Home » Military Personnel » Navy Buildup Partially Rests on More Forward-Deployed LCSs; Supported by More Accurate Manpower Funding

Navy Buildup Partially Rests on More Forward-Deployed LCSs; Supported by More Accurate Manpower Funding

Littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) transits the Bohol Sea on June, 22 2017, US Navy Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Navy intends to support a near-term increase in ship inventory and deployed forces by forward-deploying some ships with rotational crews, tackling often-overlooked manpower costs and reestablishing the readiness squadron concept. However, many questions still remain about the feasibility of the buildup in force structure and operations at sea.

The service announced in budget documents released this week that it intends to reach a fleet of 326 ships, with an average of 131 deployed at any given time on average, by Fiscal Year 2023 – up from 280 ships total and 100 deployed today.

Asked on Monday how the Navy would support a 31-ship increase in deployed forces with just a 46-ship increase in the total battle force inventory, Navy spokesman Lt. Seth Clarke told USNI News today that “the FY23 deployed ship count is a projection of the cumulative number of ships that have a deployment in FY23 based solely on ship schedules. It has not undergone the global force management process.”

Still, these figures from the Navy’s budget briefing material and the new 30-year shipbuilding plan are among the first details released about how the service’s buildup to a 355-ship fleet will begin to take shape. That 2023 timeframe will be an early test of the Navy’s ability to support a larger and more active fleet, with the required manpower, training, maintenance, spare parts and more to support these ships.

Then-Rear Adm. Richard A. Brown, commander, Carrier Strike Group 11 answers questions from local Boy Scouts, Navy Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (NJROTC) cadets and Sea Cadets in the hangar bay of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Somerset (LPD 25). Brown now serves as Commander of Naval Surface Forces and Commander of Naval Surface Force Pacific. US Navy photo.

Vice Adm. Richard Brown, who took over as commander of Naval Surface Forces and commander of Naval Surface Force Pacific last month, said this morning at an event co-hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and the Center for Strategic and International Studies that two factors help reduce the risk that comes with that increase in deployed ships.

First, he said, more of those ships will be Littoral Combat Ships, which the Navy intends to keep forward deployed for about a year and a half at a time, with two crews rotating in and out of theater using a blue/gold crew model. That setup creates higher operational availability than a traditional continental U.S.-based single-crew deployment model – though Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments senior fellow and retired Navy commander Bryan Clark noted at the event that the forward deployed and forward stationed models still don’t create enough added operational availability to account for 31 more ships at sea.

Clark noted that traditional deployment models create operational availability of about 20 or 25 percent and forward-deployed ships create about 50-percent availability. “If you look at the numbers, we’re only adding in that timeframe about nine to 10 of these forward-deployed or forward-stationed ships, so you’re still not generating the kind of readiness that would automatically result in 40 ships giving you 30 more forward-deployed,” he said.

Second, Brown said, the Navy is reducing risk by actually buying all the manpower it needs.

“We have never bought the total ownership cost of manpower. If you look at the number of gaps that are at sea right now [on ships, submarines and aviation squadrons], that’s about 7,000 fill gaps at sea. If you look at the individuals that account for TPPH, that’s transients, prisoners, personnel on hold, limited duties and pregnancies, guess what that number is? It’s about 7,000, because we never bought those billets, because when we get under budgetary constraints, where’s the biggest account that you can go get money?” said Brown, who most recently worked as the commander of Navy Personnel Command and deputy chief of naval personnel.
“This [Chief of Naval Personnel], [Vice Adm.] Bob Burke, has done an incredible job; the OPNAV staff has done an incredible job; [Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John] Richardson and N8 have completely supported in ’18 and ’19 buying the total ownership cost. If you look in the surface community, we’re buying 98 percent of the billets authorized. That, in conjunction with buying the total ownership cost, is going to buy down that risk in the out years.”

