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Congress Urged to Scrap Ship Program

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

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Cracks, “rampant corrosion” and other problems on the Navy’s newest combat ships are worse than publicly reported, and the line should be scrapped, says a government watchdog group, citing newly obtained documents.

 A 4-inch crack in the hull allowed in water and led to significant rusting.

 Naval Surface Warfare Center

A 4-inch crack in the hull allowed in water and led to significant rusting. The Navy’s Crack Monitoring team did not know how long the crack existed before being discovered.

Despite Navy assurances to the contrary, the lead ship in the Freedom class of  Littoral Combat Ships has been plagued by cracks, flooding and equipment failures that make it dangerous to crews and unfit for combat, the nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight (POGO) contends in a letter sent Monday (April 23) to leaders of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

‘At Least 17 Known Cracks’

Adding to a growing chorus demanding an accounting of the program, POGO says the Navy “has been reluctant to share documents related to LCS vulnerabilities with entities such as the Pentagon’s Office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation (DOT&E).”

Yet, the group adds, “POGO has obtained a number of documents showing that Lockheed Martin’s USS Freedom (LCS-1, the first LCS ship) has been plagued by flawed designs and failed equipment since being commissioned, has at least 17 known cracks, and has repeatedly been beset by engine-related failures.”

POGO says the problems with the LCS-1 have been far worse than the Navy has admitted publicly. The group cites “640 chargeable equipment failures on the ship” between late 2008 and the summer of 2011.

“On average, then, something on the ship failed on two out of every three days,” according to POGO.

2 Variants, Multiple Problems

Freedom is one of two variants in the 20-ship, $120 billion LCS series, which began in 2002. Problems have been reported with both variants, which are also over budget and behind schedule.

The steel-hulled LCS-1 was delivered to the Navy on Sept. 18, 2008, and soon developed a six-inch crack below the hull waterline, requiring a return to port for repairs. In 2010, the General Accountability Office said “early deployment” of the vessel had limited its time for operational testing.

 Cracks 15 and 17  travel along the upper weld of a bi-metallic strip that bonds the steel hull to the ship’s aluminum deckhouse.

Naval Surface Warfare Center

Crack 17, 18.62 inches long, travels along the upper weld of a bi-metallic strip that bonds the steel hull to the ship’s aluminum deckhouse. Crack 15, 8.5 inches long, also travels along the upper weld of the bi-metallic strip.

LCS-2, the Navy’s first aluminum-hulled warship and the first in the Independence variant built by Austal USA, developed “aggressive” galvanic corrosion in the ship’s propulsion areas 18 months after commissioning.

Austal chief executive Andrew Bellamy initially blamed the corrosion on the Navy’s maintenance and operation and called the problem a “storm in a teapot.” The company later agreed to work with the Navy to address the problem.

The POGO letter focuses on LCS-1, detailing significant problems that it says “merit explanation from the Navy.”

‘Workmanship Issue’

POGO notes that the Navy has “continued to tell Congress that all was well on LCS-1.”

The group cites repeated public assurances about the program from Navy Secretary Raymond Mabus and then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Gary Roughead.

Responding last summer to questions about the program from Rep. Duncan A. Hunter (R-CA), Mabus said the hull crack in Freedom had been caused by a weld defect, “a workmanship issue.”  Duncan is a House Armed Services Committee (HASC) member from San Diego, where LCS-1 is home ported.

Mabus said he was “confident that we are on a path of success” with the program.

‘Faulty Quality Assurance’

POGO says Mabus and Roughead “failed to mention that during the approximately two-month deployment when the ship traveled from Mayport, FL, to its home port in San Diego, CA, there were more than 80 equipment failures on the ship.”

“These failures were not trivial, and placed the crew of the ship in undue danger,” the group says, citing Navy records. For example, it says, the entire ship’s power went out on March 6, 2010, leaving the ship “adrift at sea” in the middle of a major drug-trafficking bust involving five tons of cocaine, nine suspected drug smugglers and two drug vessels.

Frigate Speeds

“Significant operational challenges” have included the discovery of 17 cracks on the ship before and during its second set of rough-water trials in February 2011, according to POGO, again citing Navy records. The cracks included one that was more than 18 inches long, located at the corner of the deckhouse near a bi-metallic strip that binds the ship’s aluminum deckhouse and steel hull together.

Another crack was discovered “‘below the waterline and is currently allowing water in,’” according to Navy records quoted by POGO. “‘When discovered, there was rust washing onto the painted surface. It is thought this is rust from the exposed crack surface. It is unknown how long this crack existed prior to being discovered.’”

 The $357.5 million LCS-1, built by Lockheed Martin, has “serious problems with critical ship-wide systems, including rampant corrosion and flooding.”

 U.S. Navy / Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Laird

The $357.5 million LCS-1, built by Lockheed Martin, has “serious problems with critical ship-wide systems, including rampant corrosion and flooding,” a government watchdog group reports.

In some cases, POGO reported, “cracks on one side of the ship were mirrored by cracks in nearly identical locations on the opposite side of the ship,” which “may be indicative of systematic design issues.”

The cracks not only allow in water but “severely limit the ship’s top speed,” POGO said. The ship had been touted as having a top speed in excess of 40 knots. In May 2011, however, the LCS program manager issued near-term operating guidance that warned that the LCS-1 “cannot travel at speeds greater than 20 knots” in rough water “and cannot travel into head seas at any speed. Even in calmer seas … the ship’s peak speed into head seas is capped at 15 knots.”

‘Not Survivable’

The power outage and operating limits have critical implications, POGO said. “The cracking, and many of the equipment failures on the ship, endanger the lives of all personnel who board it,” the group wrote. “According to the DoD’s DOT&E FY 2011 Annual Report, the LCS is ‘not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment.’”

Citing unidentified sources, POGO says the ship has been back to sea just twice after more than six months in port. Both times, the sources said, “critical problems” surfaced: “several vital components on the ship failed including, at some point in both trips, each of the four engines. In addition, there were shaft seal failures during the last trip, which led to flooding,” POGO said.

It also cites information obtained by the respected journal Aviation Week indicating “even more serious problems with critical ship-wide systems, including rampant corrosion and flooding.”

‘Severely Flawed’

POGO accuses the Navy of withholding reports about the problems and of making “significant changes to the program while giving Congress little time to evaluate these changes.”

The group’s letter concludes:

“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.”

Calling the two-design series “a corporate subsidy we can’t afford,” the group urges that “the more expensive and severely flawed Lockheed variant be eliminated.”

It adds: “As Congress prepares to act on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2013, we encourage Members to either eliminate the Lockheed variant outright, or, at least, mandate that the Navy choose in a timely manner the variant that provides the best value.”

Chris Johnson, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told this week that the ship’s leaks had been “well reported” and repaired. He said that the ship is now “approved to operate within the full scope of its designed operating envelope” and that the Navy was making sure the problems did not recur in later ships in the series.


Tagged categories: Corrosion; Government; Marine; Marine Coatings; U.S. Navy

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (4/25/2012, 8:33 AM)

One of the big risks of "Design-Build" - with less client oversight, you have to trust that the contractor does everything correctly. On the flip side, when something does go wrong - it is easier for the client to hold a particular entity accountable, if they have the willpower to do so.

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