Navy Shortening Maintenance Times for Surface Ships, But Repair Industry Still Overloaded

By: Megan Eckstein

September 19, 2019 3:46 PM

Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate Claus Moser communicates with sailors in the forecastle of the amphibious assault ship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) while off-loading the starboard anchor chain in 2017. US Navy Photo

SAN DIEGO, Calif – The Navy has a large backlog of surface ship maintenance it is trying to dig out of; that’s not new. And while the sea service and ship repair industry are making some progress in cutting back on administrative and other burdens that slow down maintenance availabilities, the contractors here in San Diego are so backed up that the Navy has received zero bids for several recent maintenance availabilities.

The Navy’s West Coast hub remains one of the most challenging fleet concentration areas for combatant and amphibious ship maintenance work: for the 45 ships homeported here, just four dry docks are available. Couple the limited space with delays due to poor planning, material not showing up on time, expanding work package scope and more, and the San Diego waterfront has the potential to create a lot of headaches for ships in repair and the fleet operators planning to deploy them.

Fleetwide, the Navy has about 46 ships in CNO availabilities right now, with more than 100 in the planning process. The Navy and its industry partners are only completing about 36 percent of maintenance availabilities on time, Rear Adm. Tom Anderson, the commander of the Navy Regional Maintenance Centers that coordinate this surface ship work, said last month at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Fleet Maintenance and Modernization conference.

Anderson said there is “no shortage of work to do” to improve that on-time figure.

In San Diego specifically, there had been 21 concurrent availabilities recently, down to 16 now, Capt. David Hart, the commander of the Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego, told USNI News last month in an interview. The work is done by three prime contractors for complex work – BAE Systems, General Dynamics NASSCO and Huntington Ingalls Industries – as well as several small companies for non-complex work.

In this flurry of activity, the yards accomplished about 45 percent of work on time two years ago, but only 33 percent last year. This year is also tracking towards a 33-percent figure, Hart said.

Hart outlined a handful of barriers he and industry face to achieving on-time delivery of ships out of maintenance, as well as a handful of solutions he’s trying to put into play to make the situation on the San Diego waterfront more tenable to maintainers and operators.

Navy-Driven Changes 

As Hart sees it, “our potential to be successful” is determined well before a maintenance availability even starts. When planning products and drawings aren’t completed on time, when items are added to the work scope late, and when materials don’t show up at the repair yard a month ahead of the start of work, the potential to be successful is greatly diminished.

Hart, as well as his boss, Anderson, outlined ways the Navy is trying to do better planning on its part, and ensure the yards are doing the same, to increase that chance of being successful.

First, Hart said, is the need for a well-defined scope of work, that is finalized early, planned appropriately and has good work specifications.

To support that, Anderson said the Navy has acknowledged that it is awarding contracts too close to the start of work and now allowing enough time for planning; to address that, Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Surface Forces signed out a revision to the process last month that moves milestones to the left – including awarding a contract 120 days ahead of the start of the availability – to help the industry team properly prepare.

Anderson noted that, with these changes, the Navy should see a higher percentage of material arriving ahead of the A-30 mark, or 30 days before the start of the work.

“We have lots of data, and we use that data as we’re evaluating progress toward starting an avail. And I have not come across an availability yet” that has fully met the goal of having material on hand at A-30, he said, noting that sometimes industry thinks it’s okay if the material arrives ahead of need, and sometimes the Navy simply awards contracts too late to support the A-30 material arrival.

As far as government-furnished materials go, Hart said he’s seen improvements from the Defense Logistics Agency and Naval Supply Systems Command in getting material in on time for availabilities in San Diego. That figure had been sitting between 50 and 60 percent of material on hand at A-30. Now, that figure is between 85 and 90 percent, and Hart is committed to getting to 100 percent.

Another planning effort has to do with assumptions for how long the work should take: “you’re not going to make your schedules if you start out with availability durations that are unrealistic,” Anderson said.
“So at [U.S. Pacific Fleet’s] request, we went and took a look at how long we were scheduling availabilities for, took a look at the model we used to estimate those availability durations, and we found some areas that probably weren’t giving us very good estimates.”

An Availability Duration Scorecard 3.0 was created, which took into consideration port capacities and other current data to more accurately predict how long work would take and therefore to help the fleet commanders level-load the ports, rather than creating a backup of ships waiting to get work done.

Anderson noted that the scorecard initiative was meant to get after better on-time delivery and creating predictable workloads for repair yards. Hart too mentioned the scorecard initiative, plus efforts to contain growth in the scope of work packages, as primary ways to boost San Diego’s low on-time delivery rates.

Once the availabilities begin, Hart and Anderson said the Navy has a lot of requirements that bog repair workers down, further contributing to delays in the work and lengthier availabilities. A hard look at quality assurance checkpoints in particular highlighted to Navy leaders that redundancies and bureaucratic requirements were getting in the way of getting ships fixed up and returned back to the fleet for operations.

Hart said the number of NAVSEA requirements for industry has grown in the last decades. The maintenance community committed to achieving a 50-percent reduction in QA checkpoints while still ensuring that quality work was being performed.

After asking industry what requirements they’d like to see nixed, BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair came back with a list of ideas that constituted a 67-percent reduction. Hart said that was “a little far a leap for folks from a risk perspective,” but BAE Systems and SWRMC working together compromised on a list of QA checkpoints that represented a 49-percent reduction from previous requirements.

“We think, based on just how long these checkpoints take, it potentially – again, potential, because we haven’t realized anything – it could save us about 20ish or so days. For the company to be doing blast and paint or something like that under the hull, to stop, to do a four-hour checkpoint callout … there’s a lot of impact to the schedule in wait time that that creates,” Hart said.

This agreement with BAE Systems is being tested with Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Shoup (DDG-86). Hart said he believes the outcome will be positive and will lead to more formalized changes in the QA requirements.

“What we noticed when we started going through it was, there was a lot of duplication of effort already in what we were doing, so that was pretty easy. We really pulled back on non-critical coded areas, we took a lot of risk in cutting back checkpoints … on non-critically coded areas,” he said.
“So I think there’s a lot more work we can still do there. I think we chiseled away at the low-hanging fruit.”

Industry-Driven Changes

BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair Vice President and General Manager David Thomas told USNI News during a visit to the yard last month that concern about dry dock capacity in San Diego is “out of proportion.”

“It’s less about capacity. Frankly, I think there’s enough capacity if we just are smarter and more willing to look for that path to yes,” he said.

An example is this week’s announcement that the Navy will double-dock two destroyers – USS Stethem (DDG-63) and USS Decatur (DDG-73) – in the same dry dock at BAE beginning next month.

Thomas said tandem docking is a great idea the company pitched to the Navy and that “we’re transparent and willing to work with anything that they’re interested in trying.”

Hart told USNI News that there was some risk but not as much as one might think: both ships would have to be undocked at the same time, so a delay in one would delay both, but these two particular warships were chosen because the docking portion of their work scopes were almost identical. Stethem and Decatur may diverge in the work they need done once the under-hull portion is completed in the dry dock, but they should remain on similar timelines in the dry dock as long as something “extreme” doesn’t happen, Hart said.

Thomas said tandem docking helps increase the capacity of the San Diego waterfront – getting five ships into the four dry docks at any given time, if the Navy chooses to fully make use of capacity through double-docking the “Pride of California” dry dock at BAE, using the graving dock at the San Diego Naval Station, and filling the smaller “Pride of San Diego” dry dock at BAE as well as the dry dock at General Dynamics NASSCO.

“There’s all kinds of ways to leverage that capacity with innovative thinking and the willingness to find a path to yes,” he said.