Still, as all the panelists agreed – including retired Vice Adm. Phillip Balisle, a former Naval Sea Systems Command commander who penned the 2010 Fleet Review Panel to address surface ship readiness issues at the time – the seven sections of the “circle of readiness” cannot be addressed individually but must be looked at together. Those include material readiness of ships, manpower and manning, training, financials, organization, command and culture.

“I would suggest that, while the circle of readiness applied very much in 2010, it applies just as much today. As the solutions are determined for how we’re going to go ahead and fix some of the problems the fleet’s addressing today, they’re going to need to figure out how those [seven sections] relate,” Balisle said at the panel event.
“And what makes it so difficult, if you look at those spokes, those different areas: most of them are under the control of a unique and different person, and none of those people ever come together really under a centralized command group who has real cognizance and knowledge of what’s going on in each of those spokes. So you have very well intended people making good decisions about one of the spokes and not realizing what they’re doing to the others. This is made more critical in times of difficult budgets. … When the money is not there and you have to make tradeoffs, and then you don’t have these coordinations between the different areas, you are asking for some serious, serious trouble.”

Vice Adm. Phillip Balisle, Commander, Naval Sea Systems Command, discusses public-private partnerships with representatives from Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and the Ship Repair Association of Hawaii in November 2003. US Navy photo.

Brown said the Navy was trying to avoid that exact problem by standing up a Readiness Reform Oversight Council (RROC) to consider and implement the recommendations of both recent reviews on the status of the Navy: a fleet-led Comprehensive Review and a Navy secretary-ordered Strategic Readiness Review.

In fact, the oversight group is considering one of Balisle’s recommendations from eight years ago that would promote some of that cross-community dialogue aimed at increasing readiness without compromising any particular sub-component of readiness. Balisle spoke strongly in favor of the return of the Readiness Squadron to keep an eye on ships as they move through the force generation process, and Brown said that “it is absolutely on the table, and it’s one of my priorities.”

In fact, Brown said, the Naval Surface Group Western Pacific – which the CR advocated standing up but the SRR argues against – is being renamed as Surface Readiness Squadron 25, a throwback to the old construct that was abandoned in the 1990s that Balisle’s 2010 report called “a clear line of accountability for the material readiness of the ships.”

“The real key to this is the C2 (command and control); to have the readiness squadron and not have the right C2 you won’t get the entire bang for the buck,” Brown said, noting the topic was still being discussed within the oversight council.

Balisle said at the event that, for all the many recommendations the Navy chose to accept and try to implement in 2010, “one they chose not to do in 2010 was to reestablish the READRONs. And I firmly believe that in 2010 it was the single most significant change we needed to make, and in my humble opinion, caveated by the fact I’m not out there (in the fleet today), I believe it’s just as applicable today as an enduring principle.”

“Deployment schedules are very unpredictable, and yeah we’re getting some more ships in the future maybe, but we’re living with what we’ve got, and the strain on the force and the responsiveness has got to be even greater as world events continue to be very challenging,” the retired admiral said.
“So if you take squadrons and groups and you try to have them deal with the day-to-day training and material readiness and personnel, manning of the force, it’s almost impossible because they’ve got a full plate dealing with very significant operational environments, and they’re not physically present, which is what the READRONs did. … They can do things like see trends as they develop, they can manage personnel augments because they know the people involved and their qualifications and what they do. They can look at how certifications are being done and they can certify everything from admin to navigation to combat systems and the whole spectrum – and they’re right there on the ship, day in and day out. I believe that continuity of presence, that continuity of consistent interaction with the ship and enforcement of the standards that are set is indispensable.”

In addition to listing actions the Navy could take to continue addressing its readiness, Balisle noted another group that could remove some barriers to readiness: Congress.

“Congress has a job too, that job is to fund and maintain the Navy, and to be able to give it the resources it needs,” he said.
“The damage that has been done – if you understand material readiness, you understand contracting and what you have to do, if you understand what a steady money stream really means to your ability to do this mission – you will quickly come to the conclusion that the damage that has been done by the United States Congress in the recent decade to our military services is grossly, grossly extreme.

