Home » Budget Industry » CNO Richardson: Lessons Learned from Littoral Combat Ship on Modularity Will Guide Future Fleet Development


CNO Richardson: Lessons Learned from Littoral Combat Ship on Modularity Will Guide Future Fleet Development

The Navy may embrace some lessons learned from the Littoral Combat Ship program as it shifts towards a new mentality of rapidly fielding capabilities, as outlined in a new Navy white paper, the chief of naval operations said.

Adm. John Richardson told reporters Monday evening that the Navy would have to grow its fleet faster than expected, as well as boost its capability through the addition of unmanned systems, advanced weapons and stronger networks – all this to keep up with rapidly growing and improving naval fleets in Russia, China and more, according to his new white paper, The Future Navy.

But this boost in capability cannot be a one-time effort, he said, but rather the Navy needs to build this larger fleet in a modular and easily modernizable way so that ship hulls can remain technologically relevant throughout their entire service life.

In discussing this vision for a future fleet with reporters, Richardson said that “the pieces move so quickly. … We need to be open to the opportunity that particularly information technology will allow us to use. So I see [ships in the future fleet] as even much more modular and built to modernize than the LCS.”

Though the Navy is set to cease construction of the original LCSs – a seaframe into which one of three warfare mission modules can be inserted at any given time, based on the ship’s anticipated mission set – in favor of a multimission frigate, Richardson said the lessons learned related to modular construction remain valid going forward.

“While the thinking was there for the LCS, the manifestation of the LCS program was just, it was very complex in terms of execution. These big modules that switch out, I think the technology has come to the point where you can do that with a lot more agility now. So I think LCS was sort of a prototype of this approach,” he said.

As it relates to modularity, the Navy ought to be “leveraging everything that we learned from the LCS program and taking that to another level” when designing and building future ships.

The frigate, along with the amphibious dock landing ship replacement, LX(R), would be the first two opportunities for the Navy to try to follow this new type of adaptable ship design. Cmdr. Chris Servello, a spokesman for Richardson, told USNI News that “there is certainly a desire to begin as soon as possible with the concepts [Richardson] discussed” but that the Navy was still looking into how quickly it could introduce the ideas laid out in today’s white paper.

Regardless of when the introduction happens – be it in the LX(R) and the frigate, or in the later Future Surface Combatant family of ships – Richardson strongly embraced the fundamental ideas behind the LCS as a way to build ships rapidly today while allowing them to be upgraded to include the newest weapons and computers as they become available.

“You can kind of see this platform and payload thing now becoming really fundamental to the way we think about building platforms. So you’ve got some parts of that that will last the life of the ship. … The hull and the power plant are most likely going to be very persistent, they’ll last ostensibly the life of the ship,” the CNO said.
“But then the design and the rest of it – the very latest technology that we have right now, that will be a step forward (for today’s fleet), but also to be built to step into the future fast, to modernize faster really from the ground up – so things will be much more modularized, much more compatible and you can iterate your way to the future with faster steps,” he continued. Other Navy officials have discussed ideas such as building a computer and combat system infrastructure that could be easily accessed and ripped out during maintenance availabilities to install newer versions, and leaving power and space for future weapons and unmanned systems that would extend the reach and lethality of the ship.

“So you can have part of the ship that’s built to last and part of the ship that’s built to grow and modernize. I think we can get this thing done in the pretty near term,” Richardson said.

  • PolicyWonk

    There are lessons that can be derived from the LCS experience. For example: unlike the LX(R), LCS was never built to naval construction standards, while the LX(R). is built to the level-2 standard. LCS would’ve been a far better asset had it been built to naval standards for compartmentalization, etc., and had some room for growth.

    LX(R) is an amphib that was designed from the start to be an amphib, yet LCS’s original intent was supposed to be for a small, heavily armed littoral combat platform costing $93M per sea-frame, that turned into something: too big for the littorals; too small for blue water; well over $400M per sea-frame (not counting any mission package); and poorly armed/protected compared to any naval peer in the same size range (or much smaller – even if you include the SuW mission package).

    The navy simply failed to do its homework when it came to LCS. Hopefully they won’t repeat that tragic error.

