Home » News & Analysis » Littoral Combat Ship Sailors to Take on Greater Maintenance Responsibilities, As Navy Looks to Reduce Overall Class Maintenance Needs

Littoral Combat Ship Sailors to Take on Greater Maintenance Responsibilities, As Navy Looks to Reduce Overall Class Maintenance Needs

Hull Maintenance Technician 1st Class James Strotler welds a flow meter, a critical part to support the ship’s capability to produce potable water, for the reverse osmosis unit aboard USS Fort Worth (LCS-3). US Navy Photo

This article is the third in a three-part series on the changes occurring in the Littoral Combat Ship community as the fleet rapidly grows, moves to a new crewing and organizational construct and prepares for multi-ship forward operations. 

SAN DIEGO – The Littoral Combat Ship community is taking steps to both decrease the amount of overall maintenance work the ships require and increase the percentage conducted by sailors instead of contractors, several officers told USNI News during a recent visit to the San Diego waterfront.

After last year’s LCS Review that ultimately called on the Navy to increase simplicity, stability and ownership within the LCS program, sailor-led maintenance is being looked at as a major way to boost ownership.

Though only a year into the implementation of the LCS Review recommendations – and ahead of funding that’s been requested to pay for the needed changes to the LCS program – some changes in LCS maintenance have already taken place on the waterfront.

LCS was originally envisioned to have a minimally manned crew that would conduct maintenance checks required more than once a month, with a contractor-led planned maintenance availability (PMAV) taking place about once a month and a longer continuous maintenance availability (CMAV) as needed for corrective and more intensive maintenance actions.

Now, Capt. Tom Workman, LCS Implementation Team leader, told USNI News from his office at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, “we have a certain amount of maintenance that’s in sailor hands, we have a certain amount of maintenance that’s in contractor hands, and over the life of the program we’d like to get more of that into sailor hands and less of it in contract hands,” he said.
“That not only decreases cost but it increases ownership.”

USS Coronado (LCS-4) transits the waters of Pearl Harbor during RIMPAC 2016. US Navy Photo

The LCS fleet has moved to a new organization: an LCS Squadron – LCSRON 1 in San Diego and LCSRON 2 in Mayport, Fla. – will oversee several divisions of LCS ships, and in addition to the ships’ core crews taking over some more of the routine maintenance, the LCSRONs will also have maintenance execution teams “dedicated to be able to provide a greater manpower base to start absorbing some more of that contractor maintenance,” Workman explained.

At the same time, the fleet is learning more about what it takes to keep the ships ready to operate forward, through forward operations out of Singapore by USS Freedom (LCS-1), USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) and USS Coronado (LCS-4). The first four ships in the class are somewhat different than hulls 5 and beyond, but Workman said the fleet would be looking to learn from the 2018 deployments – expected to include at least USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Montgomery (LCS-8) – to help find more efficient ways to conduct maintenance on those later ships, with an eye towards reducing the man hours it takes to keep the ships ready while forward deployed. The hope is that PMAVs can be shortened, or they can be scheduled farther apart, Workman said – “any of that that we can do contributes to more operational availability forward, which was and is the number-one objective.”

If successful, then, the Navy would be both conducting less maintenance on the ships and allowing the sailors to perform a greater portion of that work.

Bits of that vision are already taking place in San Diego. Cmdr. Emily Cathey, commanding of USS Independence (LCS-2), said the first sailor-led PMAV took place in March in the ship’s San Diego homeport. She credited the LCSRON-1 team with helping pave the way for that and other changes to LCS maintenance – for every preventative maintenance procedure she hopes to incorporate into her crew’s list of responsibilities, the LCSRON needs to ensure the crew has the right equipment, the right people and the right written procedures to accurately and successfully perform that work.