Without predictable and on-time funding, he said, “we will never be able to get ahead of this problem no matter what the United States Navy does.”

  • NavySubNuke

    Yikes. Hopefully we have a fall back option in case the LCS’s crewing and maintenance issues aren’t adequately resolved. Having a virtually unarmed pier queen with a crew you can’t trust to safely operate the ship is just a waste of money.

    • Ken Kennard

      Its actually worse than that. In LCS you have a crew that is actually contractually obligated to NOT take ownership of their ship. They ARE NOT ALLOWED, and if they do, NASCO or Lockheed grievances and get more money out of the Government.

      • NavySubNuke

        Yes I’d heard about the number of pieces of equipment that are “contractor proprietary” and not allowed to be maintained by the crew.
        The arrangement certainly sounds makes it sound like the program office was making unethical deals with the shipbuilders to artificially reduce the cost of these ships by giving out sweet maintenance deals that ensure they shipbuilders get their money eventually.
        The entire program is a complete and utter waste of money and, should they ever actually go into combat, lives.

        • PolicyWonk

          That last sentence gets the award for understatement of the morning!

          • Lazarus

            Hobbyist complaints about a class of ship they really do not at all understand are the real understatement.

          • PolicyWonk

            Sure. Hobbyist complaints by highly experienced naval professionals who don’t understand naval architecture.

            Hobbyist complaints echoed by the USN’s very own Inspector General, DOT&E, and OMB, among others.

            Everyone is a profoundly ignorant hobbyist, except the criminals posing as American citizens and/or officers of the USN that were unfortunately assigned to the PEO of these so-called “littoral combat ships” that ironically weren’t designed for combat in the littorals, and ignored every hard-won lesson of littoral combat during the requirements, design, and construction phases of this program.

            The same program, the USN admits, “broke Naval acquisition”.

            Got it.

          • Lazarus

            Not broke. It is the non-innovative defense acquisition system and its test and evaluation add on that are no longer viable.

          • PolicyWonk

            Again: This is the USN’s own statement regarding the LCS program.

            When the USN comes out and makes a rare statement of culpability w/r/t a highly visible program with historically lousy results: its REAL.

        • Stephen

          So, should these be commissioned vessels? Should they become AAA members? I’m appalled to hear that ship’s force cannot work of “proprietary” gear. Familiar with reduction gear & turbine internals requiring tech reps; all the while we could open, examine & make reasonable repairs.

      • PolicyWonk

        There was an article months ago either here or on Breaking Defense, that noted the miserable failure that is the contractor-only maintenance idea. I seem to recall that it decided it was better (by all parties involved) for the crew to take a lot more ownership for maintenance of the ship.

        They even had a neat-o picture of a crewman performing maintenance (deeply inspiring!).

        • Lazarus

          Who said any LCS maintenance construct was a failure? Coronado did just fine on her deployment. I guess LCS haters will just go on hating anything short of a new FFG7?

          • PolicyWonk

            Good lord – I see the selective memory problem is still with you 😀

            It all began with the Freedom’s unhappy first mission across the Pacific, and the OMB’s subsequently scorching report. This was followed by a number of other reports outlining their many failings, inconsistencies, and problems yet to be fixed – or the big one that will never be fixed without scrapping every sea-frame and starting over.

            When the “LCS haters” include the crews who are acutely aware of their many failings, in addition to the USN’s IG, and every auditing/watchdog agency in the federal government that has oversight duties, the “LCS haters” as you call them vastly outnumber the small number of fans that are still attempting to make excuses for, justify, or otherwise go overboard by blatantly misrepresent the facts w/r/t LCS’s suitability for the missions they claim they want to send them on.

