Monday, July 15, 2013

GAO's LCS Report

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has been working on a report on the LCS program and has now issued a draft version.  Aviation week has apparently obtained a copy and has revealed some details from the report in a recent article on their website (1).  It doesn’t sound like the report is going to be very complimentary about the program and, in fact, suggests that Congress “pause” funding of the program.

Here is an excerpt from the Aviation Week article which discusses how the Navy has changed their story and claims about the LCS over time as they’ve attempted to manipulate and adjust the program spin in response to the myriad problems that have cropped up.  The italicized passages are quoted from the article.

Particularly galling to some in Congress is the report’s Table 5 – “Evolution of Navy Statements About Littoral Combat Ship Capability,” which chronicles the changing narrative of the ship’s concepts and capabilities.

What the table shows, Congressional sources say, is how the Navy has changed its tune throughout the program – so much so, that it may be difficult to trust what service officials have to say now, especially in light of some of the unknowns highlighted in the other tables detailing potential factors that could affect LCS costs and operations.

Here’s the gist of the GAO report Table 5:

Concept: LCS’s capability against adversaries

Early (2004-2008): Primarily developed for use in major combat operations.  Will gain initial entry and provide assured access—or ability to enter contested spaces—and be employable and sustainable throughout the battlespace regardless of anti-access or area-denial environments.

Current (2011-2012): Current LCS weapon systems are under-performing and offer little chance of survival in a combat scenario.  Not to be employed outside a benign, low-threat environment unless escorted by a multi-mission combatant providing credible anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine protection.

Concept: How LCS will deploy

Early (2004-2008): Will be a self-sufficient combatant.

Current (2011-2012): Lacks the ability to operate independently in combat. Will have to be well protected by multi-mission combatants. Multiple LCSs will likely have to operate in a coordinated strike attack group fashion for mutual support.

Concept: How mission packages swaps will be utilized

Early (2004-2008):  Mission packages will be quickly swapped out in an expeditionary theater in a matter of days.

Current (2011-2012): Though a mission package can be swapped within 72 hours if all the equipment and personnel are in theater, swapping out mission packages overseas presents manning and potentially expensive logistical challenges. An LCS executing a package swap could be unavailable for between 12-29 days, and it may take 30-60 days or more for equipment and personnel to arrive in theater.

The examples cited in the article barely scratch the surface of the Navy’s ever-changing story about the LCS.  The reason for the inconsistency in narrative is two-fold.  First, the Navy never had a defined concept of operations for the LCS.  It’s hard to maintain a story when there was never a story to begin with.  In the absence of a defined concept, every person connected with the program has had their own idea of what the LCS would be – hardly surprising, then, that the various stories wouldn’t agree!  Second, the almost continual succession of failures related to the program have led the Navy to continually change the narrative as a public relations exercise so as to maintain Congressional support for on-going funding.

The LCS story is written across a backdrop of the Navy’s lack of integrity and forthrightness.  If these hints at the tenor of the GAO report are representative, the LCS has not sailed clear of stormy weather and may, in fact, be headed deeper into the storm.  We’ll look closely at the full GAO report when it’s finalized and becomes publicly available.

(1) Aviation Week, NavWeek: Return of LCS Past, Michael Fabey, 14-Jun-2013


  1. Kill the program now.

    1. I second this motion. We tried, it didn't work, so lesson learned.

    2. How long are you going to talk about the same report, This is the third time we seen this report, is there anything new in it?

    3. GLof, you saw that this is a draft report that has not yet been issued. Therefore, everything is new in it. It's been alluded to before and Aviation Week has only released tiny bits of it. You may be thinking of another report? What's specifically new about this LCS item is the tabulation in an official report of the Navy's changing narrative about the LCS over time. I've detailed it on my own but now the official GAO report has also detailed it. I'd say that's noteworthy.

      I think your point is that more bad news about the LCS is akin to beating a dead horse. I get that but until the Navy puts a stop to this program, I'll continue to report and comment on it since news about the vessel that will one day comprise a quarter to a third of the fleet is, by definition, newsworthy.

