LCS : Testing A New Distance Sustainment Approach


An Interview with Rear Admiral James McManamon, Deputy Commander for Surface Warfare, SEA 21, Naval Systems Command

Admiral McManamon Interview, June 2010 (Credit Photo: SLD)
Rear-Admiral McManamon (Credit Photo: SLD, June 2010)

In late June, Second Line of Defense sat down with Rear Admiral McManamon to discuss his assessment of the approach to supporting the new Littoral Combat Ship : the Admiral provided an overview on current efforts and provided a broader understanding of the context of the LCS sustainment efforts and the role of such efforts within the concepts of operations of the ship.

SLD: How is the LCS being built to enable new maintenance capabilities or approaches?

Admiral McManamon: It’s a core part because obviously we designed the ship to be optimally manned.  As an optimally manned ship, we wanted to minimize the manpower requirements.  Again, when you start talking total ownership cost, personnel are a huge piece of that as you go forward.

On a 40-person ship, you cannot expect that crew to maintain it the same way we have previously for other ship,  because it is literally a 2,800 ton ship, 350 plus feet, depending on which one we’re looking at.  Quite honestly it had to have the ability to do distance support, given the crew size.

We have designed into the ship –  somewhat along the line of an aircraft analogy-  many of the things we historically have done aboard a ship.  And that is a challenge.  We still don’t accept too well that a sailor who’s operating the ship is the same as a pilot operating an airplane.  We simply have a hard time understanding that.

With regard to an aircraft, when the pilots have problems, they land it; they turn that punch list over.  Then the squadron maintainers come on board, they “prep” it, and they make sure it is all good to go.  But the maintenance team is not aboard the airplane, similar to what we are doing with regard to the LCS.

So we have designed in a lot of pieces into LCS with a lot more ability to do distance support.  We have in other words taken the workload off the ships.  For example, the supply officer on the ship has the ability to electronically e-mail and get the order in.  He will make sure that the order gets off the ship, but all the mechanics and backroom, that would sometimes and in many ships be done on that ship with two or three other people, are actually done ashore at the support squad.

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter taking off from the flight deck of the littoral combat ship USS Freedom for a maritime security exercise during the at-sea phase of Rim of the Pacific 2010 exercise (Credit Photo: US Navy Visual News Service, July 9, 2010)

An MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter taking off from the flight deck of the littoral combat ship USS Freedom
for a maritime security exercise during the at-sea phase of Rim of the Pacific 2010 exercise
(Credit Photo: US Navy Visual News Service, July 9, 2010)

SLD:    Presumably, one of the things that you’re working through in the test phase is how much autonomy do you need on the ship versus how much sustainability can be done on shore or in the fleet, what you are calling distance support, is this correct?

Admiral McManamon: Exactly. It’s a little bit of a challenge when we only have a couple of them out right now.  So we are very much  in the training wheel mode.  But it does inform us on the actual ringing out of some of the basics of the ship.

Some of it is pure operational.  This is a new design.  These engines are not the exactly the same as the ones we have used before: the configuration, the water jugs, the electronics are all very different compared to what we have done before.  So some of these is not yet getting to where I can really fully explore the con ops, but it definitely has given me the ability to safely and properly operate the ship, which gives me some insights into that.

We’ve learned when some folks talked distance support, what type of information that they want to go off the ship automatically.  But other will come back and tell me, “But what happens when you loose connectivity?  Does that mean that the ship is now blind to what their systems are doing?”

So we make sure we designed in the fact that on normal ops some of this data and lots of the data on my engineering systems go off the ship automatically.  However, I can always look at that information on board.

I normally don’t because I don’t want to; I’m in a sense re-sourcing others to do that.  However, if I have a challenge in connectivity or weather or whatever you want to say or something isn’t working the right way, we do have the ability to look at that aboard the ship.

So, to me, part of this is designing into our systems that kind of dual mode.  It’s kind of a redundancy as far as I’m concerned.  Normally I don’t want to be too engaged with it because I don’t want to do it that way, but the systems are set that I can do that.  That’s actually a critical discussion of how we’re resourcing this going forward.

