With the news this morning that the Navy wants to split the buy for twenty new Littoral Combat Ships through 2015—ten from Lockheed Martin and ten from Austal and General Dynamics—it’s instructive to take a quick look at how we got to such an odd moment in a long and odd acquisition process.
Originally slated to cost $220 million per ship when the program was launched in 2002, the first two ships out of the dock had blown that number apart by time they hit the water. In documents that accompanied the 2010 Navy budget request, it was learned that the Lockheed-built ship, the USS Freedom, wound up clocking in at $637 million, while the General Dynamics/Austal-built USS Independence came in at $704 million. Shocking perhaps, but hardly surprising given the confusion that has marked the program from the beginning, which included cancellation of the LCS 3 and 4 builds in 2007, followed by a quick reversal. An angry Congress got into the game by slapping a cost cap of $480 million per ship beginning this year, a figure the Navy has admitted neither company could meet. While Lockheed is currently reporting that LCS 3 is more than 60% complete, General Dynamics/Austal continues work in silence. A spokesman for the team told DTI that it will have no comment on the LCS 4 build at Austal USA shipyards in Alabama before the Navy issues its contract award.
Lockheed Martin recently spoke with DTI about the ongoing build for the LCS 3, the USS Fort Worth, at the Marinette Marine shipyard in Marinette, Wis., but would not comment on the cost of the vessel. About all the company would say is that the ship is essentially the same as LCS 1, with only minor adjustments in components such as the anchor mechanism and the size of the bridge windows.
A Navy spokesperson, Cpt. Cate Mueller, tells DTI that the Navy won’t discuss the cost of future builds since it still has ongoing solicitation for the down-select option. Mueller did add however, that “Congress has mandated a cost cap for each LCS at $480M, although there are provisions for waivers to that as well.” The Navy is saying that its new plans call for each team to build one ship each in 2010, one each in 2011, and then two per year each from 2012 through 2015.