Study: New warships technically flawed, over budget
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 3, 2010
YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy’s newest coastal warfare ships are plagued with technical flaws and have ended up costing hundreds of millions of dollars more than originally budgeted, according to a Government Accountability Office study released this week.
The report cast serious doubt on the two completed littoral combat ships’ promised abilities to help fight submarines, neutralize enemy mines and launch small boats in rough seas, and said that fixes could cost several hundred million dollars more.
The news comes just one week after Navy officials postponed until December a decision on which one of two competing LCS seaframes — one a monohull, the other a three-hulled design — to choose for its next order of 10 ships.
Navy leaders consider the LCS program to be a key component of its future unconventional warfare efforts. During the 2008 construction of the first LCS, the USS Freedom, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead predicted that the LCS would be a “workhorse of the Navy.”
The Navy took delivery of both the monohulled USS Freedom and the trimaran USS Independence before contractors had finished installing key systems, according to the report. While the Navy and its contractors continue to make adjustments, the service has deferred testing some of the ships’ fundamental systems.
“The Navy’s ability to deliver a capable, affordable LCS remains unproven,” the report said.
The Navy plans to invest more than $25 billion in the LCS program through 2035, according to the report.
The first two LCSs were budgeted at $188.2 and $223.2 million each, but both ended up costing about $500 million each because of construction difficulties, along with changes made to technical requirements and designs, according to the report.
The Navy initially failed to get fixed-price terms for the third and fourth ships in the line, which led the service to terminate the contracts in 2007 after spending $192 million on preliminary work, according to the report.
In 2009, the Navy signed new contracts for the third and fourth ships, which are scheduled for delivery in 2012 and 2013. Those ship programs are currently a combined $97 million over budget, according to the report.
“Although the Navy has emphasized the importance of affordability to successful outcomes in the LCS program, it continues to make key investment decisions without a clear understanding of program costs,” the report said.
In a memo attached to the report, The Defense Department agreed with the GAO’s recommendations to improve planning and cost oversight.
Lockheed, builder of the USS Freedom, and a partnership between Austral and General Dynamics, builder of the USS Independence, are bidding on the contracts for the next 10 ships.
In a statement released to Stars and Stripes, Navy officials said their comments on the future of the LCS program were limited by the competitive bidding process.
“The Navy is proceeding with the LCS source selection diligently, thoroughly, and consistently with its source-selection plan and applicable law and regulations,” the statement said.
Navy officials were not able to respond to questions regarding the technical flaws of the two completed littoral ships Thursday.
The littoral combat ship USS Freedom operates off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii, during an exercise in July. The Freedom and another littoral ship, the USS Independence, were recently cited for technical flaws and budget overruns in a Government Accountability Office report.
Ed Early/Courtesy of the U.S. Navy