There’s no greater cheerleader for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) than Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, the Navy director of staff and head of the LCS Council of high-powered admirals navigating this program through rather rough seas.
While LCS operations for many in the Navy remain an exercise in theory, Hunt brings a rich legacy of on-the-job sea experience to his role.
In a recent exclusive interview with Aviation Week, the admiral relied on some of that experience to provide insight on what’s become a bit of a lighting-rod topic these days: whether the LCS would be survivable or not during the missions the ship is slated for.
In particular, Hunt addresses a point highlighted recently in a Congressional Research Service report –the ship will be going into some areas, like the Middle East, where Navy warships like the USS Stark and USS Samuel B. Roberts suffered combat damage just a few decades ago and had to rely on design features and manning forces – that the LCS lacks – to survive.
Here is what Hunt had to say about improvements made – particularly in the halon fire-extinguishing mixture – since the latter decades of the last century, when he was an officer on the frigate USS Underwood:
When the Stark was hit, I was engineer on the Underwood. As the engineer officer, you are the damage control officer, I took a look at an awful lot of that stuff and took it very seriously.
As an old-school guy, I love sailors. I love to put hands on a damage-control issue, It really makes an awful lot of difference whether we're patching pipes, or plugging holes or fighting fires. That's important.
Up until Underwood, the halon on (that class of ships) was insufficient to put the fire out and keep it out. (The Navy) manual called for us to dump halon, knock down the fire and enter the space within five minutes.
Underwood was the first ship where we had the complete halon mods. I went through that whole process of certification that the concentration remained at sufficient levels. Nobody ever had that before. Unlike every FFG before me, where we dumped halon and burst into space, probably getting a flashback, and putting your people at risk, I dumped halon, put my folks out and about, checking for reflash by getting bulkhead temperatures and didn't go into the space.
Old school was very upset with this. ‘How could you do this unmanned and trust the remote systems?’ Well, 10 years later and a couple of incidents over the years, we found halon was very effective and that was exactly the right way to fight fires. The worst thing you could do was dump the halon and jump right into the space and get a flush of oxygen and get the reflash and you have to fight it all over.
The automated systems we have on Freedom and Independence are state of the art. That drives us to less manpower-intensive damage control.
So we designed a bunch of these new state-of-the-art systems into this class on firefighting. It's pretty good and it's different. I'm not the water-mist kind of guy. I didn't grow up in that generation.
It allows us to effectively fight without putting people at risk in many of these situations. People have to get used to new technology and figure out how we're doing it.