    4. The changing LCS narrative is new, and frankly a very interesting take from GAO. Usually they just stick to quantifiable facts and numbers.

      It's the first report I've seen which calls Navy leadership on the 'grading curve' it is using with respect to LCS.

      The sad part is I don't see how the LCS program will ever be killed if Congress allows the Navy to continually lower its own requirements. Congress is complicit in this fiasco.

    5. Sorry, my mistake, it was another site that discussed this report.

      Basically it a rehash of most of the criticism of the last ten years compiled into a single document. Some of their points are valid as the has never been a clear definition of the tactics and method, but I not if this is an advantage or a disadvantage. Not having a fix goal make judging the program, making it harder for bureaucracy to interfere with the development program. On the other hand it make the only goal for the engineers, as "do the best you can" which provide no real stopping point.

      This time lets avoid silly arguments like buying foreign frigate designs, gutted Burkes, and other such ideas.

    6. GLof, for me, the overriding issue is not the LCS specifically but the Navy's inability to develop a new ship design, build it, control costs, and deliver a product that meets the initial specifications. Every step in the Navy's acquisition process is flawed. The LCS is merely a specific example of the overall problem. The flawed process applies to every Navy acquisition program so stopping the LCS and building a frigate, or whatever, would only mean that the new ship would also, likely, be a disaster. We see this in the Ford which is billions of dollars over cost with only marginal improvements in function, the Flt III which already looks to be a badly compromised ship, the Zumwalt which is severely constrained in missions and may be problematic in seekeeping, the SSBN(X) which is looking to be hideously expensive despite being significantly smaller (in terms of missiles) than the Ohio, and so on.

      It's the ship design and acquisition process that deserves our attention and criticism moreso than the specific ships/planes. The specific ships/planes serve to illustrate the overall problems.

    7. "M", I agree, kill the program but what do you do after that?

    8. ComNavOps...Originally, I was going to post my rant, but decided instead just to make the simple statement. I have decided to stir the pot and go ahead with my original thoughts, which does suggest some possibilities, see here goes...

      The LCS program is a bust. And, what I’m about to say is a rant….not a technical discussion of ASM or ASW. I have gone from excited and enamored to disappointment and now to total disgust with the program. When the concept ship first came out, I recall talking with the designers/builders at several conferences these many years past and being held in wonder that we could actually pull off this technical leap of what we all thought was the answer to the problems in the littorals and beyond. (Turns out the littorals may not be all that, but that is another story altogether) As time progressed, I became oh so disappointed. Like some of the “one of’s” the Navy has tried before, I thought, “Well, cool concept, but just doesn’t seem like it is going to work out.” Fully expecting the Navy to admit to the short comings and try to somehow successfully use the existing hulls for some sort of benefit, albeit not in a combat related role, I have watched with total disbelief the bullheadedness of Big Navy to make this “BY God, work!” The outright deceit and lies have been shameful. Then the greatest gaff (putting it mildly) of all, the proposal to take this project to the level of replacing one third of our combat capabilities, with a ship that consistently falls short of the mark and by all reason cannot begin to fill the role of the ships it is proposed to replace.

      When all our peer and near peer competitors keep building combat attainable and sustainable ships of varying classes, we are stuck in a mind warp that somehow seems sensible to many in the flag ranks (but to virtually no one else) to continue to pursue the LCS as a viable combatant when it has been evident for some time it cannot and may never be able to fill that role. Stop it! Stop this insanity now. I want my defense dollars used to build ships that can be successful with our peer competitors now. We don’t have 20 years to perfect the LCS. We don’t even have five years for that matter at the rate we are scheduling the retirement of hulls that are still viable. There are dozens of ideas out there to build the next generation ship that pushes forward the evolution (not the technical revolution) of combat requirements. Use them….. Build something we can use. I don’t know, dust off the old Spruance and Tico blue prints and bring them into the 21st century. Hell, I would rather have 50 LCS (L) “ Mighty Mites” from WWII than what we currently call the LCS. Shipbuilders and defense contractors want to be kept busy, and I want them to, but for the love of Pete not with the LCS.

