This New $350 Million Combat Ship Has Nearly Two Equipment Failures For Every Million Bucks


Photo: U.S. Navy/Lockheed Martin

The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program has been plagued with a very shaky reputation so far.The whole new class of surface warship and has now been scrupulously analysed by an independent government watchdog. And the recent findings are not at all promising, with a strong recommendation to scrap half of the program.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) researches Pentagon weapons procurement and has published its April 23 letter to members of the House Armed Services Committee, who have themselves “repeatedly questioned the utility and effectiveness of the Littoral Combat Ship program” in the past.

The LCS, which is intended to be an agile anti-mine and anti-submarine vessel, has two variants, one built by General Dynamics ($345.8 million) and another by Lockheed Martin ($357.5 million). 

POGO says only one of the variants is necessary, with the program’s current “dual-development” squeezing the defence budget way too far. The organisation feels it knows enough about the two variants now to determine which one should go. 

Its Lockheed’s USS Freedom, or LCS-1, which POGO stresses is “simply not ready to be deployed…to any destination.” The more expensive, and flawed, variant could ultimately put crew at danger — while burdening the tax payer. 

Executive Director Danielle Brian writes:

LCSUSS Freedom, known as LCS-1

Photo: Facebook via Lockheed Martin

From the time the Navy accepted LCS-1 from Lockheed Martin on September 18, 2008, until the ship went into dry dock in the summer of 2011—not even 1,000 days later—there were 640 chargeable equipment failures on the ship. On average then, something on the ship failed on two out of every three days.

Brian also points out that at one point in March 2010, electricity onboard completely cut out “temporarily leaving the ship adrift” — reducing the cheetah of the sea to a sitting duck.

POGO is also concerned about at least 17 known cracks in the LCS-1’s build, which help reduce the combat ship’s celebrated high speed to that of a freighter. 

“These cracks are not without their consequences. In addition to allowing water to leak into the ship, the cracks severely limit the ship’s top speed, which was previously touted as exceeding 40 knots,” outlines the letter.

Repeated engine failure at sea is also listed as an indication that the Navy should stop investing any more time and money into Lockheed’s roughly $360 million LCS vessel.

This harsh analysis comes just days after the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report concluding the defence Department has a problem with committing to expensive new weapons systems before development is complete.

In short, it’s a “high-risk strategy that often results in performance shortfalls, unexpected cost increases, schedule delays, and test problems,” states the agency. 

If Congress is unwilling to dump one of the variants, POGO recommends at least establishing a deadline for the Navy to decide which vessel is worth any further investment. 

The LCS program coincides with the Navy’s pressing need for a new versatile vessel in the face of Chinese military expansion into the contested South China Sea, and increasing Iranian naval activity and blockade of the Strait of Hormuz

At this point, it seems perhaps the Navy has spent so much on the LCS program that it’s now too big to fail — admitting that the more expensive variant is a bust is likely the last thing the Navy wants to do. 

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