The report had this to say about one of the major proposed LCS operational capabilities—launching and retrieving small boats: “The boat deck configuration and boat size are very unsafe for both classes of LCS and have the strong potential to lead to an LPD-17-type mishap where sailors are injured or killed.”
On Feb. 4, 2009, in the Gulf of Aden, one of the LPD-17 USS San Antonio’s rigid-hull inflatable boats (RHIB), occupied by three sailors, flipped over in moderate sea conditions. Two were recovered with no injuries, but the body of the third sailor was never found.
Hunt is adamant: “We have to stand on this and fix it,” he says.
The LCS configurations result in “unsafe boat deck operations,” the Navy’s Oct. 23 report states, while also warning of a troubling “warfighting capability impact: size of boat deck limits RHIB size, which limits rescue boat ops to Sea State 2 or less.” The conditions for Sea State 2 include a light breeze, small wavelets with unbreaking crests, wave heights of 5 ft. and a wind speed of 4-6 kt.
The report also states that the “lengthy sea painter”—the line connecting the RHIB to the ship—and the location of the “bitts,” where the line is secured to the vessel, “limit control of an already unstable RHIB.”
“I get white-knuckled every time we use those boats because RHIB operations, whatever the sea state, are dangerous evolutions in general,” Wilke says.
The Navy says it needs to “modify boat deck design (to include a 7-meter RHIB) and camera placement for boat deck visibility,” and “modify design for new construction and backfit existing hulls.”
The No. 1 OAG-noted priority for the LCS program now, though, is to add port and starboard bridge wings to the Independence-class design, either by building them on new vessels or backfitting them on earlier ships. Officers step out on bridge-wing walkways to better control the ship, especially when docking or going through locks or narrow waterways.
“Lack of bridge wings severely limits visibility during maneuvering,” the report states. This also “adds significant risk to shipboard evolutions and tactical situations [such as underway replenishment], pier work, RHIB operations [and] small boat defense,” the OAG reports.
“If a surface warfare officer had designed this, bridge wings would have been part of it from the start,” says Cmdr. Dave Back, commanding officer of the USS Independence. Nonetheless, he emphasizes that the ship has been able to conduct operations for the past couple of years safely.