Home » Budget Industry » Interview: Plans For 2 Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore, 1 in Bahrain in 2018 Shaped By Lessons Learned

Interview: Plans For 2 Littoral Combat Ships in Singapore, 1 in Bahrain in 2018 Shaped By Lessons Learned

The littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) is underway in formation with ships from the Royal Thai Navy as part of a division tactics exercise during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Thailand on June 3, 2017. US Navy photo.

WASHINGTON NAVY YARD – The Navy is laying the groundwork now for more complex Littoral Combat Ship operations in Asia and the Middle East, preparing to deploy two simultaneously to Singapore and one to Bahrain in 2018, the program executive officer for LCS told USNI News.

The service has deployed three LCSs overseas so far, all one at a time to Singapore: the Lockheed Martin-built USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), and the Austal USA-built USS Coronado (LCS-4). Rear Adm. John Neagley said the PEO and operators have been collecting as many lessons learned as they can during these deployments in the hopes of feeding that information back into maintenance models and logistics assumptions the manning and training pipelines and plans to backfit the ships with upgrades.

In his first formal interview since assuming command last summer, Neagley told USNI News that these lessons learned will all come into play next year when the Navy ups the difficulty of its LCS operations – with two Independence-variant ships operating concurrently out of Singapore, and one Freedom-variant ship operating out of Bahrain for the first time in the program’s history.

“I think it’s going to be really powerful to have two ships operating together, so you kind of get the synergy of two platforms operating together, doing dual operations, and you get the benefits of having those two crews on station doing that work,” he said.
“And everything we’ve learned to date, we’re certainly going to carry forward for ’18. Bahrain will be new for us, it’ll be the first time we operate a ship out of Bahrain, so we’re doing some preparations now to make sure we’re ready to go do that and we have the footprint established. We have a facility out there we share with FDRMC, which is the Forward Deployed Regional Maintenance Center, those are the guys who do maintenance for our ships out there … so we share that facility and there’s some good synergy between those two groups as we operate out of that part of the world.”

Neagley would not speculate on how the U.S. 5th Fleet commander would choose to operate the ship in theater, but he said having a shallow-draft surface combatant in the Middle East would open up a lot of opportunities to the operational commanders.

“I did a lot of operations in that part of the world, and I’ll tell you, having a shallow-draft ship to operate up in the Persian Gulf and some of those areas is a big asset. I had a DDG, and every time I went up north and had to operate around the oil wells up there, you had to be on your toes and watch the draft of that ship,” Neagley said, referring to commanding guided-missile destroyer USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) when Operation Iraqi Freedom began in 2003.
“But having a 15-foot draft ship, being able to do those kinds of operations I think provides us a lot of flexibility.”

Neagley said the same of LCS operations in the Pacific, adding that “for that part of the world they’re a really good size ship to operate with our partners out there. The ability to kind of engage with Brunei and the other countries in that particular area with that size of ship, and to be able to go into ports that we haven’t really been able to go into before because we have a relatively shallow draft, we’re talking about a 15-foot draft, has opened up some things for us.”

The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), front, the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112) and USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), the Republic of Korea navy destroyer ROKS Eulji Mundeok (DDH 972), and the Ulsan-class frigate ROKS Jeju (FF 958) participate in a joint photo exercise during Foal Eagle 2015 in March 2015. US Navy photo.

While he said both variants meet the same requirements from an acquisition perspective, he is pleased with the strengths the Freedom-variant will to the Middle East and the Independence-variant to the Pacific during next year’s deployments.

“Some have attributes that give them some comparative advantages – certainly the flight decks on the LCS-2 variant lend themselves to a lot of good helicopters operations and those kinds of things. The stern ramp on the Freedom variant, being able to launch and recover 11-meter [rigid-hull inflatable boats] quickly, there’s advantages to that. … I think you could put either ship either place and it would do great, but I think we’ll leverage the capabilities of those ships appropriately for the missions that the fleet commander has out there.”

While lessons learned so far will shape these deployments next year, the Navy is certainly not done learning about these ships. Setting up a new maintenance hub in Bahrain, as well as trying to simultaneously maintain two Independent-variant ships, for which the Navy has less operational data than the Freedom-variant, will stress the Navy’s maintenance and logistics communities, which have already had to grapple with forward-stationing essentially two distinct types of ships. The Freedom- and Independence-variants use different combat systems, different propulsion, and so on, which means the Navy has to have the right parts and people stationed at the right place at the right time for ship repairs on both variants, or else the LCS is sidelined for too long during maintenance and misses operational assignments. Neagley said the time it takes to turn around a forward-deployed LCS for maintenance has steadily decreased, from the Freedom deployment to Fort Worth to Coronado, so “there’s some really good trends there.”

He added the Navy has a pretty good idea of what it takes to keep the Freedom-variant running on deployment, with two deployments under its belt, and is learning on the Indy-variant as it collects more data during the ongoing deployment, which began last summer.

