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Interview with Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden: LCS and DDG 51 Flight III

Director, Surface Warfare (OPNAV N96), Part 2 of 3

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Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden is the director for Surface Warfare on the Chief of Naval Operations Staff (OPNAV N96), and responsible for requirements and resources for the surface Navy of the future.

Rowden served as commanding officer of Surface Warfare Officers School Command, Newport, R.I., where he oversaw the training of every officer en route to duty on ships at sea. His first flag assignment was commander, U.S. Naval Forces Korea. At sea, he has commanded USS Milius (DDG 69), served as reactor officer in USS George Washington (CVN 73); commander, Destroyer Squadron 60; commander, Carrier Strike Group Seven; and commander, USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Strike Group. His most recent assignment was commander, Carrier Strike Group 11, and commander, USS Nimitz (CVN 68) Strike Group.
Rowden talked with Edward Lundquist about his priorities, critical ship programs and challenges facing the Surface Navy and surface warfare today. In Part 1, Rowden discussed his top three priorities and DDG 1000. In today’s excerpt of the interview, Rowden discusses LCS and the newest DDG 51 variant.

Our surface fleet of warships needs to be able to conduct the entire spectrum of mission sets. LCS is an affordable, vital, and complementary component of the surface fleet.

 

Edward H. Lundquist: And LCS?

Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden: As I mentioned, fielding LCS is one of my top three priorities. Our surface fleet of warships needs to be able to conduct the entire spectrum of mission sets. LCS is an affordable, vital, and complementary component of the surface fleet. In addition to the three focused warfare missions it conducts – mine warfare(MIW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and anti-surface warfare (ASUW) – LCS’s inherent capabilities and suitability to conduct lower-end presence missions that make up most of the Navy’s operations day to day – such as counter-piracy patrols, port visits, and exercises with foreign partners – will free up the more expensive, multi-mission cruisers and destroyers to conduct the higher end missions.

So I see a tremendous application for LCS and see it fitting very nicely into some gaps that we currently have in our capabilities.

Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)

The first of class littoral combat ships USS Freedom (LCS 1), rear, and USS Independence (LCS 2) maneuver together during an exercise off the coast of Southern California. The littoral combat ship is a fast, agile, networked surface combatant designed to operate in the near-shore environment, while capable of open-ocean tasking, and win against 21st-century coastal threats such as submarines, mines, and swarming small craft. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Jan Shultis

The program is still kind of in its infancy, and we are working to mature the program, both on the ship side and on the mission package side. I believe that both of the builders of LCS – Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, and Austal USA down in Mobile, Ala. – are starting to hit their stride in building their ships.

I also am focusing more and more on ensuring that we have the proper oversight and execution on the mission package side of the house. The modularity of the ship and of the mission packages not only allow the mission packages to be interchanged, should the operational need arise, but perhaps more importantly, allow for continuous, timely, and inexpensive systems or weapons upgrade as new threats or technologies emerge. This modular design ensures that the LCS will maintain its relevancy throughout its service life.

Comparing the LCS survivability requirements and capabilities to a high-end, multi-mission Arleigh Burke-class DDG does not make it less of a warship; just a different kind of warship.

The first two coming down the pike – the surface warfare mission package and the mine counter mission package – are front-and-center in my scope right now to make sure we get the mission package to IOC [initial operating capability] in 2014, the mine mission package to IOC in ’14, and the ASW mission package as well, will be very, very important for us.

In addition to the mission packages, LCS has a “core” self-defense capability with its shipborne 57 mm gun, Rolling Airframe Missile, and crew served weapons. It’s very fast – more than 40 knots – and can exit a threat area quickly. Comparing the LCS survivability requirements and capabilities to a high-end, multi-mission Arleigh Burke-class DDG does not make it less of a warship; just a different kind of warship.

USS Independence (LCS 2)

Littoral combat ship USS Independence (LCS 2) steams through the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida. Sailors from Independence’s Gold Crew and embarked Mine Countermeasures, Detachment 1 are underway for the ship’s maiden voyage to San Diego after successfully completing testing on the MCM mission package, April 9, 2012. DoD photo by Seaman Trevor Welsh

The LCS concepts of rotational crewing and distance support enable the ship to be forward based in quantity, providing presence and capability where they are needed most. Right now we have a Blue and Gold Crew for each ship, but eventually we’ll have three crews for two ships.

It’s been, for lack of a better term, a journey of discovery with respect to LCS. A decade ago we drew some lines in the sand, ‘this is going to be the manning, this is the maintenance processes, and these are some other things that we have to do.’ We didn’t have a lot of experience, as a matter of fact, very little experience, in this new concept for fielding ships. A decade ago we said, ‘hey, this is about where we want to go.’ And that drove us to certain solutions. And so we have moved forward to ensure that the lessons observed are lessons learned with respect to LCS manning, training, equipping, sustaining, logistically supporting, and the generically employing pieces of LCS. It’s fair to say that we’re going to make some adjustments.

