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LCS Fort Worth Integrates Fire Scout UAV, RHIBs Into Bilateral Exercises For First Time

Sailors aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) prepare to launch an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 on Aug. 16, 2015. US Navy photo.

Sailors aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) prepare to launch an MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system from Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 35 on Aug. 16, 2015. US Navy photo.

The Navy’s summer series of bilateral exercises in the Pacific gave the Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) a chance to demonstrate emerging capabilities of the new platform, using its rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for the first time in an operational context.

Cmdr. Christopher Brown, Fort Worth’s commanding officer, told USNI News in an email that Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia and CARAT Singapore were particularly good exercises for the ship’s crew, which were able to integrate all the assets of the LCS surface warfare mission package: one MH-60R helicopter, one MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aircraft system, two 11-meter RHIBs with two six-man boarding teams and two 30mm guns.

“This is the first time that Fire Scout is operating in 7th Fleet onboard Fort Worth and also the first time that Fire Scout and the MH-60R helicopter have deployed together onboard an LCS. The addition of Fire Scout greatly expands the ship’s aviation capabilities and endurance, and provides a dedicated asset for maritime domain awareness,” he wrote.
“During CARAT Singapore, Fire Scout was used to provide over-the-horizon imagery and video of the opposing surface action group and stream the video back to Fort Worth. This capability provided Fort Worth a detailed visual of the opposing ships that a radar picture alone can’t provide. Additionally, the MQ-8B provides longer on-station times and is less counter-detectable than the MH-60R.”

Brown said the use of UAVs – both the Fire Scout and the Republic of Singapore Navy’s Scan Eagle – was the highlight of CARAT Singapore, “demonstrating the value of unmanned platforms in providing an enhanced maritime domain awareness picture for the afloat task group.”

The LCS crew has also tested and integrated a Fire Scout mission payload called VORTEX, which streams video from a Brite Star II Forward-looking Infared (FLIR) camera to a handheld panel. Brown said VORTEX provides units – such as a Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) team on an 11-meter RHIB – the ability to see what Fire Scout is seeing over land or sea.

The VBSS team played a big role in CARAT Indonesia, Brown said, with the Indonesian Navy coming aboard Fort Worth for the first time.

“Defensive positioning, search procedures, and weapons tactics were discussed and participants were able to utilize the techniques during a realistic boarding by the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) boarding team onboard Fort Worth,” Brown wrote.

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) transits in formation with ships from the Royal Malaysian navy as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia 2015 on Aug. 19, 2015. US Navy Photo

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) transits in formation with ships from the Royal Malaysian navy as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Malaysia 2015 on Aug. 19, 2015. US Navy Photo

Fort Worth’s success this summer – and in the first nine months of its 16-month deployment – comes after a less productive maiden deployment for the class. USS Freedom (LCS-1) deployed from March to December 2013, and while the proof-of-concept deployment succeeded in showing the utility of the smaller ship class, the ship itself spent much more time waylaid by maintenance problems than expected.

During the first 180 days of Freedom’s deployment, the ship was underway only 51 days, lost 21 planned underway days due to maintenance needs and required about 12,000 man-hours of corrective maintenance. Fort Worth, in contrast, spent 96 days underway in its first 180 days of deployment – a full week longer than had been scheduled – and only required about 3,900 man-hours of corrective maintenance.

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) maintenance history after 180 days on deployment. US Navy document.

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) maintenance history after 180 days on deployment.

Brown attributed part of the improvement to the speed in which the shore-based support system can respond when repairs are needed. He explained that the LCS has both preventive maintenance availabilities – about five days long and scheduled every four to six weeks – in which U.S.-based contractors are flown to Singapore to carry out maintenance checks on the ship’s systems. The ship also has repair availabilities, which last two weeks and are scheduled every four months.

Brown said there was no particular system or component driving maintenance needs, but he said that the shore system has been able to respond very quickly when needed.

“During Fort Worth‘s last preventive maintenance availability, contractors discovered an unserviceable component on the ship’s ready life boat davit. Within 48 hours of discovery the faulty component was sourced, procured, installed and operationally tested, enabling Fort Worth to meet minimum operational equipment required for setting sail in support of CARAT Indonesia 2015,” he wrote.

Sailors assigned to Surface Warfare Mission Package, Detachment 4, embarked aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), prepare to board the Indonesian navy corvette KRI John Lie (358) during a visit, board, search and seizure drill as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2015 on Aug. 7, 2015. US Navy photo.

Sailors assigned to Surface Warfare Mission Package, Detachment 4, embarked aboard the littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), prepare to board the Indonesian navy corvette KRI John Lie (358) during a visit, board, search and seizure drill as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2015 on Aug. 7, 2015. US Navy photo.

For Capt. H.B. Le, who earlier this month took over as commodore of Destroyer Squadron 7 – which includes Fort Worth – that ability to take care of maintenance needs quickly and in a flexible timeline means having more options for how to use his ship.

