GAO report raises questions about LCS

JULY 26, 2013 — Lawmakers are going to look very hard at Navy plans to make major design changes to the two Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) variants, even as production is ramped up.

LCS Fort Worth

This became evident at a hearing on "Acquisition and Development Challenges Associated with the Littoral Combat Ship" held yesterday by the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee. The panel's Chairman, Congressman J. Randy Forbes (R. VA) gave a foretaste of what is to come in a statement issued before the hearing.

"The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will be an important part of the Navy's Fleet for decades and requires vigorous and sustained oversight," said Chairman Forbes. "I intend to ask the Navy difficult questions in the expectation that we can resolve longstanding issues, such as concerns about the concurrency between LCS seaframes and modules and the formulation of a realistic concept of operations. The LCS has a critical role to play in the Navy's future and it is incumbent upon the Seapower Subcommittee to ensure the success of this program."

Fueling doubts on the wisdom of the Navy's path is a GAO report, whose title says it all: "Significant Investments in the Littoral Combat Ship Continue Amid Substantial Unknowns about Capabilities, Use, and Cost." It was presented at the hearing by Paul L. Francis, GAO's Managing Director Acquisition and Sourcing Management.

GAO says that it found that the Navy has made progress in addressing some of the early design and construction problems on the LCS 1 and LCS 2 seaframes, and quality defects and unit costs are declining, now that the seaframes are in steady production. Based on projected learning curves, shipyard performance can be expected to continue to improve over time. This expected progress could, however, be disrupted, as the Navy is considering potentially significant seaframe design changes. For example, the Navy is currently studying changes to increase the commonality of systems and equipment between the two ship variants, primarily with regard to the ships' combat management systems, and add new capabilities. In addition, the Navy still has outstanding gaps in its knowledge about how the unique designs of the two variants will perform in certain conditions.

The lead ship of the Freedom class is currently on an extended deployment to Southeast Asia, and the Navy views this as an important opportunity to demonstrate some of the ship's capabilities and allow the crew to obtain first-hand experience with operations. Yet, developmental testing of the seaframes is ongoing, and neither variant has completed shock and survivability testing, which will demonstrate that the ship designs can safely absorb and control damage. Importantly, operational testing of the LCS with its mission modules is several years away. Late discoveries of problems while the seaframes continue to be constructed could lead to further design changes.

The Navy continues to buy early increments of LCS mission packages before (1) defining requirements and cost, schedule, and performance goals for each increment, as currently required by DOD policy and (2) completing developmental testing, which to date has identified problems with system performance.

This evolutionary acquisition strategy, which delivers improving levels of capability over several increments, offers warfighters improved capability as it is available. However, the requirements for the increments have not yet been defined, and the increments will provide performance below the Navy's minimum needs for years to come. In addition, the Navy does not plan to demonstrate that the MCM and SUW packages can meet minimum--termed "threshold"--requirements until their final increments are fielded in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

By that time, the Navy will have already procured more than 24 MCM and SUW mission packages. Further, developmental testing to date--especially for the systems comprising the MCM package--has shown performance problems. Internal Navy studies and wargames have also raised concerns with the overall effectiveness of each mission package based on inherent seaframe or mission module limitations.

You can download Mr. Francis's prepared statement HERE

You can download the full GAO report HERE

None of this means the LCS shipbuilding program is in any immediate danger.

Bloomberg reported yesterday that even as they raised questions, lawmakers voted yesterday to let construction proceed on schedule. The House passed a defense spending bill that includes the Navy's requested funding for four more Littoral Combat Ships in the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

"Criticism of the LCS program is warranted," Bloomberg quotes Chairman Forbes as saying. "But let me emphasize that none of these reports disputes the necessity to rapidly field the capabilities proposed by the Littoral Combat Ship.