Monday, March 04, 2013

Survivability Is as Survivability Does

The Navy is defending the survivability of its new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). I don't have a problem so much with the ability of the ship to take a hit as much as I have a problem with the ridiculous notion that we will send those ships into the littorals where they will face all manner of shore-based weapons capable of sinking the LCS. This is madness.

So the Littoral Combat Ship has survivability levels too low to take a major hit and continue the mission. The Navy says no big deal because this what they intended. At survivability level 1+ it can take a hit, recover, and leave the area under its own power.

Navy leadership responded Wednesday to a Tuesday Pentagon report saying both variants of the littoral combat ship (LCS) are “not survivable in a combat environment.” ...

The Navy has three levels of survivability for the ships in the Fleet, according to an August 2012 report on the LCS from the Congressional Research Service that quotes Navy standards from 1988.

“The Navy decided to design the LCS to what it calls a Level 1+ survivability standard, which is greater than the Level I standard to which the Navy’s current patrol craft and mine warfare ships were designed, but less than the Level II standard to which the Navy’s current Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7)-class frigates were designed, ” the report says.

“Navy surface ships are designed to one of three survivability standards, called Level I (low), Level II (moderate), and Level III (high). Aircraft carriers, cruisers, and destroyers are designed to Level III. Frigates, amphibious ships, and certain underway replenishment (resupply) ships are designed to Level II. Other replenishment ships, as well as mine warfare ships, patrol craft, and support ships are designed to Level I.”

More in defense of the LCS here.

Our Perry class frigates were designed at level 2. They took quite a beating in the Persian Gulf in the 1980s (Roberts and Stark).

I find it amusing that one defense is that survivability is also not getting hit rather than just construction design. With physical survivability so low for the LCS, just what helps them avoid getting hit? Their speed? Get real. Going fast increases the likelihood of being spotted by some sensor or another. And the LCS isn't going to be faster than aircraft, missiles, or helicopters.

And deployed in green or--God forbid even more--brown waters, the LCS will face lots of land-based threats like aircraft, helicopters, missiles, mines, shore-based artillery, tanks with cannons far bigger than the LCS carries, plus small submarines and numerous armed small craft. It is insane to send the LCS into that environment.

If we want to operate in the littorals, send in small craft we can afford to build in large numbers and continue the mission even if we lose a bunch. Hey, we even built some of those. LCS are not expendable at the price we pay for them.

In an effort to deal with the real problem that our ships are too expensive (because they are so capable) to leave the expanse of the blue waters where we can see threats coming, we simply built another ship not quite as expensive but still too costly to build many of them. Whatever we say, we won't send them into the littorals, even if we say that is their mission and we have no alternatives.

Maybe we do have other affordable and more survivable options for at least the green waters of the littorals even if they don't look as cool as the unconventional version of the LCS.

The littorals are like a box of very lethal chocolates: you never know what threat you are going to get. Stupid is as stupid does, and our plans for employing the LCS in the littorals are plain stupid. I'll refrain from judging them quite yet for missions in blue waters.