“A greater time between maintenance periods allows Fort Worth the opportunity to respond quickly to a variety of regional contingencies. For example, the January 2015 repair availability maintenance period was moved three weeks to the right, allowing Fort Worth to provide support in the search for [missing airliner] Air Asia Flight 8501. Fort Worth was also able to conduct a planned maintenance availability (PMAV) in Sasebo, Japan. While Singapore will remain the primary port for LCS maintenance and logistics, this expeditionary maintenance concept allows Fort Worth to operate for longer periods of time throughout South and Southeast Asia,” Le told USNI News in an email.
“This region of the world has been impacted by earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and other natural disasters far too often recently. Having a ship like Fort Worth in the region, which has demonstrated flexibility in required maintenance schedules, allows us to respond quickly and effectively to a wide-array of humanitarian aid and disaster relief situations. We have the ability to be first on the scene and can provide immediate support when necessary.”

Le, who served as deputy commodore of DESRON 7 from January until his promotion this month, praised the flexibility of the support system to reschedule, rather than cancel, maintenance availabilities if the 7th Fleet needs the LCS to continue operating. In other communities in the Navy, staying out on deployment longer means returning to homeport late, missing maintenance availabilities and having to be squeezed back into a tight and complex maintenance schedule.

For now, the shore support in Singapore is only responsible for maintaining the one LCS, but Le said he doesn’t expect problems in a few years when more LCSs operate in theater simultaneously.

“I don’t want to speculate on future operations, but having more LCSs in theater will also bring more support from the shore side,” he said. “I have no reason to expect shore support to be anything less than outstanding in the future, just like it has been to date.”

Overall, Le said the Fort Worth deployment has shown the LCSs are “highly capable ships” that can respond to diverse mission sets.

“A major benefit of the LCS is that it’s of comparable size to regional warships that patrol Southeast Asia, allowing us to operate hull-to-hull with these navies during exercises and operations,” he wrote.
“The LCS ship class also has a shallow draft and can operate at high speeds, allowing access and the ability to provide presence in places in Southeast Asia that larger U.S. navy ships simply cannot go. Fort Worth can cover a larger area in less time, and get closer to land than other larger ships in the fleet, making it the ideal ship for tasking when events like the search for the missing Air Asia Flight 8501 occur.”

  • Ctrot

    Christened 3 years ago and finally deploying rubber boats, great job Navy!!

    • Wardog00

      The less you know the easier it is.

    • redgriffin

      That is not really tha bad considering tha the vessel was involved in transporting marines for a month and looking for wreckage form a crashed Indonesian Airliner that show versatility not weakness.

      • Ctrot

        You cannot be serious.

        • redgriffin

          Serious about what that life happens things get changed? Yes I am and I know that they have deployed a RHIB with a boarding team in training a few times.

          • Ctrot

            Arriving late to a search at sea and transporting some Marines is NOT an honest THREE YEARS work for a supposed “warship”.

            And now the mine sweeping package for LCS is still not ready after ~20 years in development! I’d share a link but USNI doesn’t like that. Google is your friend however.

          • redgriffin

            And here I thought they weren’t offered and excepted until it was 3 days after the crash. As for the pallet problem I do agree that there is a problem but that is between the contractor and the DON I see no reason to condemn and entire class.

          • Ctrot

            The “entire class” is worthless without these modules.

            Try this, name one ship in any navy in the world that cost as much or more than the LCS and which is less well armed.

            Just one.

          • redgriffin

            The Gerald Ford.

          • Ctrot

            Wrong. The Ford will carry more fire power than some countries.

            The correct answer is there are none. And I can name numerous ships in other navy’s that cost less and are much better armed.

            From Defense Industry Daily:

            “Present LCS designs don’t even carry torpedo tubes, or vertical-launch systems (VLS) that could accommodate present and future attack and/or defensive missiles. Even with the Surface Warfare module installed, LCS ships will carry a very light armament set for a major naval vessel: a 57-mm Mk 110 naval gun system external link; RIM-116 SeaRAM short range defensive missiles; 30mm cannons that would replace very short range Griffin missile launchers if installed; 12.7mm machine guns; plus any missiles or 70mm rockets carried by its accompanying helicopters (up to 2 H-60 slots or up to 4 MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV slots).

            That armament is closer to a support vessel than a naval surface combatant, and larger high-speed support designs like the JHSV would offer far more mission module space for reconfigurable specialty support ships. Naval analyst Raymond Pritchett has pithily described the current compromise as:

            “…3000 ton speedboat chasers with the endurance of a Swedish corvette, the weapon payload of a German logistics ship, and the cargo hold of a small North Korean arms smuggler.”

            The LCS weapons array also compares unfavorably with comparable-sized frigates that can perform the full array of anti-submarine, fleet air defense, and naval combat roles. The new Franco-Italian FREMM Class, or even Britain’s much older Type 23/Duke Class, outclass it considerably as multi-role ships. So do smaller corvettes like Israel’s US-built, $260 million Sa’ar 5 Eilat Class, and Sweden’s ultra-stealthy Visby Class. Even the tiny Danish Flyvefisken Class, whose swappable “flex ship” modules helped pave the way for the LCS idea, has a Mk 48 vertical launch system that can handle medium-range air defense missiles, and mounts launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles.”