Other innovative ideas aimed at shortening the duration of the availabilities – and therefore making better use of available capacity – are coming from BAE’s employees and subcontractors, he said, who are constantly looking for better and more efficient ways to pull shafting, do paint and blast work and more.

What Thomas said was most important, though – and what Hart agreed was also a top priority of his on the Navy side – was improving the relationship between Navy and industry. Hart said he came into the job with a lot of tension and finger-pointing happening, and he’s sought to “build a stronger partnership and how we work together to solve problems.”

Thomas, noting that USS Dewey (DDG-105) had recently come out of a docked availability on time and that Shoup was tracking towards an on-time undocking too, said “the innovation in our relationships and the discussions that have culminated in … two destroyers, two front-line ships getting ready to go back into the fleet, coming out on time and in great shape.”

Ongoing Challenges

There is certainly room for improvement on the Navy and contractor side – and an imperative to improve, with operational pressures on the surface fleet increasing when more ships are stuck in port waiting for maintenance. Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Rich Brown has deemed that no ships will go out on deployment with material deficiencies, so the repair industry must figure out how to get the full scope of work conducted in a shorter timeline without sacrificing quality and safety, leaders have said.

Innovative ideas like tandem docking help, and new technologies and processes that shave days or weeks off of availabilities help.

But systematic challenges remain that the Navy/industry team will have to continue to tackle in the long-term.

“The scope of the work is getting much more complex, and I think that’s challenged some of our industry folks,” Hart said.

The contracting structure in San Diego has created three go-to companies for complex work – BAE, NASSCO and HII – and a myriad of smaller companies who do non-complex work. But many of those companies also subcontract for the Big Three, and there just aren’t enough workers to go around sometimes.

“There’s an excess of work in the port. We routinely – and as of this week – we’re seeing no bids on work, especially on some of the continuous and emergent maintenance availabilities. No one has the capacity,” he said.

He called small business contributions to ship repair one of the more positive successes he’s seen in his two years on the job leading SWRMC, saying “they have stepped up their game in supporting the Navy. But even they are over-extended at this point because they’re the subcontractors to the prime, and they’re the prime under the non-complex. So we have two different business models for them; they love the non-complex [multiple award construction contract], their destiny is in their own hands, they’re the prime contractor, and from my perspective, what I’ve observed over the past two years is … they’ve really stepped up their game and really provided a good service to the Navy, not only a good cost but also in most cases … have really delivered on time.”

Still, Hart said, the workload at San Diego is excessive and the companies will have to look at growing their workforce in particular trade skills to keep up. They are at times limited in taking on work because they don’t have enough welders – specifically aluminum welders – so the Navy needs to prove it can provide stable and predictable workloads over the long-term.

“We have to get to the point where we’re providing [industry] the incentive to go and hire the people and retain the people.”

USS Somerset (LPD-25) arrives at General Dynamic’s NASSCO shipyard in San Diego for a planned Chief of Naval Operations maintenance availability in 2017. US Navy Photo

USS Somerset (LPD-25) arrives at General Dynamic’s NASSCO shipyard in San Diego for a planned Chief of Naval Operations maintenance availability in 2017. US Navy Photo

Amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) departs the floating dry dock in General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard before transiting to BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair. US Navy Photo

Amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) departs the floating dry dock in General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard before transiting to BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair. US Navy Photo

USS Detroit (LCS-7) receives regularly scheduled maintenance and upkeep during a scheduled dry-dock maintenance availability phase at BAE Systems shipyard in Jacksonville, Fla., March 29, 2019. US Navy Photo

USS Detroit (LCS-7) receives regularly scheduled maintenance and upkeep during a scheduled dry-dock maintenance availability phase at BAE Systems shipyard in Jacksonville, Fla., March 29, 2019. US Navy Photo

USS Makin Island (LHD-8) entered a floating dry dock at National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), Aug. 25, 2017. US Navy Photo

USS Makin Island (LHD-8) entered a floating dry dock at National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), Aug. 25, 2017. US Navy Photo

Navy: USS Montgomery Showcasing LCS Abilities During WESTPAC Deployment

By: Ben Werner

September 12, 2019 2:41 PM

A Royal Malaysian Navy service member stands by for the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS-8) to depart the Port of Lumut Base Jetty U.S. Air Force photo

With a shallow draft and a forward-deployed maintenance team, USS Montgomery (LCS-8) is demonstrating how Littoral Combat Ships can extend the Navy’s reach in the Western Pacific, the ship’s commander said on Wednesday.

Independence-variant Montgomery deployed to the region in May and since arriving in the Western Pacific the ship has toured the region showcasing its capabilities, Cmdr. Edward Rosso told reporters. The ship had just returned to Singapore after completing the recent Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN)-U.S. Exercise called AUMX.

“We’re fortunate enough to arrive and to be able to participate in some historic events. The U.S. Navy, along with our partners and allies, has long known the importance and value of working together and from my perspective that is exactly what Montgomery has done during this deployment,” Russo said. “We began our time in theater with a historic port visit to Davao City in the Philippines. It’s a beautiful port that was perfectly suited to receive our shallow hull Littoral Combat Ship. This was the first visit by a U.S. warship to that location in recent memory.”

Independence LCS, such as Montgomery, has a draft of 15.1-feet, according to the Navy. In comparison, an Arleigh Burke guided-missile destroyer has a draft of 31-feet.

“One of the great things about my ship is the draft. We don’t’ draft a lot so we can go to other ports where the depth is not so deep,” Rosso said. “So, when we went to participate in (Maritime Training Activity) MTA Malaysia, we went to Lumut. That was a very tight port, that other ships bigger ships would not be able to go to.”

The Navy plans to use the LCS in across the world notably the Western Pacific and the Persian Gulf, to the extent the number of LCSs operating at any moment would rival the number of destroyers. The Navy has tweaked the plan, reworking crews organization and the mission packages installed on the LCS. For instance, USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) which deployed to the region last week, was first back-fit to carry the Naval Strike Missile.

The goal was always to push these ships into areas other platforms could not easily access – precisely what Rosso said his crew accomplished on Montgomery’s first deployment.

“Our unique capabilities allow us to work with a broad range of regional navies and visit certain ports the larger ships with deeper drafts aren’t able to do,” Rosso said.

Montgomery’s design is part of the reason Rosso said his ship was able to visit areas not regularly visited by the Navy. A forward-deployed support and maintenance team allows an LCS such as Montgomery to operate away from the U.S successfully.

“We have the maintenance support team here. They built an actual support site here where we have people on-site in Singapore to support and work the maintenance here for us. So we have some folks who are actually assigned and live out here to work on the ship when the ship pulls into Singapore for maintenance.

The ability to perform extensive repairs and complex maintenance on a deployed LCS fleet has been a concern for the Navy since the first LCSs deployed to the Western Pacific. In January 2016, USS Fort Worth (LCS-3), a Freedom-variant LCS, was sidelined in Singapore for nearly half the year following a casualty with the ship’s propulsion system. By April, the Navy determined it was more effective to send Fort Worth back to San Diego for repairs during the summer, even after considering the cross-Pacific transit would take about six weeks and involve several underway replenishments and refueling stops.

The Singapore-based maintenance staff today is a combination of active-duty Navy personnel, civilian employees and contractors working out of Changi Naval Base in Singapore, Rosso said. The team can also meet an LCS in another regional port if a maintenance issue occurs while out on patrol.

For Rosso, that scenario played out when Montgomery pulled into Sattahip, Thailand. An expeditionary maintenance team from Singapore met the ship in Thailand and was able to fix the ship. The Navy plans to use maintenance away teams as a way to keep LCSs on patrol longer.

“There’s expeditionary maintenance that’s scheduled for the ship going forward so that we can continue being a forward presence away from our maintenance hub here in Singapore,” Rosso said.

