In May of this year the ship passed a special trial — a test developed exclusively for the Freedom, Navy officials said, to show Congress the vessel is shipshape. But sources familiar with Navy shipbuilding and LCS-1 operations said the tests were far easier than other trials required for other ships. Navy officials say the tests were enough to show the Freedom was operationally shipshape. But the service brass still found a series of issues that needed to be fixed in those trials and associated inspections.
One of the problems that the Navy brass still has with the Freedom is its stern door – there is a gap, reported by Aviation Week after an exclusive guided tour of the ship – running 25 ft. between the closed doors and the deck flooring, at or below the waterline, through which a flattened hand can fit through.
In an Aug. 23, 2010, email to program officials, Garner had written about the stern-door ramp: “If full of water, the ramp will add 17 tons of weight to the ship. LM [Lockheed Martin] is looking into how to remove the water and repair. 17 tons is more weight than the transom tanks that are installed.”
He wrote, “Between the steerable waterjet problems identified last week by the divers, and potentially having 17 tons of weight in the ramp, it is possible that we have some of the explanation behind Freedom’s inability to get above 40 knots with consistency.”
But just four days later, in an email to the program office, Garner downplays the problem. “Stern ramp alignment and repairs to blocks completed. The ramp now fully closes and the only visible gap is a small one in the center where the doors mate. Getting the water out of the ramp and making it watertight is another repair effort that is in planning for next week.”
That large gap running the entire length of the stern doors was photographed during Aviation Week's tour of the ship in its San Diego dry dock earlier this year, and acknowledged as an issue by the Navy in May.
“USS Freedom and USS Independence are first-of-class vessels and were research and development ships that spent most of their first two years here doing extensive testing, both on the sea frame and the mission packages,” Hillson says. “We learned an enormous amount from these vessels over their last four years of operation, as evidenced by the significant design and production improvements on the follow-on ships.”
Defense analysts familiar with the LCS program say that although the ships were built with research and development (R&D) funding, they were not – until spring of this year – referred to as R&D ships.
Ultimately, Hillson says, “the competitive pressure of the dual block buy award strategy afforded the Navy an opportunity to award up to 20 ships between [fiscal] 2010 - 2015 with fixed-price type contracts. The award resulted in a procurement savings of approximately $2.9 billion.”
The dual-block buy award strategy was judged to have several additional benefits, she says. “The strategy allowed the Navy to increase ship procurement rate to support urgent operational requirements, and promoted efficiency in the industrial base - from the vendors to systems providers to the shipyards - while sustaining competition. The fixed-price type contract limits the government’s liability and incentivizes both the government and the shipbuilder to aggressively pursue further efficiencies, and control cost.”