Congress heard testimony yesterday on the ongoing problems with the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified about the beleaguered project, which was intended to produce an unconventional new warship but instead has faced extensive problems including engine failures, cracks, and corrosion.
On July 20, the first LCS to deploy overseas lost propulsion near Singapore when the USS Freedom’s diesel generators overheated and shut down. In April 2012, The Project On Government Oversight told Congress that “based on the ship’s history of design and equipment failure, the LCS is simply not ready to be deployed to Singapore, as has been planned, or to any other destination.” That analysis was not heeded and after the recent breakdown, former POGO investigator Ben Freeman, who led the initial investigation into the LCS’s technical failings, told BreakingDefense.com, “We were talking about these problems two years ago, and we were told at the time…all this has been dealt with, from the equipment failures to the cracking.”
The GAO testimony confirms that although the Navy has made progress in addressing some of the design and construction flaws of the ship, it has also continued to dump money into the project without establishing a structure for development and testing. For example, the GAO writes that under the current Navy plan, key operational tests of the LCS seaframe will occur in fiscal year 2019. By that point, however, the Navy will have already purchased 33 seaframes, more than half the planned amount.
The cost of the ship continues to be an issue as well. According to the testimony, the congressional cost cap of the LCS doubled between 2006 and 2010, even as “expected capabilities have lessened from optimistic, early assumptions to more tempered and reserved assumptions.” Like POGO, GAO recommends that Congress restrict LCS funding until testing is completed and require the DoD to report to Congress before awarding additional contracts. These are common-sense reforms.
Furthermore, Congress should stop spending taxpayer dollars on one of the two variants of the LCS. The Navy is still following a dual-development plan where both Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics are building separate variants of the LCS. While the General Dynamics LCS certainly has its flaws, Lockheed Martin’s version—the ship that broke down near Singapore—has been beset by alarming failures since the beginning. It’s also the more expensive of the two designs. The Lockheed Martin variant of the LCS should be eliminated to better protect the seas and our sailors, and Congress should continue to keep a close watch on the Navy so we can stop taxpayer dollars from going down with the ship.