  • Wardog00

    Wow: a 16 month deployment for a small ship is remarkable and tough on the crew.

    • Ctrot

      Not so much if you’re tied to the pier 90% of the time.

    • KellyJ

      They swap out the crews every few months.

    • Secundius

      @ Wardog00.

      It was 16-month deployment for the SHIP, Not the CREW. The were three Ship Crew’s, First crew were, Crew 104 aka “the Juggernauts”. Follow by the second crew, Crew 102 aka “Gold”. and last were, Crew 103 aka “the Rough Riders”. It’s an Endurance test for the Ship, rather then the Crew’s. Crew transfer was done in Singapore, and it only lasted long-enough to transfer Crew’s and Resupply the Ship…

      • Wardog00

        DId not know that. Just like the boomers Blue and Gold crews. The nukes made it work, hope the surface line can do the same.

  • Navyjag907

    When you look at the big gun on the LCS, all 57 millimeters of it, you can understand the fear the Chinese must feel. That’s over a 2.2 inch weapon!

    • Secundius

      @ Navyjag907.

      Depend’s on what comes out of the 2.244-inch (57mm) Naval Artillery Barrel. If it’s a ALM-KEP (Amorphous Liquid Metal, Kinetic Energy Penetrator) Round. The only thing you going be Buried in is a “Spounge” or a Bounty Paper Towel…

    • old guy

      Even mine’s bigger!

      • redgriffin

        Somehow I doubt that.

        • old guy

          Well, anyway, it used to be

          • redgriffin

            I still think that’s just a sea story. A good one but still a sea story.

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  • Secundius

    @ Navyjag907.

    At last count, there were at least TEN Different War Shots for the 2.244-inch (57mm) Naval Gun Alone. And that’s ONLY Limited by Some Ordnance Engineer’s Imagination…

    • Navyjag907

      What are they and what are their effects? I had no idea these weapons had some real lethality. And thx for the info.

      • Secundius

        @ Navyjag907.

        Some of these Rounds, date back to 1962. When the 2.244-inch 57mm/60-caliber (70-caliber) Naval Artillery Deck Gun was introduced into service.
        1. AP: Armor Piercing
        2. AP-T: Armor Piercing, Tracer
        3. HE-P: High Explosive, Proximity fuse
        4. HE-T/SD: High-Explosive, Tracer, Self-Destroying fuse
        5. HE/SD(DT): High-Explosive, Self-Destroying fuse, Delay-Timing
        6. HE-I-T(SD): High-Explosive, Incendiary, Self-Destroying fuse
        7. HE-I-P: High-Explosive, Incendiary, Proximity fuse
        8. HE-I/SD(DT): High-Explosive, Incendiary, Self-Destroying fuse, Delay-Timing
        9. HE-I-T: High-Explosive, Incendiary, Tracer
        10. BL&T: Dummy-Fuse, Tracer
        11. BL&P: Dummy-Fuse, Proximity fuse
        12. HE-I-SD(DI): High-Explosive, Incendiary, Self-Destroying fuse, Delay-Impact
        13. 3P: Pre-Fragmentation, Programmable, Proximity-Fuse
        14. SAP: Semi-Armor Piercing
        15. HCER: High-Capacity Extended-Range
        16. PFHE: Proximity-Fuse High-Explosive
        17. SUCK: Saltpeter through the pipe
        18. ILL: Illumination
        19. TP-T: Timed-Proximity, Tracer
        20. ALM-KEP: Amorphous Liquid Metal, Kinetic Energy Penetrator
        21. SLICK: Aluminium Projectile Practice Round…

        • Navyjag907

          I appreciate your answering my request. I really wanted to know what was available. Many thanks.

        • old guy

          I still like the PG84 and its 3″ gun better.

          • Secundius

            @ old guy.

            Yeah, the Asheville’s did have a certain appeal didn’t they. But, unfortunately the Mk. 34 3-inch (76.2x584mmR)/50-caliber guns are NO LONGER in production. Maybe in some 3rd World Country, but even there I have my Doubt’s…

          • old guy

            There you go, being accurate again.I can’t even let a little nostalgia creep into my musings.

          • Secundius

            @ old guy.

            HA HA, Somebody sent me an “E” of you. Please tell me you just “woke up”, and somebody placed the “School Bus Hat On You While You Sleeping”. Or, You put it on to stand out in a crowd. So your friends could find you easier…

          • old guy

            Please don’t blow my cover. I have enough problems. Best.

          • Secundius

            @ old guy.

            Alright what’s your Secret? Alien Technology is my guess?? Your at least 25 over me, and yet you look younger than me. My Therapist/Girlfriend say’s you could pass for 50ish and your a “Hottie” (Her Words)…

          • old guy

            AT 88, IT’S SUPERFICIAL. I CAN ASSURE YOU.

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