Preperations for next year's demonstration deployment of the Freedom to Singapore is garnering top-level U.S. Navy support. (U.S. Navy)
A new, high-powered effort to boost development of the littoral combat ship (LCS) is kicking off, intended to help implement numerous proposals and suggestions to integrate the new ship type into U.S. Navy operations.
Dubbed the “LCS Council,” the three-star group is headed by Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, the new director of Navy staff at the Pentagon.
In a memo signed out Aug. 22, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, chief of naval operations (CNO), said the timeline the Navy needs to get LCS into service “necessitates the establishment of an empowered council to drive action across the acquisition, requirements and fleet enterprises of the Navy.”
Hunt, as chairman of the council, will become the “primary flag officer responsible for coordinating all Navy administrative control” responsibilities for the LCS program.
Hunt was latterly commander of naval surface forces in San Diego, where he directly oversaw a number of key LCS developments, and is deeply familiar with the program. In his previous billet as commander of the San Diego-based Third Fleet, he also had a role in the participation of the first LCS, USS Freedom, in 2010’s Rim of the Pacific exercise.
The council’s principal members are Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command; Vice Adm. Mark Skinner, principal military deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition; and Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, who recently succeeded Hunt in San Diego as commander of naval surface forces.
Other members may be added to the council “for specific matters,” Greenert wrote, such as Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk, head of Navy personnel, who would help deal with manning issues.
“CNO is asking me because as a relatively senior guy here in Washington, I can corral all the key players,” Hunt said in an Aug. 22 interview. “It fits very nicely,” Hunt said, citing his experience with the Freedom and with the Independence, the second ship.
“I will take a very close look at schedule, make sure we’re optimizing the time the crew has to put the ship through the ringer. That they become comfortable and competent in all aspects — combat systems, engineering — and make sure they’re all working right.
“I will tell the captain to run her hard and find out where the issues are.”
A key goal, Hunt added, is to “make sure we give them the full support the Navy leadership can do.”
Creation of the council follows on the heels of several significant recent efforts and reports on the LCS program. They include:
Two war games sponsored by Fleet Forces Command, one early this year focusing on sustainment — including training, maintenance and manning — and another this summer on operations;
A report submitted in March from a study group headed by Rear Adm. Samuel Perez, “Review of the Navy’s Readiness to Receive, Employ and Deploy the LCS Class Vessel;”
A July report from the Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV), on the material condition and maintainability of the Freedom.
“We need to take the lessons learned and move forward,” Hunt said, “and put known changes tackling known issues, fixing them long-term for the class.”
A top priority is getting the Freedom her Blue and Gold crews, and a mission package ready for a planned 10-month demonstration deployment to Singapore, where the Navy hopes to eventually base four of the ships.
The Freedom is aiming for a spring departure date from San Diego, and is to spend up to 10 months on what will become the first extended overseas deployment for an LCS.
The studies cited above acknowledge the challenges of supporting the ships overseas, and the Navy expects to gain enormous experience from the Freedom deployment.
While the Freedom will return to the U.S. in early 2014 to continue her test and development role, the Fort Worth, second of the class and currently headed for San Diego, is expected to become the first LCS to regularly operate from Singapore, perhaps as early as late 2014.
Work on all three primary mission modules also is continuing, and is to be coordinated by the council. The modules — for mine warfare, surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare — are in widely varying stages of development.
Hunt’s first task as council chairman, he said, is to issue a charter, which he expects to accomplish by early September.
And by the end of January, the council is directed by Greenert to develop and implement an “LCS Plan of Action and Milestones.”
Hunt is to report to Greenert and Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top acquisition official, every two weeks on the council’s progress, and will meet with the CNO monthly specifically on the topic.
“I am confident we are on a path of success for LCS,” Navy secretary Ray Mabus said in an e-mail statement. “This council will continue to unify our efforts to implement operational lessons learned from our research and development ships to further ensure successful fleet integration.”