SLD:    The LCS is really a collaborative ship, so you’re doing collaborative con-ops and the sustainment approach is part of those collaborative con-ops. It seems that what is crucial for a new built platform, whether it be air or whatever, is that you’re doing in terms of maintenance from the initial shaping of the con-ops. So presumably the relationship of the LCS to other ships is a key part of the distance support and not just to the shore.  Isen’t it what part of the exploration is during the test phase? [1]

Admiral McManamon: Part of what the exploration is doing is shaping the build as we get new information from the maintenance efforts. For the initial deployment for USS Freedom, much of what we are doing is ringing out the basic mechanics, the engineers, being able to put the ship in the water, being able to communicate with other ships, being able to talk to an operator or air assets, etx : all this has been extremely successful from February to the end of April this first year. And from this deployment we start to shape standards of performance. She was able to do the connectivity essential to distance support; she was able to operate in ways that took advantage of a 2,800 ton ship going 40 plus knots.  As one of our commanders indicated just last week, there’s this whole psychological power to itself for a 2,800 ton ship to go after a go-fast and actually be able to sustain in, keep up and take it down, which we simply can’t do in the current environment with regular navy ships.

But did I design and build LCS simply to run after a cigarette runner?  No.  But does it give me that capability when I need it?  Yes, and as we now understand that capability and that connectivity necessary to do the con-ops, I think that’s exactly what we’re moving forward with to shape future ships and operations.

US Coast Guardsmen embarked aboard the littoral combat ship USS Freedom conducting a fast-rope descent from an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter onto the flight deck of the Republic of Singapore Navy stealth multi-mission frigate RSS Supreme during a maritime security exercise (Credit Photo: USN Visual Service, July 9, 2010)
US Coast Guardsmen embarked aboard the littoral combat ship USS Freedom conducting a fast-rope descent from an MH-60S Sea Hawk helicopter onto the flight deck of the Republic of Singapore Navy stealth multi-mission frigate RSS Supreme during RIMPAC 2010, a maritime security exercise (Credit Photo: Lieutenant Ed Early, USN Visual News Service, July 9, 2010)

SLD:    There is another analogy to the airplane which might be useful to highlight and that is the role of on-board sensors to shape the maintenance regime. You have a lot of metrics, you have a lot of data that allow you to shape the metrics or you’re going to get the maintenance protocols right.  You got to give it some time.  So I think the analogy, the LCS is not a bad one in the sense that you got a lot of sensors, lot of data, you’re certainly going to get metrics right.  You’ll have to play with it; you’ll have to redesign protocols and metrics to fit the ship as you sort through the data generated from the sensor-enabled ship.

Admiral McManamon: I’ll have to get back with the actual test points that we have instrumented into LCS.  My regulation is I can have the availability of about 2,200; right now we monitor about 800 of those.  The entire interim support plan that I have in terms of managers is exactly doing it.

It’s collecting that data, analyzing what it’s taking, what is it telling us, how much does it cost to me to have that kind of support.  We do have reliability engineers that are associated with the LCS that are watching the data flow.

We have eight specific systems that we’re generating an every six-hour report on, and then trying to see what does that mean to us and how much had it cost me to keep that kind of level of support.

That’s exactly what we’re doing during this test period.  We as a policy and as a an acquisition strategy believe that the best way to do this is to take that for a two to three cycle – because these are new ships, like you said, they’re new.

I don’t have a lot of hard data, I have estimates for everything.  But I don’t have a lot of hard data on how these systems put together on LCS, operating the way LCS is, how much that really cost and what those protocols are.

So that’s exactly what we’re doing for the first three years, and right now I’m conducting the data and the research for the business case and the entire process to go to a permanent support plan as we move forward for maintaining LCS in the future.

SLD:    By inheriting the new build, and this is not often recognized,  you have data built into the capability of the ship that you would not have on a classic ship where you’re actually building notional data at the beginning, beginning metrics on paper and eventually you computerize it.  This is from the beginning digitally driven.

Admiral McManamon: Right.  This is from the beginning digitally driven, exactly.

SLD:    For the USN, this is brand new, but for the USAF, they have been doing it for some time of having digital built in to the new aircraft. This is a crucial change that may not be highlighted enough, woulden’t you think?

Admiral McManamon: It’s probably not highlighted. There is no reason why I can’t do real time monitoring, if that makes sense for the resources, which I think it does in many areas and that’s what we’re evaluating, e.g., so that I can actually monitor the gas turbine engines.

Just like the airplane is flying out there, I can start seeing best performance points. What is that node?  I get the engineers to tell me it is time to start looking at the filters and things like that. As you can imagine, it’s hard to prove five years from now what all that cost savings gives me when I’m in the middle of actually estimating and doing it right now.

SLD:    Well, the point is you’re going to have the data from which to make the judgment in a classic ship with a 30-year life cycle behind it is almost by definition more expensive.  The other thing about the distance support that means you’re off-loading some of the things you’ve historically done on the ship itself.  Presumably, because it’s a littoral ship and you’d be developing relationships globally, you’ll probably end up with a global business model?

