The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) mission-module-and-package components are much further along than the U.S. Navy has publicly acknowledged. But government analysts worry the integration work for those systems will be more difficult than anticipated and operational testing could reveal problems that could prove costly and time-consuming, especially over the life of the ship class.
While Navy officials agree integration will be hard and more issues will likely surface during testing, they say the program has already surmounted the truly tough technology hurdles and they see no problems in bringing the LCS mission modules, packages and equipment to the fleet as scheduled.
“In general, I feel pretty good about technical risk,” says Capt. John Ailes, the Navy officer recently selected to be admiral who is in charge of LCS integration efforts. “Are there problems? Sure. But are there any violations of physics here? The answer is no.”
Aviation Week conducted a series of on-site interviews in late July with Navy officials and contractor Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for the first-of-class LCS, the USS Freedom, and also the provider of some of the linchpin technologies and equipment for the mine countermeasures (MCM) module packages the Navy is focusing on now.
LCS is slated to comprise about half the Navy’s future surface fleet. The service plans to buy 52 LCS ships at an estimated procurement cost of $40 billion. The odd-numbered LCS seaframes are produced by Lockheed Martin, while the even-numbered ships are manufactured by a team led by Austal USA and General Dynamics.
The mission modules, packages and equipment have become the focus of LCS scrutiny in recent weeks. At a July 25 House Armed Services Committee (HASC) hearing on the LCS program, Navy officials, analysts and lawmakers made it clear that as the seaframes move more into a production run, the emphasis is shifting toward making sure the mission modules and related equipment can meet their requirements, cost goals and schedules.
Without successful mission-module development and integration, LCS vessels are little more than pumped-up, nice-looking ships that can go fast. The design for the class calls for relatively small, light hulls that can be outfitted for a variety of missions with module packages that can be switched in and out within 72 hr. No other naval ship is designed and built to be operated this way.
The success of LCS rests upon a tripod of seaframes, mission modules and operational concepts. “Of the three, the seaframes are the furthest along,” Paul Francis, U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) managing director for acquisition and sourcing management, testified before the HASC.
GAO’s LCS report, released the day of the hearing, called the Navy’s acquisition approach “risky.” The service, GAO notes, is buying early increments of LCS mission modules without defined requirements or a clear idea of their cost, schedule, and performance goals. This is despite the fact that developmental testing had already identified problems with system performance. “Concerns persist about the overall effectiveness of each module,” GAO said.