We’ve beaten the LCS horse repeatedly, to the point that it’s not even fun anymore. However, it bears one more examination in light of what’s about to happen – more on that later. I want to examine one aspect, and only one, of the LCS program. I want to state clearly what the main problem was with LCS acquisition process.
Let’s be clear. The main overall problem with the LCS was the complete absence of a viable Concept of Operations (CONOPS) prior to committing to production. This resulted in the disjointed set of design/construction requirements and the subsequent, repeated modifications of those requirements as various individuals attempted to put their own “stamp” on the design based on whatever they believed the LCS should be capable of doing – divorced from any coherent statement of needs derived from a CONOPS. This lead to runaway costs, ill-suited capabilities, and an utter lack of focus on an operational endpoint – a lack which persists even today. This, however, is not the problem I want to focus on. This was the main overall problem but not the main acquisition process problem.
The main acquisition process problem was the commitment to purchase 55 ships before the design of the first one was even finalized. Common sense and good business principles demand a “try, then buy” approach. The Navy, in defiance of all common sense, intelligence, experience, and good business principles, opted to “buy, then try”. The results were predictable.
The product, the ship, failed to meet expectations by a wide margin. Even the most ardent supporter has to acknowledge that the LCS has been a disappointment. Had we bought only a single prototype, thoroughly exercised it, and seen all the problems it had, we would have refused to buy any more or demanded extensive changes prior to buying another. Either way, we would have come out way ahead of where we are now. Again, even supporters acknowledge that we should have prototyped the class before committing to the full buy.
If there is any lesson the Navy should have gotten from the LCS debacle it’s this – that you can’t commit to the purchase of an entire class before you even have a design. Stated in other terms, the lesson the Navy should have gotten from the LCS debacle is that you have to “try, then buy”. If nothing else, this should be hammered into the Navy acquisition psyche by now, right?
Well, you’re going to be disappointed.
The Navy is pushing Congress to approve the entire 12-ship “frigate” version of the LCS in the form of a block buy. Here are the damning statements from the recently released GAO report. Note the time frames.
“… early next year, the Navy plans to request authorization for a block buy of all 12 frigates …” (1) [emphasis added]
“The Navy plans to request proposals for frigate-specific modifications later in 2017 …” (1) [emphasis added]
There it is. The Navy is going to ask for Congressional approval for a block buy of the 12 “frigates” before they have even requested design proposals from industry. Thus, they are asking Congress to approve a ship that has no design. This is exactly what happened and what went wrong with the original LCS. The Navy is going to repeat their idiotic mistake. Recall that the definition of insanity is to repeat a set of actions and expect a different result. This is exactly what the Navy is doing.
Circling back to the main problem with the overall LCS program, the lack of a CONOPS, the Navy is set to repeat that mistake, also. There is no CONOPS for the “frigate” version of the LCS. Given that the “frigate” will not really be a frigate as compared to any other frigate in the world’s navies, a CONOPS is all the more vital to understand how we will utilize a sub-par “frigate” in a meaningful way so that we can set useful design requirements. The Navy, however, has opted not to do that.
The magnitude of the sheer stupidity of Navy leadership boggles the mind. It is incomprehensible. One of the many definitions of intelligence is the ability to learn. The Navy appears incapable of learning. The conclusion is obvious.
The entire Navy leadership, civilian and uniformed, needs to be fired.
(1)GAO, “Littoral Combat Ship and Frigate”, GAO-17-262T, Dec 2016