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COLE-CARBINE  [Team Member]
6/5/2006 7:55:07 AM EST
LPD-17 San Antonio Class: The USA's New Amphibious Ships (updated)
Posted 05-Jun-2006 12:16

LPD-17 San Antonio Class amphibious assault support vessels are a new class of ship which is just entering service with the US Navy. Much like their predecessors, their mission is to embark, transport, land, and support elements of a US Marine Corps Landing Force. What changes are the capabilities and technologies incorporated to perform that mission, including internal technologies as well as accompanying platforms like the V-22 Osprey and Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle.

Navy sources note that the 9 scheduled ships of this class (reduced from 12) are slated to assume the functional duties of up to 41 previous ships. These include the USA's older LSD-36 USS Anchorage Class dock landing ships (all decommissioned as of 2004, LSD-36 and LSD-38 transferred to Taiwan) and its LPD-4 USS Austin Class ships (12 ships of class built and serving). The San Antonio Class ships may also replace two classes of ships currently mothballed and held in reserve status under the Amphibious Lift Enhancement Program (ALEP): the LST-1179 Newport Class tank landing ships, and LKA-113 Charleston Class amphibious cargo ships. The PMS 317 FAQ notes that the LPD-17 San Antonio Class' projected average cost once all ships are built is $1.2 billion.

The San Antonio Class has had its share of teething problems, and so has the New Orleans shipyard to which most of this contract has been assigned. This is not uncommon in new ship classes, but it does bear noting. DID will use this article as its anchor for the San Antonio Class, detailing the ships' features and capabilities as well as its program innovations and issues. We'll also include an updated list of related contracts awarded throughout the program's history.

The latest item is a $2.91 billion contract for construction of USS San Diego [LPD 22] and USS Anchorage [LPD 23], with long lead time materials and associated labor for a third ship the USS Arlington [LPD 24].

LPD-17 San Antonio Class: Capabilities and Features

The LPD-17 Class featured both an innovative development process and 21st century features that optimize them for roles ranging from an Assault ship that carries and sustains Marine Expeditionary Units to use as a command node, disaster relief operations, etc.

LPD-17s will operate as part of larger Amphibious Task Forces in conjunction with a full set of airpower, additional assault ships, and air and sub-surface defense vessels. They can also be parceled out as the keystones of smaller three-ship Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs)/Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs), or even operate independently in low-threat scenarios during "split-ARG" operations that help the group cover multiple areas of responsibility and respond to more than one contingency simultaneously.

Automation allows the San Antonio Class ships to embark only 360 sailors, freeing up space for up to 800 combat troops. The ships will boast 36,000 cubic feet of stowage for cargo and ammunition, 25,000 square feet for vehicles, and significant fuel capacity. They will have deck spots for operating and supporting up to 2 $100+ million MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, or 4 CH-46 Sea knights or comparable helicopters, or 6 AH-1 Super Cobra/ Viper attack helicopters, or 2 CH-53 Super Stallion heavy transport helicopters. Hangar space will accommodate only one V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor or CH-53 heavy-lift helicopter, or it could be used for up to 3 AH-1 attack helicopters, or 2 CH-46 or comparable-size helicopters, or any appropriate combination thereof.

These ships will also carry 2 LCAC hovercraft for ship-shore transport, plus 14 of the Marines' forthcoming Expeditionary Fighting Vehicles with swim-out capability up to 20 miles offshore.

The 684-foot, 25,000-ton vessels are equipped with 4 sequentially turbo-charged Colt-Pielstick diesel engines, generating 41,600 hp (10,400 each) and driving two shafts. A new high-power "low-drag" propeller hub design provides improved propeller efficiency, and helps them power the ship to speeds above 20 knots. Meanwhile, the ship's electrical power is provided by five 2500KW Caterpillar Ship Service Diesel Generators (SSDG). The ship auxiliary systems are all electric, including electric heating and water heaters, 7 York air-conditioning units (which will be appreciated by many troops), and a 72,000 galons per day reverse osmosis water-generating plant.

These new vessels will also serve in a number of roles beyond combat.

