08 June 21. US Navy zeroes in on LCS flawed parts, maintenance slow-downs to improve operational days. The U.S. Navy hopes to boost the number of days the littoral combat ship is operational by targeting the drivers of down time: design flaws in 32 parts that need to be replaced and a sluggish contractor-based maintenance model that needs to be made more responsive.
Vice Adm. Roy Kitchener, the commander of naval surface forces, told reporters that the LCS class will soon be fully fielded and expected to provide fleet commanders the presence and war-fighting capability that has been promised over the years. To achieve that vision, he stood up a task force that gives him clearer authority to make quick decisions to fix what’s wrong with the ships today and helps set them up for success in future missions.
Kitchener said Task Force LCS focuses on four buckets of improvements: reliability, or addressing the design flaws; sustainability, or addressing the maintenance model; lethality improvements that can be added to the ships; and streamlining the force-generation process.
The Navy has found 32 key reliability issues between the Freedom- and Independence-variant LCS designs, Kitchener said, that slowed “our ability to get underway and meet those fleet commander requirements.”
Of those 32, the Navy is now focused on five on the Freedom-variant ships and four on the Independence-variant ships that have resulted in the most lost operational days during LCS deployments and whose correction would lead to the biggest boost in performance.
Kitchener said he asked both the Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants and nonprofit research and analysis group CNA to look at, “which ones make the biggest impact? What’s the biggest return on investment? Let’s go after those, and then drive towards funding those and have an implementation plan to get those on board our ships quickly, with obviously the priority going to the deployers and then backfilling from there.”
Some of these flawed parts have cost the Navy hundreds of days of operations, Kitchener said.
Chief among the readiness drivers for the Freedom variant has been the combining gears, which have plagued the class since at least late 2015, when Milwaukee suffered a failure on its maiden voyage to its homeport in Mayport, Florida.
Kitchener said Freedom-variant builder Lockheed Martin has already conducted ground-based testing on a proposed solution with manufacturer RENK in Germany and will install the new combining gear system on one of the newest ships, Minneapolis-St. Paul, for at-sea testing.
“We’ve tried to fix things on the combining gears before, some of the bearings. And, unfortunately, they weren’t successful. … Until we get it underway and test it at sea, to me that’s where the proof is and that’s what I told them – but I remain cautiously optimistic,” Kitchener told Defense News during the call.
The other Freedom-variant issues include parts related to the diesel generator rigid mount, fuel lines, water jets and boat davits.
On the Independence variant, the Navy has identified parts related to water cylinders, water jet pressure switches, diesel engines and water jackets for the engines that need to be replaced with more reliable parts.
The parts will be installed on ships either during a continuous maintenance availability or when one of the old parts fails and repairs are needed.
For example, Kitchener said one Independence-variant ship that is currently deployed in the Western Pacific – either Tulsa or Charleston, both of which are on their maiden deployments now to WESTPAC – had a casualty in one of these components recently, and the Navy was able to send one of the newly designed replacement parts out for installation on the ship. This will provide a chance to get early feedback and data on the performance of the new part and its impact on ship reliability.
“One of the biggest factors we’ve seen, if you look for your biggest return on investment when you do all the analysis, is the downtime that was created by … unreliable parts or parts on critical systems that were failing. And so that’s why we stood up a [strike team within PEO USC] to say, alright, look, we’ve got to make these water jets more reliable, the intercoolers. So I think that that list of 32 upgrades that we need to do is probably the number-one thing” that Task Force LCS will go after. “And then I would tell you that sustainability is next.”
LCSs deploy for long stints of time – the longest so far being 17 months, with plans to grow to 24-month deployments – with crew swaps every few months and monthly maintenance work performed by contractors at a forward hub like Singapore.
These monthly maintenance periods, though, can span as long as 14 days, Kitchener said – meaning a ship could be tied up for half the month.
He said the task force believes moving to maintenance every other month would be a low-risk change that would provide more days at sea for the fleet commander.
“If you can go to doing less maintenance but focused maintenance, you gain so many days back for operations. And then if you drive that reliability up, again, you gain more,” Kitchener said.
There’s also a move to shift more maintenance to sailors instead of contractors, through Maintenance Execution Teams either ashore or on ships serving as LCS tenders.
The task force will reexamine the MET construct, questioning “do we have the right people, is the number right, do we need less, do we need more, what rates? I think we have the rates about right, we’re just building some of the experience. And where do they fit into the scheme of things” in terms of organization. Kitchener said the METs might be placed under the regional maintenance centers so that, when there isn’t LCS maintenance work to do, they could support other ship maintenance work at a fleet concentration area.
