I continue to be dismayed, disappointed, and disgusted by the statements that come from Navy leadership. The latest example is a passionate yet misleading defense by Rear Adm. John Kirby, US Navy Chief of Information (2), in response to a post criticizing the LCS, written by John Sayen, Lt. Col. USMC(Ret), for Time (1). Links to both posts are available in the footnotes at the end.
The disappointment starts with the Adm. Kirby’s opening statement in which he complains that Mr. Sayen’s criticism is based on “old, misconstrued or simply bad information”. Certainly, there are a lot of misconceptions floating around about the LCS. However, the Navy is doing nothing to dispel them. Accurate, up to date information is hardly forthcoming from the Navy. What little information the Navy volunteers is just public relations spin.
Following are several of the specifics of Mr. Sayen’s comments and Adm. Kirby’s responses. Let’s see which party was the more factual.
Mr. Sayen charges that the LCS program has been manipulated by the Navy to make it too big to fail so as to protect the program from possible cancellation.
Adm. Kirby’s response:
“That’s a pretty bold charge…and unfair. He’s basically saying we tried to steamroll the system to get what we want, to get so deep into a program that no lawmaker or leader would dare shut it down.Actually, selecting both designs was the consequence of trying to encourage competition between the two builders and drive costs down. And we succeeded. We saved $2.9 billion in projected procurement costs, enough to buy five more LCSs, a DDG, and a Mobile Landing Platform.By awarding two contracts for 10 ships each, we will be able to better analyze the two variants in fleet service, build up fleet numbers faster than expected, and save a bundle. And we always retain the option to down select to one variant should circumstances dictate.Never did we have anything but the taxpayers’ — and our national — interests foremost in mind.”
Kirby’s response actually has little to do with the charge. As it happens, the Navy has, at best, been guilty of some highly questionable manipulations such as presenting Congress with options at the very last moment so that Congress had no time to render due consideration. For instance, a Congressional Research Service report (3) states,
“… the timing of the Navy’s announcement nevertheless put Congress in the position of being asked to approve a major proposal for the LCS program—a proposal that would determine the basic shape of the acquisition strategy for the program for many years into the future—with little or no opportunity for formal congressional review and consideration through hearings and committee markup activities.A shortage of time for formal congressional review and consideration would be a potential oversight issue for Congress for any large weapon acquisition program, but this might have been especially the case for the LCS program, because it was not be the first time that the Navy put Congress in the position of having to make a significant decision about the LCS program with little or no opportunity for formal congressional review and consideration. As discussed in previous CRS reporting on the LCS program, a roughly similar situation occurred in the summer of 2002, after Congress had completed its budget-review hearings on the proposed FY2003 budget, when the Navy submitted a late request for the research and development funding that effectively started the LCS program.”
Examination of the Navy’s timing of submissions to Congress does, quite clearly, suggest that the Navy manipulated Congress, essentially forcing them into a corner with little choice but to agree thus creating a program “too big to fail”.
Also, consider Kirby’s statement that the $2.9B savings (a highly suspect claim but let’s go with it for the sake of further discussion!) represent enough to build “five more LCSs, a DDG, and a Mobile Landing Platform”. The LCS costs around $0.5B each even using the Navy’s convoluted cost accounting methods which translates to $2.5B for five more LCSs. The last DDG-51 built cost around $1.9B. I have no idea what a Mobile Landing Platform costs. The total for the ships Kirby claims could be purchased is around $5B. Note that Kirby claimed that all the ships could be built from the savings, not that one or the other could. Kirby’s claim is not only wrong by a wide margin, it’s an out and out lie.
Mr. Sayen stated that the LCS program had experienced cost overruns resulting in a doubling of the price tag per ship.
Adm. Kirby’s response:
“Yes, there has definitely been cost growth. Can’t deny that. The Navy initially established an objective cost of $250 million per ship and a threshold cost of $400 million per ship (seaframe and mission modules included). The first two seaframes of the class, which were both research and development ships of two different variants, cost $537 million (LCS 1) and $653 million (LCS 2), respectively.But that was then. This is now. We have 20 LCSs under fixed price contracts. The average price for LCS will be below the congressionally mandated cost cap.And the tenth ship of each production run will beat the cost cap by several tens of millions of dollars. That will allow us to inject added capabilities, if desired or required, without breaking the bank—just as we have done in the Arleigh Burke DDG program for the past 20 years.On balance, for the LCS’s size and capability, we believe the Navy — and the taxpayers –are getting one heck of a bargain.”
Mr. Sayen was being quite generous with his accusation that the LCS had only doubled in cost. The original cost estimate was $200M per ship which quickly grew to $250M and then on up to around $600M for the first two. That’s more like tripling in cost!