GULF OF THAILAND (Sept. 4, 2019) – U.S. Navy Sailors return to the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8) following a visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) drill as part of the ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise (AUMX). Navy photo

GULF OF THAILAND (Sept. 4, 2019) – U.S. Navy Sailors return to the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8) following a visit, board, search, and seizure (VBSS) drill as part of the ASEAN-U.S. Maritime Exercise (AUMX). Navy photo

The State of LCS: Navy Moving to Add Firepower, Capability to Both Classes

By: Megan Eckstein

September 6, 2019 10:07 AM • Updated: September 9, 2019 2:21 PM

USS Detroit (LCS-7) receives regularly scheduled maintenance and upkeep during a scheduled dry-dock maintenance availability phase at BAE Systems shipyard in Jacksonville, Fla., March 29, 2019. US Navy Photo

This is the second of a two-part series on the current state of the Littoral Combat Ship program.

This post has been updated to note that the Mk 48 Mod II Gun Weapon Control System will upgrade the current 57mm gun on the LCS. 

WASHINGTON NAVY YARD – With both variants of the Littoral Combat Ship in serial production at two yards and those ships now kicking off an enduring multi-ship overseas presence, the Navy is turning its focus to increasing the lethality and survivability of the hulls.

In the near term, the Naval Strike Missile is being installed on all LCSs as fast as the Navy can support, giving each ship an offensive punch regardless of what mission package it deploys with.

Into the early 2020s, the Navy will focus on a two-phase survivability and lethality upgrade plan, which will add electronic warfare capabilities, anti-missile decoys and eventually, perhaps, even laser guns or other advanced systems.

And a rush of upcoming developmental and operational tests on mission package systems should help get the three packages – surface warfare, mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare – across the finish line for the fleet to use.

Naval Strike Missile 

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) underwent a backfit process so when it deployed earlier this week with the Naval Strike Missile, the small combatant left with more ability to target enemy ships.

Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, told USNI News in a recent interview at Navy Yard that LCSs would get a permanent Naval Strike Missile launcher installation as they go through their next maintenance availabilities. The process of backfitting every LCS with the missile launcher will take a couple years, he said.

Starting with LCS-27 and follow ships, the hulls will be built from the start with the space, weight and power reserved for the missile.

“We’re going to very quickly see those numbers go up, the ships having that capability,” Moton said.
“That’s a game-changer for LCS: they still have their mission, they still have their focused mission and all the things that they’re going to do in the surface warfare world and in ASW and MCM. But now – the surface force is doing a great job talking about that – now, every LCS that’s out there can’t be ignored.”

Having the over-the-horizon missile aboard deployed LCSs “immensely complicates any potential adversary’s fighting problem,” he added.

Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Adm. Richard Brown agrees, calling the missile “phenomenal.”

“The fact of the matter is, LCS is going to have an offensive punch at range. And that starts with Gabrielle Giffords, and that will be true in the years to come – which then complicates any enemy’s targeting because, whereas they really just had to figure out where the aircraft carrier was, now in conjunction with everything we’re doing, not just in LCS but in the cruisers and destroyers, any potential adversary has to worry about where all the ships are because of the reach of the weapons systems we’re putting on them.”

Brown, in an interview, said the insertion of the Naval Strike Missile has been a model for how to quickly add capability to the fleet. In short order, Naval Sea Systems Command conducted material certifications, a schoolhouse training program was put together for the LCS crews, and the Afloat Training Group did a full cruise missile tactical qualification on both Giffords’ blue and gold crews.

“We accelerated the Naval Strike Missile, but we weren’t just going to slap it on the ship and send it out there without the proper training,” Brown said, calling what was done a model for other rapid capability insertions, including the surface-to-surface missile module in the surface warfare mission package.

The Freedom-variant LCSs on the East Coast are not yet ready to incorporate the NSM on upcoming deployers, as separate testing and verification has to be done on the two LCS hull types.

Lethality and Survivability Upgrades

In Fiscal Year 2022 – or sooner – the first LCSs will begin going through an upgrade process that will address longstanding calls to up-gun and up-armor the ship class.

Brown said the current plan calls for one Independence-variant ship in San Diego and one Freedom-variant ship in Mayport, Fla., to undergo upgrades in FY 2022, and then two a year per coast after that.

However, Lockheed Martin Vice President and General Manager of Small Combatants and Ship Systems Joe DePietro told USNI News in a recent phone interview that there was some talk of trying to pull the schedule to the left, in an effort to get at least partial upgrades completed before some of the LCSs deploy. He said his company is studying a few options for the Navy to consider.

DePietro said the overall L&S effort includes the over-the-horizon missile (OTH), Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP), the Nulka MK 53 Decoy Launching System, improvements to the 57mm gun by installing the Mk 48 Mod II Gun Weapon Control System and more – as well as shifting the Independence-variant ships away from their current total ship computing environment and to the COMBATSS-21 Aegis-based combat system that the Freedom-variant already runs.

If this first phase of upgrades were all done at once, it would involve a more intrusive maintenance availability, but the upgrades would be done in an integrated way.

The Navy has already decided the Naval Strike Missile OTH would be installed on a quicker timeline on some ships in an unintegrated fashion, and DePietro said that SEWIP and Nulka too could be installed early in a “pretty straightforward” and short maintenance availability on the Freedom-variant ships due to existing integration between all the Lockheed-made systems. The company is providing the Navy more information on what the range of options may look like, and how much capability could be installed early versus why it might make sense to wait for a single, comprehensive upgrade.

Similarly, Lockheed is also studying a range of options for putting the new COMBATSS-21 on the Independence-variant ships – from bringing on a couple boxes that fit inside a hula hoop that contain a virtualized combat system that could be run on the existing ship consoles, to a rip-out of the current consoles and replacing them with the same hardware and software from the Freedom-variant.

DePietro said Aegis is becoming more hardware-agnostic every day and that the virtualized system option would cost less, but the console-replacement option might let the Navy cross-deck sailors between the two variants, which cannot be done today.

Beyond these phase 1 upgrades, early phase 2 talks are looking at “everything from radar (upgrades) to directed energy to the Evolved SeaSparrow Missile or [Standard Missile]-2 via [vertical launching system],” he said.

Overall, he said the upgrade effort is moving the single-mission LCSs – where nearly all capability resided in the mission package – into more of a multi-warfare ship.

“As you get to L&S, you’re starting to see that capability go beyond where the core combat system is not just doing self-defense, it’s now augmenting the capabilities of the mission package. So when it was originally designed … those core systems would do self-defense, they would do communications, they would do basic husbandry. Now you’re going to have things like the over-the-horizon missile and greater capability with some of the other radar and EW systems; you’re going to create more of an asset in a multi-mission capability and really be able to do more, even when the SUW package is on there or the ASW,” DePietro said.
“I mean, think about what you get from having an NSM and then a Longbow Hellfire, and then a 57mm gun and then a 30mm gun and a helicopter that can reach around all of that. From a layered defense of SUW, that’s more pound for the punch than you’re ever going to get out of a DDG-51.”

Moton said preparations at NAVSEA are proceeding even amid some uncertainty about the timeline, which should become clearer as the Navy works through its 2021 budget request that comes out in February. Brown said he’d decide by the end of September which hulls will be among the first to be upgraded and what that upgrade plan might look like.

Surface Warfare Mission Package 

Moton, who previously served as the LCS mission package program manager from 2014 to 2016 and now is back to lead the entire PEO, said the surface warfare package is nearly complete.

The surface-to-surface missile module, which is the Longbow Hellfire anti-surface missile adapted to be vertically launched from a ship, will go out on USS Detroit (LCS-7) on its first deployment following a rapid integration process into the mission package.