    • NavySubNuke

      Agreed. Failure is often a much better teacher than success so hopefully LCS is the teacher the Navy needs so we can have ships that are actually capable of fighting and winning the Nation’s wars and are modular and upgrade-able for the future too.

    • Lazarus

      The original “streetfighter” was not designed to naval standards but both LCS sea frames were. You might be confusing survivability standards with those of construction.

      LCS has proven remarkably useful and (dare I say, transformative) as intended. The ship is built from the keel up with the ability to interface multiple weapons/sensors/other equipment never intended in the initial design.

      That is pretty successful!

      • NavySubNuke

        Can you please provide specific examples on how the LCS has already been proven to be useful? I am honestly curious as to what specific acts the LCS has accomplished to date that have made you consider it to have “proven remarkably useful”.

        • Matt

          How about the MQ8-B UAVs which can be stored below deck and brought up with the elevator. Sixteen (just a guess on max capacity, but the storage area is huge) Fire Scouts will be useful. UAV’s have more than proven their worth already. How many could the Perry class carry?

          • NavySubNuke

            She had two helo hangers so presumably at least a few. Not sure how much room an MQ-8 takes up when it is in “storage” configuration vs. a flight one.
            I notice you said “will be useful” — that doesn’t answer my question. My question is what has an LCS already done such that has “proven remarkably useful”?

          • Matt

            UAVs have proven their usefulness. You seem to be making a less than useful point. Harpoons are now mounted on the Coronado, are you saying the Harpoons aren’t useful until they are fired from the ship and kill something?

            I’m convinced the Navy has purposefully been vague about the capabilities of the LCS. We should not tell the enemy what the ship can do until there are enough of the ships to actually be relevant. This complicates the enemy’s ability to train and counter our future capability. LCS are just too few to matter, which is really the much larger issue. It is really bizarre to have a Navy without frigates and no one asking how this happened. This inexcusable void could well be part of the break down of deterrence visible in the South China Sea. China did get very ballsy during this period.

          • NavySubNuke

            I’m not trying to make a point at all, I’m just trying to figure out what he meant when they said they have already proven to be remarkably useful. Which is why I asked him to “please provide specific examples on how the LCS has already been proven to be useful?”
            In my mind to make that statement they must have already done something and I am trying to figure out what he thinks they have already done — not what you or he thinks they might do someday assuming additional capabilities are provided and fully integrated.
            As to the SCS – our failure to deter China there involves a number of factors most of which are far more important than the Navy’s current lack of frigates (which is something people have been talking about for years actually).
            Also, while UAVs have certainly proven their usefulness I’m not certain the MQ-8 has proven its usefulness to the Navy yet. I’m not saying it won’t, I just don’t think we’ve arrived at the point where they have actually proven to be more useful than manned helos that would otherwise have been operating in their place.

          • DaSaint

            The exercises theu have participated in with Asian navies allowed more significant combatants to be places they need to be, while still fostering partnerships with regional forces.

            I’m always amazed at the fact that no one decries the weapons fit or survivability of our MCMVs or Cyclones. Maybe we should have Harpoons on them?

            Clearly the LCS has had many challenges, but they are also clearly more capable than the vessels they were designed to replace. Now the question is will the proposed FFGs be more capable than the Perrys?

          • NavySubNuke

            No one decries the weapons on those because they do the jobs they were designed to do. Go back and look at what LCS was supposed to be and look at what LCS actually is and what LCS actually costs and you’ll understand why people aren’t happy about what LCS actually is and what LCS actually costs.
            Remember in a resource constrained environment just being more capable isn’t enough — you have to be able to deliver cost effective capability and that is where LCS fails spectacularly. A cyclone cost $20M in the 1990s. Even if it today cost $40M we could still buy 12 of them for each LCS we are buying. While each LCS is individually superior to an cyclone I’d rather have 12 cyclones than 1 LCS. Especially since the armament of LCS – or complete lack there of – means it is really only suited for deal with swarms of suicide boats or pirates anyway.
            Same for the Avenger class – $61M a piece – even if they now cost $100M I’d rather have 5 of them than a single LCS when it comes to clearing mines. Especially since we still don’t have the mine clearance package for the LCS and won’t for years.
            I’ve got high hopes for the frigate replacement – especially since the Navy has put the brakes on just up-gunning an LCS. Hopefully now that we are slowing down and taking the time to think we will come to the right decision rather than just going with the easy decision.