Admiral McManamon: You’re absolutely correct, there’s a lot of discussion and study depending on how far forward we want to deploy some of these ships.  Obviously we have forward deployed ships in a lot of areas, in Bahrain, in Japan.  So as we start looking at LCS, as well as that kind of networking, we could take advantage of the worldwide connectivity to do that kind of support. And because we expect other allied navies to become customers for LCS, there will be an enhanced global support network as well.

SLD:    I would expect that there might be cultural challenges as well in shaping the new maintenance approach?

Admiral McManamon: There are clearlyseveral items for which we are starting to see that challenge. The fact that we’ve set up a CLASSRON [Class Squadron] framework for LCS is in part a recognition of the need to shape approaches for a new class of ships.

My view again is we have mechanisms that can make that happen.  My example goes back to navy-wise we used to have serve marts where you would have to go to get your pencils, your paper.  You know, real world, the toilet paper.  For a while, my first 10 years in the navy, you had to have every line item indicated and approved before you can buy the pencil, before you could buy that pen.  That took longer than buying the pen did.

Eventually it went to if it’s an X amount of dollars, if you have that number then you just do the ordering then you turn it in for review.  Kind of like how we do with travel claims and things like that.

So that’s the mechanism I want to have in place for LCS.  Not that I want to take away any financial controls, it’s just simply up to a certain level we do the business because that is business and it’s not worth the time and energy to have the communication.  So we’re having some challenges as we mature that with the LCS.

SLD:    Could you explain the CLASSRON concept as applied to LCS?

Admiral McManamon: We recognized that in LCS we needed to have a much more robust support structure.  If I’m going to take what would be notionally a 200-person ship based on tonnage and size, and I’m going to man her with a 40-man blue-gold type of team, and I’m going to try to remove workload from her because of the manpower shift, then I had to have a stronger support element that understood what was going on in the ship.  We needed a common approach to manage and support the ship.

So we actually have gotten smart enough to understand that these are unique ships that we have to have somewhat a unique structure and that the CLASSRON itself is the center of the maintainability, supportability of that ship, and not in a sense the ship itself, which is very traditional.

For example, on a traditional ship we have 25 people in the supply department whereas on LCS we reduce that to three people.  So every order that goes off at LCS instead of on a traditional ship would have the supply and this people putting together all the paperwork and doing ordering, today on LCS that’s one person and he puts it in the computer that goes off electronically and goes to shore.  They then take it, they make sure that the parts are there, they do the follow ups, they make sure that it’s going to be at the pier, they understand when the ship is going in so that for LCS that now shows up at the pier because of that LCS CLASSRON support.

There are just the receivers and not necessarily the guys who had to do all that backroom work.  Same with training records and medical, we have a core group that can be self-sufficient on the ship but all the workload normally associated literally, we look at over 200 processes that a normal ship would do that we now adjusted for LCS, and that’s just huge.

Another example is what I do when I enter port.  One of the first things that the captain will do, as soon as we pull pier side, is that he will grab the first lieutenant and walk the pier looking at the ship: what’s the side of the ship looks like, what does the corrosion look like, is there any rust, any dirt, is there anything.  The first thing I’d have is my duty section bosun mate ready to be over the side for a couple of hours to make sure things have been painted and removed.  I do not need to do this with the LCS as the data has already been generated by the ship, but have not yet put in place a plan with regard to such processes from either the CLASSRON or my industry support to make that happen.  So we’re still learning even regarding something as simple as that.

SLD:    When you’re deploying, you are thinking about the grid within which you’re going to operate; you’re laying the grid down, its relationship to air and navel assets.  So, in a sense, what you’re describing as part of that grid now are that linkages for its maintenance approach.  So as one does the grid con ops, part of that grid is one’s supply, linkage and chain.  So now the supply chain becomes – instead of an obstruction, a paper list – an actual full part of the digital network.

Admiral McManamon: The digital grid: as you know, from the supply piece  to the material readiness, it’s right into the operational readiness.  So every black box, every part of the radar, our ability to maintain the turbine is all linked there.  All the way to the personnel support when I have to trade out people or if I need to get a trained member on board.

RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) is our first real multi-ship operations with LCS 1. For me, I want to make sure that that operational readiness on her maintenance or supply is ready to support the fleet, starting to really look at how she operates with multiple assets in different areas.  That has started with the RIMPAC exercise.


[1] For more information, see :  NAVSUP LCS Supply Support Conops


*** Posted on September 7th, 2010