      Finally, the LCS fiasco is but the tip of a very large problem that has festered in the” succession” chain of command for naval operations that has gone on for years now. Many of you understand what I’m talking about. Unfortunately, we no longer have a Board of Review, and sad to say with the current structure, I’m not sure we could reinvent it with the same success it wielded years ago. But the bottom line is we need to build ships that fit into the budget demands yet provide the right hulls to perform the basic role of the US Navy, namely sea power; second to none.

      Stepping off soap box now.

    9. "GLof, for me, the overriding issue is not the LCS specifically but the Navy's inability to develop a new ship design, build it, control costs, and deliver a product that meets the initial specifications. Every step in the Navy's acquisition process is flawed."


      ComNavOps - I think that's a bit of an oversimplification.

      I believe that when Navy focuses on incremental change to existing concept(s), vice pursuing "game changers" and "transformationalism", it still does pretty well.

      Look at the P-8A and MH-60R. These are both variations on pre-existing concepts. Both have been delivered on time and within budget tolerances. And everything I've read seems to indicate they deliver/will deliver very good capability within their specified warfare areas.

      In my opinion, P-8A and MH-60R have been successful because:
      1. They were backed by solid, rigorous analysis of alternatives (AoA).
      2. They built upon communities with decades of operational experience (VP and HSL/HS squadrons).
      3. They leveraged existing, proven 'trucks' (the 737 and the proven SH-60 series helo).
      4. Initial increments didn't rely on high risk, unproven sensors and weapons at IOC. They improved what was already on the P-3 and SH-60B/F.

      So... how does that compare to LCS?
      1. No AoA was conducted, just a shabby analysis of material concepts.
      2. There was no LCS 'community' from which to draw lessons learned.
      3. Both LCS 'trucks' were dramatic departures from any existing naval vessels.
      4. LCS relied upon risky, unproven technologies in order to provide any sort of capability at IOC.

    10. Anon, you might want to re-read my statement which you quoted correctly, by the way. The statement addresses ship designs, specifically and exclusively. Further, the statement specifically addresses NEW designs, not, as you point out, relatively slight variations on pre-existing concepts as the P-8 and MH-60R are.

      Finally, this is a blog with posts limited to several paragraphs and comments limited to several sentences. Everything's an oversimplification! That said, I stand by my statement that the Navy's NEW SHIP design process is badly flawed. Oversimplified by still accurate as demonstrated by every shipbuilding program the Navy has or has begun in the last decade or so.

      Still think I'm oversimplifying?

    11. "M", nothing wrong with the occasional rant. I do it all the time only I call it a blog! Now that you've unloaded, what's your specific solution or LCS alternative that's realistic, affordable, and meets the Navy's needs?

    12. Perhaps I wasn't clear in my point.

      New capabilites don't necessarily require brand new designs. The point I was making was that when the Navy builds or improves on a pre-existing capability it does quite well.

      If you want a shipbuilding example, see DDG Flight IIAs. They carry more VLS and house 2 helos, vice 1 or even zero on previous versions of Burkes. The latter provides a tremendous increase in capability.

      Had we been serious about the LCS analysis, we might've taken similar approach with LCS. For example license one or more proven foreign designs and build them here in the US.

      We could've even adapted multiple ship types to fulfill the small combatant role. I am partial to a combo of up-gunned Absalon for green water, coupled with a "swarm" of Visbys to work close to shore.

  2. I think we should have killed the LCS program along time ago. The second the Price started jacking up, they should have killed it and switched to a Multi role Frigate.

    1. Nicky, c'mon, now, think a little deeper on this. I have no problem with wishful thinking but look at this realistically. If you were magically put in total control of the Navy's shipbuilding/acquisition today would you really start building the type of frigates you've described in previous comments? What you've described is not a frigate in any sense of the word but, rather, very powerful destroyer/cruisers that would cost multi-billions of dollars and you'd only be able to afford to build a very few especially considering that they would be competing with the Burke Flt III for funding. Your path would quickly drop the fleet levels from the current 285 to 230 or so. I've repeatedly pointed out that the yearly shipbuilding budget is $15B and it isn't going to increase anytime soon. You need 10 new ships per year and once every five years the entire budget is consumed building a single carrier. The numbers just aren't there. Yet, you want to build billion+ dollar "frigates"? Think a bit deeper about this and then tell me what you come up with.

