by Michael Hansen, Hawaii Shippers Council, December 21, 2015
Marine Log Magazine published on Monday, December 21, 2015, a review of a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) of the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program under the title “GAO calls for hold on FY 2016 LCS funding.” The GAO report, “Littoral Combat Ship: Knowledge of survivability and lethality capabilities need prior to making major funding decisions,” was prepared in July 2015 and the unclassified version released on December 18, 2015.
Public release of the report is timely given that the Navy’s newest ship – the LCS MILWAUKEE suffered on December 14, 2015, a main engine casualty on her maiden voyage and had to be towed into port. That incident is representative of the problems the Navy has encountered with its LCS program.
The Navy’s LCS program involves two separate contractors and designs. The Marinette Marine Corp., is building a steel mono-hull Freedom Class in Marinette, Wisconsin, and Austal U.S.A., Inc. is building the aluminum hull trimaran Independence Class in Mobile, Alabama,.
The Marinette and Austal yards are classified as second tier shipbuilding yards, and do not have the facilities to build the larger naval and commercial ships that the major shipbuilding yards do.
In its report, the GAO recommends that Congress withhold 2016 funding for the LCS program until the issues relating to effectiveness of the two designs can be established. This unsettled situation exists six years after delivery of the first LCS’s. In addition to the issues raised by the GAO, the cost of the LCS’s have escalated far beyond original estimates.
The GAO report is further evidence that the Naval shipbuilding program is experiencing many issues which are completely separate from and not related to the domestic commercial ship construction market regulated by the Jones Act (Section 27 of the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 as amended).
A primary rationale for the domestic ship build requirement of Jones Act cabotage – which requires commercial vessels in coastwise service be built in the US. -- is to support Naval shipbuilding capacity. This capacity is formally known as the “shipbuilding industrial base of the U.S.” Jones Act proponents insist that the domestic build requirement for commercial vessels is critical to maintaining the capacity for naval ship construction.
In conclusion, the problems with the Naval shipbuilding programs are sui generis and don’t appear to be in anyway related to the Jones Act U.S. build requirement for commercial vessels in domestic service. It is quite clear from the empirical results, legally mandating private U.S. ship owners to construct their domestic service ships in U.S. shipyards does not have any appreciable effect on Naval shipbuilding programs.
There is no evidence to support the positive cause and effect relationship between the Jones Act build requirement and Naval shipbuilding cited by Jones Act supporters. After all, the U.S. build requirement has been in place since 1920, while Naval shipbuilding programs continue to experience problems with severe cost overruns and poor quality.
In what was a bad week for supporters of the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the GAO released a report December 18 suggesting that Congress delay funding for the fiscal year 2016 LCS program.
The GAO report, an unclassified version of a report published in July, was released as news surfaced that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter, in a Dec. 14 memo to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, had told the Navy to reduce the planned LCS/FF shipyard procurement from 52 to 40 and to downselect to one variant by FY 2019 (see earlier story).
The GAO reiterates a number of arguments made by critics of the program. It says that the lethality and survivability of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) remain l largely unproven, six years after delivery of the lead ships.
According to GAO, LCS was designed with reduced requirements as compared to other surface combatants, and the Navy has since lowered several survivability and lethality requirements and removed several design features—making the ship both less survivable in its expected threat environments and less lethal than initially planned. The Navy is compensating for this by redefining how it plans to operate the ships.
The Navy also has not yet demonstrated that LCS will achieve its survivability requirements, and does not plan to complete survivability assessments until 2018—after more than 24 ships are either in the fleet or under construction, says GAO.
Another Triumph of Jones Act Shipbuilding: USS Milwaukee breaks down on Maiden Voyage
GAO: LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP REPORT
ML: GAO calls for hold on FY 2016 LCS funding