NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. – The littoral combat ship is coming to the East Coast next year, and officials are busy setting up for their arrival.
Naval Station Mayport is destined to become the home of eight of the littoral combat ships, the mono-haulled Freedom variant produced by Lockheed Martin, and the man the Navy has tapped to head the squadron is Capt. Paul Young, a 22-year surface warfare officer from the cruiser/destroyer world with experience in minesweeping.
Mayport will get its first LCS in late 2016, the Little Rock, with two more Freedom-class ships coming every year afterwards, Young said. and every Freedom-class ship built variant produced until it reaches the full eight. The future basing of is murky at the moment as it relates to the up-gunned LCS, which will be known as a frigate, is less clear; the Navy plans to buy these after and will be produced after the Navy finishes acquiring the original variants.
Young, a Nebraska native, will oversee Littoral Combat Ship Squadron 2 through the middle of 2017 and hopes to have three of his ships in place when he turns over. He discussed manning, training and detailing for LCS vessels in a March 18 interview at his office here. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Q. Will the Mayport LCSs take over the mission of counter-narcotics in 4th fleet, a mission that has belonged to the frigates now rapidly leaving the fleet?
A. These ships weren't envisioned as a one-for-one replacement for the frigates, the [mine countermeasures ships] or anything else. Certainly they satisfy a requirement for accesses in shallow draft areas.
They certainly are capable of taking a lot of the mission sets that we used to dedicate the frigates to, absolutely, but I wouldn't call it a one-for-one replacement.
A lot of those operational decisions are yet to be made. Could they? Yes. Will they? I don't know yet.
Young sat down with Navy Times in his office March 18 to discuss manning, life for LCS sailors, detailing and the future of the LCS program in Mayport.
Q. What's the difference in the manning construct between the cruiser, destroyer world and the LCS world?
A. The traditional construct is a larger crew — 200 to 300 sailors — and a smaller staff, nominally 40 to 60 people. LCS changes that, in that the crew is very small. The core crew is only 50, and then the staff is much, much larger: 300-400 sailors and civilians.
What that changes is that the crew focuses on their own training and operations. And everything else ... , essentially everything else, administration, management of maintenance, all falls on the staff. We shift those roles over to the staff.We're going to manage the training, we're going to manage [personnel qualification standards]PQS for the ships, we're going to manage career programs for the ships, so that these crews can stay focused on operations.
Q. So there is no training officer on board, there is no career counselor on board. Those all come from your staff?
Q. With a 50-person crew, is pretty much everybody on a port-and-starboard watch rotation?
A. Each crew will craft its own watch bill, but not all port and starboard, no.
Q. How many in-port duty sections will the crew be in?
A. When the ships are here, we are going to augment them regularly. We have a very strong reserve component. In fact we have eight reserve units that will support LCS on the East Coast. So whenever we pull these ships in, we are going to augment them with reserve sailors to do things like force protection, stand watches and help with maintenance.
Q. How could a reservist get involved? If I'm a reservist and I want to get involved, who are you looking for? How does this all work?
A. We're going to have an operational support officer here that will serve as my link to the Reserve. There is also a reserve commodore, my counterpart, who exercises operational control over those units. We will manage our ships' schedules, and whenever we see our ships pulling in here, or in Charleston [S.C.] or in Pensacola — wherever — we'll offer up those port availabilities up to the reserve component and they'll volunteer in groups of 10-20 to come and support the ship.
What rates are you looking at?
Any rates. We'll take anything we can get. This is a construct that's working very well in San Diego, so, we're going to leverage that here.
Q. Officials have discussed career tracks specific to LCS, or creating a 'closed loop,' where LCS sailors will spend most of their careers aboard LCS vessels. Once you are in the LCS program, is there flexibility to leave it?
A. Right now we're not closed-loop detailing anybody, we're growing the workforces. And I'm a fan of that. When we're done with this, we'll have — depending on how you characterize it – 32 or 52 of these ships. We need a talent base. We are growing that talent base and we're going to continue to do what we need to do to grow it.
So if I'm a JO and I come to LCS on my second division officer tour, that doesn't mean I have to then do an LCS shore tour after that, correct?
Not at all. But I think you are going to want to though.
Q. The LCS world is different from the the rest of the surface fleet. other areas of the Navy. Are you thinking about making a new warfare pin for sailors and officers to reflect those differences?
I don't think we need that. The LCS fleet is not separate from the rest of the fleet, it's not wholly unique. These are ships that are going to go to sea and do what their commanders task them to do. They are going to do it as independent deployers and they are going to do it in a CSG construct.
For someone to go from an LCS where they have earned their pin to a cruiser is nothing but goodness, because the folks on the cruiser are going to need to understand LCS and they are going to bring that understanding to the cruiser. Just like folks on the LCS are going to need to understand the cruiser.
Q. Are the ship's systems easily repairable by the crew or are you going to need to rely heavily on the shore-based infrastructure for this?
A. You can go to any ship in the fleet and find casualties that are beyond the ship's company's capability, that's just kind of the nature of the business. I don't think that's unique to LCS.
It's more of a challenge in terms of man-days. If you are on a 50-person crew, you are standing a lot of watch, performing a lot of duties, so there isn't a lot of white space in your day for maintenance.
Q. One of the problems with this crew-swap model that the surface fleet has seen in the past is that sailors don't tend to take the kind of ownership of their spaces as they do when they are permanently attached to the ship. How do you get at that issue in LCS?
A. I saw some of the troubles you reference back in my MCM days. I saw what could happen when a crew didn't take the right approach to maintaining the ship. As such, I think we have a great opportunity culturally, we are growing a team of sailors here.
The 3-2-1 approach, it's a team of three crews for two ships. And those three crews, with the staff, part of their job is to maintain those ships. Talk about 3-2-1 — three crews for two ships to have one always forward deployed. I take that a step further: it's one team to maintain two ships. My commanding officers all understand that this is the way we are going to do business here, because we can't afford not to.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.