      And, before you tell me we can just buy cheap foreign frigates, think that one through, also. There are no cheap foreign frigates and by the time we adapted them to our needs and standards with our equipment, we'd double or triple the costs. And, of course, there's no way Congress would ever allow the Navy to buy foreign at the expense of US shipbuilding jobs.

  3. Are the ships not really salvigable here. the hulls and their tops speeds are really rether impressive.
    With a standard ( cheap as possible ) load out of 1 CIWS. Sea RAM. 30 mm auto cannon. Basic sonar in conjuncition with HELO dropped torps. And some kind of anti ship lite missle.
    Can you not get what you want, which is a small fast frigate configures to support litterol battle ?
    Im not sure you need to dump the lot here, LCS has some good features. Just give up on the idea of a Magic Thunderbird-2 vessel with all the "pods" in the world for every eventuality.
    Gerry Anderson afterall recently died and even he would admit, its just sci-fi guys !

    1. Anon, the basic hull is not really suited for anything. The construction is structurally very weak and uses aluminum which is not suited for combat. The speed has no tactical usefulness and consumes huge amounts of internal volume and weight thus limiting growth potential. Read through some of the old posts and you'll get a better idea of the inherent limitations of this class.

  4. Your are unlikely to be successful in any endeavor if you do not have 1) a strategy, and 2) a plan.

    LCS came about in a vacuum of a robust naval strategy, and has been implemented without a clear plan with realistic objectives and requirements.

    The Navy needs: MCM vessels, coastal ASW ships, corvettes or missle boats, and a replacement frigate. The LCS attempted to replace all of these ships and failed.

    Had the Navy purchased the above listed hulls and kept LCS as a research and technology demonstrator: the Navy and the nation would be so much better off.


    1. A final point, the services do solicit input (ORDS, MNS) from the unified commanders, But I do not think that the Navy (or any service) takes the final weapon/vehicle/munition specifications, and sends it back out to the fleet and unified commanders for a final look.

      Some real opportunities to tweak a design might come out a sending it to the War College for simulation in exercises. This is generally done in the early stages of development, but I do not think anyone does this with the final design before production.


    2. GAB, I'm not at all certain that the Navy does solicit design input but accepting your statement for sake of discussion, there is still a major difference between soliciting input and using that input.

      For example, I wrote a post about the conceptual origin of the LCS. The Navy had plenty of input about the requirements for a littoral vessel but the design they came up with had little in common with the input.

      Since the termination of the General Board and BuShips, the Navy does not design ships. They offer a set of desired characteristics to industry and then allow industry to design the ship. This has led to some stunningly bad designs. The Navy clearly no longer has the technical ability to even intelligently review the industry designs as evidenced by the thousands of poor design features that have been built into the LCS, LPD, Zumwalt, etc.

      Your idea of wargaming the mature designs prior to production is an interesting one but, again, given the Navy's obvious lack of incorporation of the upfront input, I'm dubious that they would incorporate input from a mature design wargame process. I like the idea, though.

      The Navy needs to get back into the design business.

    3. I think the process that Anonymous proposes would be quite beneficial.

      Unfortunately, the Naval War College is not very good at wargaming at the technical/tactical level. They used to be very good at it, but now they are more of a political-science grad school.

      Most of that kind of wargaming, if it gets done at all, is accomplished by the SYSCOMs (i.e. NAVSEA). And that's only if the Program Manager wants it done. To my knowledge it isn't required.

      What is really needed is an 'impartial' organization to wargame ideas well prior to the design. It would probably have to be done by someone familiar with maritime affairs but not beholden to the Navy.


Comments will be moderated for posts older than 7 days in order to reduce spam.