Navy's LCS tests delayed by system failures, report says

The first U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship, Freedom (LCS 1), during trials in July, 2008. The ship is designed for littoral, or close-to-shore, operations.


By GEOFF ZIEZULEWICZ | STARS AND STRIPES Published: January 20, 2012

NAPLES, Italy — The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship experienced major disruptions and delays in testing and evaluation during the past fiscal year due to failures across a range of systems, according to a report by the Pentagon’s top evaluator of military acquisition programs.

Failures in both models of the ship during a year of trials in fiscal 2011 were laid out in the Operational Test and Evaluation office’s annual report to Congress.

The ship’s Independence variant, known as LCS 2, delivered to the Navy in December 2009, experienced failures in its anti-mine systems as well as lift platform failures, propulsion problems and hull corrosion, among other difficulties, the report states.

Christopher Johnson, a Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman, said in an email that both mine systems referred to in the report are currently undergoing “a successful test and evaluation phase,” and that both systems are expected to reach initial operating capability as planned in fiscal 2014.

The Freedom variant, known as LCS 1, that debuted in 2008, had a crack in the underwater hull repaired, according to the report.

Most of LCS 1’s testing and evaluations were still completed, however, and the ship “did not experience any major disruptions other than the hull crack,” the report states.

The LCS’ mine systems have had recurring problems, according to Jan van Tol, a retired Navy skipper and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

However, the latest report doesn’t specify whether the problems are fixable or insurmountable, making it hard to gauge the scope of the problem and what it could mean for the future of the LCS, he said in an email this week.

While such trials are supposed to iron out the kinks for new ships, the latest LCS revelations represent another challenge for the Navy.

The small, speedy ships are designed for anti-submarine, anti-mine and surface warfare, particularly in shallow waters that larger ships cannot easily access, giving the Navy a way to counter unconventional threats.

The Navy is betting a lot on the LCS, a program initiated 10 years ago that, as it now stands, will one day comprise roughly a fifth of the service’s 30-year, 313-ship plan. Another LCS, the Coronado, was christened last week.

“Navy really wants/needs smaller ships in quantity to be present in places like (Southeast) Asia and engage with partner navies in ways and numbers that it can’t do with larger (and scarcer) ships,” van Tol said.

Although still in development, the LCS will one day feature modular “plug and fight” mission packages that will allow it to conduct mine detection and surface and anti-submarine warfare missions, depending on which module is installed at the time, according to an April Congressional Research Service report.

“I predict when it is all said and done that they will be the workhorses of the fleet, and that the LCS will have a thousand fathers,” Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, said in 2009.

It was argued as a more cost-effective option, but the program has had a history of cost overruns. The Navy originally quoted the ships’ sea frames at about $220 million, a cost that has since more than doubled, according to the CRS.

It was argued as a more cost-effective option, but the program has had a history of cost overruns.

Problems among the first two LCS ships are to a certain extent normal when it comes to lead ships of a class, van Tol said.

The Oliver Perry-class frigate program in the 1970s also experienced “growing pains,” although there were fewer problems found and fixed, he said.

Both classes of the LCS are very new types of designs, he said. “Thus it is not surprising that the teething problems have been significant,” van Tol said.

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