“We did testing earlier this year, the [operational] testing – 79 missile shots, I think our success was extremely high, 71 shots I believe – so that went really well. So I’m excited. That’s a counter-[fast attack craft] capability like we don’t have on our ships,” he said, referring to the small swarming boat threat that the Navy faces in places like the Persian Gulf.

Separate testing on the Independence-variant hull is happening now, he said, with a structural test fire taking place over the summer.

“Over the last few weeks, we’ve had a ship out on the West Coast that’s been doing non-firing testing, kind of a TRACKEX and passing fire control data and all that. It’s going well. So we go into firing [developmental testing] here in not too long, and then to [operational testing] as well. Things are looking good for Indy variant,” he said.
“I’m excited about that – and there’s a little bit of personal excitement there, too, because two jobs ago when I was PMS 420 (mission module program manager), making sure that that was on track and getting all those plans – because, as you may remember, this was not our first missile for the plans, so getting all that on track for Longbow Hellfire was a lot of work, and the team did a great job executing.”

Once the Longbow Hellfire testing wraps up on the Independence-variant ships, the last remaining piece is to continue the transition of MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicles to the larger MQ-8C Fire Scout. Moton said the LCS has already done a lot of operations with the smaller Fire Scout, but once the whole package comes together – as well as the introduction of the over-the-horizon missile – “you get an unmanned aviation platform up there with the ability now to not only be eyes and ears for LCS but to also be eyes and ears for targeting information for OTH.”

Asked what he’d want people to know about the total capability of the surface warfare package, amid skepticism and criticism that the ship won’t pack enough punch, Moton said, “when the ship has the surface package on board, just the package alone, it brings a better counter-FAC/FIAC capability, better escort capability – not getting operational, but you look around the world, there’s lots of places where that would probably be useful, a couple in particular – it brings a better capability than we have anywhere else. Between the 57 and the 30mm guns and Longbow Hellfire, it is really supreme for that mission,” he said.

“By doing that, it allows us to relieve – always what LCS was in part designed to do, which is as a small combatant, is to relieve the larger combatants and the area [anti-air warfare] force of those missions.”

Mine Countermeasures Mission Package 

The aviation portion of the MCM package is mostly through testing and beginning to get at-sea runs in exercises and from vessels of opportunity, while the PEO continues to try to get to and through testing on the surface and undersea pieces of gear.

The MCM mission package takes a multi-pronged and multi-domain approach to finding, identifying and neutralizing mines. The Airborne Laser Mine Detection System and the Airborne Mine Neutralization System cover deeper waters, while the Coastal Battlefield Reconnaissance and Analysis (COBRA) works in the beach zone. A Knifefish unmanned underwater vehicle finds and identifies mines in a cluttered seafloor environment, while a Textron-made Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle is being leveraged to both pull an unmanned influence sweep system (UISS) as well as the towed AN/AQS-20C minehunting sonar.

Moton said the airborne pieces are certified to operate off the Independence-variant hulls and will go through Freedom-variant testing soon to ensure there are no integration issues with the hull design.

The aviation pieces are doing well enough that they’ve been used in at-sea tests, such as during this spring’s BALTOPS 2019 NATO exercise in the Baltic Sea. Moton said the feedback was very positive, especially on AMNS. The systems have also been used for vessel of opportunity (VOO) testing, such as aboard British auxiliary ship RFA Mounts Bay (L3008) in Virginia this spring.

Underwater, Knifefish hit Milestone C last week, clearing the way for low-rate initial production to begin.

For those systems that are through testing, Moton said the Navy is looking for more opportunities to test them on VOOs, not just LCSs, since the MCM divisions are still don’t have ships delivered and through their post-shakedown availabilities.

Later this month, “we’re going to take some of the systems, Knifefish, and we’re going to do some launch and recover and some ops testing off of the ESBs,” he said, adding that expeditionary sea base USNS HershelWoody” Williams (T-ESB-4) would conduct the testing.

Asked about efforts to get the fleet used to the new MCM gear that’s drastically different than legacy systems, Moton said, “we’re trying: we use the fleet as much as we can, and the VOO opportunities are good and we’re doing things there. But also we just need to finish our testing and we need to deliver.”

To that end, he said UISS is doing well in its developmental testing. In a recent visit to San Diego, Moton said he watched launch and recovery integration testing aboard USS Independence (LCS-2).

MCM USV – the Navy’s new name for the Textron CUSV towing the Q-20 sonar – is also doing well and will begin its testing in FY 2020.

Moton again noted the need to “focus on job number-one here, which is to finish getting through fielding.”

Anti-Submarine Warfare Mission Package 

The sub-hunting package includes a variable-depth sonar and a multi-function towed array for active and passive listening.

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) is undergoing modifications now to accommodate the towed systems – chiefly, a hole in the stern door to allow for VDS operations – and will begin developmental testing in the coming months, followed by operational testing.

Unlike the MCM mission package, there’s less appetite to try to get the gear on VOOs to help build up crew familiarity with the gear – MFTA already being fielded, but VDS being new to the Navy.

“ASW is the harder one; because of the nature of the ship mods, the concept of doing ASW on a vessel of opportunity – I don’t want to say that that’s not something we would look at, because it’s still a modular package, but it’s probably harder,” Moton said.

An undated photo of a Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile in flight. Kongsberg Photo

An undated photo of a Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile in flight. Kongsberg Photo

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) maneuvers to deter an unmanned vessel during a small boat attack exercise on July 26, 2019. Gabrielle Giffords is conducting routine operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. US Navy Photo

USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) maneuvers to deter an unmanned vessel during a small boat attack exercise on July 26, 2019. Gabrielle Giffords is conducting routine operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. US Navy Photo

Manchester (LCS-14) rests in the Port of Los Angeles during a scheduled visit for LA Fleet Week on Aug. 31, 2018. US Navy Photo

Manchester (LCS-14) rests in the Port of Los Angeles during a scheduled visit for LA Fleet Week on Aug. 31, 2018. US Navy Photo

The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) conducted a live-fire missile exercise off the coast of Virginia May 11, firing four longbow hellfire missiles that successfully struck fast inshore attack craft targets. US Navy photo.

The Freedom-variant littoral combat ship USS Milwaukee (LCS 5)
conducted a live-fire missile exercise off the coast of Virginia May 11, firing four longbow hellfire missiles that successfully struck fast inshore attack craft targets. US Navy photo.

Maintainers from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) analyze diagnostics from the MQ-8C Fire Scout on the flight deck of the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) on June 21, 2018. US Navy photo

Maintainers from Air Test and Evaluation Squadron 1 (VX-1) analyze diagnostics from the MQ-8C Fire Scout on the flight deck of the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) on June 21, 2018. US Navy photo

Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle testing. Textron Systems photo.

Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle testing. Textron Systems photo.

Crew members from Task Group 56.1 launch a MK 18 MOD 2 unmanned underwater vehicle from a rigid-hull inflatable boat during Squadex 2016, on Aug. 2, 2016, in the Persian Gulf. Squadex 2016 demonstrates U.S./U.K. mine detection capabilities in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. US Navy photo.

Crew members from Task Group 56.1 launch a MK 18 MOD 2 unmanned underwater vehicle from a rigid-hull inflatable boat during Squadex 2016, on Aug. 2, 2016, in the Persian Gulf. Squadex 2016 demonstrates U.S./U.K. mine detection capabilities in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. US Navy photo.

