Just a week after the Navy announced that it had pushed its contract award date for the Littoral Combat Ship back yet again, only committing to make its decision between the competing Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics hulls “as expeditiously as practicable,” the Government Accountability Office has come out with a highly critical report that raises some serious questions about the next two hulls that the bidders are currently building.
The report says that while the first two hulls in the water--Lockheed’s USS Freedom and General Dynamics’ USS Independence--have identified a number of problems to be addressed in future builds, “challenges may hinder the ability of shipbuilders to apply lessons learned to follow-on ships and could undermine anticipated benefits from recent capital investments in the LCS shipyards.”
Technical issues with the first two seaframes have yet to be fully resolved. Addressing these technical issues has required the Navy to implement design changes at the same time LCS 3 and LCS 4 are being built. Incorporating changes during this phase will likely require additional labor hours beyond current forecasts.
Seeing as the Navy plans to invest over $25 billion through fiscal year 2035 to acquire 55 of the small, nimble ships, every delay seriously hampers the sea services’ ability to meet its own goal for growing the fleet.
Lockheed Martin’s Paul Lemmo told me back in May that when the USS Freedom (LCS1) was put in the water, the vessel was only about 60 percent complete. By the time the company’s second vessel of the same class, the USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) hits the water in 2012, it will be about 85 percent complete. “We’ve been able to bring down the cost” on the production of LCS3 over LCS1, he added, “though the learning curve, and high levels of pre-outfitting, etc … LCS1 had a lot of concurrency in it, we were still finishing the design while we were building the ship—that doesn’t allow you to get all the equipment in the ship before you launch,” which then drives up the price of outfitting the ship while it is in the water.
Let’s not forget, however, that back in 2004 the Navy said that the cost of each LCS should be about $220 million—and as of 2009, the Freedom’s price tag had ballooned to $637 million and the Independence, or LCS 2, eventually came in at over $700 million.
The GAO goes on to say that "although the Navy has emphasized the importance of affordability to successful outcomes in the LCS program, it continues to make key investment decisions without a clear understanding of program costs," and criticized the Navy for lacking comprehensive cost estimates and an independent review. The report also detailed ongoing problems with the ships’ modular mission packages, concluding that "until mission packages are proven, the Navy risks investing in a fleet of ships that does not deliver promised capability."