WASHINGTON — With the size of the small combatant force rapidly expanding, US Navy chief of naval operations Adm. John Richardson is ordering a major 60-day review of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.
"The idea," said a Navy official, "is that with two deployments complete or nearly complete, and with new ships coming almost every six months, it's time to see where things stand and get a feel for what's been working, what's not been working, and what we might need to change."
In a memorandum signed out on Feb. 29, Richardson directs the acting head of the Warfare Systems N9 directorate, the commander of naval surface forces, and the principal military advisoer to the acquisition directorate to "lead a review of the LCS program to include crewing, operations, training and maintenance of the ship class."
Under manning, Richardson wants the review team to look at how the 3-2-1 LCS crewing construct is working, and compare it with how a traditional, single crew for each ship approach would work. With six ships now in service – three each of the Freedom (LCS 1) and Independence (LCS 2) class – the rotation of three crews among two ships has only recently been put into practice. Two more ships will be commissioned this summer, allowing for 12 crews rotating between eight ships.
For example, aboard the Fort Worth (LCS 3), on deployment in the Western Pacific for over a year, crews have generally rotated every four months, moving between four months ashore for rest and training four months aboard the Freedom, and four aboard the Fort Worth.
But other forward-deployed ships, including those operating out of Japan, Spain and Bahrain, usually have traditional, non-rotating, permanent crews.
The use of and size of the mission detachments assigned to mission modules is also to be studied.
"There are a lot of moving parts," the Navy official said about the LCS crewing scheme.
Richardson also wants a review of the use of ashore training and simulation methods compared with shipboard experience, and he wants the team to look at whether or not training-maintenance-deployment schedules developed for the surface fleet under the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) could be applied to LCS.
"We're working hard to get the rest of the surface force on this OFRP, and yet LCS is on its own," said the Navy official. "Is that the right thing to do? The rest of the fleet is on a completely different training and deployment cycle."
The LCS maintenance strategy will also be reviewed, including the current scheme of regular maintenance periods for forward-deployed ships to a "periodic, preventive maintenance approach."
With their small crews, LCS sailors are not expected to handle heavy maintenance duties while in port. Rather, a mix of Navy and contractor support teams is to come aboard for pierside maintenance. But in Singapore, where the US is sensitive to stationing too many people to support the ships, crews have routinely been brought out from the US mainland when needed to handle specific tasks.
"We want to know whether it makes more sense to station support teams closer to the operational area," said the Navy official. "So, if not in Singapore, for example, perhaps in Guam or Hawaii."
The review is also tasked with looking at the mission module scheme, where separate modules optimized for anti-submarine, surface warfare, and counter-mine warfare can be loaded on and off each LCS.
The team, Richardson wrote, is to assess "a revised approach where mission modules remain with a specific LCS hull."
The review, the Navy official said, falls in line with previous efforts such as the creation of a program executive officer for LCS to oversee the combined development of ships, systems and modules, and the LCS council, a short-lived, high-ranking group established to transition the LCS to the fleet.
"The idea of a PEO LCS was to bring the program to life and manage the shipbuilding part of it," the official said. "The idea of the LCS council was to get the Freedom out the door and do all the things necessary to deploy it."
The idea of the review, the official said, is that "we've got some run time, we know some bads, we know some goods. So are the assumptions we've made correct or do we need to make new changes?"