USS Independence (LCS-2) sails in the eastern Pacific on Feb. 27, 2019. US Navy Photo

USS Independence (LCS-2) sails in the eastern Pacific on Feb. 27, 2019. US Navy Photo

The State of LCS: Navy Pushing More Ships to Sea This Fall as Class Matures

By: Megan Eckstein

September 5, 2019 3:42 PM • Updated: September 6, 2019 9:15 AM

Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Kerri Corcoran, assigned to the Independence-class littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS-8), prepares to throw out a line while a tug boat comes alongside Montgomery to escort it into Davao City, Philippines on June 29, 2019. US Navy Photo

This is the first of a two-part series on the current state of the Littoral Combat Ship program.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – Five years from now, there may be as many Littoral Combat Ships deployed as there are destroyers. 

The ships are here now and only growing in footprint: that’s the message the head of the surface force is repeating, trying to capture the attention of anyone for whom the words “Littoral Combat Ship” brings to mind limited deployments and mission package development delays.

“LCS is mainstreamed. It equals the ability to deploy of our DDGs,” Vice Adm. Richard Brown told USNI News in a recent interview at Naval Surface Forces headquarters.

In just a few years, he explained, the Navy will have 66 LCS crews to support 38 LCS hulls in their deployments, training and testing activities. This compares to 68 destroyer crews today. While the LCS program won’t rival DDGs in terms of percentage of manpower – the LCS has a much smaller crew – the LCS’s much higher operational availability means it’s conceivable that as many LCSs may be on deployments as destroyers at any given time.

USS Montgomery (LCS-8) is deployed in the Western Pacific today. A second Independence-variant hull, USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), deployed earlier this week, from San Diego to WESTPAC like its sister ship earlier this week, a Navy official confirmed to USNI News on Friday. Defense News first reported the deployment. Freedom-variant USS Detroit (LCS-7) will deploy from Mayport, Fla., later this year to U.S. Southern Command, and USS Little Rock (LCS-9) is also working up for the next deployment from Florida.

Beyond that, a handful LCSs have been operating off San Diego and in the greater U.S. 3rd Fleet area of operations, conducting not only testing and training activities but also actual surface warfare and maritime domain awareness operations, Program Executive Officer for Unmanned and Small Combatants Rear Adm. Casey Moton told USNI News in a separate recent interview at Washington Navy Yard.

“We were in a stage of just a few ships, pretty intense focus … on an individual ship deploying to an individual spot,” Moton said of the status of the program when he left in 2016 as the captain in charge of mission package development. He returned this summer as the rear admiral in charge of the LCS shipbuilding and mission package development, as well as unmanned boats and frigates.
“And so I come back, and things have progressed. We are 19 ships delivered; four this year, I think, two or three left to go. A big change there. … We are now firmly into executing the LCS plan, the fleet plan, in terms of both the ships getting out there in their (training and deployment) cycles, getting the crews certified. … It’s in a different mode. The ships are out there; we are now putting them to good use and doing what we always hoped.”

That three ships will be deployed overseas by the end of the calendar year is certainly a far cry from the program’s history. USS Freedom (LCS-1) deployed once in 2013. USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) deployed in late 2014 and suffered a propulsion system failure in early 2016, sidelining the ship for the final stretch of its planned 16-month deployment. USS Coronado (LCS-4) deployed in 2016, suffering an early engineering casualty that forced repairs in Hawaii but then operating for about 14 months out of Singapore. USS Independence (LCS-2) never conducted an overseas deployment and likely never will, under the current deployment model.

Though the ship class got off to a slow operational start, including zero deployments in 2018, Brown said it’s moving in the right direction to achieve the vision for LCS: ships forward-deployed to Bahrain in the Middle East and Singapore in WESTPAC, with potentially other smaller hubs set up on more of an expeditionary basis; blue and gold crews rotating to keep the hulls forward for two years at a time; and the surface warfare and mine countermeasures mission packages allowing LCS to replace the legacy Cyclone-class patrol ships and Avenger-class MCMs. 

With the reboot of LCS operations – which began when Montgomery deployed without any public or congressional notification in late May, part of a U.S. Pacific Fleet tamp-down on discussing operations – Brown said there will likely always be multiple LCSs on deployment going forward, starting this fall.

To support the boom in LCS activity, Brown is closely monitoring the personnel side of the program and making small adjustments to keep manning on track, he told USNI News. Earlier this summer, he said, he brought LCS program leaders out to Navy Personnel Command headquarters in Tennessee to make sure everyone was on the same page about the LCS training pipeline and timeline being different than other surface combatants.

Under the Career Management System/Interactive Detailing process, Brown said, the Bureau of Naval Personnel can identify a replacement for a DDG sailor and get that new person trained up in time to report to a ship. That’s not the case for LCS, because the training pipeline sits at about 15 to 18 months, longer than the CMS/ID process.

Brown said SURFOR and BUPERS are working closely together to understand the complexities of getting the right sailors assigned to the right ships at the right time. It’ll be more of a challenge than other ship classes, he conceded: after a 2016 overhaul of the LCS fleet, the ships are broken up into divisions in San Diego and Mayport based on hull variant, and then further broken up into divisions based on the warfighting area they’ll conduct – surface warfare, mine countermeasures or anti-submarine warfare. That means there is a maximum of three hulls and therefore six crews that will be identical. The composition of a crew is slightly different from a Freedom-variant ship doing surface warfare compared to a Freedom-variant doing MCM, for example, and the detailing and training will need to reflect that. The crew on a division’s training ship will be larger and more experienced than the crew of a deploying ship, and LCSs 1-4 will remain stateside to conduct mission package testing, creating even a different manning requirement.

The good news is that that complex setup of divisions and blue/gold crews means the LCS fleet should reach an operational availability (Ao) of .56 – meaning the ships will be available for fleet tasking more than half the time, and also more than double the rate of destroyers. The bad news is that it will be a bear for the manning community to ensure that all the right sailors with the right training show up to rotating crews at the right time.

“What’s particularly challenging in LCS, it’s 100-percent fit/fill. So you get 100 percent of the crew, and that’s how you’re going to deploy that crew,” Brown said.

But with only three ships per coast that have similar crews, “you can’t necessarily go and get a, if you have to do a manning action because something happened, to go get a sailor from an (mine warfare) ship and put it on (a surface warfare ship), because he won’t have the same training profile. So that’s what is a little bit more challenging than a destroyer or a cruiser; there’s a lot of commonality between the cruisers and the destroyers that makes it a little bit easier from a manning aspect. So we really have to keep an eye on the manning for the LCS.”

With LCS crews already being so small, “the fact of the matter is they won’t go forward without being 100/100” fit/fill, Brown said, so the manning has to be handled just right to support all the planned deployments.

SURFOR is now getting into manning ships in the mine countermeasures division and is learning more about what it takes to man the MCM hulls and train the sailors to work the still-in-development mission package.

Brown said he’s also carefully watching crew training, as they fine-tune what advanced training for LCSs will look like ahead of deployments. He said basic phase training is going well in accordance with the LCS training manual, with both the blue and gold crews for Montgomery and Giffords all certified.

“We even took it one step further, we provided all four crews advanced training in a SWATT-like event,” he said, referring to the Surface Warfare Advanced Tactical Training events hosted by the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center.
Montgomery’s blue was a SWATT that was done with another LCS. Montgomery gold and Gabrielle Giffordsgold was a full-on SWATT that was done with the [Theodore Roosevelt] strike group’s ships. So we have this gamut of advanced training, and we’re trying to make sure that we get the advanced training correct for LCS, recognizing that LCS is not a carrier strike group asset. LCS is designed to operate in support of carrier strike groups, and they’re single-mission ships. So we have to make sure we give them the right advanced and integrated training, given the unique circumstances and the capabilities of the ship and the crew.”

Brown noted that the Montgomery gold crew conducted its advanced training aboard USS Omaha (LCS-12), currently designated as the division’s training ship while former trainer USS Jackson (LCS-6) undergoes maintenance. This was the first time the training ship has actually served as a training platform for a crew while its assigned ship was already deployed forward, which Brown touted as another win for executing the new LCS model.

