10/1/2016
The Way Ahead
Navy Adjusts LCS Class Crewing, Readiness and Employment

The Navy announced in September it will

implement several changes to the projected 28-ship littoral combat ship (LCS) class over the next five years as a measure to simplify crewing, stabilize testing and increase forward presence. The decision to implement these changes results from a comprehensive review of the LCS program earlier this year.

On Feb. 29, 2016, a joint memo from the Chief of Naval Operations and Assistance Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition directed the establishment of a LCS Review Team. The team was headed by Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces.

While analyzing data from all facets of the ships’ operations, it became clear to the review team that the LCS crewing construct is the most influential variable impacting the other factors of manning, training, maintenance, and – most importantly – operations forward. Therefore, one of the key changes to the program will be establishing a Blue/Gold Plus crew concept to promote maximum forward presence, while improving program stability, simplicity, and crew ownership.

“The thing we’ve learned as we have operated this class of ship is it takes continual assessment,” said Rowden. “You have to have continual feedback from the crews, the ships, and fleet commanders to determine what works and what doesn’t work.”

Beginning this fall, the Navy will start phasing out the 3:2:1 crewing construct and transition to the Blue/Gold Plus 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 and focus on a single warfare area – either surface warfare (SUW), mine warfare (MCM) or anti-submarine warfare (ASW). “These 70 Sailors are a combination of what was previously known as the ‘core’ crew and ‘mission module’ crew. They will now be one crew focused on one mission,” Rowden said.

 

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The reorganization still allows the LCS class to retain the technological benefits of modularity and the ability to swap mission packages quickly if needed. For stability, aviation detachments will deploy with the same LCS crew moving forward, but maintain assignment with their respective squadrons in home port.

With the new crewing concept, 24 of the 28 LCS ships will create three divisions of four ships operating on both coasts. These divisions will come to fruition as the Navy eventually homeports 12 Independence-variant ships in San Diego and 12 Freedom-variant ships in Mayport, Florida. Few homeport shifts will be needed since only seven LCSs are currently commissioned. The rest are under contract, in construction or in a pre-commissioned unit status.

Each division will have a single warfare focus and will be headed by a major command captain identical in stature to officers commanding guided missile cruisers, amphibious transportation docks ships, destroyer squadrons, or amphibious assault ships. Each division will consist of three Blue/Gold Plus-crewed ships that deploy overseas. One ship in each division will be designated as the “training ship,” manned by a single crew comprised of subject-matter-expert LCS Sailors.

“These training ships will be charged with knowing their mission, training to their mission and training and certifying the remaining six crews in their division,” said Rowden.

To simplify and stabilize the ongoing testing and evaluation program, the first four ships in the in class, LCS 1 through LCS 4, shift as dedicated, single-crewed testing ships, whose main mission will be to satisfy near and long-term testing requirements for the entire LCS class without affecting ongoing deployment rotations. Like the training ships, these testing ships could be deployed as fleet assets if needed on a limited basis.

“These crews will be focused on the testing requirements for the program,” Rowden said. This focused approach accommodates spiral development and rapid deployment of emerging weapons and delivery systems to the fleet without disrupting operational schedules. “One of the values of the modularity is that we can modernize the modules independent of the ships, test them independent of the operational ships and then, at the appropriate time, try and install those modernized modules,” he continued.

To foster increased ownership, Maintenance Execution Teams will be established within the division structure. These teams, comprised of LCS Sailors, will augment the ship crews within the division in the execution of both preventive and corrective maintenance. Finally, as the number of forward operating stations grows to support our ships overseas, Forward Liaison Elements will be established to support our LCSs in their areas of operations.

Lastly, the Blue/Gold Plus model also simplifies 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.

Implementing these changes now, as more LCSs are scheduled for commissioning through the coming years, will ultimately allow the Navy to deploy more ships in a given period and result in an increase to the overall forward presence. The Blue/Gold Plus model allows three out of four ships to be available for deployment compared with the current one out of two ships under the 3:2:1 model.

"As we implement these changes, we will continue to make adjustments and improvements based on evolving fleet requirements and technological developments," said Rowden. "Implementing the approved recommendations from this review and continuing to examine other areas for improvement will better position the LCS program for success - both now and in the future."

The findings and recommendations of the LCS review enables the LCS program to become more survivable, lethal and adaptable as the LCS become regular workhorses in the fleet.

“Recent decisions by the Chief of Naval Operations to move the LCS program forward in an exciting new direction reinforce my belief in the LCS program and its promising future,” Rowden said.

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