Rebuffed by the Navy, two members of Congress are now asking the General Accountability Office to review the troubled Littoral Combat Ship program.
Meanwhile, in the Senate, a group led by Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is demanding answers on the program. McCain has warned the Navy that it may face severe budget cuts if the service doesn’t get the 20-vessel LCS program shipshape.
|“The Navy continues to lack a single ship that is operationally effective or reliable,” said Sen. John McCain said of the troubled LCS program.|
Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA), a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) member whose district includes one ship’s home port of San Diego, told Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in a letter July 1 that the Navy should “immediately conduct a formal review of the entire LCS program,” following disclosures of aggressive corrosion and a crack in the program’s first two ships.
Hunter requested an assessment of the technical design flaw and suggested that the contract be rebid “so that the program can be put back on a fiscally responsible path to procurement.”
The letter accused the Navy of “rushing through design planning and testing” and noted that the cost of the ship had already doubled, from the original $220 million, and is expected to reach $653 million by FY12.
Mabus demurred in a response July 7, however, saying he was “confident that we are on a path of success” with the program.
“It is not uncommon for the Navy to discover and correct technical issues encountered on first-of-class ships during the post-delivery and trial period. In fact, this is one of the main reasons for the test and trial period,” Mabus said in the letter.
“These issues are being repaired and corrected on both LCS 1 and LCS 2 and changes to the designs have been implemented for follow-on ships.”
GAO Review Urged
Clearly not reassured, Hunter took his case directly to the GAO on Wednesday (July 27). With Rep. Rob Wittman (R-VA), chairman of the HASC Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Hunter wrote a letter to Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro, requesting that GOA review the LCS program.
“Throughout the history of this program, the Navy has been over cost and has failed to meet its own deadlines,” the letter said. It noted a 2010 GAO report that highlighted “technical, design and construction challenges facing the Navy in completing the first four ships within the estimated cost and schedule outline.”
Citing “poor performance of the LCS program with cost overruns and delays,” the congressmen requested that the GAO examine what the Navy is doing to:
• Overcome the technical design flaws in the first two ships, so that changes can be made to later ships in the series;
• Ensure that future ships meet time and cost estimates; and
• Ensure that the ships’ mission packages meet their intended capabilities.
The letter also seeks “performance and operational maintenance data of the propulsion systems on board LCS-1 and LCS-2.”
2 Variants, 2 Problems
LCS-1 is the so-called Freedom variant of the series. The steel-hulled ship, built by Lockheed Martin, sustained a six-inch hull crack below the waterline, requiring a return to port for repairs. GAO said “early deployment” of the LCS-1 had limited its time for operational testing.
LCS-2, the Independence variant, is the Navy’s first aluminum-hulled warship. Eighteen months after the ship was commissioned, aggressive galvanic corrosion was reported in the ship’s propulsion areas.
The ship was built by Austal USA and General Dynamics—a partnership that has since split, leaving Austal USA with the rest of the 10-ship contract. Bath Iron Works, a subcontractor for General Dynamics on the LCS-2, says the corrosion problem began before the ship was delivered to the Navy.
Austal chief executive Andrew Bellamy blamed the corrosion on the Navy’s maintenance and operation of the ship; hence, the congressmen’s request to GAO for that data.
In his response to Hunter, Mabus said the hull crack in Freedom had been caused by a weld defect, “a workmanship issue.” The corrosion issues on Independence, he said, “have been attributed to a design approach undertaken by General Dynamics and Austal USA that proved not as effective as anticipated.”
Interim repairs on the LCS-2 have been completed, and a permanent fix—installation of new coatings and a cathodic protection system—will be made next year, when the vessel is dry-docked. Those measures, and the addition of cathodic protection systems to future ships, should address all concerns, the Navy contends.
‘Less Than Admirable’
In a confirmation hearing Thursday for Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, vice chief of naval operations, to be the next chief of naval operations, McCain said that the Navy’s “recent track record has been less than admirable” and that the service needed to take a hard look at the LCS and F-35 Joint Strike Fighter programs, according to “Stripes Central,” a blog on Stars & Stripes.
“The Navy continues to lack a single ship that is operationally effective or reliable,” said McCain, ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Without improvements to both programs, “the Navy … could be the service that’s most adversely affected” at budget time, McCain warned.
McCain and six other senators—three Democrats and three Republicans—also questioned the handling of the program in a letter July 12 to Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter. Six of the seven senators are members of the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The letter sought more information on the corrosion problems and questioned various Pentagon certification procedures that green-lighted the program.
“It is highly unfortunate that we first learned about the discovery of significant corrosion on the Independence, and obtained your letter about your decision to waive certain certifications,” after the SASC marked up its 2012 defense bill on June 21 and approved the Navy’s request for four LCS ships, the senators wrote.
“Needless to say, it is absolutely vital for the committee to have in a timely fashion all information material to its deliberating the Department of Defense’s funding requests.”
Pressure on Congress Charged
The Navy Times called McCain a longtime critic of the LCS program, saying he “decried the pressure put on Congress late last year to permit the Navy to change course and buy both, rather than only one, of the LCS variants.”
The senators’ letter questioned why the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) waived various certifications to allow the LCS program to move forward and why OSD allowed the program to use Navy acquisition cost estimates, rather than those developed by the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) group, as required by law, the Navy Times reported.
Regarding the corrosion problems, the senators want to know how the LCS “’will ensure reliability and minimize major cost growth in operations and sustainment costs’ in accordance with a March directive from defense undersecretary Frank Kendall requiring all Pentagon programs to do so,” the newspaper said.
The senators also want “detailed information on the corrosion issue discovered on elements of the waterjet system on Independence,” the newspaper said. “The Navy already has been fielding answers on the issue, which involves a failed alternative to more standard efforts to provide cathodic protection against corrosion and rust in underwater areas where two or more kinds of metal are used.
“A more conventional fix has been designed into subsequent units of the class, the Navy said, and modifications will be made to Independence to deal with the issue.”
Finally, the letter seeks an accounting of the Navy’s maintenance of the ships.