Further, the Navy has engaged in out and out fraud regarding the cost of the LCS. The fixed price contracts for the LCS are for the empty seaframe (the hull) only. The sensors, weapons, electronics, and most other equipment is being provided as “government supplied equipment” from another account line which has never been made public, as far as I know. The modules which are essential to the LCS are being paid from yet another account line and range in price from around $30M for the ASuW module which has nothing in it, at the moment, to around $200M for modules closer to the envisioned final products. Thus, the true cost of the LCS is the seaframe ($500M) plus government supplied equipment ($200M??) plus module ($30M to $200M). This gives a low end cost of around $730M and on up to $900M for a fully outfitted ship. And yet the Navy tries to make us believe that the LCS costs only around $400M (the original contracted seaframe cost unadjusted for inflation).
Also, the “fixed” price contracts aren’t really fixed, at all. The contracts contain language allowing the contractor to recover some or all of any cost overruns. This was added because both the contractors and the Navy knew they couldn’t build the LCS for the stated amounts.
The Navy’s statements about cost border on fraud.
Mr. Sayen notes that the LCS has been rated as not survivable in a hostile environment.
Adm. Kirby’s response:
“Like all warships, LCS is built to fight. It’s built for combat.Nobody ever said this ship can — and no engineer can ever design a ship to — withstand every conceivable threat on the sea. But the LCS is significantly more capable than the older mine counter measure ships and patrol craft it was designed to replace, and stands up well to the frigates now serving in the fleet.It is fast, maneuverable, and has low radar, infrared, and magnetic signatures. Its core self-defense suite is designed to defeat a surprise salvo of one or two anti-ship cruise missiles when the ship is operating independently, or leakers that get through fleet area and short-range air defenses when operating with naval task forces.Its 57mm gun is more than capable of taking out small boats and craft. Its armed helicopter gives the LCS an over-the-horizon attack capability and is lethal against submarines. LCS will stand outside of minefields and sweep them with little danger to its crew—and be able to defend itself while doing so. The ship has extensive automated firefighting systems and can remain afloat after considerable flooding damage.We’re more than comfortable that the ship can fight and defend itself in a combat environment, especially when acting in concert with larger multi-mission cruisers and destroyers, exactly as we designed it to do.”
The Navy, itself, has stated that the LCS cannot survive in a hostile environment. Further, a Congressional Research Services report also makes that exact statement. According to the Navy, the LCS has been designed to survive a hit long enough for the crew to safely abandon ship.
The LCS appears to have been designed to Level 1 standards which is what non-combatants are designed for. In fact, there is some doubt that the LCS even meets those minimal standards.
Adm. Kirby’s statements are, at best, a case of excessive spin coupled deliberate attempts to mislead. Most of his response discusses offensive operations rather than survivability.
Mr. Sayen states that the LCS modules have proven to require many days or weeks to swap out.
Adm. Kirby’s response:
“Each LCS will deploy with the Mission Package (MP) required to accomplish directed missions. If a commander directs a mission package swap, equipment staging and personnel movement will be planned and coordinated in advance.The physical swap of mission package equipment can occur, as advertised, in less than 96 hours … just like we “originally envisaged.” Getting the ship ready for a new mission may take a little longer. But the fact is this ship is more flexible than any in the fleet.Consider this: with three crews assigned to every two LCS hulls, the Navy will keep 50% of the entire LCS fleet deployed or ready for tasking. That means up to 27 ships might be “out and about” at any given time, with a mix of anti-submarine, anti-surface, and counter mine mission packages already aboard. With the LCS’s high speed, this force will be able to quickly concentrate in any theater with exactly the right packages needed for the job. When coupled with the ability to change out modules in theater, you have an extremely agile force.”
The Navy’s own studies have demonstrated that the LCS’s design goal of rapidly swappable modules won’t be achieved and that swap out times will be on the order of many days to weeks. This is simple fact as reported in publicly released Navy reports. Again, Kirby’s response is highly misleading.
Adm. Kirby concludes his response to Mr. Sayen:
“I thank Mr. Sayen for his interest. I really do. And I hope we can have a conversation with him moving forward. I don’t mind the criticism. I just want the opportunity to help inform it. …I don’t expect the LCS debate to cease anytime soon. As I said, I welcome it. It’s healthy for us and for the country. But I do expect the criticism to be based on facts — current, relevant facts.”
Well, Adm. Kirby, you could start by “informing” the discussion with factually correct information, yourself. Mr. Sayen’s comments were generally on the money and your responses were factually-challenged and deliberately misleading. The Navy complains about the people criticizing their programs and yet fails to offer useful and accurate information, preferring instead to spin and lie even in the face of their own comments to the contrary.
(1)Time: http://nation.time.com/2012/10/05/the-navys-new-class-of-warships-big-bucks-little-bang/, Lt. Col. John Sayen USMC(Ret),
(2)Navy Live: http://navylive.dodlive.mil/2012/10/10/lcs-lets-talk-facts/, Rear Adm. John Kirby, US Navy Chief of Information,
(3)Congressional Research Service, Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program:
Background, Issues, and Options for Congress, Ronald O'Rourke,
April 6, 2012, p.61