Sailors assigned to the littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) load a rolling-airframe-missile launcher. US Navy Photo

As part of the LCS Review implementation, the LCS community moved from each ship having a core crew and a mission package detachment – for mine countermeasures, surface warfare or anti-submarine warfare – to a single crew. Cathey said her crew and MCM detachment fused together a few months ago, bringing her from a pool of 53 people who could perform ship maintenance to now 70. The former MCM detachment personnel are now fully integrated with the crew, standing watches, working in the engineering department and more to contribute to the material readiness of the ship. On Freedom, sitting at a nearby pier on the San Diego waterfront, two anti-submarine warfare detachments formally joined the crew last month, giving Commanding Officer Cmdr. Michel Falzone 73 crew members to share in the maintenance work, up from the 53 before.

LCSRON-1 Commodore Capt. Jordy Harrison told USNI News while aboard Independence that there’s a great misconception, even among sailors, about the maintenance work LCS crews conduct. He noted that every time the LCS launches a helicopter, small boats or unmanned vehicles, a slew of maintenance checks have to be conducted.

“All of those checks that are in the regular routine operations of the ship are what the ship crew does naturally when they’re out to sea, which is why we end up in the neighborhood of somewhere in the 14,000 man hours a year” conducted by the LCS crews, Harrison said.
“It was really about the monthly level and below checks are kind of within the capacity and the capabilities of the crew. And then those checks that went beyond the monthly scope usually were more intrusive and demanded more man hours – not always the case, but typically – and those were, in many cases, planned for those to be contractor-executed checks, because if you were doing them quarterly you could probably schedule them in conjunction with periods of time when the ship would be in port.”

Harrison that as the fleet operates the ships more, crews will find more efficient ways to schedule maintenance work, trimming down on the number of hours required to do maintenance. The way to make a real dent in total maintenance, though, would be to fully implement the conditions-based maintenance model the LCSs were built to support, he said.

The commodore noted that Independence, for example, was equipped with more than 7,000 sensors that send data off the ship on the status of various shipboard systems. Using that data to make decisions about when to perform maintenance – rather than just doing a daily, weekly or monthly check because a manual says so – would be the most efficient use of the small crew’s time.

USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) transits the South China Sea in July 2015 during a 16-month rotational deployment in support of the Indo-Asia-Pacific rebalance. US Navy photo.

“We’re going to use Fort Worth (LCS-3) … and conduct a very extensive conditions-based engineering reliability maintenance examination. The Navy, certainly the surface navy, in many cases by default, has done a very heavy reliance on time-based maintenance – so it’s monthly, time to change the oil, and we would do that. Well, that certainly is preventive, but is it the most cost-effective, most efficient and most effective way to do maintenance?” Harrison said.
“So we’re going to take a fulsome swing at, are there ways we can certainly be more effective and efficient? When you have an optimally manned or minimally manned crew, you need to be effective with that time because you want to make sure you’re doing the right maintenance. If you just say, time-based, you’ve got to do all this, you might have to make some risk decisions on which maintenance to do, but it might not be the right maintenance to do and the right maintenance to forego. If you had sensors and systems and the ability to say, hey, this piece of equipment is more at risk – so do I go do the change oil on my port diesel engine or change the oil on my starboard diesel engine? If we had the metrics and the analytical rigor that would say we might be getting ready to experience a casualty on your port engine, then we would say, I’ll wait to do the starboard and I’ll go do the port engine. So that’s sort of the thought process behind the conditions-based maintenance instead of the time-based maintenance. Where you are constrained with man hours with a smaller crew, you sometimes have to make those decisions, so we’re no kidding taking a look at how we can use the analytical rigor to help drive us into making the right maintenance decisions. And then what that may allow us to do as well is examine do we have the right crew complement, numbers and by ratings, designators, skillsets. Do we have the right total numbers, and do we have the right skillsets?”

Workman too said that condition-based maintenance would not only ease demands on the sailors but would also boost operational availability of the ships to the forward operational commander, since maintenance periods could be shorter and the ships would then spend more time at sea. He said the LCS has more sensors than any other warship in the fleet, which should be leveraged to let the equipment tell sailors when a preventative check or corrective maintenance action needed to be performed.

  • Curtis Conway

    Good article Megan.

