The U.S. Navy will increase the number of sailors on littoral combat shis, beginning with the Freedom. (Lt. Jan Shultis / U.S. Navy)
Years after sailors and planners realized the crew size of littoral combat ships was too small, the U.S. Navy has decided to increase the number of sailors on the ships.
The changes will be made on the first LCS, the Freedom, starting in July — in time to beef up the crews for next year’s 10-month deployment to Singapore.
Twenty additional berths will be permanently installed onboard Freedom — two for officers, two for chief petty officers and 16 for other enlisted — but the final manning plan has yet to be decided, Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden, the director of surface warfare, said during a June 26 interview at the Pentagon. The ship right now has a core crew of 40, but because there is no manning plan, it’s still unclear how many sailors will be added to the crews.
The added billets “will run the gamut, from support to engineering to operations to boatswain’s mates,” Rowden said. “We’ve got to get the right skill set and the right seniority.”
Among the known manning deficiencies is the need for more junior sailors, Rowden said. LCS crews tend to be more senior, reflecting the need for sailors with multiple qualifications in a small ship.
Sailors also could be added to the mine warfare mission module, he said, in addition to the core crew.
Separate from the new manning plan is a recently begun pilot program that added three fresh-cut ensigns to each crew “to start expanding our experience base,” Rowden said. “That started with the graduation of the most recent classes.”
A final decision by Rowden on Freedom’s revised manning plan is expected before October, when the ship is to wrap up a maintenance period and begin preparing for the Singapore mission.
LCSs were intended to operate with a core crew of 40 sailors, plus a mission module detachment of 15 and an aviation detachment of 25. Each LCS class — the Freedom (LCS 1) class from Lockheed Martin, and the Independence (LCS 2) class from General Dynamics/ Austal USA — was designed with a total of 75 or 76 berths, or racks in Navy parlance. The absence of overflow space means the ships frequently embark containers fitted out with racks, known as berthing modules and carried on the ships’ mission decks.
Accommodations on Freedom are particularly spacious, and all racks in the ships were originally limited to two-high arrangements. Designers of both LCS classes, however, anticipated an increase in berthing, and the racks were built to be convertible to three-highs.
No decision has yet been made about Independence, said Chris Johnson, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).
The manning plan for the LCS is relatively complex. Initially, each ship will have two 40-person crews — dubbed blue and gold — alternating about every four months. As the number of ships increases, a shift will be made to rotational crews, three for every two ships.
In addition to increased berthing arrangements on Freedom, Johnson said, the three-month work package beginning July 9 will include upgrades to the Aqueous Film-Forming Foam system, improvements to stern ramp fender stanchions, and additional fire suppression sprinklers, tank level indicators and pipe hangers. The ship’s retractable bitts will be removed to reduce weight.
In May, Freedom completed a “special trial” assessment by the Board of Inspection and Survey, or INSURV, and now is engaging in a brief period of trials and operations to certify and qualify systems and the crews’ ability to operate them.
The first stage of developmental testing for the ship’s surface warfare mission package was completed June 24, according to NAVSEA. Among the systems tested were the Mark 46 30mm gun system and smaller .50-caliber and 7.62mm machine guns, an MH-60R helicopter and an 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat.
“Although data collected during testing remains under analysis, the systems accomplished each of the challenging test scenarios,” Capt. John Ailes, program manager for LCS Mission Module Integration, said in a statement.
A second phase of surface warfare package testing is scheduled to begin in August of next year, with operational test and evaluation to begin in January 2014. The system is to be fielded later in 2014.
Freedom will be pierside at the 32nd Street Naval Station in San Diego beginning July 9 for the second and last part of its post-shakedown availability (PSA). No further significant maintenance periods are scheduled after the PSA’s scheduled completion Oct. 19, when the ship’s blue and gold crews and the mission detachments will need to begin concentrated work-ups prior to heading for Singapore in the spring.