“That vision that was developed back in 2016, for the first time we actually implemented it last month. We said we were going to do it, and we went and did it,” he said, noting that Montgomery gold will replace the blue crew later this fall, while the ship hull remains operating forward in WESTPAC.

Another challenge to reaching the full vision of the fleet of LCSs operating forward is ensuring the ships reach sufficient reliability and maintainability.

Brown said he’s still learning a lot here, since the first four LCS hulls are considered to be prototypes, and builders Austal USA and Lockheed Martin didn’t begin serial production of the ships until hulls 5 and 6. With LCSs 5 and 6 just a year or so out of their post-shakedown availabilities, and a lot of maintenance and reliability lessons not learned until the ships are out of PSA, fully owned by the fleet and operated extensively, Brown said his staff and Moton’s staff at PEO USC are still learning a lot about what’s likely to break.

“Now we’re starting to get a really good sense of the material condition of the ships, and the material condition is really good. But you always have problems – this breaks over here, that breaks over there – and now as 5, 7, 9 are all operating, we’re starting to see, okay, we need to go back and stock more of these types of parts, we need to make sure we have training in place for these types of systems.”

Moton told USNI News that there’s just now a critical mass of LCS at-sea activity to begin really seeing how his office can help improve reliability and maintainability of the ships.

Two of his program offices “have a forum called Top Technical Issues … basically it’s a robust process for monitoring failure data, material data, for getting crew feedback, looking at [casualty reports]. I have had a chance to see what the team has done, and they have done a lot of analysis. Some of the ones that have caused us more reliability issues on the ship, they are attacking design issues, those kinds of things. And we are getting that stuff implemented.”

Moton said the top challenges, as is the case with most new classes of ships, are related to the main propulsion and auxiliary systems. He said those tend to be the hardest systems to learn to operate and maintain, but “what I see in the metrics so far is a leveling off” of urgent response issues – meaning something broke – and instead more of a focus on routine ship maintenance and support.

“I want to improve the reliability and maintainability of LCS. And that statement isn’t me sort of making any indictments on the ship or anything, it’s just a matter of fact. It’s still a new class, we’re getting feedback,” Moton said.
“There had been some particular areas that have caused more failures than others. The design piece is already good, but I’m pushing the team right now, in the early stages, to go also look at just making sure as we step up that we’ve got the supply inventory correct; clearly we own part of that problem, but just helping out the rest of the Navy, [Naval Supply Systems Command], the fleet, on parts. Making sure that the crews and the [Regional Maintenance Centers] and the contractors on the LCS plan have the ability to do everything they need to do for their corrective maintenance and preventative maintenance. Just like we would get feedback on specific failures, we’re actually getting a lot of feedback like the crew saying, if I had just had this special tool, then I could have fixed it maybe quicker than we could have gotten a contractor there. And it’s a small crew, so we’re not trying to put that workload on them, but I don’t think there’s any harm in giving them that capability (to make repairs themselves). So there’s a lessons learned process both on the technical side but also on the support side. And I’m pushing that pretty hard.”

Though there’s still work to do, and several years to go, before the LCS program reaches its full capacity of deploying three divisions’ worth of ships from both coasts on a routine basis, Brown said he’s pleased to see the class on the right track.

“Really what we want to ramp up to is the hull is forward-deployed for 24 months (compared to the current 18), and then you get a number of deployments out of the crews. Then, once that happens, then the manning construct on the ships is able to mainstream through the CMS/ID system as we make the adjustments for the length of the training for the LCS crews. The maintenance engineering teams, the METs, are all built and funded. And so everything that we envisioned actually comes through,” Brown said.
“We still have a number of years, I think, to go before that is completely true – we’re going to start building the METs next year and then they’ll probably be built out by Fiscal Year ‘22, and then we’ll be able to start backing off the contractor maintenance and then have the METs do the maintenance. The hulls are delivering at pace, so within five years they’ll all be delivered and we’ll have 66 crews. That’s mainstreamed right there. And then we’ll start reaching the Ao of .56. We’ve got it.”

USS Pinckney (DDG 91), front, and the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Omaha (LCS-12) transit the Pacific Ocean on July 19, 2019. US Navy Photo

USS Pinckney (DDG 91), front, and the Independence-variant littoral combat ship USS Omaha (LCS-12) transit the Pacific Ocean on July 19, 2019. US Navy Photo

USS Montgomery (LCS-8) arrives in the port of Tanjung Perak as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2019 on July 31, 2019. US Navy Photo

USS Montgomery (LCS-8) arrives in the port of Tanjung Perak as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Indonesia 2019 on July 31, 2019. US Navy Photo

Freedom-class littoral combat ships USS Sioux City (LCS-11) and USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) moor alongside one another during a nesting evolution on Naval Station Mayport, Fla. on March 25, 2019. US Navy Photo

Freedom-class littoral combat ships USS Sioux City (LCS-11) and USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) moor alongside one another during a nesting evolution on Naval Station Mayport, Fla. on March 25, 2019. US Navy Photo

Vice Adm. Richard Brown, Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, addresses Sailors assigned to USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) on Aug. 26, 2019. US Navy Photo

Vice Adm. Richard Brown, Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, addresses Sailors assigned to USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10) on Aug. 26, 2019. US Navy Photo

A view of the Marinette Marine shipyard from the Menominee River as the future littoral combat ships USS Billings (LCS 15), left, and USS Indianapolis (LCS 17) are moored in front of USS St. Louis (LCS 19), before St. Louis’ christening, Dec. 15, 2018. US Navy photo.

A view of the Marinette Marine shipyard from the Menominee River as the future littoral combat ships USS Billings (LCS 15), left, and USS Indianapolis (LCS 17) are moored in front of USS St. Louis (LCS 19), before St. Louis’ christening, Dec. 15, 2018. US Navy photo.

USS Wichita (LCS-13) conducts acceptance trials on Lake Michigan on July 11, 2018. Lockheed Martin Photo

USS Wichita (LCS-13) conducts acceptance trials on Lake Michigan on July 11, 2018. Lockheed Martin Photo

Littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) transits the Bohol Sea on June, 22 2017, US Navy Photo

Littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) transits the Bohol Sea on June, 22 2017, US Navy Photo

2nd Fleet Orders Ships Out of Hampton Roads Ahead of Hurricane Dorian

By: Ben Werner

September 4, 2019 7:17 PM

USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) departs Naval Station Norfolk, Va. as Commander, U.S. 2nd Fleet orders U.S. Navy ships and aircraft in the area to sortie on Sept. 4 ahead of Hurricane Dorian. US Navy Photo

U.S. 2nd Fleet sortied all Hampton Roads-based ships and aircraft that could leave on Wednesday ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Dorian. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the National Hurricane Center predicted the Hampton Roads region of Virginia would start experiencing the outer edges of the storm on Thursday.

“Based on the current track of the storm, we made the decision to begin to sortie our Hampton Roads-based ships and aircraft,” Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, commander of U.S. 2nd Fleet, said in a statement on Wednesday. “This allows time for our assets to transit safely out of the path of the storm.”

Not every ship in the region can depart due to ongoing maintenance work. The crews of these ships are adding additional mooring and storm lines, dropping anchor and disconnecting power cables, the Navy said.

All told, 23 ships left Hampton Roads Wednesday and 20 ships remained in port, according to 2nd Fleet officials.

Some Hampton Roads-based ships were already underway. USS Bataan (LHD-5) was operating off the North Carolina coast, conducting an Amphibious Ready Group/Marine Expeditionary Unit Exercise.

