.  Helicopters have been used in mine warfare since 1971.  You still need to send in mine hunters to confirm. 
 
LCS is far less protected against mines than purpose built smaller craft.  LCS is not shock resistant and in fact does not posses the same levels of protection as a normal warship.  It in fact operates a mine hunting sonar and will be searching for mines the same as a traditional mine hunter except it will be far more vulnerable and of course is cost ineffective.
 
The new helicopter mounted mine systems, the ones on medium helicopters not the those on the MH-53E, have not demonstrated their effectiveness.  Nor has it been demonstrated that it's more cost effective using these.  Small cost effective mine warfare craft are still used around the world because they do the job and do it relatively cheaply.
 
 
 
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