    “…crews will find more efficient ways to schedule maintenance work…” . . . imagine that . . . the very people whose lives depend on the function of this equipment will come up with a more efficient schedule, a better way to do it, or evaluate if the maintenance is not sufficient because they see the effects of wear and tear every day. Now THAT is my Navy! The contractors will not be with you when the bubble goes up in the middle of wherever. Bravo on the Operational and Maintenance systems that assist with maintenance checks and scheduling. Many tasks are automated in the electronic world. That is what the Operational Readiness & Test System (ORTS) is all about in the Aegis Combat System world. That model is used in many combat systems and elements therein. Hopefully the LCS Program is utilizing this very valuable and powerful method as well.

  • Lesson 1) Never allow sea water to sit in a diesel engine for any length of time.

  • BlueSky47

    Wow, LCS crews have to actually do Navy stuff now-I thought they were all warriors warrioring the world’s greatest warship to war and warring our enemies until they can’t war no more. Right Duane?

    • El Kabong

      Hmm…. No word from our local LCS cheerleader. The facts must suck for the boy.

      • He didn’t really fair too well with the SM-3 either.

  • JohnByron

    This is precisely how the surface navy handled a maintenance crisis in the FFG-7s when they were the new kids on the block: plan for second-level maintenance to handle the big stuff … then buy too little second-level maintenance to do the job.

    It’s not that the maintenance philosophies and logistic systems the surface navy intends for new classes are faulty. It’s just that they never fund them. Naval air and we submariners buy readiness along with new hulls. Skimmers just buy the hulls.

    I am saddened that the the truth of my December 1987 Proceedings article continues 30 years later: The Surface Navy Is Not Ready. Even sadder: help is just one breast insignia away. My fourth recommendation for the surface navy in the article: end the isolation. Join the rest of the Navy.

  • PolicyWonk

    “the LCS community moved from each ship having a core crew and a mission package detachment – for mine countermeasures, surface warfare or anti-submarine warfare – to a single crew.”
    Its now pretty safe to conclude that the quick-swapping of mission packages idea was a miserable failure. While it’ll now take weeks to change mission packages instead of days – now it’ll also mean losing crew cohesion if/when it happens.

    From the GAO report on the first mission of the USS Freedom, the maintenance burdens were so heavy that the crews weren’t getting sufficient rest (and it was worse for the officers). These burdens were so high that even with the contractors and mission package crew chipping in, the work still wasn’t getting done. The GAO went to recommend that the Freedom be used for a hazing or punishment ship (or perhaps for testing new gear).

    It is my hope that for as long as the USN has these two classes of dubious utility boats in commission, the reliability and automation features of these ships improves. But while the crew size is now 70 (up from 40), they stand a better chance to learn to work together as a team, and maybe have a better chance to perform damage control should something unfortunate happen.

    It is clear that none of the many promises regarding the LCS program have come to fruition, unless they came from the programs many (and clearly far more insightful) detractors.

    While I’d far rather see the entire program junked and the perpetrators prosecuted, we’ve got no option other than making lemonade out of the lemons that are being added to the fleet at great expense to the taxpayers.

    • JohnByron

      Read the whole sad saga of how the surface navy took a brilliant concept and turned it to mush: at the Wired magazine webpage August 2011 edition, “Future Warship Ran Aground.” (I’d post the actual link, but Disqus goes wobbly if you do that.)

      • PolicyWonk

        Thanks for the reminder – I read that article years ago, and lamentably not much changed.

        Sadly, it is clear from this series that the USN is still trying to figure what to do with the LCS mess, and have to resort to attempting to put a happy face on this program.

        The unnecessary complexity of the propulsion systems combined with the slightly-better-than commercial grade sea-frames and incoherent/conflicting mission requirements (ill-conceived as they are) make for a poor use of taxpayer funds.

        Ironically, as long as this charade continues and expenses continue to mount, the USN remains without a littoral combat platform.

        • JohnByron

          The powerplants are not more complex in their care and repair than a nuclear plant, surely. And when you look at the tolerances of the blowers and pump-plates of the Fairbanks-Morris 38-ND 8-1/8 diesels in the last round of serving submarine diesel boats, not less forgiving than them either.