It’s been, for lack of a better term, a journey of discovery with respect to LCS. A decade ago we drew some lines in the sand, ‘this is going to be the manning, this is the maintenance processes, and these are some other things that we have to do.’ We didn’t have a lot of experience, as a matter of fact, very little experience, in this new concept for fielding ships.

 

What kind of adjustments are you contemplating?

I think we’ve got to take a look at the manning piece associated with it. We’ve got to take a hard look at the training piece. We talk about ‘train to qualify’ and ‘train to certify,’ but what does that really mean? How much confidence do we have in the ability of those processes to deliver the qualified individuals to the ship and send them to sea?

LCS 1 has already deployed to Fourth Fleet in SOUTHCOM, and then participated in RIMPAC. We certainly were informed by that. And I think we’ll be informed well by the deployment of LCS 1 to Singapore in the spring of 2013. She’ll be gone about 10 months door-to-door, and spend about eight months in theater. We’ll conduct a crew swap overseas; we’ll logistically support overseas; we will sustain overseas; we’ll maintain overseas; we will do those things that heretofore we haven’t. I think we’re going to learn a heck of a lot. And again, this should come as a surprise to no one. The only way to get experience is to go out there and do it.

Remote Mine-Hunting Vehicle

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a new class of surface combatant ship designed to defeat growing threats close to shore. Its modular design allows the ship to swap out different modules, such as the Remote Mine-Hunting Vehicle, depending on the mission, such as mine, anti-submarine and surface warfare. Lockheed Martin photo

With respect to the LCS, we are just beginning to scratch the surface of all of the different missions that those individual ships might be able to fulfill, including ones we haven’t even thought of yet. If you were to say 30 years ago that we’re going to have a big piracy problem off the Horn of Africa, people would kind of scratch their heads and say, ‘Really?’ But if we had a squadron of LCS operating off the Horn of Africa right now, they would be the right kind of ship to address that particular threat, as opposed to trying to get a DDG out there.

 

The Navy planned to build a CG(X) air dominance cruiser to replace the Ticonderoga class of Aegis cruisers. Now, instead, you are restarting the production line to continue building the Flight IIA Arleigh Burke class of guided missile destroyers. Will the DDG 51 Flight III evolve into the role originally envisioned for CG(X) as the air and missile defense ship of the future?

The DDG 51 is certainly the workhorse of the fleet and a superb ship that we know a lot about.

The DDG 51 is certainly the workhorse of the fleet and a superb ship that we know a lot about. Moving forward with the restart of the production line, we have the RFP (request for proposals) out for the follow-on ships, and contained within those follow-on ships we’re going to be moving to the Flight III DDG, which will be an evolutionary step in the execution of the DDG program by the incorporation of what we’re calling now the Air and Missile Defense Radar or AMDR.

The rotating radars of the 60s and 70s evolved into the phased array radars that the SPY radar gave us in the 70s and 80s. AMDR is the next evolutionary step in sensors at sea, and will ensure that we maintain the relevance of our combat systems as we move forward into the future. I’m very excited about where we’re going with AMDR.

USS Michael Murphy (DDG 112)

The guided-missile destroyer Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Michael Murphy (DDG 112) makes its way through New York Harbor in preparation for its commissioning Oct. 6, 2012. The new destroyer honors the late Lt. (SEAL) Michael P. Murphy, a New York native, who was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in combat as leader of a four-man reconnaissance team in Afghanistan. Murphy was the first person to be awarded the Medal of Honor for actions in Afghanistan, and the first member of the U.S. Navy to receive the award since the Vietnam War. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Erik Swanson

But let me correct any misconception; DDG 51 Flight III is not CG(X), nor is it a follow-on cruiser. It is ultimately a DDG Flight IIA follow-on in that it has a significantly improved radar to support IAMD [integrated air and missile defense] – the ability to shoot both ballistics and air breathers down – and better power and cooling capability, and likely enhancements to support follow-on weapons. The ship will not have the depth or size to support being a follow-on cruiser. The AMDR S-band and Radar Suite Controller (RSC) competitive technology development phase is progressing very well and will complete in September. A Request for Proposals (RFP) to industry (for AMDR) has recently been released for the next phase, as well as for the first seven production units. In FY 13, the Navy intends to award a single contract to build and test a full-scale (14-foot active electronically scanned) version. AMDR will give us a tremendous increase in the capability of the sensor of that particular ship.

I am a big fan of the Flight III DDG. It will allow us to put [aboard ship] a significantly upgraded radar sensor and pair it with the proven Aegis weapon system, and all of the other proven systems that class brings to the fight. So I think that’s a very smart and good evolutionary step into the fielding of capability.

The Flight IIAs that we are executing in restart will be built with IAMD capability, and we’re modernizing the Flight Is and IIs with the ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability that is in great demand with the combatant commanders (COCOMS). If the demand is any indication, then these DDGs are of tremendous value to the COCOMS out there.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...