          • Lazarus

            The LCS frigate is going to be the frigate the Navy selects, as no other platform under consideration can be built in the same numbers, at less cost, or in time to meet requirements. I think you are looking for a “light destroyer” rather than a low end, inexpensive, small surface combatant. It’s not the 1980’s anymore.

          • NavySubNuke

            What I’m looking for is the Navy to do the right thing and select a ship that is actually capable of helping to protect and defend our nation, our allies, and our international partners.
            What I’d like to see is the Navy step up and do the right thing rather than just caving to political pressure to do the easy thing.
            What I want is our sailors to sail into harms way in a ship that can fight and win not in over-priced and nearly unarmed death traps that have no chance of survival.

          • Lazarus

            The MCM and PC I served on would seem to be unarmed death traps as well, yet thousands have been “in harms way” aboard them. LCS can and has accommodated other systems such as Harpoon and Hellfire.

          • NavySubNuke

            PCs cost ~$20M and had a crew of ~24. MCMs cost ~$60M and had a crew of ~70 if my memory is correct.
            LCS cost >$500M and has a crew (depending on mission module) of ~100.
            That is a whole different scale of investment and (in comparison to a PC) a whole different scale of lives at risk.
            Plus neither PCs or MCMs are counted as part of the battlefleet — or at least were historically to my knowledge – God only knows what Mabus did to bump up the numbers and make himself look better.

          • Pat Patterson

            If so, we don’t need two dissimilar ship designs that don’e have any commonality (two different propulsion systems).

          • Lazarus

            The Navy wanted both designs.

          • PolicyWonk

            And demonstrated remarkably poor judgment by doing so. This all but doubled the logistical tail, training, and maintenance issues, while doubling the size of these poorly disguised corporate welfare programs.

            Hence, the only beneficiaries of this ill considered program are the boardrooms of the companies building them, and our potential adversaries.

          • Lazarus

            So is any US defense program not corporate welfare? I agree the down select should perhaps have happened sooner, but both variants offer differing capabilities.

          • Lazarus

            So is any US defense program not corporate welfare? I agree the down select should perhaps have happened sooner, but both variants offer differing capabilities.

          • PolicyWonk

            By the time the fourth of either class was completed, the decision should’ve been made. However, the endless delays on the mission packages for anything other than the nearly useless SuW variant, may very well have been part of the seemingly ineffective decision making process on the part of the LCS program office.

            For the two classes: the Independence class is easily the most simple, innovative and versatile – but its built out of aluminum; the Freedom class is the most conventional/traditional, by far the most unreliable/complex, but uses a lot more steel.

            Rotten choices in both respects. Yet then the USN opts for *both* classes? In what business school would this make any sense? In what logistical environment does this make any sense? Gross mismanagement of taxpayer resources no matter how you slice it.

          • Lazarus

            Explain how the SUW variant is “Useless.” It has a better combat capability than the FFG 7 it replaced.

          • Tony4

            Actually, the Cyclones were heavily criticized for being under-armed, and not being able to accomodate a full SEAL platoon.

          • Pat Patterson

            They are useful to show how bad they really have performed with all the engineering casualties they’ve had.

          • Pat Patterson

            Yes, but Harpoons don’t have a long range although one is or was in the works with an extended range.

          • Matt

            And there are even other longer range missiles coming out shortly…

          • Pat Patterson

            I like the Norwegian missile we test fired.

          • Tony4

            They are mounted, they are not integrated with the combat system – they were on their for a test firing, in which they missed the target.

          • Matt

            They are mounted just like they are on cruisers and other ships. They need a software upgrade? No big deal.

          • airider

            How about a modern comparison…. How many can LPD or LX hold?

          • Lazarus

            Not really a valid comparison as the LHD is essentially a light carrier.

          • Tony4

            What elevator?

          • Matt

            The Independence has an elevator in the hanger area giving access to the area under the flight deck. These ships were designed to carry many UAVs. Swarms actually.