          Go back to the late ’60s. The primary reason cruisers and destroyers couldn’t deploy to the war zone on time was boiler failure. CruDesPac established Destroyer Engineering School, a 12-week course in San Diego, officer students spending 6 weeks in classroom, 6 weeks in an active destroyer, of which three weeks at sea operating the plant under normal and casualty conditions. Intensive, highest quality, sometimes scary (you ever see a boiler face jump out a half-foot towards you because a South Korean LCDR refired the boiler off hot brickwork?). Then CDL plugged the same course into the new Destroyer School in Newport.

          CDP also tightened up boiler waterside specs, awarded ships that met these specs with a lighter PM load … and then required all ships to achieve this specs. On-time deployments picked up the pace.

          Has the surface navy done anything like this with the LCSs? Have they bought a 12-week school, schoolhouse, competent instructors, a hull to spend six weeks in, three at sea, send all the LCS engineer and engineering officers thru it? I’ve seen nothing but handwringing.

          To repeat and repeat and repeat again, if you don’t fund training and maintenance, you don’t get training and maintenance. I can’t imagine a USN warship going to sea with rotted lines in the days of sail. When did it become OK to do the equivalent with modern surface warships?

          Last comment: the profound lack of curiosity and concern by surface warfare officers and leaders over the appalling readiness gap in their ships is baffling. And their unwillingness to go to the submarine and naval air communities and ask for help is nothing but simple arrogance. Kudos to the few who speak up, JOs mostly, maybe one or two a future Gary Roughhead, John Harvey, or Jim Stavridis. Unfortunately the surface navy seems more proficient in producing Tim LaFleurs.

          • PolicyWonk

            The first statement w/r/t nuclear power plants is perhaps a bit off the charts, given that the LCS’s were supposed to be relatively simple when the small surface combatant ideas (street fighter, etc.) were first floated (pardon the pun).

            Since part of the idea was to enable a smaller crew size, meaning automation had to be applied at an unprecedented level in USN ships (the projected manning requirement called for 40 crew members). Given that goal/requirement – common sense dictates that simplicity and reliability are vital to success.

            However, both LCS classes (the Independence class to a lesser extent) have very complex (let alone incredibly expensive) propulsion plants, the value of which is dubious at best (Rube Goldberg comes to mind). Given the now 75% larger crew size and enhanced training, reliably problems should be addressed (which is the good news), but this enhances the costs significantly over the life of the program (the bad news).

            In theory, we then have a ship that can reliably transport its crew (and not much else) from one port to another. While an improvement, this sets the bar for success at an all-time low.

            This leaves the commercial-grade sea-frames (another “cost cutting measure”) and conflicting (and counter productive) mission requirements. The latter problem might be solvable someday (no doubt at tremendous cost to the taxpayer), still leaving the prior as a foundational problem that cannot be fixed for something that was sold as a combat platform. The bottom line being, that LCS is and remains highly unlikely to sustain battle damage that other navies ships of similar tonnage (and smaller) can ( and keep fighting).

          • That’s what happens when you turn over 3D CAD to a designer who has never actually been in a fireroom. Kind of reminds me of how GM was building cars in the early ’80s. Try changing spark plugs on an 80’s Chevy Cavalier.

          • Curtis Conway

            I think Ford actually designs in a unique specialty tool in every new car model . . . that you have to go to the Dealership to buy.

          • JohnByron

            “The first statement w/r/t nuclear power plants is perhaps a bit off the charts” Nuke plants are as simple as a bowling ball. Pull rods. Make heat. Boil water. Run turbines. Turn the screw and make electricity.

            Design. Tolerances, metering and monitoring, chemistry, safety systems, rigid maintenance, extreme technical, engineering, & operational oversight, training, certification, qualification, and evaluation. Same standards homeport and deployed, same time for training and maintenance, same level of inspection and evaluation. Been-there/done-that leadership. The sort of things that might make new surface ship plants reliable.