While LPD-17 vessels will have their own helicopter contingent for patrols and transport operations, their large deck also makes them useful inshore "lilly pads" that can quickly refuel and turn around rotary aircraft from other vessels or bases to keep them on station longer. The design is equipped to function as a casualty receiving and treatment ship, with 24 beds and two operating rooms. Its communications capabilities will surpass most US and foreign vessels, which will make San Antonio class vessels excellent command ships for US and joint task forces and should make them excellent UAV hosts or controllers. While its 72,000 gpd water production capacity increases onboard creature comforts, it also allows the ship to operate in a critical lifesaving role in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the 2005 Asian tsunami, when fresh water is often the most urgent and difficult requirement.

The LPD-17 ships will also incorporate significant advances in ship self-defense, survivability, and C4I systems. Fiber-optic wiring throughout the ship is designed for long-term upgradeability and durability. This will be tied into a combat system designed for maximum commonality and upgradeability across the USA's new carriers, destroyers, Littoral Combat Ships, and LPD-17 class. The system will control a set of air, surface, and navigation radars, as well as electronic countermeasures systems, towed torpedo decoys, missile decoy systems, and air defense that will include the RIM-116 RAM missile system at first but may expand to include vertical launchers for the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles that equip many advanced NATO warships. For close-in defense, the LPD-17 class will also carry some Mk 46 stabilized 30mm autocannon with advanced sensors, as well as the traditional .50 caliber machine guns.

If all of those measures fail, vulnerability upgrades include improved fragmentation and nuclear blast protection, and a shock-hardened structure with upgraded whipping resistance and structural connections. The ship has also optimized the separation of redundant vital systems, possesses a diverse suit of fire-fighting options, and was intended to have a significantly reduced radar cross section signature (1/100th of the LSD-41 Class).

The San Antonio Class worked to minimize its signature across a number of spectra. In particular, it optimizes radar cross-section by streamlining topside layout and incorporating reduced radar signature technologies and design. Relevant design features include a boat valley instead of a boat deck, removable coverings over the rescue boat and fueling at sea stations, and accommodation ladders that fold into the ship's hull. Meanwhile, the advanced composite-enclosed mast/sensors, which enclose the ship's radars and communications antennas, give the ship its distinctive profile.

While an article in the San Antonio Express-News notes that the ship's radar signature will not be reduced as much as planned, compromising its survivability in littoral regions, they do have a smaller signature than the ship classes that precedes them. Another minor consolation of the design is that there are fewer edges and seams to collect rust, and corrosion-resistant paint and composite building materials also reduce maintenance and painting costs and requirements.


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COLE-CARBINE  [Team Member]
6/5/2006 7:56:49 AM EST
Now the other side of the coin............
Assault ship never had smooth sailing
Web Posted: 07/31/2005 12:00 AM CDT

Sig Christenson
Express-News Military Writer

The USS San Antonio's grand ambitions were dashed from Day One.

Experts and the Navy's top civilian leader say the San Antonio, blasted by inspectors as unsafe for a crew to put to sea, was built in the wrong shipyard.

They say it was hamstrung by a computer design system that didn't work, shoddy craftsmanship, and leaky pipes and cables installed in so many wrong places that they may never be fixed.

Millions of taxpayer dollars were wasted. Precious time lost.

The Navy's top civilian leader for weapons procurement lays the blame for many of San Antonio's problems on Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, the builder. The Navy and Americans, he said, deserve better.

"We had too many pipe details on this ship that leak, and they aren't technology issues," said John Young, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition. "Northrop Grumman Avondale should have been able to weld two pieces of pipe together and not have them leak, or not at the rate we found."

The business of welding titanium pipes is but one example of the problems that have beset the San Antonio.

Northrop Grumman's new president, Philip A. Teel, said the welding of such pipes was uncharted territory and that his work force wasn't ready for it. The pipes are being welded correctly today.

San Antonio, the first naval vessel named for the Alamo City, has had its troubles, he said, and they've reverberated beyond a single ship.

Teel, who is a month into his job, is conciliatory. He won't contest the Navy's report or Young's comments, "because to argue would be to provide excuses" at a time everyone is trying to fix the ship.

