GAO just issued a report on the operating costs of the LCS and some operational lessons learned from the Freedom’s
deployment (1). Here are some of the main points. Singapore
deployment gave the Navy an opportunity to collect operating cost and methodology data for the Freedom variant in a real world setting. In contrast, the Navy still has no data on the Singapore variant. Independence
The report addressed maintenance problems as they impacted time at sea.
“… mechanical issues reduced time at sea with 55 total mission days lost, limiting the operational lessons learned. The operational effect of these lost mission days was that the ship had to cut short its participation in two joint exercises and did not complete at least two of its planned presence operations. … mechanical failures contributed to limiting the ship’s underway time to 35 percent of its deployment …”
That’s 65% of the deployment spent in port! In comparison,
“… other ships deployed to the 7th Fleet area of responsibility typically spend about 20 percent of their time in port.”
The maintenance problems resulted in Freedom being limited to 93 underway days out of 265 days deployed. The underway figure includes the transition time to and from the
area. Subtracting out the transit times, Freedom was only able to spend 53 days underway on assigned missions. Singapore
The report noted Navy official’s partial explanation for the low underway figures,
“LCS program officials explained that the unique LCS maintenance concept—USS Freedom returned to port every 25 days to undergo a 5-day preventative maintenance availability and every 120 days for more-intensive 2-week intermediate maintenance—resulted in a rigid deployment schedule with more port time than other deployed Navy ships.”
The report also noted the
variant’s underway figures. Independence
“While the Navy deployed a Freedom variant LCS to Singapore for nearly all of 2013, our analysis found that, over the same period, USS Independence spent about 8 months, or 65 percent, of 2013 in port or dry dock maintenance periods, limiting any operational data that the Navy could obtain when operating the ship out of its homeport in California. In addition, according to Navy officials, from October 2012 to December 2013, USS Independence spent only 44 days under way.”
The report addressed the manning level issue. Sailors averaged six hours of sleep or less per day. Further, the ASuW module crew and onboard contractors were co-opted into routine watchstanding in order to meet operational requirements, contrary to the manning concept. The core crew manning was inadequate for routine daily operations and will, undoubtedly, be increased over time.
The Navy calculated LCS lifetime operational costs at around $49M per ship per year (FY2010 dollars). The GAO report now puts the costs at $79M per ship per year. Of course, this number is subject to change as the class settles in to routine operations. By comparison, the GAO offers the following operational costs for other ship classes,
Cyclone PC-1 $8M
Avenger MCM-1 $24M
Perry FFG-7 $54M
Burke DDG-51 (IIa) $88M
So, the LCS costs are greater than the Perry and approaching the Burke costs despite being a smaller ship with a significantly smaller crew. This is disturbing in that the LCS was intended as a lower operational cost (mainly due to decreased manning) vessel of the future.
Regarding maintenance and manning,
“Flyaway maintenance teams of about 30 contractors were flown to
for the 5-day maintenance periods, and about 60-70 contractors for the 2-week periods.” Singapore
“The number of shore personnel to support the ship has more than tripled—from 271 to 862—since the estimate was developed in 2011.”
The impact of the frequent maintenance was noted,
“Because of the regular returns to
for maintenance availabilities, the USS Freedom had a somewhat limited range in theater, and Navy officials noted that this rigid maintenance periodicity limited operational flexibility.” Singapore
The report noted that a lack of host nation shore support facilities and capabilities caused issues including lack of Internet support, substandard routine cleaning services, and inadequate warehousing of tools and parts. Additional, expanded permanent facilities will have to be constructed to support the planned four LCS basing in
Well, now we have some real world data and lessons learned. The Navy has long claimed that the LCS would be cheap to operate, flexible, forward, and max deployed. As with every other LCS claim, that appears to have been incorrect.
(1) Government Accountability Office , “Littoral Combat Ship - Deployment of USS Revealed Risks in Implementing Operational Concepts and Uncertain Costs”, GAO-14-447, July 2014