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LCS delivers high velocity learning

By Naval Sea Systems Command Public Affairs | Oct. 27, 2016

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program didn’t get to the point of executing eight trials in six months by accident.

Earlier this year, Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson mandated accelerated learning as one of four essential parts to the Navy’s “Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority” initiative. While many Navy commands continue to learn about this initiative, the LCS program manager, Capt. Tom Anderson (PMS 501), responds to calls for increased naval power utilizing high velocity learning, and in turn, delivering ships to the fleet at a rapid pace.

“Some programs do [shipbuilding] trials once every four to five years, but over the past summer PMS 501 has been doing them once every four to five weeks,” said Anderson. “Aligning to the CNO’s direction, this compels us to expand and optimize our knowledge base so I can maximize the program’s efficiency.”

According to Richardson, such efficiency is necessary to optimize the Navy’s intellectual capital, which in turn maximizes effectiveness. It is also one of his objectives toward the Navy realizing high velocity learning.

High velocity learning – according to Dr. Steven Spear’s book “The High-Velocity Edge” – includes the use of four capabilities: detect problems immediately (see); apply resources and solve problems to learn and build new knowledge (swarm); share new knowledge throughout the organization (share) and embeds new knowledge into our processes to continuously improve the performance of our work (sustain).

“The high velocity learning piece is a key component of learning. It’s not just learning, it’s learning faster than we’re learning today, so we can solve the problems we have faster, so we can go on to the next problem,” said NAVSEA Commander Vice Adm. Tom Moore. “That’s how you’re going to expand this advantage.”

Learning faster for the LCS program requires Anderson to apply each of Spear’s four capabilities.

“Seeing” problems and applying resources (“swarming”) to solve problems

Large displacement shipbuilding programs have production cycles up to five years. LCS production started at a rate of one ship approximately every two or three years as the shipbuilders ramped up production. Now, the builders for both ship variants are operating at six-month centers and delivering four ships per year. This means that during the course of a year, a single program office has to conduct four builder’s trials, four acceptance trials and four final contract trials. This is in addition to Full Ship Shock Trials (FSST) on two LCS variants this past summer, which validated the operational survivability of new construction ships after exposure to underwater shock.
The sheer volume of trials in a single year has required the LCS team to be creative and leverage Navy expertise across the NAVSEA enterprise to accomplish the task. 

“We’re doing this by utilizing experts from Carderock, Philadelphia, Dahlgren, Bath, Gulf Coast, as well as NAVSEA’s engineering directorate in the trials and “swarming” multiple organizations to participate in the events that are designed to identify any open deficiencies. With first-hand knowledge of the shipboard situation,  the cycle time from identification to resolution is shortened.” said Anderson.

“Sharing and sustaining” the knowledge base

As the program manager, Anderson leverages his core group of engineers and specialists familiar with the LCS variants by bringing others under instruction into the testing process and cultivating them to become subject matter experts, especially with FSST.

“In the case of FSST, we realized two things: One, we were re-establishing the Navy’s proficiency in planning and execution of FSSTs, with the last shock trials being conducted in 2008 aboard USS Mesa Verde (LPD 19). Two, other shipbuilding programs would have a similar, steep learning curve, which impacts time and cost, if we didn’t capture and share our lessons learned,” said Anderson.

In addition to FSST, the rapid acceleration in ship completions has compelled the program office to build and expand its own infrastructure to support the ship tests. The spillover benefit is that individuals who will support the ships in service are being brought into new construction trials, allowing for experience under the tutelage of those who designed and built the ships.  

“With both new construction and in-service program offices co-located under the same program executive office, there is near real-time sharing of information on in-service issues being experienced and new construction improvements being tested,” Anderson said.

Embedding new knowledge and continuously improving performance

For LCS, avoiding the status quo is essential to improving performance. Anderson cites the shipboard trials process as a prime example.

“Earlier, we were performing longer duration trials, and as a result, we were basically burning people out because there wasn’t enough support facilities onboard for such a large group of testers,” said Anderson, commenting on the expansion of the standard crew size of 98 to 200 during trails. 

“Now we’ve transitioned from 3- to 4-day trials to more, shorter duration trials, which allow us to bring the appropriate number of personnel to execute the required tests without overloading facilities. We also have brought berthing/habitability modules with us to reduce the need for hot-racking. This has avoided burnout while broadening our base of knowledgeable personnel.”

Understanding personnel requirements is also important, especially for a ship that is only 388 or 422 feet in length. “Our cumulative experience with testing the variants enables us to reduce our personnel footprint as we go out to sea without compromising the right people to perform the tasks at hand,” said Anderson.

Anderson added having the right callback capability is also imperative.

“When the issues you didn’t plan for inevitably arise, it’s important to have the ability to quickly get the right resources to help you through those problems,” he said. “Now we have contingency plans in place with our industry partners to support us from shore with technical, logistic and service support as needed when we are trialing.”

“There’s been a lot of work to bring the entire enterprise to get smart on the ships so we have the bandwidth to execute at this operational tempo,” said Anderson. “We’ve educated a large body of folks on what LCS is about and how it works, and they can take that to the fleet to help maintain, deploy and support the ships.”