WASHINGTON, D.C. — Full ship shock trials on both variants of the Littoral Combat Ship proved the ships are survivable and will only need “relatively minor modifications,” according to Navy written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the Pentagon’s top operational tester warned in his written testimony that the shocks were performed at reduced severity due to concerns about excessive damage to the ships.
The Navy performed its three-shot FSST on Independence-variant USS Jackson (LCS-6) in June and July and conducted two of three shots on USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) in August and September. But in their testimony to SASC for a hearing on the LCS program, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley and the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation J. Michael Gilmore had very different messages about the success of the test event.
Stackley, along with commander, Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, wrote that “the LCS Program Office accomplished all FSST test objectives within budget, for both ship variants, demonstrating that the ships and ships’ systems are able to survive the degrading effects of an underwater shock event.” Full test results will be available in the third quarter of Fiscal Year 2017 after all the data is analyzed, they wrote, but design changes resulting from the data would be minor.
“In the Independence variant, modifications to some structural details in specific forward fuel tanks and bulkheads are being assessed and planned. The design work is complete and associated modifications will be accomplished in LCS-6 during her upcoming PSA (post-shakedown availability),” reads the written testimony.
“In the Freedom variant, there is need for modification to reduction gear lube oil bellows to allow for greater travel and improved bracing of lube oil piping in the vicinity of the bellows. The majority of the required changes were implemented in LCS 5 during the FSST period with the outstanding work to be completed in her PSA. For all follow ships of both variants, these relatively minor modifications will be accomplished at the most cost effective opportunity in the new construction window.”
The Navy’s written testimony also notes that the follow-on frigate design will include survivability upgrades, some of which will be back fitted onto LCSs, such as hardening of potable water systems, chill water systems and the ship’s Anti-Ship Cruise Missile system.
Gilmore’s written testimony tells a different story. He wrote that ahead of the trials he “approved the reduced severity trial geometries for LCS-6 because of serious concerns about the potential for damage to non-shock hardened mission critical equipment and ship structure.” He added that the Independence-variant aluminum hull could suffer more damage than a traditional steel hull, and that the combat system and main propulsion system on those ships were not hardened. “To further mitigate potential equipment damage and personnel injury, some mission systems were removed, other equipment was modified to improve shock resistance, and construction deficiencies were corrected,” he wrote.
Gilmore wrote that after the three shots of increasing severity, most of the ship systems that were supposed to remain operable or be restored rapidly did just that – but he noted that the third and most severe shock was still only at half the required shock strength. Due to the success of keeping the ship systems online during testing, Gilmore directed the Navy to use stronger shocks for the Milwaukee test, with the third one reaching two-thirds the shock severity the ship is built to sustain.
“The Navy conducted the first two shots from August 29 through September 23, 2016, starting the trial at the same shock severity as other modern surface combatants. However, the Navy stopped the LCS 5 trial after the second shot, thereby not executing the planned third shot due to concerns with the shock environment, personnel, and equipment,” Gilmore wrote.
“The Navy viewed the third LCS 5 trial as not worthwhile because the Navy was concerned shocking the ship at the increased level of that trial would significantly damage substantial amounts of non-hardened equipment, as well as damage, potentially significantly, the limited amount of hardened equipment, thereby necessitating costly and lengthy repairs.”
“Neither shock trial resulted in catastrophic damage, yet both shock trials exposed critical shock deficiencies, which I will detail in an upcoming classified report,” he concluded.
“These deficiencies, which were only identified in the shock trial, can now be specifically addressed and corrected by Navy engineers to make the ships more survivable.”
Gilmore has long disagreed with Navy officials on the LCS program, and specifically whether the ship has proven it can perform the missions it was built for while keeping the crew safe. He said during the hearing that, as an example, “the original vision for these ships is they would use unmanned systems that would go in and conduct combat operations and they could stand off away from threats. But those unmanned systems that could reach out and conduct combat operations, we don’t have, and it isn’t clear when we ever will. So this ship was built to not be nearly as survivable as, for example, the FFG-7s we used to have. … It’s not nearly as survivable as other ships, and frankly it wasn’t meant to be in that regard, and the original [concepts of operations], if it could ever be realized, that might have been fine. But as I understand the conops and the way it’s been written – and the Navy is continually revising it based on what it learns, the conops still says it would be out there preparing the way to the battlefield. And if that’s true, then it will be subject to attack by anti-ship cruise missiles, torpedoes and mines, and the Navy’s own requirements show the only thing the Navy expects if it’s hit by one of those threats is for it to be able to exit the battle area and/or provide for an orderly evacuation.”
Overall, Gilmore stressed the need for more and more threat-representative testing for the LCS class, with additional testing being prioritized over efforts to field the ship overseas. His written testimony noted previous problems with the sea frame’s 57mm guns and the surface warfare mission package in defeating small boat threats, which were only revealed through at-sea testing instead of shore-based or simulation-based testing. Gilmore said he believes the addition of an over-the-horizon missile and the surface-to-surface Longbow Hellfire missile will greatly enhance the surface warfare capability but added that other modifications may be needed based on the ship class’s test results against “relatively modest threat” environments.