            It is notable that not even ONE positive report from any independent agency has been published – they have all been highly unfavorable overall. The only cheerleading (or good news) heard/published is from the LCS PEO, or the recipients of this “littoral combat corporate welfare program”.

      • Lazarus

        That is NOT correct. LCS crews take ownership of their vessel when they are embarked, just as past MCM and PC rotational crews have done. The Navy is working to radically reduce the amount of proprietary equipment that requires commercial maintenance on LCS as well.
        There is just way too much false information on LCS put out by retired people who are out of date and by hobbyists who just don’t know the ship, its systems, or its CONOPS.

        • Tony4

          “The Navy is working to radically reduce the amount of proprietary equipment that requires commercial maintenance on LCS as well.“

          Interesting – can only mean that another LCS paradigm is failing.

          • Lazarus

            Not really. The FFG 7 went through a similar process in the 1970’s.

        • Ken Kennard

          I AM correct and my activity is a Regional Maintenance center. What I saw aboard USS Coronado was enlightening. You see I am NOT a retired keyboard warrior, I am a combat systems SME….the length and breadth of deficiencies I saw aboard that ship would have gotten the chain on command on ANY other platform removed. Maintenance, operation, 3M, DC…..none would have passed even the kiddie INSURVS the rest of the surface fleet goes to. They are literally the first US naval ship I would be nervous about going to sea on.

    • D. Jones

      The LCS program has gone beyond wasteful, it is bordering on criminal.

      Time, money and people are being diverted from functional warfighting programs to support this porkfest albatross.

      End the program, demote everyone pushing it and assign them to KP for the balance of their careers.

      This is as bad as the root causes of the Fitz & McCain crashes being buried.

      The entire organization seems geared to lining up post-service reward jobs for all the proponent officers and getting congresspeople reelected. Charlie Foxtrot.

      • Secundius

        Forget it! The LCS Flt.0 passed the House in 2004 with a 313 to 116 Vote (i.e. Supermajority), meaning VETO Proof and Executive Order Proof. The GOP controlled HOUSE lacks the Votes to Nullify the 2004 Vote Count. In fact in 2014, the US Congress approved funds for a Flt.I LCS class, Also a “Supermajority Vote”. Live with It…

        • Tony4

          Of course they did – the Navy said they wanted to soend $30B building ships and ship parts in districts spread all over the country. Congress has failed in their iversight to ensure the Navy actually builds a ship that can fight. How many LCS are commissioned today, and how many are operationally deployed?!?

          But you are right – neither the Navy or Congress will cancel this jess.

          • Secundius

            How do you Think there going to Build a 355-Ship Navy Sir? By buy ~$2-Billion USD Destroyers taking Twp Plus Years to Build, or buying ~$800-Million USD LCS’s that take LESS than One Year to Build…

          • PolicyWonk

            Neither. At $800M (not counting any mission package), LCS is an appallingly expensive utility boat that even the navy says “broke Navy acquisition”. If they aren’t built to even the lowest naval survivability standard, can’t protect itself, and can’t carry weapons of any significance: then what good is it?

            [hint: corporate welfare program is not the right answer, though it is a realistic assumption under the circumstances].

            For example, even a common fleet oiler – a non combatant – is built to the Level 2 standard (the same as an OHP).

            Sure – we can urinate many more billions into building hyper-expensive utility boats. But all they are and will ever be, are utility boats. These are not combat assets: not by requirement, not by design, and not by construction.

            We’re better off saving the money for a rainy day.

          • Secundius

            One problem though! Neither the GOP US Congress can Muster enough Votes to Override the Supermajority Vote that FUNDED the LCS Program. And Neither can Donald Trump by Executive Order…

  • homey

    Doubling down on the LCS is a bad bet…

  • RobM1981

    China quakes at the thought of more LCS’s patrolling the Western Pacific.

    Putin accelerates his plans for more and nastier nuclear weapons in response to this LCS threat.

