He agrees that there is a risk of equipment not working as planned. But the testing the LCS program has done thus far indicates the ship and modules will function, he says.
One senior Navy program official notes the testing commnity doubted ballistic missile defense would work as planned. “When I was in ballistic missile defense, they said, ‘You’ll never hit a bullet with a bullet,’” the official recalls. “And when we did it, they said, ‘You’re never do it again.’ What’s the GAO say? ‘You did it 26 times, but you’ll never do it the 27th. Then, ‘It’s not threat-representative.’ Now we got the real threat. Then it was, ‘Well, they might change.’ Yeah, they might.”
The official also says, “DOT&E guys — they’re smart, but they don’t know anything about mine warfare. There’s basic knowledge you’ve got to have.” Also, he says, DOT&E reports often fail to acknowledge the progress the program has made through the years.
The official characterizes GAO as made up of auditors who fail to grasp the technical aspects of the program and only concern themselves with saving money.
GAO officials note members of Congress are not technical experts either, but they need to understand the ships, systems and operations well enough to approve or disapprove of funding and program plans. Part of that understanding comes from advice, guidance and reviews by organizations like GAO. The congressional auditing agency says it is only recommending that lawmakers take prudent steps to safeguard taxpayer money while the Navy continues to buy LCS vessels and related equipment.
GAO wants the Navy and Congress to slow down LCS acquisitions until the ships and modules complete the testing deemed necessary by the agency, DOT&E and federal law. Based on those tests and related reviews, the service and lawmakers should study the program to see which hulls, systems and modules are worth the investment.
But the Navy contends the GAO recommendations are not that different from the course the service is following. “How many should we buy?” Ailes asks. “They say, ‘Maybe a couple a year.’ Well, that’s what we’re doing.”
GAO says Navy officials will not commit to a slower production rate, and investigators worry there could be significant problems that require rework found during module testing.
“It depends on the scope of work.” Ailes responds, adding there’s a good chance of issues being found through 2019. “Significant? We’re highly confident we’re going to make schedule. So, who cares? I don’t see schedule risk. There will be work. There’s always work.”