LCS Update: We’re Right on Track

The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) is underway in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Trevor Welsh/Released)

By Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden

In advance of next week’s Surface Navy Association (SNA) symposium in northern Virginia, I want to talk about the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.  While most of the information is not new, I think it is essential to understand where we are – especially before our discussions at this year’s SNA. As a surface warfare community, we begin the new year reflecting on our past accomplishments, addressing current challenges, and charting the future way ahead. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program embodies the spirit of learning from our past challenges, facing an austere fiscal climate, and improving our capabilities through innovation. Integrating LCS into the Fleet is one of my top priorities, especially as USS Freedom (LCS 1) prepares for deployment to Asia-Pacific region this spring. For these reasons, it is essential we focus on constructive dialogue and solutions-oriented discussion in the new year that will set the stage for future program successes. As announced last September, the CNO chartered a three-star LCS Councito provide focus on LCS. I’d like to pass along some things you should know about the overall health of the LCS program, lessons from our first two ships, deployment preparations, and Mission Package (MP) development.

LCS Construction and Fleet Introduction Status

USS Freedom (LCS 1) is presently in San Diego, California, undergoing final Continuous Maintenance Availability and has successfully completed GOLD crew certification with BLUE crew finishing the certification process now. USS Independence  (LCS 2) is conducting rigorous Developmental Testing on the Mine Counter Measure (MCM) MP. USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) is preparing to undergo a Post Delivery Test and Trials period in San Diego. As INSURV reported, the FORT WORTH (LCS 3) Acceptance Trial last May was the most complete trial to date. This is a clear indication that industry’s learning curve has improved and we are gaining cost efficiencies as we outfit our Fleet with increasingly capable ships. USS Coronado (LCS 4) is under construction in Mobile, Alabama, and will deliver this summer. We’ve also seen improvements in our design learning curve, with the incorporation of changes developed from the construction, testing, and operation of the first two ships. Fort Worth (LCS 3), Coronado (LCS 4), and follow on ships currently under construction have benefited greatly from this learning process and from the Fleet’s feedback.

The littoral combat ship Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Coronado (LCS 4) is rolled-out at the Austal USA assembly bay. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy Austal USA/Released)

Freedom (LCS 1) Deployment to Singapore 

Freedom’s preparations for deployment continue on schedule. Her deployment will generate valuable lessons as we implement new constructs for manning, training, maintaining, sustaining, and operating forward. We will leverage Freedom’s deployment to examine additional sustainment initiatives, to include the addition of 10 personnel to the core crew to boost on-hull maintenance capacity. Freedom is deploying with 23 shipboard systems have been inducted into the Reliability Engineering/Condition-Based Maintenance initiative with the potential to reduce routine preventative maintenance requirements as well as predict component failures before they occur. While deployed, Freedom will participate in International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX), Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), and multiple Theater Security Cooperation (TSC) events. Freedom’s deployment provides exemplar proof of our commitment to the Asia-Pacific region.

An MH-60R Seahawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 77 prepares to land on board the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 2nd Class Aaron Burden/Released)

Mission Package Development

The modular design of LCS and the flexibility inherent in our Mission Packages will allow us to respond to requests for focused-mission forces far more quickly. The program has an inventory objective of 24 Surface Warfare (SUW), 24 Mine Counter Measures (MCM), and 16 Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Mission Packages (MP). As mission packages reach full operating capability and as new threats are identified, this approach promotes innovation and enables Navy to modernize elements of the ship’s combat capability without taking the ship off line. Additionally, incremental development and modularity ensures we are consistently outpacing the threat by adding and upgrading critical systems without costly redesign and structural alteration to meet our warfighting requirements. Surface Warfare (SUW) MP development is on track with Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in FY14. SUW MP testing has proven its lethality against small craft and showcased a superior capability to employ Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure teamsin 11m RHIBs. Independence (LCS 2) has demonstrated successful launch and recovery of offboard vehicles for the MCM MP. These MCM systems have demonstrated the ability to reliably classify and identify mines, with future system improvements focused on reducing false detection rates. The MCM MP reaches Initial Operating Capability in FY14. Finally, the ASW MP prototype demonstrated long range detections during testing. Integration of the launch and recovery system into the hull is the next step. The ASW MP reaches Initial Operating Capability in FY16. We recognize that our ability to change MPs to meet evolving requirements is one of the most valuable assets LCS brings to the warfighter, and we are working hard on how to stage, swap, and sustain the MPs in various theaters.  As for the swap-out, we have demonstrated the 96-hour technical capability numerous times and we intend to test the critical path swap-out-related planning factors.

Moving Forward in 2013

The LCS program is on track to deliver extraordinary new capabilities to the Fleet.  We will progress through anticipated cultural change and needed course corrections as we implement new constructs for operations, manpower, training, and sustainment. Everyone involved will monitor and shape program execution while we apply internal reviews from multiple perspectives.  We are committed to full Fleet integration, and I am confident that we are getting it right. As always, I am interested in ideas and suggestions for ways to improve the capability of our Fleet while reducing overall cost and continuing a solutions-based discourse on LCS.