Concerns over the Navy’s troubled Littoral Combat Ship program continue to mount in Congress, but members are not yet ready to slow down the program.
The House Armed Services Committee’s report on the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act contains some pointed criticism of the Navy but fully funds its $1,784,959,000 request for “Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation” of four ships in the LCS program.
|“The future of the fleet is corroding before our eyes,” says Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA).|
There is one catch: The committee ordered the Secretary of the Navy to “provide a comprehensive briefing” on the program within 30 days.
‘Navy Has Not Adequately Informed Congress’
“The committee is aware of considerable issues that have plagued the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program over recent years,” the panel noted in an “Item of Special Interest” in the 589-page report, which was sent to the full House on Friday (May 11).
“While the Navy has briefed the congressional defense committees on problems involving the LCS program, the committee believes that the Navy has not adequately informed Congress to the full extent possible on program deficiencies, including mechanical and structural failures.”
The committee also said it was “concerned with” the Navy’s “lack of transparency” on the program. The panel noted that DoD’s own Director of Operational Test and Evaluation has said it could not fully assess the LCS program because “program offices have not released any formal developmental T&E reports.”
The authorization bill also demands an evaluation of the series’ two ship designs “for comparative cost and effectiveness.” Serious operational problems, cost overruns and delays have plagued the lead ships of both designs.
LCS-1, the Freedom variant built by Lockheed Martin, has shown hull cracking, seal shaft programs and corrosion. LCS-2, the Independence variant built by Austal USA and General Dynamics, has had problems with aggressive galvanic corrosion. LCS-2 is the Navy’s first aluminum-hulled combat ship; Austal is now the sole builder on the project.
Naval Surface Warfare Center
|A main deck crack nearly 19 inches long was among 17 cracks found by the Navy during a weeklong cracking survey of the LCS-1 in 2011.|
Critics have suggested putting one design on hold—temporarily or permanently—in order to focus on developing, testing and deploying one model at a time.
The committee also has instructed the U.S. Comptroller General to review the “program’s quality” and the Navy’s “operational and sustainment support strategy for the program.”
The demand for a Navy briefing was added to the bill at the last minute in April by HASC’s Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, which oversees the LCS program.
Subcommittee member Duncan Hunter (R-CA) had made the request in the wake of a new report by the independent Project on Government Oversight (POGO) that revealed numerous cracks, “rampant corrosion” and other problems with the ships. Hunter represents the San Diego district where the first Freedom ship is home-ported.
Other members of both the House and the Senate, from both parties, have echoed Hunter’s concerns.
The latest, and loudest, call for action came last week from Rep. Jackie Speier, a San Francisco Democrat who urged a fresh review of the program by the Government Accountability Office—an idea that the Senate is also considering.
‘Corroding Before Our Eyes’
“It’s disturbing that the Navy would accept a ship that fails to meet the basic requirements for a tugboat,” said Speier. “The future of the fleet is corroding before our eyes.
“I find it troubling that it takes whistleblowers and the press to bring these problems to light. It’s time for an independent assessment to find out what’s really going on with this program.”
|The USS Freedom was deployed two years ahead of schedule. Repairs have taken her out of service for much of the time since then.|
The GAO looked at the program several years ago and concluded that early deployment of the LCS-1 had limited its time for operational testing.
“In their rush to move the program forward, the Navy appears to have given up quality control over its own ships,” Speier said. “Taxpayers have already paid $7.6 billion for the development and procurement of the LCS-1 variant, and for their money they are getting a ship that is cracking and corroding. We can’t have sailors and taxpayers pay the costs of mismanagement.”
Navy Shipbuilding Concerns
The report says the committee will fully fund the 2013 LCS request but “encourages the Navy to ensure the programs discovered to date have technical solutions and that these solutions are incorporated on forthcoming ships.”
However, the LCS program apparently is not the Navy’s only problem.
“The committee is concerned with the Navy’s shipbuilding program,” the bill says in another “Item of Special Interest.”
The problem, according to the committee: The Navy hasn’t asked for enough money.
The panel notes that the $13.7 billion budget request for Shipbuilding and Conversion in FY 2013 is “significantly lower” than the $14.9 billion appropriated for FY 2012.
This year’s request had forecast the start of construction for 57 ships, “However,” the committee notes, “16 of those ships have fallen out of the [Future Years Defense Program], reducing new construction starts to 41 ships.”
In addition, the committee says, the Navy has indicated that it “will no longer seek to build a 313-ship fleet” and has proposed retiring nine additional ships during the FYDP “before the end of their service lives.”
Among other programs, the panel singled out:
• Virginia-class submarine. The committee notes that the Navy has trimmed its plan to build two new subs a year to just one “and believes this would inject instability into a stable program.” Therefore, the committee recommended providing funds to restore the second sub.
• Marine amphibious ships. Design changes related to the well deck have pushed back the construction schedule of some of these ships. “The committee is concerned that this delay may negatively affect the industrial base,” the bill says.
• Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine. “Perhaps the most troubling aspect of the Navy shipbuilding plan” is how it will be able to afford this replacement program “and still have a viable program for other ships,” the committee says. Indeed, the budget request delays construction on the program for two years. Nevertheless, the committee restored the R&D funds previously requested to give DoD “time to determine how to keep the program on track.”
Ironically, such additions to the final bill caused Speier to vote against it in the end, even though it included six of her amendments.
“I could not in good conscience vote for this authorization bill that forces the Pentagon to accept $8 billion that it neither requested, needs, nor wants,” she said. “The NDAA funds a laundry list of weapons programs that are outmoded, ineffective, and a waste of taxpayer money.”