          • wilkinak

            Magic hot rock make steam; make boat go. 🙂

    • Secundius

      I don’t think the “Mission Packages” were the Failure!/? Just the TEU’s (Twenty-foot Equivalent Units) that they Stored In were a Failure. Really a “Shipping Container” taking up as much as ~1,100-cu.ft and weighing ~58.000-pounds each, ISN’T one of the Easiest THINGS to Move in a Confined Deck with ~10-foot High Clearance while at Sea on a Moving Ship. Even with an Overhead Crane to Move Them. At least the “Independence” class had an Internal Elevator to make Movement Easier. The Danish StanFlex Modules would have been a Better Option. At least THEY can be Easily Moved by a 15-ton Crane…

      • PolicyWonk

        W/r/t LCS and mission packages, I didn’t think that was a bad idea. The notion of standardizing mounts, electronics, and designing ships in a modular way is an excellent idea. But as is typical with our DoD, sometimes we can’t leave well enough alone, which means our gear is sometimes (well… often) vastly more complex that it should be.

        And the Danish StanFlex modules were far more appropriate. But we had to take a good idea (the streetfighter concept), and expand it far beyond being a bad idea until it became a terrible idea, and exacerbated it by messing up the mission modules, propulsion systems, etc.

        Now we have incredibly complex/expensive utility ships that no rational person would send into a fight – and no littoral combat platform.

        • Secundius

          By all indications BOTH Frigate Versions of the LCS classes are suppose to mount the Bofors 57!/? The “Jones” Act of 1920 was amended in May 2017 to Include Foreign Designs, BUT Built at US Shipyards. NO Direct Buy’s from Foreign Shipyards. Also “HII” got Sued by the US Justice Department, for “Overcharging” the US Government in Ship Construction. Which will probably Disqualify THEM (HII) from the Frigate Design Competition scheduled for 2019/20…

  • FromTheMirror

    Translation : breakdowns will continue, requiring constant presence of quicker-fixer-uppers.

  • JohnByron

    Just curiosity, how many of the COs fired recently have a tour as engineer officer in a surface ship? Maybe we’re seeing something Darwinian here … deselection of the least fit.

    • NavySubNuke

      I can’t speak to the surface Navy but when I see which of my classmates in the submarine world stayed around and did a department head tour the least fit tends to be an accurate description of far too many of them.
      When you promote people and pay people based only on their seniority* and when you constantly reward the competent with ever more work while the stupid and the lazy are rarely if ever tasked with anything of importance it gets pretty grating. Add in the fact that DHs and XOs on submarines spend 80% of their time pushing useless and unneeded paper from one side of the desk to the other and you really aren’t helping make sure your best stay in.
      *Yes I know O4 and above is “competitive” but when the selection rate is >80% it is hard to see it as anything but a test of seniority.

  • BlueSky47

    We can all imagine what Duane is doing right now-down in his Mom’s basement crying in his LCS powerpoints “but but but it says right here, that the LCS is the future, a battle frigate, the best ever, bar none…”

  • Leatherstocking

    So with MCM integration, there are 70 or 73 sailors performing 14,000 hours of maintenance per year. I hope there’s a few hours for watchstanding so these ships don’t get run over by a merchantman. The bottom line is these ships are too complex for the small crew size. Training in debugging the systems and availability of test equipment are two areas of concern beyond the hours/sailor workload.

    • Refguy

      200 hours per person, 4 hours per person per week, should leave time to stand watch.

      • Leatherstocking

        Egg on face…thanks for the correction

        • Refguy

          With no Culinary Specialists aboard, they have to prepare their own meals which takes time that could be spent on maintenance.

          • Secundius

            Not unless their using a “Sous-vide” in Cooking their Meals. If you can Boil Water, you can Cook Your Meal…

  • Refguy

    “Should I change the oil on the port engine or the starboard?”!!! My BMW tells me (and the dealer) when the oil should be changed based on time, mileage and severity of usage; surely a $450 million ship should be at least as smart.