"We're working hard to rebuild our relationship with our Navy customer," Teel said. "This program has been difficult for both of us, and we're both working through it together."

Designed to ferry Marines into battle off hostile coasts, the ship can withstand the intense air pressure generated by a nuclear blast and protect its sailors from radioactive fallout and biological weapons getting into the ship — the only amphibious vessel with all those capabilities.

It's long held great potential, but so far has fallen short, the Navy and veteran observers say.

An untested computer design program drove it aground. Experts say the San Antonio was born in a New Orleans shipyard not up to the job of crafting such a complex vessel — a view Teel said he isn't sure about but that Young accepts.

As it was built, observers and the Navy say, the San Antonio's construction was marred by substandard work and its budget was bled by a scramble for scarce computer programmers earning top dollar during the dot-com boom era.

Trouble seemed to follow the ship with every weld; Young hinted of discontent with Northrop Grumman's former president, Phil Dur, who took early retirement July 1.

"The company's made a management change, and I think that management change is already paying some dividends in terms of the company's focus on quality and worker training and having the right workers on the ship to complete the right work at the right time," Young said.

Teel wouldn't comment on his predecessor, who is now a consultant to Ron Sugar, the company's CEO. Asked if Young is right in saying the management change has been a boon for the ship, he said, "I can't comment to what came before; I can only comment that we've put a lot of focus on it since I've been there."

Perspectives vary on the San Antonio's evolution, from the laying of its keel in 2000 to its sea trial last spring, even among experts familiar with the Navy and the ship, also known as LPD 17. But everyone agrees its troubles began with a computer design program dubbed 3D CAD, which was touted for its ability to give three-dimensional views.

Virtually everyone interviewed for this story said it simply wasn't up to the task of designing an entire ship when Avondale Industries, a privately held company, won the San Antonio contract in 1996.

A Navy rule forbidding the start of construction until a ship's detailed design was 100 percent complete held up work as the shipyard, first acquired by Litton Industries and then by Northrop Grumman, brought in programmers in hopes of getting it online. About four years passed after the contract was awarded before the keel was laid down, the first step in the construction process on ships of the San Antonio's size.

"This was a tool that was not mature," said naval analyst and retired Marine Col. Bob Work, a fan of the ship and its potential, but someone also worried about its problems. "It wasn't up to the task."

The San Antonio's project manager, Capt. Sean Stackley, countered that the device "was a mature tool, but had to be adapted for (full) ship design." No one in the Navy had ever used the program, he said, leaving the designers with a learning curve.

Work and naval analyst Norman Polmar assert that Avondale, though historically a good shipyard, was the wrong choice to build a big, intricate amphibious ship. Work said that was the consensus of everyone he's talked with about the project.

Stackley wasn't involved with the project at its inception, but noted Avondale was involved with two experienced partners and that those who picked the company thought it could do the job.

But as the Navy and the company held quarterly progress meetings over the past year, it became clear that the complexity of the San Antonio's combat systems was beyond the scope of Avondale, which Young said was "built for auxiliary ships and other ships that did not have this level" of sophistication.

"The Navy kept telling the company, 'You've got to come to grips with this,'" Young said, crediting the company with moving the ship from New Orleans to Pascagoula, Miss., where guided missile destroyers and amphibious vessels even more complex than the San Antonio are built.

Problems are common for ships that are first in their class. Young, Stackley and Northrop Grumman spokesman Brian Cullin contend the San Antonio actually did better than previous first-of-their-kind ships. Teel noted the company just produced the USS Halsey, a new guided missile destroyer, under budget and before its due date.

A Navy Board of Inspection and Survey report issued 107 "starred cards," given for specific equipment that must be repaired. So far, the ship has cleared 21 from the deck, Young said.

The Navy's first guided missile destroyer, by contrast, got 235 such cards, he said.

Still, the San Antonio isn't yet ready to fight and likely never will be quite the vessel the Navy dreamed of a decade ago. The ship is contaminated with corrosion and badly wired, and some of its stealth characteristics were traded to cut costs.

The San Antonio was deemed so unsafe that Navy inspectors even warned that its crew shouldn't take it to sea.

