The GAO has released its long awaited LCS evaluation report, or performance audit as they term it, in response to a Congressional request and it's as bad as anyone suggested. Following are some highlights.
Weight margins and stability continue to be problematic. The report states,
“We requested updated copies of the contractually required weight reports that the shipyard is supposed to develop and provide to the Navy, but program officials told us these reports had been sent back to the shipyards to correct issues with the quality of the reported data that prevented these reports from being acceptable.”
Umm… So, the dog ate the homework, is essentially the answer?
Production efficiency is reported to be improving.
“… both shipyards anticipate by the third ship of the class, they will achieve approximately a 50 percent reduction in the number of labor hours needed for ship completion.”
Quality may be improving but is not yet adequate. The report had this to say about INSURV trial results.
“Part 1 deficiencies are intended to represent very significant deficiencies that are likely to cause the ship to be unseaworthy or substantially reduce the ability of the ship to carry out its assigned mission. Starred cards are a subset of Part 1 deficiencies that, in INSURV’s view, require correction or a waiver by the Chief of Naval Operations before the ship is delivered to the Navy. … As of March 2013, both LCS 1 and LCS 2 each have seven outstanding starred cards that had not yet been resolved.”
According to that, neither LCS 1 or LCS 2 should have been accepted by the Navy. Why did the Navy accept deficient ships?
Given that production efficiency and quality are improving, if not yet good, we should be cautiously happy, right? Unfortunately, no. The Navy is still making significant design changes as each ship is built. Worse, the Navy is contemplating some very significant changes that, if enacted, will impact delivery schedules and quality. Just when the manufacturers appear to be getting a handle on production the Navy is looking to make major design changes. This is why claimed benefits of serial production never materialize. On the plus side, the changes may make the LCS more useful. Some possible changes include adding additional weaponry, increased berthing and support, and reducing the speed requirement.
In a trend seen on all ship classes, the Navy persists in fielding untested and unproven ships and weapon systems. In fact, the Navy is actively engaged in a pattern of intentional delays of testing. For example,
“Most notably, LCS 2 has not completed its acceptance trials or developmental and combat system testing, even though the Navy accepted delivery of the ship in 2009. In addition, neither variant has completed developmental testing or undergone shock and survivability testing.”
We all know that the LCS has very limited combat capabilities but the extent of the limitations is greater even than that. The combat management system which is the software that ties sensors, weapons, and command and control together to make a fully functional combat system is having problems.
“… the combat management system software on LCS 2 was delivered incomplete. The combat management system contractor stated that the system was delivered with less functionality than planned due to developmental challenges and the Navy’s urgency to have the ship delivered. The combat system trials for LCS 4 will be the first time that the full capability of the system will be tested in a realistic environment, and the final combat management system software build and a hardware upgrade will not be available until LCS 6. When we visited LCS 2 in December 2012, the crew still had questions about the combat management system and radar because they had little operational experience with either, and because the weapon and sensor capabilities have not been integrated into the combat system.”
“Developmental testing to date—especially for MCM mission package technologies—has shown continued performance problems which do not provide assurances that threshold requirements will be ultimately met in the final increment. These developmental challenges are notable given that the Navy believes many of these systems to already be mature, and some predate the LCS program. Further, these challenges are in developmental testing, not operational testing which is a more representative assessment of capability.”
Addressing the problems of the Mine Countermeasures (MCM) module, specifically, the report noted the following actions taken by the Navy.
“It has reduced key performance requirements thresholds for average mine clearance rates for early increments from the requirements defined in the capability development document.
It has modified operational tactics, such as requiring multiple searches to correlate results. The modified tactics address some performance problems, but add significantly more time to minehunting operations or cover less area.
It has decided to delay the retirement of the mine countermeasures
ships the LCS is to replace by 3 years due to expected delays in
mission module deployment.”
So, the Navy’s response to a failing MCM module is to lower the requirements, increase the time required to perform the task, and hang on to the current MCM vessels which they allowed to badly deteriorate in anticipation of being replaced by the LCS.
The Navy seems determined to forge ahead regardless of how bad the various systems are. For example, the report has this to say about the Airborne Laser Mine Detection system.
“… Navy testers reported that the system did not demonstrate the expected level of maturity and failed to meet several requirements, presenting a high risk to operational testing. In spite of its poor performance, the Navy has accepted delivery of 7 units and plans to procure an additional 15 units …”
Full speed ahead. Damn the performance!
“… the Navy plans to procure more than half of the SUW and MCM mission packages before it demonstrates they meet LCS’s minimum performance requirements for their respective missions.”
The surface warfare (ASuW) module garners its fair share of criticism in the report which points out that the module, already badly underarmed and lacking useful range, will not be getting even the anemic Griffon missile as scheduled. Funding for development of the Griffon has been suspended due to budget cuts.
The anti-submarine (ASW) module is claimed by the Navy to be mature but is still several years away from being operationally fielded. The module is quite limited in scope, consisting of only a towed array, variable depth sonar, and torpedo decoy. Notable among missing components is any actual weapon to destroy a submarine if one is found. An embarked helo will presumably be the only offensive weapon. One has to hope that the helo will be available when the moment comes – not a high probability event as anyone who has worked with helos can attest.
Further, the report cites OPNAV officials who say that the towed array may not be able to operate in shallow waters given the depths that towed arrays require for streaming. Wait a minute! Isn’t the LCS supposed to be the shallow water combat vessel? The value of a shallow water combat vessel that can’t conduct shallow water ASW seems questionable, wouldn’t you say?
The report makes it crystal clear that the Navy is doing everything it can to jam this program through and past Congress regardless of legal requirements. The Navy is engaged in a willful program of evasion of oversight. I won’t bore you with the details of Milestone evaluations, low rate initial production criteria, and so forth but suffice it to say that the Navy is violating every standard practice and legal requirement in an attempt to get these vessels under contract before Congress stops them. Read the report if you want the details. It’s obvious that the program cannot meet the various criteria and would be forced to stop. The result of all this is that the Navy is putting sailors on untested, unproven, unfit ships and potentially sending them in harm’s way. This is criminal behavior and Congress needs to reign in the Navy in the most forceful way possible.
Even more than the problems with the LCS itself, the report highlights the criminally irresponsible behavior of Navy leadership, the constant lies and deceptions presented to Congress and the public, and the blatant disregard for legal requirements and the safety of the sailors who will man the ships. I could not be more ashamed of Navy leadership.
(1) Government Accountability Office – “Navy Shipbuilding - Significant Investments in the Littoral Combat Ship Continue Amid Substantial Unknowns about Capabilities, Use, and Cost”, July 2013, GAO-13-530