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Overhaul of Littoral Combat Ship Program Likely to Increase Risks and Costs

Photo fo the USS Freedom (Littoral Combat Ship LCS1)

Littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS1). U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Ignacio D. Perez/ Released.

The Navy’s $29 billion Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program provides a step-by-step case study in acquisition failures and the costs and risks of unacceptable levels of concurrency. Its design requirements were poorly conceived; the manpower planning was wildly unrealistic; Navy leadership and program managers repeatedly circumvented acquisition rules, increasing concurrency and cost risk; production was approved despite poor and rushed analysis; and production milestones were approved despite glaring program failures. Moreover, the program is an example of how unwilling Congress is to step in and hold defense acquisition programs accountable: Congress repeatedly failed to intervene despite warnings from the Government Accountability Office, Congressional Research Service, and experienced independent analysts that this program was grossly off track.

Now the Navy has announced that it is abandoning the LCS’s radically new manning concept as well as the fundamental concept of a multi-mission ship with swappable mission modules, completely overhauling the justification and total concept for this program. This necessitates large increases in crew size and a significant redesign of crew spaces and weapons installations, almost certain to significantly increase acquisition and operational costs.

Approval of a block buy is the largest LCS decision now facing the new Department of Defense and the new Congress

In response to the mounting storm of criticism, on December 16, 2015, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter announced that the original buy of 55 LCSs, already cut to 52, would be cut to 32 ships plus an additional 8 “frigate” versions of the original LCS. The Navy prefers to go even further by cutting the LCS buy to 28 ships plus 12 “frigate” LCSs—and is requesting approval of a 12 ship block buy to lock in the program’s production commitment with a concomitant large increase in concurrency.

Approval of a block buy committing the taxpayer to full production of a revamped $1.2 billion “frigate” LCS—one immune to cancellation in the event of failed operational tests—is the largest LCS decision now facing the new Department of Defense and the new Congress. That decision needs to be considered carefully in light of what the “frigate” LCS actually represents—namely, a superficial redesign that leaves the LCS’s excessive vulnerability unaddressed, eliminates the urgently needed Mine Countermeasures mission, does little for improving the ship’s lethality in the Surface Warfare and Anti-Submarine Warfare missions, and results in a “frigate” that cannot accomplish traditional frigate missions due to lack of the requisite sustained speed, endurance, and survivability.

Ultimately, the upcoming Congressional and Pentagon decisions regarding the LCS program’s future, including the proposed block buy and frigate, will dictate whether American crews will be forced to risk their lives going to war in ineffective, excessively vulnerable ships.

Continue reading on the Straus Military Reform Project's site.

By: Pierre Sprey

Photograph of Pierre Sprey Pierre Sprey consulted for Grumman Aircraft's research department from 1958 to 1965, then joined Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's "Whiz Kids" in the Pentagon.

By: Mandy Smithberger
Director, CDI Straus Military Reform Project, POGO

Photograph of Mandy Smithberger Mandy Smithberger is the Director of the Straus Military Reform Project at the Center for Defense Information at the Project On Government Oversight.

Topics: National Security

Related Content: Littoral Combat Ship, Defense

Authors: Mandy Smithberger, Pierre Sprey

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