Capt. Kenneth Coleman knows more about the Littoral Combat Ship program than most any sailor. Currently Coleman works at U.S. Surface Forces as requirements officer for the LCS program and from April 2010 to Sept. 2011, he was the commander of the Blue crew of USS Independence (LCS-2). USNI News recently interviewed Coleman on the latest of the deployment of USS Freedom (LCS-1). Coleman discussed manning changes for the ship, how the ships will be maintained while deployed and what it’s like for a ship commander to do his own dishes.
Naval Institute: As part of the recent review of the Littoral Combat Ships, the recommendation came down to increase the core crew from 40 sailors to 50. Why the move?
Coleman: The thought right now moving from 40 to 50 was really aimed more at the maintenance aspect of things.
The ten that are going in there are to pick off a wedge of maintenance. They’re not getting the same [Train to Qualify] process the other 40 sailors are getting. But there are plenty of maintenance requirements they’ll be able to help with.
Having said that, if you give ten sailors to any crew, they’re going to find ways to incorporate them and professionally develop them. I would expect them to fill in a variety of roles from in port watchstanding to engineering plant technician and so forth as their individual’s rates and skill sets allow. I think we’ll find that the core crew will no longer be 40; it will be 50 sailors that will now become a cohesive team.
We’re trying to get the total workload to something that’s more manageable with the crew. To give you an example, if you have 30 hours of work to do in a 24 hour period, you prioritize what you want to do or what you think needs to be done.
Part of our concern is we’re putting the crew in the difficult position to prioritize what they think is important without necessarily input from the technology warrant holders and the professional engineers in the navy. We’re thinking about that. About where we could accept some risk by changing a monthly to a quarterly for example. Where we can reduce the workload without impacting safety and operational effectiveness.
In the LCS crew, you don’t necessarily have the people to do the detailed troubleshooting and complicated repairs. Our thought process is you’d have techs that are trained in the specific pieces of equipment that would be able to do at least the basic diagnosis of what the problem was and either replace a component to get the system back online or have contactor support from shore to give them a little better direction to what other troubleshooting options could be attempted.
One of the things we’re working on is how we are going to fundamentally coordinate the repairs now that we are working out of Singapore. Lockheed Martin is tied into that,
At the end of the day, I think the LCS Squadron and the [type commanders] will still be tied into those things that are appropriate for us to be involved in.
Five or six contractor (Lockheed Martin) reps permanently based there and then we’ll have flyaway teams with additional personnel during maintenance availabilities
When the time comes that you have to do the repair work there will be additional folks flown in as required for the scope of work.
Naval Institute: How the ship will operate when it gets to Singapore?
Coleman: We have to operate the ship in the manner, which it’s designed to be operated. If you don’t know anything about LCS, you can stress the ship where it’s unable to complete the task you’ve assigned. You need to understand what the capabilities and limitations of the sea frame and crew are.
You need to understand that they have maintenance requirements they simply have to come into port for. Of course there could be operational emergencies to cause a theater commander to make a decision that forgoes those requirements.
However, we want to make sure when they make decisions about what operations the ship was going to be involved in they have full knowledge of what the concept of operations describe as the capabilities and limitations.
Both ships are sounds designs. Both are going to add value. We may find that Freedom is better at operating with one mission package than Independence. And that may come from experience.
Obviously right now we’re locked into the surface package on Freedom. Indy’s doing testing with the mine warfare mission package. That’s a function of the timing of ship and mission package delivery. We’re constantly looking to make improvements going forward.
A lot of the things we are doing are going to pay off with the economy of scale. For example, we need one shore-based trainer to train one crew. But the same one shore-based trainer will be able to train, four, six, eight crews. When you get four or five ships out here, I’m confident the processes and the costs will settle out.
Naval Institute: How will costs improve?
Coleman: These fly away teams won’t be dealing with just one ship; they’ll be available to conduct maintenance on multiple platforms so there will be some additional cost efficiencies. There are lessons learned in many areas that are flowing through the program to make changes and improvements at a very rapid rate.
We’re trying something that in the long term – and hopefully sooner – will have some significant cost efficiencies in manning procedures and so forth. Describing the process of innovation, I think it was Thomas Edison who commented after one of his early light bulbs didn’t work; he didn’t think he had failed, rather he’d learned another way not to make a light bulb. It’s very difficult to allow people to have the creativity and the freedom – no pun intended – to build something new and then have critics snip at their heels when it doesn’t work out exactly the way you expected.
There is no lack of dedication to make LCS successful. From an operational perspective, the COCOMS will get the capability they need. From a crew perspective, we’re putting our sailors in safe well-built ships they can be successful on. We’re going to make this work.
Naval Institute: Culturally what is different about operating on an LCS versus another type of ship?
Coleman: I think it’s a culture of shared experiences that differs from other ships I’ve served on. Cleaning is a simple example, but there are many others including Damage control, medical, watchstanding…the list goes on and on. Regarding cleaning, I do dishes at home but I think it surprises more people off the ship that the [commanders] and [executive officers] are out doing sweepers with the crew
I remember being a division officer and picking up a broom because something needed to be swept up and my Senior Chief told me, ‘You’re an officer. You don’t clean.’ That’s part of what we learned as junior officers.
But with a small crew of 40 sailors, now 50, there are some roles we all simply embrace. On Indy I helped cleaned the wardroom, I swept passageways. Similarly, you’ve got chiefs and officers doing line handling being supervised by a junior enlisted Boatswains mate. You learn to make the best of those opportunities; find some fun in the role reversal and enjoy interacting and serving alongside your sailors… your shipmates.
The point of how that changes the dynamic between officers and enlisted is there’s a team aspect throughout the entire crew – this is what you see with all the LCS crews as they work together – there’s a shared experience that I don’t think occurs in the same way on other ships. And I think that is a very healthy and positive dynamic.