    • Bryan

      During peace time they might. It throws a wrench into their, “Peace” plan. When Chinese owned fishing boats physically remove other fishing boats in other country’s waters there needs to be someone there to push back. We haven’t done that for two reasons….not enough hulls and not enough will.
      The fact that LCS was a total cock-up and not good for war doesn’t mean we have to wet our panties and declare it unusable during peace time. We should wear those suckers out physically bumping back against China. The LCS will do that job just fine.
      As far as political will to do what is necessary? Hey don’t ask me, I would have done it yesterday. And I would use the real ships to blockade any artificial island that China made and the world court called illegal. Let’s start the war now before PLA-N gets more powerful.

  • kye154

    The LCS is a poor man’s navy, not to mention, expendable targets too. Unfortunately, he is not telling those Boy Scouts that in the photo. But, guess Adm. Brown is getting desperate to have a 355 ship navy, and will take anything.

    On the other hand, Balisle says: “Congress has a job too, that job is to fund and maintain the Navy, and to be able to give it the resources it needs.” However, the dire state of the dollar and United States economy won’t allow that to happen, because deficit spending will cause major problems in the very near future for the U.S. on the whole. No other country on earth has an out-of-control $21 trillion debt, (and growing), except for the U.S.,. (Even Venezuela, as bad as things are there, don’t have that large of a debt). So, when the banknote comes due, who will pay the contractors to build those ships or pay the sailors to operate them? Probably the Chinese Navy, and your contractors and sailors will be paid in Yuans, to replace the worthless dollar. So, be nice to China.

    • Secundius

      As I recall the LAST of the Proposed 355-Ship US Navy, won’t be built until 2050 under the Current 30-year Construction Plan. Unless Area 51 is hiding a 27th century Ship Building Replicator, that the US Navy in unaware off…

    • D. Jones

      Congress’ job is getting re-elected. They buy new terms by pork, like the LCS.

      Founding Fathers would have required term limits had they envisioned today’s state of affairs.

  • PolicyWonk

    First, he said, more of those ships will be Littoral Combat Ships, which the Navy intends to keep forward deployed for about a year and a half at a time…
    Given the state of these so-called “Littoral (not built for) Combat Ships”, this is hardly an inspiring development. Years behind schedule, appallingly expensive, notoriously unreliable, all but defenseless against anything more than a speedboat, and only a laughably weak SUW mission package available.

    Maybe the vaunted “carrier bottom cleaning” and “fleet septic pumping” mission packages will be ready by then, so these glorified utility boats can do something useful besides taking up valuable pier space 😛

    Are they sending a “littoral combat floating dry dock” with them to perform the basic maintenance required for the Independence class (yet another appalling additional expense)?

    So many questions…

    • Lazarus

      Not years behind schedule now: 12-18 months at worst and that due to sequestration and not construction. Not any more unreliable than any other class. SUW package is pretty good now as well.

      • PolicyWonk

        Ummmm… BRAVO SIERRA. The fact that these floating liabilities are appallingly late and many times above the estimated cost doesn’t change just because a bunch of years have elapsed: they’re still LATE, still a lousy deal, and still a danger to anyone manning them because if the shooting ever starts they barely have a snowballs chance in Hades of coming home alive (or dry).


    • old guy

      Analytical, Astute and Accurate,

  • Marc Apter

    Ignoring the whole idea of the LCS, the article talks about many overdue things we need to get back to. Maybe going back to pre-1991/2 ways of doing things wasn’t so bad. I noticed there was no mention as to how any forward deployed crew, no matter the ship class, will get any training, or how that training will be paid for!

    • Lazarus

      LCS crews are trained and qualified in CONUS on the CONUS-based LCS units in LCSRON 1 and 2.

      • @USS_Fallujah

        This does beg the question that seems to be (finally) getting addressed after the two DDG collisions, are 7th Fleet (and other forward deployed crews) getting proper training? Not much point in forward deploying ships, especially LCS, if they crew members need to return to CONUS for training, or aren’t getting proper training at all and standards go out the window.

