August 16, 2012
Credit: U.S. Navy
U.S. Navy emails and other documents suggest that officials muzzled bad test results for the first Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) variant, the USS Freedom, at a crucial time in the program’s development, when the service was considering which seaframe to pick for the $30 billion-plus fleet.
Top program officers for the ship and at Naval Sea Systems Command (Navsea) told subordinates to avoid certain language in the test-result reports because of concerns over the downselect decision, the documents show. One naval officer said in an email he would delete the offensive wording of the report.
The Navy acknowledges it clamped down on “widespread” discussion of “preliminary” test results, but says it did so to prevent an “unfair comparison” between LCS-1 and the competing LCS-2, the USS Independence, because the second ship had yet to go through the same trials.
The service also says the problems cited in the reports were fixed and the test results did not factor into the Navy’s final LCS procurement proposal.
“I am disturbed by the Navy’s selective disclosure about what is going on in this program,” U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier (D-Calif.), a member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said after Aviation Week shared text of the emails with her staff. “If these had been good results, they would’ve hurried to the Hill to ring out the good news. Congress has the responsibility and obligation to be as knowledgeable as possible about the ships we purchase for our military forces. Most importantly, we must know whether these multibillion dollar programs will meet the operational needs and safety requirements for our troops.”
LCS-1 was built by a team led by Lockheed Martin, while LCS-2 was built by a team led by General Dynamics and Austal USA. The two teams were vying through the latter half of the previous decade for the Navy contract for the LCS fleet, but the program stalled after costs rose and Congress set ship-contract price ceilings. In November 2010 the Navy proposed purchasing both ship versions in a multi-year block buy, saying the deal would save the nation money.
The Senate Armed Services Committee reviewed the proposed dual-award strategy at a Dec. 14, 2010, hearing, during which Navy officials touted the plan and the performance of the vessels up to that point.
But the documents recently obtained by Aviation Week call into question not only the LCS-1 performance in key tests, but also the Navy’s assurances of the ship program’s success thus far.
The same Freedom documents also were obtained by the Project on Government Oversight.