Posted by: towmasters | August 17, 2010

Grueling But Manageable? The U.S. Navy Goes Off The Deep End

The events of the last few years indicate that greed, stupidity and ineptitude is spreading like a metastasizing cancer throughout many government institutions in our country. The U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program is an example of what sure looks like institutionalized madness. The navy is currently developing this program while testing two competing versions of the LCS, one an aluminum-hulled trimaran (USS Independence)

and the other a steel monohull (USS Freedom).

One of each are presently in service for testing, but only one design will be selected for a 10-ship order. They are meant to perform near-shore duties that in the past would normally be handled by a Perry-class frigate

with a crew of 200. What is the planned crew size of the 3,000-ton, 378-foot LCS-1? 40, and that’s not a typo. Well, that isn’t exactly the whole story. It seems that there will be additional personnel detachments for aviation (23 sailors) and “special mission equipment” (15 sailors), bringing the total to 78. But all naval (and Coast Guard) vessels capable of deploying helicopters carry additional aviation detachments whenever they go on patrol with helicopters on deck, so the 40-man crew of the LCS can be considered, more-or-less, to be a fair apples-to-apples comparison with the 200-man frigate crew. The bottom line is that 40 sailors are trying to do the work of 200, with lots of “assistance” from “automation.”

They stand a 6-on/12-off watch schedule, which doesn’t sound too bad at first, but are also subject to regular off-watch “call outs” to perform various other duties. This occurs with such regularity as to become the working norm. Quoting from the article about the USS Freedom, Duty Aboard the Littoral Combat Ship: ‘Grueling but Manageable’ in National Defense Magazine:

Sailors only end up with about six hours of rest a day. “We try not to impinge upon those six hours. But sometimes we have to,” Doyle says. Emergencies, such as fire or flooding, require all hands on deck. Pulling in and out of port also involves the entire crew. Timmons says he only has four to six hours of sleep every 24 to 48 hours. The work cycle on board is grueling but manageable, he says. He believes that LCS is the future of the Navy.

If this turns out to be the navy’s future then it’s certainly a grim one. Over the long haul it isn’t likely to attract and retain the best and the brightest to serve, or even the stupendously mediocre. All it will do is burn out those who try to stick with it for any prolonged period of time. Humans have limits. Exceed those limits too frequently or for too long, or both, and performance always suffers. You can count on it. Let’s not forget that this is a naval warship. With a crew of that size they’re one missile hit or mine strike away from wiping out all or most of the crew. Who then will respond to the ensuing fires, flooding and general mayhem?

You get the distinct impression that the various crewmembers who were interviewed know deep down that this is not a good way to do things, but they’re doing their best to convince themselves and everyone else otherwise.

Despite feeling overworked, they remain fiercely dedicated to the LCS concept, says Doyle. “They just keep pressing forward.”

Yes, just press forward. That’ll do it! The carrot being dangled in front of the sailors is that the smaller crew complement means advancement is easier. That’s the only real benefit to them and it should be the least of the many concerns, not the first. The fact is that there is no justification for manning a ship like this unless you have no other choice. Notwithstanding the overblown and now-permanent War on Terror, used to justify all manner of waste and erosion of our liberties, World War II’s Battle of the Atlantic and the Pacific War were the last time we were involved in prolonged, large-scale naval warfare operations. We have no serious conventional military rivals today and there is no rational reason for us to do this.

A quick skim of the Development and funding section of the LCS Wikipedia page indicates that this program has also suffered from what have sadly become the usual screw-ups, delays and cost overruns (not to mention the occasional outbreaks of fraud) that seem to frequently plague the many acquisition programs of our Military-Industrial Complex. The Coast Guard’s Deepwater fiasco is a recent example, and is far from the worst. This isn’t what our bankrupt nation needs right now.

I’ll close with the first three words of the reader comments on the NDM article, which are well worth reading, left by Prof. James Refalo: “This is insane.”

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