        • Lazarus

          As rotational crews, the LCS crew trains and deploys together for the duration of their crew rotation. Unlike a permanent DDG crew who is constantly loosing/training new people, the LCS crew deploys with all crew fully qualified. Departures are reasonably well scheduled and given the seniority of the crew and multiple qualifications that each has, a deployed LCS cannot afford to “gap” a billet such as occurs on larger ships. The LCS guys know that cannot assume risk by gapping people.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            I’m not sure how that works with a forward deployment. Either you’re going to have an 18 month deployment, after which not one officer or sailor will EVER re-up, or you have a crew permanently deployed to Japan or wherever that won’t have access to the training facilities or ships to get and maintain proper qualifications.

          • Bryan

            That’s not how the crewing works. Ship=18 mos. Crew=4 mos. Each crew has two deployments of 4 mos each.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            So they’re flying a full crew back and forth twice for each? For a small ship that makes some sense.

          • Lazarus

            There have been hiccups in that process to be sure, such as one of the Coronado crews, but it is improving as more LCS rotational crews come online.

          • Bryan

            Yes. The key to forward deployment and avoiding problems is to bring the ship back to the U.S. for a maintenance period. The Navy is already talking about using the U.S. based ships as assist in the drug war. I suspect that means overworking those crews and not doing the needed maintenance. We know how that ends.

          • Lazarus

            Yes. Crew deployment length varies. The crews however train and qualify as a team and see few changes over their deployed period.

  • MDK187

    How does an LCS remain deployed for over a year? By getting hung up on a reef?

    • Lazarus

      USS Fort Worth and USS Coronado were easily deployed for over a year. Not hard at all.

      • Ken Kennard

        Coronado was deployed for a year because they couldn’t keep another ship in the water long enough to provide a relief ship or crew. Fort Worth nearly had to return by heavy lift, the way I heard that go (from a LCSRON Senior Chief) was that the Admiral said “If that thing comes home on another boat I will end this program” I was actually onboard when the Captain made the announcement that they would be staying another 6 months beyond their rotation date. So there is a crew that did a year and a half “deployed” mostly stuck to the pier at Changi without any of the benefits that a true forward deployed command would enjoy, like an actual Navy base.

  • Ed L

    okay, i will ask the question. how many days out of a month are the forward deploy LCS underway. 10 days? 7 days? 14 days?

    • D. Jones

      LCS is deployed once every 28 days…

      • Ed L

        One day a month ha ha

    • Tony4

      How many are deployed today? 0.

    • Real sailor

      Being in the drydock is considered ‘deployed and underway’ for the LCS LOLOLOLOLOL

  • Tony4

    Here is the problem the Navy has:

    Since 9/11 the Navy has maintained an OPTEMPO that has become increasingly unsustainable as the number of deployed days in 2018 is essentially the same as it was in 2000 when we had 50 more ships. That OPTEMPO has had a significant negative effect on material and manpower readiness, but the Navy has refused to notify SECDEF, JCS, and the CCDRs of that fact. Now they are asking Congress for a net increase of 50 ships – but they cannot very well tell Congress, SECDEF, JCS, and the CCDRs that they won’t get an increase in presence/deployed ships for all that additional money, so they have to promise more deployed ships, and they have come up with a fairly tortured explanation of how they will achieve this. That means that our readiness problems will continue indefinitely.

    The Navy can not build itself to an increased level of readiness, and 50 ships is not enough to increase presence levels. We need to pull ships into port to fix them and as we build more ships we must return to sustainable operational levels.

    I learned on my first ship that the failures of senior leadership will be borne on the backs of Sailors in the Fleet – nothing has changed.

  • Pacemaker4

    Ah the “bait” class of ships.

  • old guy

    The class has NO CLASS> Waste of money. Does not accomplish ANY of the original goals.