by Mike Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council, February 9, 2016
The Maritime Executive reported on February 8, 2016, in an article “Government officials criticize LCS and cutter programs” about the problems being encountered constructing the U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)’s National Security Cutter (NSC) programs.
U.S. Senators John S. McCain (R-AZ) and John F. “Jack” Reed (D-RI) wrote on February 5, 2016, to the Secretary of the Navy and Chief of Naval Operations regarding a highly critical report on the LCS program by the Department of Defense (DOD)’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
Separately, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) testified on February 3, 2016, before the U.S. House Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee that a Navy review of the NSC program found 10 deficiencies and “USCG will have to pay about $200 million for fixes unrelated to the Navy's deficiencies list.”
Both programs are well over budget. The USCG NSC program is facing certain deficiencies relating to its combatant roles and upgrades amounting to $200 million on top of their average delivered cost of $735 million making them billion dollar cutters. The LCS program has performed so poorly that the DOD is taking steps to curtail the program, and the Senators are urging the DOD to stop production.
These military ship construction programs demonstrate that the DOD is facing some of the same problems with extraordinarily high domestic U.S. ship construction as does the commercial sector to comply with Jones Act U.S. ship build requirement.
Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program
The LCS program was conceived in the early 2000’s to be an inexpensive and relatively smaller replacement for larger frigates and cruisers, and is the U.S. Navy’s newest class of surface combatants These ships were intended to operate in the littoral zone (i.e., coastal waters).
There are two LCS classes currently being constructed. The Freedom Class LCS (odd numbered) is a mono-hull ship built at the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, under contract to Lockheed Martin Corporation. The Independence Class LCS (even numbered) is a aluminum hull trimaran designed and built by Austal USA Inc. in Mobile, Alabama. Austal is an Australian owned company, which built the two Hawaiian Superferry vessels at their Mobile yard.
The costs of the LCS program have escalated substantially from the initial estimates. The LCS were originally projected to cost around US $90 million each in 2001, when the program was being conceived. Bloomberg reported in January 2016 the LCS have cost on average about $440 million each, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Reportedly, the most recently delivered Freedom Class MILWAUKEE (LCS-5), which was commissioned by U.S. Navy in November 2015, cost US $437 million from Lockheed Martin/Marinette Marine.
In addition, the LCS’s delivered so far have experienced a number of problems. The LSC MILWAUKEE (LCS-5) broke down at sea on her maiden voyage December 14, 2015, and had to be towed to port. The LSC USS FORT WORTH (LCS-3) broke down in port at Singapore on January 12, 2016.
USCG National Security Cutter (NSC) Program
The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) National Security Cutter (NSC), also known as the Legend-class cutter and Maritime Security Cutter, Large, is the largest of several new cutter designs. Five NSC have been delivered as of December 31, 2015, out of a planned total of eight by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. (HHI) Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The Legend-Class NSC particulars are: displacement 4,500 long tons, length 418 feet, beam 54 feet, maximum draft 22.5 feet. The average cost of the five delivered NSC is $735 million. The Legend Class NSC are envisioned by the USCG as being able to undertake the entire range of the High Endurance Cutter roles with additional upgrades to make it more of an asset to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) during declared national emergency contingencies.
On Friday, Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, the top-ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a sharply critical bipartisan letter to the Navy regarding the service's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.
Their criticisms stem from findings in the latest report of the Department of Defense's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, issued in January.
"More than seven years after the first LCS was delivered, the report makes clear the program remains mired in testing delays with an unclear path ahead. Yet, we seldom hear from Navy leaders about these challenges and the path to achieving full operational capability. Instead, Navy leaders seem to be promoting the warfighting capabilities of the LCS," including its rebranding as a destroyer.
Additionally, one of the main intended uses of the LCS platform – mine clearing – has not yet been realized. "LCS has not reached an initial operational capability in any elements of mine countermeasures today and the timeline for achieving mine countermeasures capability remains unclear,” four years after its scheduled operating date, they wrote.
The senators also noted the delays in testing and approval for the system's anti-submarine capabilities, and the limited abilities of its surface warfare systems, which have a "maximum effective range of five miles."
"Unless the enemy fleet consists of a small number of lightly armed boats at extremely short range, we fail to see how the LCS reality is consistent with [Secretary Mabus'] remarks."
Separately, Government Accountability Office (GAO) officials told Congress' Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Wednesday that the USCG needed additional oversight of its National Security Cutter (NSC) program. Navy tests on the ships in 2014 found that they were suitable and operationally effective, but noted ten deficiencies, including that "the Coast Guard has not yet demonstrated that [the NSC] can achieve a hard and soft kill against a subsonic cruise missile as required," said a statement from Michele Mackin, the GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management.
In addition, the GAO said that the USCG will have to pay about $200 million for fixes unrelated to the Navy's deficiencies list, including electronics systems repairs and replacements, “structural enhancements,” and recurring problems with propulsion systems.