Hunt says most of the work needed for Freedom, built by a team led by Lockheed Martin, and for LCS-2, the USS Independence, built by a team led by General Dynamics and Austal USA, was mostly elemental shipbuilding and combat system development—items that should have been addressed early on. “It's as though the ship designers didn't know what the ship operators would use some of this equipment for, or how they would use it at sea,” Hunt says. “It wasn't 'sailorized,' if you will.”
In a recent article in U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, Rear Adm. Tom Rowden put it another way: “In the interest of quick delivery to the fleet, ship design began before requirements were finalized, and building started before designs were stable.”
One recent Navy acknowledgment is that while LCS vessels are only rated for Combat 1+ levels—lower than a tanker—they will, not surprisingly, face greater dangers due to their coastal mission. Congress may wonder if the Navy will have to rewrite its doctrine for all Level 1 combat ships or just tailor certain procedures for LCS.
Many defense analysts say if the Navy had been upfront about LCS developmental problems earlier, the service would not have faced the intense scrutiny by Congress and the media that has buffeted the program.
Now, though, analysts say the Navy's efforts to come clean on LCS problems is helping the service regain credibility and prove it has the program on course.
Navy officials say the LCS will eventually be useful in ways yet to be envisioned. Congress, however, may well put future LCS dual-block buys—or even later contracts under the current one—under a sharper lens after evaluating how the operational models fare.
Lawmakers, meanwhile, will be waiting to see if the USS Freedom deploys as scheduled to Singapore, and how well it performs there.
For a look at the background to the controversy over LCS-1's build quality and how the LCS designs measure up to small combatants worldwide, check out the digital AW&ST Defense Technology Edition on leading tablets and smartphones, or go to AviationWeek.com/lcs