Aircraft are either relocating to alternate airfields away from the storm or being secured in hangars at Norfolk’s Chambers Field and Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia Beach that are rated to withstand wind greater than what’s anticipated.

At the same time, Rear Adm. Charles Rock, the commander of Navy Region Mid-Atlantic, ordered Tropical Cyclone Conditions of Readiness Three for Hampton Roads. Staff is removing large items from waterfront areas, clearing debris from drainage areas, sandbagging and ensuring emergency generators are topped off with fuel, according to a Navy release.

The following ships departed from Hampton Roads on Wednesday:

USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74),
USS Eisenhower (CVN-69),
USS New York (LPD-21),
USS San Jacinto (CG-56),
USS Philippine Sea (CG-58),
USS Normandy (CG-60),
USS Vella Gulf (CG-72),
USS Gravely (DDG-107),
USS Mahan (DDG-72),
USS Truxtun (DDG-103),
USS Stout (DDG-55),
USS James E. Williams (DDG-95)
USS Forrest Sherman (DDG-98),
USS Winston S. Churchill (DDG-81),
USS Billings (LCS-15),
USS Milwaukee (LCS-5),
USS Sioux City (LCS-11),
USS Albany (SSN-753),
USS John Warner (SSN-785),
USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS-60),
USNS William McLean (T-AKE-12),
USNS Hershel Williams (T-ESB-4),
HNLMS De Ruyter (F804),

The following ships remain heavy weather moored in port due to ongoing maintenance:

USS Harry. S. Truman (CVN-75)
USS George H. W. Bush (CVN-77)
USS Normandy (CG-60),
USS Laboon (DDG-58),
USS Cole (DDG-67),
USS Oscar Austin (DDG-79),
USS Whidbey Island (LSD-41),
USS Arlington (LPD-24),
USS Kearsarge (LHD-3),
USS Tortuga (LSD-46),
USS San Antonio (LPD-17),
USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19),
USS La Jolla (SSN-701),
USNS Apache (T-ATF-172)
USS Boise (SSN-764)
USNS Black Powder (T-AGSE-1)
USNS West Wind (T-AGSE-2)
USS Wyoming (SSBN- 742)
USS San Francisco (SSN- 711)
USNS Del Monte (T-AK-5049)


Funds for Navy Repair Facilities, European Defense Initiative Shifted to Border Wall

By: Sam LaGrone

September 4, 2019 6:57 PM • Updated: September 4, 2019 10:34 PM

The aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) is dry-docked at Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY) in Portsmouth, Virginia, on April 23, 2019. US Navy Photo

This post has been updated with a Pentagon statement.

Navy repair facilities in Virginia and Washington State, planned port improvements for U.S. ships in Spain and a new treatment center for working dogs in Guantanamo Bay are among the military construction projects that will have their funds rerouted to build $3.6 billion in barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border.

On Tuesday, Secretary of the Defense Mark Esper presented Congress a list of 127 military construction projects at U.S. and overseas bases that would have funding deferred to build additional border barriers.

Esper “has determined that such construction projects are necessary to support the use of the armed forces, and, therefore, DOD will undertake 11 border barrier military construction projects on the southern border pursuant to section 2808 of Title X, U.S. Code,” according to Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman.

The funds will be transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers, which will oversee the construction of a total of 175 miles of border barriers.

For the Navy, projects being postponed to pay for the border barrier include $88.9 million for a submarine pier and maintenance facility at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor. That upgrade project would allow all three Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarines to be homeported in Washington, Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-Wash.) told The Seattle Times in March.

In Virginia, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth would lose $26.1 million for a new ship maintenance facility and $22.5 million for a hazardous materials warehouse.

The shipyard is in the midst of a glut of work to repair the East Coast’s nuclear aircraft carriers and submarines with infrastructure that’s more than a century old. Refurbishing the yard has been a major focus of Naval Sea Systems Command as the Navy has struggled to catch up with almost two decades of deferred maintenance.

“Pulling funding from the military makes our nation less safe and more vulnerable,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.) said in a statement. “Peak military readiness, critical modernization projects, and disaster recovery are top national security priorities in Hampton Roads and beyond.”

NAVSEA referred all questions to the Office of the Secretary of Defense when contacted by USNI News on Wednesday.

“No projects with an award date in FY2019 were selected for deferment. This enabled DoD to request funding for the projects under Section 2906 of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2020. If that is enacted into law by Congress, and funds are appropriated consistent with that provision, there should be little to no effect on the construction timeline on those projects,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Chris Mitchell said in a statement to USNI News.
“Section 2906 would authorize funding to backfill the funds needed to undertake the deferred projects, and since none of the deferred military construction projects have been awarded, the funds authorized by section 2906 should mitigate the length of delays moving forward.”

In North Carolina, Marines will have to defer the construction of a $25.5-million facility at Camp Lejeune for a signals intelligence and electronic warfare unit. Under a previous effort from former commandant Gen. Robert Neller, the Marines have pushed to increase the service’s capabilities in those areas.

Overseas, the deferments have targeted $26.3 million for a fleet maintenance facility in Bahrain. The headquarters of U.S. 5th Fleet there will become a forward hub for the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship fleet in the coming years.

In Rota, Spain, $21.6 million for port operations facilities as part of the Pentagon’s European Deterrence Initiative is being deferred. Rota is home to four U.S. guided-missile destroyers that are a key component of the ballistic missile defense plan in the region. $66 million in EDI funds for P-8A Poseidon airfield upgrades at Naval Air Station Sigonella, Italy, and $47 million in facilities at Souda Bay, Greece, have also been tapped for barrier funds.

The list also includes $9.08 million for a replacement to the working dog treatment facility at Naval Station Guantanamo, Cuba.


Navy, Coast Guard Prepare Florida For Hurricane Dorian

By: Ben Werner

August 30, 2019 1:32 PM

Sailors assigned to the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD 43) heave line on Naval Station Mayport in preparation for Hurricane Dorian. Navy photo.

With Hurricane Dorian bearing down on Florida’s Atlantic coast, the Navy is sending ships and aircraft away from the expected storm track while the Coast Guard is warning commercial and recreational sailors to secure their crafts.

The commander of Navy Region Southeast ordered all Navy installations in the Mayport area to set Tropical Cyclone Condition of Readiness Three. This readiness setting means the Navy expects sustained destructive winds of greater than 50 knots associated with a tropical system to arrive within 48 hours.

Friday morning, the National Hurricane Center predicted Hurricane Dorian would strengthen into a major hurricane before making landfall on Florida’s Atlantic coast late Monday or Tuesday. It’s too early to predict where the storm will hit. However, the hurricane center expects most of Florida and much of Georgia and South Carolina will experience strong winds, heavy rain and a storm surge.

“Our top priority must always be the safety and security of our ships and aircraft, as well as our sailors and families. We move our ships and aircraft in order to mitigate potential damage. When maintenance status prevents storm avoidance, we take extra precautions to best protect these units,” Rear Adm. Don Gabrielson, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command and U.S. 4th Fleet, said in a statement.

Cyclone-class patrol boat USS Shamal (PC-13) got underway Thursday, while Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Lassen (DDG-82), USS Paul Ignatius (DDG-117) and USS Farragut (DDG-99) prepared to depart Naval Station Mayport on Friday. Littoral Combat Ships USS Billings (LCS-15) and USS Milwaukee(LCS-5) also prepared to leave on Friday, according to U.S. 4th Fleet.

Meanwhile, several ships are remaining in Mayport, and their crews are securing them ahead of the storm. Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG-66) and destroyers USS Roosevelt (DDG-80), USS The Sullivans (DDG-68) and USS Thomas Hudner (DDG-116) will ride out the storm in port. Whidby Island-class dock landing ship USS Fort McHenry (LSD-43), Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Iwo Jima (LHD-7) and Littoral Combat Ships USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9) will also remain in Mayport, according to 4th Fleet.