Kitchener said there will always be a need for onsite technical assistance, though, and he wants to ensure that technical experts can be called in and start working on LCSs on a faster timeline. He said today it can take as long as three weeks to identify the right technical experts and get them to a deployed LCS to start fixing it; he wants to trim that down to five days.
Kitchener praised the effort to field Naval Strike Missiles onto all LCSs as a way to boost the ship’s offensive punch.
“We really think that improves the lethality of LCS quite a bit, and we’re going to continue to put those weapons on the ship. … We prioritize our WESTPAC deployers to get the missile first. [Gabrielle Giffords] just finished up firing the new version, the 1A version. And we’re also looking at other options, things that we can put on these ships to give them a longer reach, and hope to do some kind of proof-of-concept demonstration for increased surface lethality next spring, perhaps in the summer,” Kitchener said.
The Navy continues to develop and test the LCS anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures mission packages, which should be done by fiscal 2023, according to Kitchener and Rear Adm. Robert Nowakowski, a reserve officer who Kitchener tapped to oversee the task force on his behalf.
The vision for LCS
Kitchener said that, in the short-term, he saw some improvements coming for LCS in the next year or two.
“We can improve the reliability, and I think we can improve our ability to meet the operational commanders’ requirements, be able to sustain ourselves in theater to execute the missions.”
Longer term, though, he’s holding himself and the LCS to a high standard of being able to provide significant presence to deter high-end adversaries like China and Russia.
“If you look at 2026, and that’s a number that I keep in my head: that’s when we’ll have 31 ships available. And so my goal is to build up the presence every year. I keep a little scorecard – based on reliability, sustainability, we should be able to put this many out in theater next year; this many of the following year,” Kitchener said. “And 31 ships – and you know, if you look at all the studies the Navy’s done, even the latest ones, forward presence counts. And if you put strike missile on those, and perhaps some other promising things that we could use to increase its offensive capability, it’s a viable ship” for great power competition in any theater around the world.
“Thirty-one ships and the ability to stay deployed 24 months is powerful. And we all know that we’re not really talking about the fight yet – they’ll be capable in the fight. But in phase zero, presence is what it’s all about, and you get a lot of presence with those ships.” (Source: Defense News)
08 June 21. What’s a fair price for KC-46 spare parts? The Air Force isn’t sure. The U.S. Air Force recently awarded Boeing an $88m contract for spare parts for Japan’s KC-46 tankers, but service officials confirmed to Defense News on Monday the deal included about $10m in costs that Air Force leaders investigated and could not determine if they were fair or reasonable.
That finding has led to concerns from Capitol Hill that Boeing is artificially inflating prices to help recoup financial losses incurred during the program’s development stage. Thus far, the company has paid more than $5bn in cost overruns after winning a fixed-price contract in 2011 worth $4.9bn.
“They’re trying to recover some of their costs on the back end, and they’re starting to recover their costs basically on some of these spares,” said one government official with knowledge of the contract discussions.
One part in particular now costs 15 times what the Air Force previously paid for it, the official said.
Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman — the top Republican on the House Armed Service’s Committee’s seapower and projection forces subcommittee — is expected to raise the issue during a HASC hearing on the Air Force budget scheduled for June 8.
“We need to change course on this troubled contract by pursuing one of two options,” Wittman said in a statement to Defense News.
“The Air Force could either change the contract incentive structure and actively manage the KC-46A development; or, seek a new path and pursue a non-developmental recompete of the tanker effort,” he said. “Without pursuing one of these paths, at this point, I am confident that we will continue to see poor performance and an increasingly negative impact as tanker capacity is diminished.”
mmadvanced 5G technology that also includes: a second smart warehouse project at Naval Base Coronado in California; a dynamic spectrum-sharing project at Hill Air Force Base in Utah; and an augmented reality / virtual reality training project at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington.
“Advanced telecommunications are critical to the U.S. economy and our way of networked warfighting. The Initiative is a major DOD program that is intended to ensure U.S. leadership in 5G and beyond”, said Dr. Joe Evans, Principal Director of DOD’s 5G Initiative.
The 5G Initiative consists of three “thrusts”: Accelerate – to stimulate the use of 5G technology through experimentation and advanced prototyping of dual-use applications; Operate Through – to develop technology to secure 5G and enable the secure use of non-secure networks; and Innovate – to perform the research and development necessary to win at 6G and beyond.
“This is a unique opportunity to apply the latest 5G technologies to a traditional but mission critical support area for our warfighters. Warehousing and logistical support is the lifeline for the Marine’s Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations. A tremendous amount of planning, preparation and continuous execution is applied to ensure the necessary materiel is pre-positioned around the world and available at a moment’s notice to support our Marines. 5G technologies deliver the fidelity, speed and security needed to accomplish this mission,’ said the prototype’s program manager, John Larson, Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic. (Source: US DoD)