As anyone who follows the Littoral Combat Ship is quite aware by now, the Pentagon Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation (DOT&E) has once again taken the LCS program to task for problems with both the ships and the mission module packages as well as the related equipment.
Reading through the DOT&E report, I was struck by a few things as someone who has been granted some unique access to LCS ships, modules and officials both in the U.S. and abroad over the past couple of years.
I’m not going to do a point-counterpoint with the DOT&E findings here – that would take up too much valuable time and space. But a few overall observations, I think, are warranted.
First of all, as all of those who read DOT&E reports know, the documents are well-researched, detailed and pretty precise snapshots of the program in question – AT A SPECIFIC PERIOD IN TIME. More often, the tests, exercises and other data-gathering events took place several months previously and other tests or operations may or likely have taken place since then with new data that could alter the analysis.
In other words some of the problems may be less problematic or may not even be problems now that were problems before.
To its credit, DOT&E often acknowledges that other events may have overtaken some of the findings and this is the case in the LCS reporting. However, some of that acknowledgment takes place deeper in the reports and not in the summaries, which are often more quoted publicly.
Here’s something else to consider – the DOT&E seems to be grading on a curve in some areas that is out of sync with what the Navy says its wants the LCS to do, a classic case of the testers and operators being on different pages.
Some of the comments about survivability, especially, seem to run counter to the missions that the Navy has in mind for LCS, or even with what the Navy considers to be risky for its combat ships. If the Navy and DOT&E fail to follow the same course on LCS development and requirements, they will always be at odds.
I also think both DOT&E and the Navy are missing the big picture when it comes to mission module package development. They are battling back and forth about specific testing for this system or that one, but they are not focusing on one of the biggest potential problems awaiting LCS – the integration of those modules and packages with the ship. The equipment actually is working much better than the LCS folks are getting credit for – in most cases. But unless ships and gear can all be mated together, those ships are just huge jet skis that can carry a lot of folks from one place to another.
Here are some specifics from the report (followed by some of my own thoughts):
“The Navy has not yet conducted comprehensive operational testing of the LCS but has scheduled some initial operational test events in fiscal (20)14.”
But the Navy has actually deployed SUW mission module package – or at least a part of it called by some ‘SUW Lite,’ which is the package without the missile. Navy officials note the missile is not due for some time to come, but defense analysts say the lack of it puts the ship at risk for many missions.
“The core combat capabilities of the Independence variant seaframe remain largely untested. Developmental testing focused on evaluating the performance of the seaframe and the mine countermeasures (MCM) mission package. “
The best way to address this would be to say yes – and? The Navy needs the MCM testing done now and the ship designated for those tests is the Indy. The ship class will be tested as much as Freedom was before deploying. Now, whether it will be enough is another debatable point.
“Analysis of data from an operational assessment of the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (Almds) conducted in fiscal (20)12 showed that the system does not meet the Navy’s desired probability of detection over the required depth zone and produces many false contacts. These deficiencies will increase the time required for the LCS to complete MCM operations. LCS has yet to demonstrate whether the first increment of MCM capability will meet the Navy’s reduced expectations for mine clearance. Even if this MCM package meets all of its final increment requirements, legacy systems will be needed to perform the full range of mine clearance operations.”
All of this underscores the need to ship-test the MCM using Indy. And, Navy officials say, while the LCS MCM capabilities will be far from perfect, they promise to be the best that the Navy can have in one vessel.
“LCS is not expected to be survivable in high-intensity combat because its design requirements do not require the inclusion of survivability features necessary to conduct sustained combat operations in a major conflict as expected for the Navy’s other surface combatants.”
This one has been out there for years now. The Navy has been saying for more than a year that it is changing the way its ships are meant to survive combat, meaning they are meant to take on even greater risks. Also, since its inception LCS has been designated a ship that would be operated differently from other combat vessels. The concept of operations even says so, quite clearly. Here’s a line right from the conops document about LCS: ‘It is not designed or intended to operate in a high-intensity air defense environment unless these operations are being conducted under the air defense coverage of a carrier strike group or amphibious ready group (CSG/ARG).’
What the ship IS meant to operate in is a HIGH-DENSITY threat environment – like swarming small boat attacks.
“Equipment reliability problems have degraded the operational availability of LCS-1 and LCS-2. The Navy reports that recent reliability improvements made to the affected seaframe components have led to improved operational availability; however, no formal developmental or operational testing has occurred to verify and quantify any improvement.”
Navy officials point out that the Freedom made it to Singapore, conducted operations and then back again – which is about as real as operational ‘testing’ as you can get. But there’s no getting around the equipment reliability issues. The Navy says it’s working on them. But the service has been working on many of the same problems for years.
“The seaframes have no systems designed to detect torpedo attacks or mines without the appropriately configured mission packages installed.”
Well, yes – that’s essentially how the ship is designed. That’s how the Navy intended it.
“(Test) Results … revealed performance, reliability, and operator training deficiencies for the 57 mm gun on LCS-1 that prevented the ship from demonstrating it can meet the Navy’s SUW performance requirements. “
DOT&E then goes on to say, “The Navy reported that the observed deficiencies have been corrected on LCS-1; and that those corrections were satisfactorily demonstrated during developmental testing in October 2012; however, no data were collected during that testing to facilitate an independent assessment. The preliminary analysis of data collected during recent testing of the 57 mm gun conducted on LCS-3 in October 2013, which was observed by DOT&E, indicates that the gun reliability has improved.”
DOT&E notes, “Failures of diesel-powered generators, air compressors, and propulsion drive train components have degraded the seaframe’s operational availability. The Navy reports that recent reliability improvements made to the affected seaframe components have led to improved operational availability of the seaframe; however, no formal developmental or operational testing has occurred to quantify that improvement. “
This one speaks for itself. Only time at sea will prove the Navy right or wrong. Thus far, the service’s performance has not been stellar in addressing the failures.
“DOT&E has no data to assess the core mission capabilities of the Independence variant seaframe.”
Again, the Indy is the test ship for MCM and the data and tests will be done for follow ships in line with those done for Freedom as the vessels get ready to deploy.
“The Independence crew encountered multiple problems with the twin-boom extensible crane (TBEC) and other mission package support systems during initial developmental testing of the MCM mission package.”
But, “The vendor improved the TBEC and the Navy made RMMV hardware changes. Developmental testing in August 2013 demonstrated the ship’s capability to launch and recover the RMMV has improved,” DOT&E says.
“Even if this MCM package meets all of its final increment requirements, legacy systems will be needed to perform the full range of mine clearance operations.
As it, again, was intended for LCS. It’s a problem that underscores the difficulty in performing MCM missions. Furthermore, Navy officials contend, even in the earliest increments the LCS will give the service better MCM capability than any single ship could.