“Is there a part where we see a usage rate that’s higher while forward-deployed than back here in CONUS that we have to have that piece there? Is there a part that we know would have a particularly long lead time that we should think ahead and put it out there? Those are the kinds of things we’re learned,” the admiral said.
“And we’ve really cut the response time down on Coronado based on lessons learned. Now we have better coordination with [original equipment manufacturers] that might go out and help with some of that repair, we have better coordination with the types of parts that we might need, and that you just get from operating – that’s experience-based learning, and the ship’s doing that real time, and it’s showing its benefit in our ability to turn a ship around for a maintenance period and continue to do operations.”

Neagley said, “quick learning” is the common thread with all that PEO LCS is trying to do right now. While some critics of the program have noted that Freedom and eventually Fort Worth were sidelined during their deployments with major maintenance issues, Neagley said the Navy made a conscious decision to put the ships out on deployment as soon as it could to begin capturing lessons learned that would inform concepts of operations, material fixes to send back to the shipyards’ production lines, and training plans for the crews.

An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter prepares to land aboard the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) following completion of routine operations in the Sulu Sea near the Balabac Strait on Feb. 20, 2017. US Navy photo.

One big win that came from that is the fleet’s identification of the need for an over-the-horizon missile.

“That’s a significant capability for the ship. When you look at competitors in that part of the world, you have to pay attention to where you have a missile, or a ship with that kind of capability, and it kind of changes that dynamic a little bit. It provides a little bit more stick, offensive stick for that ship. So I think that’s certainly something we value over there,” he said.

Other bits of fleet feedback have led to a list of lethality and survivability upgrades that the Navy would like to backfit into LCS ships as early as 2018, in an effort to increase the LCSs’ capability to something closer to the future frigate’s level of lethality and survivability. The Navy’s 2018 unfunded priorities list includes a mention of $84 million for four ship-sets of upgrades, which include four key items: space and weight for the over-the-horizon missile, increased magazine protection, anti-submarine warfare lightweight tow embark, and hardening of chilled water to support the SeaRAM anti-ship missile defense system already installed on the ships.

Neagley called these upgrades “relatively easy to do, doesn’t require major design changes to the ship, but based on those lessons learned from the first four ships we said, hey, these are the kinds of things that came out of the work we had done on the frigate program” and could be backfitted onto LCSs.

Neagley said he’s ready to do the upgrades as soon as the funding becomes available.

“For us it’s driven by funding at this point. They’re on the unfunded list. But the good news is we have the drawings, the plans, we know how to do it, so this is not a hard thing for us to go do,” he said.
“We’ve identified those as things that we think would be important to improve the ships in the near-term. And we’ll continue to look at those kinds of things, and I think operating forward does help us identify that kind of stuff.”

  • RobM1981

    “One big win that came from that is the fleet’s identification of the need for an over-the-horizon missile”

    Really? You’re just now figuring out that a 3,500 ton naval vessel should ship something more than an anti-tank missile?

    I’m glad to read that you’re spending my tax dollars wisely.

    Spend a few hundred million more and then tell me about the “big wins” when you realize that these ships can’t provide more than rudimentary point defense against aircraft, and can detect submarines – but only when they surface nearby.

    I realize that he is spouting the party line, and that the last thing a career officer wants to do is torpedo his own career by telling the emperor that his new suit is actually nothing. As the guy writing the checks and counting on the capability, however, I find it hard to swallow.

    • Fred Gould

      Far too many of us cannot handle the truth.

  • Jon

    But you’re still left with ships that can’t do much beside look pretty. They can’t do ASW, they can’t clear mines, they can’t fight off swarms of fast boats, and they can’t defend themselves against anti-ship missiles. They’re targets, that require a dedicated babysitter riding shotgun.

    • RobM1981

      I thought that very thing when I saw the photo of the LCS in the presence of the DDG’s.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      Ultimately the Independence Class might make fine a fine ASW asset. Everyone I heard from around the programs raves about the aviation capability it brings with it (and these are folks with few or any other positive things to say about the whole LCS boondoggle).
      I think the “legacy” Freedom Class LCS (can they be legacy when we’re still building them?) will be the MCM platform with a baseline SuWa capability allowing them to act as glorified coast guard cutters for SouthComm & AfricaComm and fleet auxiliaries for PacCom & CentCom. No matter what we’re getting 14 of each version, so they’re going to have to come up with some use for them over the next 20 years (before quietly selling them off to third world navies – likely with their gas turbines deactivated and new switching gear inserted).
      I’m hopeful that with ~$1.2B budget baseline per hull for FY 20, 21, 22 they will have the flexibility to purchase a real FFG and not shoehorn an LCS sea frame into a FFE thatdoesn’t do much to address the SSC capability shortfall the USN has faced since they defanged and then retired the OHP Frigates.

  • Matt

    Look at the size of that flight deck… that is probably the biggest weapon. And nobody admits it. Carriers don’t even have long range missiles. When UAVs are the future we best have ships built to carry them. With an elevator we take a ship capable of carrying only two or three aircraft (double barrel shotgun) into a ship capable of carrying 12-16 UAVs (semi automatic with a freak’n HUGE magazine). Who wants to argue bigger magazines are a small thing?

  • John B. Morgen

    This is nonsense, the Navy should be deploying four or six LCS type warships to these two regional locations, not just one or two LCS warship(s). If not these LCSs should be viewed as “trip-wires” and nothing more than bad policy making from Washington, D.C..