I was recently asked to do an interview on Federal News Radio on the subject of the Secretary of Defense’s decision to terminate the LCS buy at 32, instead of the 52 on the Navy’s FY15 Shipbuilding Plan. Here is the audio:
It was on my watch as the chief requirements and resources officer for the Navy (N8) that the requirement for the number of LCS’s was determined. At the time, the Navy was looking towards a more sophisticated engagement policy with the navies of developing and emerging littoral countries. The idea was to have a ship which could access shallow water ports and operate in the “brown” water environment. Its defining attributes were speed and maneuverability. Some limited self-defense capability was built in, chiefly rapid firing, larger caliber guns to combat the swarming boat threat (then a big concern) and an aircraft point-defense capability. The number was based on what we thought was needed to execute the “From the Sea” maritime strategy in a variety of littoral interest areas. Another attribute of the LCS was the inclusion of mission modules, specially developed, mission-focused packages of sensors and aircraft (helos, manned and unmanned) with limited weapons capability. The modular approach was chosen for affordability since large, multi-mission ships (like DDG-51 class) are very expensive to build. We carefully crafted a ship inventory to ensure that our carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups were protected and that our ISR requirements were met before looking at how many LCS’s were needed. Said another way, LCS’s were not planned to be a front-line battle force protecting carriers and amphibious assault ships. The three modules we envisioned were mine warfare, surface warfare and submarine warfare. In each of the appropriate warfare areas, the LCS’s were meant to augment forces by providing extra eyes and ears.
Now Secretary Hagel wants a smaller, more capable and lethal ship to be built to take the place of the LCS. But we can’t afford the Navy we want to build now. Adding a more capable, lethal ship (Frigate style) is going to cost more that the LCS it will replace and will lead to even smaller quantities of ships at a time when the vision is to expand the Navy’s reach in the Asian-Pacific region. Where’s the reality check? By the way, it’s not like the current US Navy frigates are bristling with armament….a Point-Defense CIWS, 76mm gun, a few torpedoes, maybe a towed sonar and a helo. Virtually the same as the ASW module equipped LCS. So I submit using current frigates as a model for the capable, more lethal vessel is probably not a good idea.
A Congressional Budget Office analysis of the Navy’s 2014 Thirty Year ShipbuildingPlan has some startling data in it. It notes that the most optimistic case is that the FY14 plan was going to cost at least $18 Billion a year for the next 30 years and that a more realistic figure is probably closer to $20 Billion. The report also notes that the historical average in the Navy’s ship procurement budget from 1984 to 2013 is about $14 Billion…..that’s a deficit of $4-6 Billion a year! Keep in mind in the FY15 request the Navy is putting 11 Aegis Class cruisers on the bench, seriously considering not refueling the carrier USS George Washington and delaying the procurement of the amphibious docking ship replacement by a year. There’s a fairly reliable benchmark used by shipbuilders to determine the cost of a ship… the DDG-51 Class costs about $167,000 per ton to build and the frigate exported by the French (probably about the size and capability that SecDef wants) costs about $122,000 per ton to build. The LCS is costing about $350 Million right now, so the Big Guy wants to replace that with something that’s going to cost about $500-600 Million to build. The current frigates “lack multi-mission capability necessary for modern surface combatants” (that’s a quote from the US Navy web site) so whatever frigate the new LCS Study Group comes up with will have to be more capable than what we have now……and that, my friends, will cost a lot of money the Navy does not have.
So I’m really interested to see what the Study Group comes up with….a deadlier, more capable ship than either the LCS’s or the FFG’s currently in service. And in order to afford them the Navy will have to come up with an additional $400 Million or so in the shipbuilding budget each year. Where’s the money coming from? I guess we just print more. Why not? It’s not much different to be $4 Billion under the requirement as it is to be $$4.4 Billion. What’s a few hundred million among friends?