Inspectors who produced a July 8 report found safety deficiencies throughout the ship.

Construction and craftsmanship standards, they said, were "poor." Workers left a "snarled, over-packed, poorly assembled and virtually uncorrectable electrical/electronic cable plant." Watertight integrity was compromised throughout the ship by multiple cable lines.

The inspectors predicted the San Antonio "will be plagued by electrical/electronic cable plant installation deficiencies throughout its entire service life" if corrective work isn't done.

Though those actions are on the drawing board, they warned that the ship shouldn't take on its crew until "significant" damage control and firefighting systems are put into operation.

Design changes driven by shrinking defense budgets have robbed the ship of some of the stealth characteristics that would make it appear to be the size of a big fishing boat — one of the marquee features of the San Antonio.

But despite the radar "hot spots" expected because of the cost cutting, Work said it's much better than the 1960s-era USS Austin-class amphibious ship it will replace.

Today, the ship sits in Northrop Grumman's Ingalls yard in Pascagoula, the symbol of a Pentagon hooked on high-tech weapons whose cost overruns and production delays are as spectacular as their wizardry.

Polmar, the naval analyst, who's also editor of "Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet," the Navy's principal reference book, calls the San Antonio "one of the most egregious cases of surface ship construction problems for many years."

Young concedes it's got problems.

"I'm trying not to beat the company up here, but I have pointed you to the fact that there's no question the workmanship quality on this ship was not up to standards, and they are very aggressively and actively fixing that," he said.

As the Navy tries to put a positive spin on the blistering inspection report, Polmar, a regular contributor to "Proceedings," a periodical read by sailors worldwide, said the San Antonio's saga demands a probe from a blue-ribbon panel and possibly sanctions — if only to ensure it doesn't happen again.

The Navy hasn't sought one, but Young hasn't ruled it out.

The San Antonio was to be the first of 12 amphibious transport dock ships built under a $16 billion program, but cost overruns have reduced the number to nine.

The ship once was pegged to cost $850 million but could top $1.85 billion before it makes a champagne cruise from Houston to the Coastal Bend this fall, with sponsor Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, at the helm. But Young said it would be closer to about $1.6 billion.

Stackley, the San Antonio's program manager, talks up the vessel as "the most capable amphibious ship in the world today." Polmar and Work agree.

The backdrop of congressional concerns over a Pentagon weapons procurement process run amok complicates the San Antonio's tortured tale, a hot topic of discussion in Navy and industry circles this past week.

The spiraling cost of weapons ranging from new ships such as the stealthy $4.7 billion DDX destroyer to the Air Force's $200 million F/A-22 Raptor prompted Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England to order an across-the-board shakedown of Pentagon procurement.

"There is growing and deep concern within the Congress and within the Department of Defense leadership team about the DoD acquisition processes," England, who is serving as the Navy's top civilian while in the Pentagon's No. 2 job, said in a June 7 memo. "Many programs continue to increase in cost and schedule even after multiple studies and recommendations that span the past 15 years."

The Navy and Northrop Grumman say San Antonio-class ships to follow will be built with greater efficiency, with their price tags falling to about $850 million. But Young said the Navy is working to ensure improvements are made in current and future San Antonio-class ships by including incentive clauses in its contracts.

Neither he nor Northrop Grumman's Teel would discuss details of those negotiations.

Nothing being done to sail the San Antonio into smooth waters, however, will ease the pressure faced by Adm. Michael G. Mullen, the new chief of naval operations.

Work, a senior defense analyst with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, said Mullen's first big task is to get his arms around several big-ticket ships, including the CVN-21 nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, which could cost about $14 billion.

"The Navy is under so much pressure right now as far as warships and surface combatant dollars that it's just really tough," he said. "Every single program is under scrutiny, so the LPD-17, because of problems with the first ship, is going to probably get more scrutiny than any other vessel."

Polmar said that although the ship's problems will have no impact on the war on terrorism or the nation's strategic posture, the big issue is how it turned out so badly and whether future ships could follow its path.

Zack3g  [Team Member]
6/5/2006 7:58:06 AM EST
COLE-CARBINE  [Team Member]
6/5/2006 12:45:15 PM EST