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This year's "early deployment" of the littoral combat ship Freedom, praised by commanders as proof of the ships' potential, actually hurt the overall progress of the full LCS program, according to a congressional report issued Tuesday, which also found that LCS will not help the Navy hunt submarines as well as originally advertised.
Freedom's extended homeport change from Norfolk, Va., to San Diego, and its participation in this year's Rim of the Pacific exercises, meant the ship was not available to test the interchangeable "mission modules" that are key to the LCS concept, according to the report by the Government Accountability Office, and that caused delays.
"Mission package delays have also disrupted program test schedules — a situation exacerbated by decisions to deploy initial ships early, which limit their availability for operational testing," the report said. "In addition, these delays could disrupt program plans for simultaneously acquiring seaframes and mission packages. Until mission package performance is proven, the Navy risks investing in a fleet of ships that does not deliver promised capability."
And even as Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead has said that the Navy must put a new priority on what has been called the "lost art" of anti-submarine warfare, GAO found that sub-hunting systems planned for LCS "do not contribute significantly to the anti-submarine warfare mission."
The latest details and costs of the LCS anti-sub mission module are classified.
Investigators also found that the Navy continues to struggle with technical problems aboard its first two ships, even as work continues on its third and fourth, putting the service and its shipbuilders in the potentially awkward situation of needing to change designs, redo work or make other late alterations to LCS 3 and 4, when that would be most costly.
"Addressing these technical issues has required the Navy to implement design changes at the same time LCS 3 and LCS 4 are being built," the report said. "Incorporating changes during this phase may disrupt the optimal construction sequence for these ships, requiring additional labor hours beyond current forecasts. Together, these challenges may hinder the ability of shipbuilders to apply lessons learned to follow on ships and could undermine anticipated benefits from recent capital investments in the LCS shipyards."
That's what happened with the first two ships, which had their designs changed well along into construction earlier this decade. Still, so far the costs for LCS 3, the Freedom-class steel and aluminum monohull Fort Worth; and LCS 4, the Independence-class aluminum trimaran Coronado, have together grown less than 8 percent, GAO found. By comparison, costs for Freedom grew almost 150 percent and grew for Independence almost 137 percent.
As it has before, GAO also faulted the Navy for charging ahead with the LCS program even though it hasn't finished what GAO considers a full or complete analysis.
The Navy announced last week that it will miss its deadline to select a winning design for a batch of ten ships — although officials initially hoped to do the deal by the "end of the summer," they have now given themselves until Dec. 30 at the latest to make the decision.
For full coverage of the GAO report, pick up next week's Navy Times.