For ships remaining in Mayport, crews can take various actions to secure the vessels, such as connecting additional mooring and storm lines, dropping anchor and disconnecting power cables.

Nearby, at Naval Air Station Jacksonville, six squadrons from Patrol and Reconnaissance Wing Eleven (CPRW-11) and Patrol Squadron (VP) 30 are evacuating to other locations throughout the southeast and mid-Atlantic, according to the Navy. Aircraft that cannot evacuate due to maintenance will be moved to hangars to ride out the storm.

The Coast Guard on Thursday started warning commercial shippers to prepare their vessels to leave Florida ports ahead of the storm’s arrival. In the Jacksonville area, the Coast Guard alerted mariners that bridges crossing the St. Johns River and Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway will be locked eight hours before the hurricane’s anticipated landfall. Recreational boaters were warned to stay off the water and secure their boats.


GAO Report on Navy Frigate Program

August 12, 2019 9:46 PM

The following is the Aug. 9, 2019 Government Accountability Office report, Guided Missile Frigate: Navy Has Taken Steps to Reduce Acquisition Risk, but Opportunities Exist to Improve Knowledge for Decision Makers.

From the report

What GAO Found

The Navy undertook a conceptual design phase for the FFG(X) Guided Missile Frigate program that enabled industry to inform FFG(X) requirements, identify opportunities for cost savings, and mature different ship designs. The Navy also streamlined the FFG(X) acquisition approach in an effort to accelerate the timeline for delivering the ships to the fleet. As shown in the figure, however, the Navy has requested funding for the FFG(X) lead ship even though it has yet to complete key cost estimation activites, such as an independent cost estimate, to validate the credibility of cost expectations. Department of Defense (DOD) cost estimators told GAO the timeline for completing the independent cost estimate is uncertain. Specifically, they stated that this estimate will not be finalized until the Navy communicates to them which FFG(X) design is expected to receive the contract award. GAO-identified best practices call for requisite cost knowledge to be available to inform resource decisions and contract awards.

The Navy plans to use a fixed-price incentive contract for FFG(X) detail design and construction. This is a notable departure from prior Navy surface combatant programs that used higher-risk cost-reimbursement contracts for lead ship construction. The Navy also plans to require that each ship has a minimum guaranty of $5 million to correct shipbuilder-responsible defects identified in the 18 months following ship delivery. However, Navy officials discounted the potential use of a warranty—another mechanism to address the correction of shipbuilder defects—stating that their use could negatively affect shipbuilding cost and reduce competition for the contract award. The Navy provided no analysis to support these claims and has not demonstrated why the use of warranties is not a viable option. The Navy’s planned use of guarantees helps ensure the FFG(X) shipbuilder is responsible for correcting defects up to a point, but guarantees generally do not provide the same level of coverage as warranties. GAO found in March 2016 that the use of a guaranty did not help improve cost or quality outcomes for the ships reviewed. GAO also found the use of a warranty in commercial shipbuilding and certain Coast Guard ships improves cost and quality outcomes by requiring the shipbuilders to pay to repair defects. The FFG(X) request for proposal offers the Navy an opportunity to solicit pricing for a warranty to assess the cost-effectiveness of the different mechanisms to address ship defects.


Newest Littoral Combat Ship USS Billings Joins The Fleet

By: Ben Werner

August 5, 2019 6:25 PM

Naval Air Station Key West color guard parades the colors during the commissioning ceremony of USS Billings (LCS-15). Billings is the 17th littoral combat ship to enter the fleet and the eighth of the Freedom-variant. Navy photo

The Navy commissioned USS Billings (LCS-15) at a ceremony in Key West, Fla., over the weekend, adding the eighth Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ship to fleet.Billings, built by Lockheed Martin, is the Navy’s 17th LCS commissioned by the Navy. However, Billings ran into some difficulty arriving at its commissioning ceremony.

In June, after leaving the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin, Billings collided with a moored bulk carrier Rosaire Desgagnes in the St. Lawrence River near Montreal, Canada. Billings was steaming to its new homeport of Mayport, Fla.

Billings’ CO Cmdr. Michael Johnson was relieved of command following the incident, and Cmdr. Nate Rowan, who had served as the commanding officer of USS Wichita (LCS-13), took command of the newest LCS.

“Having now commanded two Freedom-class LCS variants, I would like to report that these ships are truly impressive and will fit well in the niche they have been designed for,” Rowan said during the commissioning ceremony, according to a release from Lockheed Martin. “They are fast, maneuverable, and their weapon systems are some of the most accurate I’ve witnessed on any platform of which I’ve previously served.”

The LCS is designed to operate close to shore in shallow water. The Navy is in the process of increasing the lethality of the Freedom variants. In June, the Navy tested firing Hellfire anti-surface missiles from a Freedom variant.

“The USS Billings is a highly maneuverable, lethal, and adaptable force to be reckoned with,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said in a statement. “It’ll represent Montana and our nation proudly in the water by defending us around the world. At a time of new global threats and challenges, these naval capabilities provide critical support to our men and women in uniform who work to keep us safe.”

Tester is the ranking member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. His wife Sharla is Billings’ sponsor.

The Navy currently has nine Independence-variant LCS in its fleet. Austal USA builds the Independence-variant at its Mobile, Ala., shipyard.


Report to Congress on U.S. Navy Ship Names

July 24, 2019 8:19 AM

The following is the July 22, 2019 Congressional Research Service report, Navy Ship Names: Background for Congress.

From the report

Names for Navy ships traditionally have been chosen and announced by the Secretary of the Navy, under the direction of the President and in accordance with rules prescribed by Congress. Rules for giving certain types of names to certain types of Navy ships have evolved over time. There have been exceptions to the Navy’s ship-naming rules, particularly for the purpose of naming a ship for a person when the rule for that type of ship would have called for it to be named for something else. Some observers have perceived a breakdown in, or corruption of, the rules for naming Navy ships. On July 13, 2012, the Navy submitted to Congress a 73-page report on the Navy’s policies and practices for naming ships.

For ship types now being procured for the Navy, or recently procured for the Navy, naming rules can be summarized as follows:

  • The first Ohio replacement ballistic missile submarine (SSBN-826) has been named Columbia in honor of the District of Columbia, but the Navy has not stated what the naming rule for these ships will be.

  • Virginia (SSN-774) class attack submarines are being named for states.

  • Aircraft carriers are generally named for past U.S. Presidents. Of the past 14, 10 were named for past U.S. Presidents, and 2 for Members of Congress.

  • Destroyers are being named for deceased members of the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, including Secretaries of the Navy.

  • The Navy has not yet announced a naming rule for its planned new class of FFG(X) frigates, the first of which the Navy wants to procure in FY2021. Previous classes of U.S. Navy frigates, like Navy destroyers, were generally named for naval leaders and heroes.

  • Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) are being named for regionally important U.S. cities and communities.

  • Amphibious assault ships are being named for important battles in which U.S. Marines played a prominent part, and for famous earlier U.S. Navy ships that were not named for battles.

  • San Antonio (LPD-17) class amphibious ships are being named for major U.S. cities and communities, and cities and communities attacked on September 11, 2001.

  • John Lewis (TAO-205) class oilers are being named for people who fought for civil rights and human rights.

  • Expeditionary Fast Transports (EPFs) are being named for small U.S. cities.

  • Expeditionary Transport Docks (ESDs) and Expeditionary Sea Bases (ESBs) are being named for famous names or places of historical significance to U.S. Marines.

  • Navajo (TATS-6) class towing, salvage, and rescue ships are being named for prominent Native Americans or Native American tribes.