Operate Forward: LCS Brings It

By Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden
Director of Surface Warfare, N96

It is a surprise to no one that we are in tough budget times, and that the Navy faces challenges like any other part of the federal government. Fiscal crises, legislative compromises, and a predictable post-war drawdown all result in pressurized budgets and the desire to maximize return on investment in everything we do. To be honest with you, all the easy decisions have already been made, and as my team and I work to put together the 2016 Surface Navy Program, those programs and initiatives that allow us to maximize impact for a given investment rise in priority. Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) is one of those programs, driven primarily by an innovative crewing and employment scheme designed to provide maximized operational availability (also known as forward presence). I want to spend a few paragraphs making sure you are aware of where LCS is going and how it contributes in a meaningful way to the vital missions of the United States Navy.

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) pulls into port to swap the Blue crew with the embarked Gold crew in Sembawang, Singapore.

 

We call the manning concept “3:2:1”, as three crews rotate between two ships, one of which is forward deployed for an extended period, while the other ship is stateside for workups and training.  The “off hull crew” is hardly overlooked, as it spends time in sophisticated, tailor-built training facilities designed to train and qualify sailors prior to taking over the U.S. ship when that crew moves forward to take over the deployed ship.  This cycle generates persistent forward presence, as four LCS are able to generate eight times the forward presence of a single-crewed CONUS-based DDG. Put another way, the Navy would require more than 120 CONUS-based, single-crewed ships to equal 26 forward deployed LCS. That is operational availability, that is forward presence, and that is return on investment.

This concept has been validated in the real world. The Far-East deployment of USS FREEDOM (LCS 1) in 2013 was the first opportunity we had to test the rotational crew concept forward, as the ship was deployed for ten months, with the Gold Crew (including mission module detachment and aviation detachment) turning the ship over to the Blue Crew half-way through deployment. When we deploy USS FORT WORTH (LCS 3) later this year, she will remain forward for sixteen months with three complete crew swaps. One ship—sixteen months forward—day in and day out carrying the national ensign on her halyard, showing our friends that we are engaged and committed, and showing those who might disturb the peace that we will not allow it. That is a powerful vision, and it is just over the horizon.

LCS can do most of the things we would ask of a Destroyer or a Cruiser in presence and shaping operations for a fraction of the cost, and in turn, freeing up those platforms to provide the Combatant Commander with flexibility to use them for high end missions. With additional upgrades to the planned mission modules, the punch these ships provide will continue to increase along with their ability to act as force multipliers.

LCS is bringing an innovative approach to operational availability to the Fleet.

For additional conversations from the N96 team please check out the following blogs:

http://cimsec.org/surface-warfare-lynchpin-naval-integrated-airmissile-defense/
http://cimsec.org/anti-submarine-warfare-asw-heart-surface-warfare/