Hello Blue/Gold LCS, goodbye multi-use

The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) demonstrates its maneuvering capabilities in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

The littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) demonstrates its maneuvering capabilities in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel M. Young/Released)

The Navy is ditching a couple Littoral Combat Ship concepts, specifically the 3:2:1 crewing model and the concept that all ships can be all things at all times (but actually accomplish none of them).

In the end, they are going to wind up with ships crewed like SSBNs (rotating Blue/Gold crews) and equipped to operate in dedicated mission sets (Surface Warfare, Minehunting, or ASW). The 40-52 ships of the program will be grouped in four-ship divisions (with 3 ships deployable) by mission, but no word on how many divisions will be dedicated to each mission.

From the Navy’s presser (which notably 404’d off the Navy’s site, then popped back up):

The Navy announced today it will implement several key changes to the projected 28-ship littoral combat ship (LCS) Flight 0/0+ class over the next five years that will simplify crewing, stabilize testing, and increase overseas deployment presence availability.

The projected 12 Frigates will be the next increment of LCS and will use the same manning, training, maintenance and operating concepts as those that have been approved as part of the LCS review. The decision to make these changes resulted from a comprehensive review of LCS crewing, training, maintenance, and operations commissioned in March. While a total of 40 ships have been approved for the program, the Navy Force Structure Assessment still projects the need for 52 small surface combatants that LCS and Frigate address.

Beginning this fall, the Navy will start to phase out the 3:2:1 crewing construct and transition to a Blue/Gold model similar to the one used in crewing Ballistic Missile submarines, patrol craft and minesweepers. The LCS crews will also merge, train, and rotate with mission module detachment crews, organizing as four-ship divisions of a single warfare area – either surface warfare (SUW), mine warfare (MCM), or anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Though organized this way, the LCS class will retain the technological benefits of modularity and the ability to swap mission packages quickly if needed. Aviation detachments will also deploy with the same LCS crew, but will remain assigned to their respective squadrons when in home port.

To facilitate these changes across the class, the Navy will eventually homeport Independence-variant ships in San Diego and Freedom-variant ships in Mayport, Fla. 24 of the 28 LCS ships will form into six divisions with three divisions on each coast. Each division will have a single warfare focus and the crews and mission module detachments will be fused. Each division will consist of three Blue/Gold-crewed ships that deploy overseas and one single-crewed training ship. Under this construct, each division’s training ship will remain available locally to certify crews preparing to deploy. Few homeport shifts will be needed since only six LCS are currently commissioned while the rest are under contract, in construction, or in a pre-commissioned unit status.

The first four LCS ships (LCS 1-4) will become testing ships. Like the training ships, testing ships will be single-crewed and could be deployed as fleet assets if needed on a limited basis; however, their primary purpose will be to satisfy near and long term testing requirements for the entire LCS class without affecting ongoing deployment rotations. This approach accommodates spiral development and rapid deployment of emerging weapons and delivery systems to the fleet without disrupting operational schedules.

Implementing these changes now and as more LCS ships are commissioned over the coming years will ultimately allow the Navy to deploy more ships, increasing overall forward presence. With the Blue/Gold model in place, three out of four ships will be available for deployment compared with one out of two under 3:2:1. The Blue/Gold model will also simplify ownership of maintenance responsibilities and enhance continuity as the same two crews rotate on a single ship. Single-crewed training ships will complement shore-based training facilities and ensure crews have enough time at sea before deployment. The findings and recommendations of the LCS review will allow the LCS program to become more survivable, lethal, and adaptable as the LCS become regular workhorses in the fleet.

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