        • Lazarus

          LCS has been fitted with weapon systems not previously identified for its use including Harpoon and Longbow Hellfire. Three LCS have deployed to Singapore and participated in a host of exercises and operations in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. The class is being being produced below Congressional cost caps for (now) six years. Pretty successful.

          • NavySubNuke

            It is rather telling that the bar for a so called “combat ship” is so low that actually being able to equip it with weapons classifies it as “proving remarkably useful”.
            Never mind the notion that the ship actually should have been equipped with weapons from the start – since it is a “combat ship” after all. But I’m glad your happy to see the navy spending $500M for an empty hull that with enough time, energy, and money can actually carry weapons.
            I’m glad your excited though – I know how much time you spend as a cheerleader for this program and how you need to seize on every bit of positive information you can get since they are so few and far between.

          • Lazarus

            I always love how the LCS hate crowd descends into personal insults when they run out of facts or answers. have a nice day!

          • NavySubNuke

            LOL. You must have even thinner skin than an LCS if you think I insulted you.
            But I can understand your desire to flee from any debate when presented with even the slightest hint of an excuse to do so — sort of like how LCS sailors will be forced to flee flee from even the slightest hint of combat with anything besides a pirate since they certainly have no chance of survive.
            The trouble is that while you can run and hide on the internet the sailors trapped on those death traps won’t be able to out run missiles.
            But you go ahead and have a nice day too – at least you weren’t trapped in Singapore for multiple months for no other reason than the Navy was too embarrassed to let you limp home and didn’t have a trained crew to replace you!

          • Lazarus

            I spent most of my naval career on what you consider “unarmed death traps.” I think you expect LCS to be a light destroyer rather than a low end combatant.

          • Matt

            The hate for LCS is really amazing and somewhat comical. The ships are likely to be a resounding success in due time just as most other classes proved. I think the elevator giving access to a much larger hanger is profoundly important considering the importance of UAVs.

            Was it part of the plan to basically zero out frigates in the Navy before LCS came online? Or has the LCS been delayed forcing this situation? Frigates just seem like such a necessary ship historically to go without. I couldn’t imagine the Navy letting carrier or destroyer numbers dwindle to almost zero before replacements were ready. I am calling LCS a frigate given it fits the definition already.

          • NavySubNuke

            I’d be fine with LCS being a low end combatant if it came at a low end combatant price and with a low end combatant crew compliment.
            $500M and ~100 lives is quite an investment for something with little to no combat capability.

          • PolicyWonk

            I don’t think that’s the point at all. The rest of us are simple-minded enough to believe that what is called the “littoral combat ship” should actually BE a LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP.

            Yet here we are on the path to spending over $34B and we still won’t have a littoral combat platform.

          • BlueSky47

            it “DEPLOYED” wow! such an acomplishment, give everyone on those sea-frames (LOL) a Navy Cross with combat V medal. That’s the equivalent in the private sector of someone simply ‘showing’ up for work and the demanding a raise just for showing up.

          • Lazarus

            The deployment plan for LCS is best compared to that of FDNF ships that remain forward for long periods. Not sure what you expect more from
            LCS without a shooting naval war underway.

      • PolicyWonk

        What I find remarkable is that LCS is at all useful. W/r/t the LCS sea-frames being designed to naval standards – who’s navy are we referring to?

        What is meant by “remarkable”? I would agree that the programs continued survival is remarkable – but that doesn’t set the bar very high.

        According to Defense Industry Daily, the LCS program office admitted that no version of LCS, present or future, will ever meet naval construction standards – and both versions had to be granted a legal waiver to be accepted into the USN because ships not built to naval standards cannot otherwise be commissioned by US law. And the only mission package to see the light of day so far is the rather lame Surface Warfare package – and the others have yet to prove themselves so they don’t count.

        And what was intended for LCS in many respects didn’t turn out as promised by its cheerleaders in the LCS program office, so the expectations for LCS have been considerably watered down since (crewing plan, crew size now much larger, mission package changing, etc.).

        • Lazarus

          LCS is built to naval standards, period. I suggest that the Defense Industry Daily source probably works for a company who is vying to compete with current LCS builders. The first four ships were EXPERIMENTAL and the Navy has experimented with them. I think you are just repeating others’ unfounded complaints.

          • PolicyWonk

            LCS is built to what the navy itself referred to as “commercial-plus”. And both LCS classes required legal waivers to be commissioned into the fleet because it is NOT built to naval standards. Period.

          • Lazarus

            What you are saying is that the Navy built LCS to a lower standard than you think it should have. The Navy determined that LCS was built to a naval standard.

          • PolicyWonk

            Sure – the USN decided that the LCS was built to a “naval standard” that required both classes to be granted legal waivers so they could be commissioned in the navy because they didn’t comply with the naval standards as is required by US law.

            Nice try – no cigar.

      • airider

        So is every other ship in the Navy. Modularity will not solve the integration problems that mixing different technologies that never get aligned have.

        BT BT

        CNO, respectfully, this needs needs to be approached from a “non-nuclear” perspective. We don’t have the money or manpower to do it the SEA 08 way.

        • Lazarus

          How did LCS “mix technologies?”

    • @USS_Fallujah

      If anyone involved in the SC-21 team is still in service they need to be frog marched out before they can create another boondoggle. The Opportunity Loss from the CG(X), DDG-1000 & LCS catastrophe is amazing. Without those the programs the USN would likely have 20-30 more ships in service today (and more capable ones at that).

      • Lazarus

        So what would you have proposed had you been there in the late 1990’s? How would the US have gotten 20-30 more ships in the absence of SC 21? Did/do you have a plan, or just hindsight is 20/20?

        • @USS_Fallujah

          There were lots of critics of SC-21 who (like me) thought they were obsessed with being transformative in order to garner support from DefSec & WH, when they should have been looking at incremental advances to leverage existing programs in a challenging budget environment. They decided instead to go for the brass ring (3 of them) and (IMO) missed badly on all 3. Contributing (or perhaps the base cause?) was an obsession with expanding USN power ashore as a way to remain relevant in the never ending land wars, when they should have been looking ahead to future threats.
          The logical response in place of SC-21 would have been to continue on the existing building plan for DDGs (which they ended up doing anyway, ~$20B later) and looked at extending the service life (and capabilities) of the OHP FFGs until they had a better idea what a future SSC mission requirements would be.

          • Lazarus

            OHP’s got extended about as far as possible. The Australian-style FFG upgrade was just too expensive and did little to address the Perry’s decaying HM&E.

            The whole concept of “transformation” was embraced throughout the military and few if any voices were in dissent. That process might have been better executed had not the Iraq War 2 distracted DoD officials and sucked up the $$$ needed to execute the SC 21 plan. Navy programs were just not important with a raging insurgency in progress.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            There was plenty of dissent within the USN, no doubt about that. The LCS or even street fighter proposal before it, were maligned from day 1, if for no other reason than not being a “real” ship the naval traditionalists wanted.

  • @USS_Fallujah

    Open Architecture and Commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) technology need to be the buzz words of choice at NavSea over the next 20 years. Tech and advancing faster than the defense appropriations and procurement process can adjust and the lack of stability in the threat matrix is changing mission requirements faster than the policy wonks can adjust.

  • BlueSky47

    The real lesson to be learned here is that you can’t do the same thing over and over again (building lot of LCS) and expect different results (the LCS morphing into a real warship).

  • Rob C.

    Hope they do learn lessons from the mess the LCS left. The next generation of frigate / SSC shouldn’t be remotely like the LCS unless there no choice. They need bigger sea-frame aka hull to handle new

    Modules and still have strong baseline weaponry/equipment to do the basic job of a Frigate. To escort the bigger boats, patrol, handle small threats in larger formation. As well what the Modules adds to the mix, like Drone Control Ship, dispatching remove UUVs etc. Anything along the coast should be a Corvette design (when coast guard not available), with more modules and just primary weapons system to what it should be doing. Coastal patrol, pirate hunting, intercepting minor threats, training for officers/crews. Etc.

    I doubt this will happen, the cost of building something new from scratch is insane and crippling. I laugh everytime i hear they want re-model civilian based Coast Guard Cutters to Frigate standards. They weren’t design for that, their just bigger and slower hulls with less flexibility .