The Navy is trying to develop five robotic submarines that can lay undersea mines, but the project is three years behind schedule and at least $242 million over its original cost estimate, according to a recent government watchdog report.
The Navy’s initiative to construct Extra Large Unmanned Undersea Vehicles, or XLUUVs, comes amid efforts to “prevent an adversary from accessing strategic waterways and entry points on land,” according to a new U.S. Government Accountability Office report.
The project, however, is not going quite as planned.
The Navy did not require its contractor, Boeing, to demonstrate it could build the subs within the planned cost and schedule estimates before it began production. Although the Navy says the vehicles are prototypes and do not fall under the service’s traditional acquisition framework, the sea service still plans to field them quickly, the report said.
Boeing, which was selected for the project in early 2019, initially planned to deliver the first vehicle by Dec. 2020. All of the remaining subs, meanwhile, were given an estimated delivery of the end of 2022.
The XLUUVs were modeled after Boeing’s own prototype, the Echo Voyager, but key differences between the undersea vehicles, including batteries and payload module, complicated construction.
In March, the Navy added to production delays when it requested another vehicle be added to the contract while the rest of the fleet remained incomplete. A christening for that test asset took place in April, according to Naval News, with expected delivery coming later this month.
“The Navy now plans to spend $621 million to build the five planned XLUUVs, a cost that includes the newly added test vehicle for $73 million,” the report said. The total cost equates to a 64% jump from the original estimate of $379 million.
Navy officials told the GAO that $43 million of the cost growth was from the design phase and an additional $50 million was from the fabrication phase. The service also spent $21 million on a test site that was not a part of the original cost estimate.
In addition to its decision to add the test vehicle, the service attributed the remaining $55 million in cost growth to the project taking longer than originally planned — partly due to the pandemic.
“These cost overruns and schedule delays are attributable, in part, to the Navy’s decision to not require the contractor to demonstrate its readiness to fabricate the prototype XLUUVs, as called for by leading acquisition practices,” the report said.
Both the Navy and the contractor now expect all five of the subs to be completed between February and June 2024.
In its fiscal year 2023 budget, the Navy is already requesting $117 million to, among other things, begin assessing future XLUUV capabilities, the GAO report said.
The GAO concluded by making two recommendations to the Navy. First, it suggested that the sea service conduct production readiness reviews prior to additional purchases of XLUUVs. Next, the GAO recommended that the Navy develops cost and schedule estimates to make it easier to get the subs in a timely manner.
The Navy concurred with both recommendations.
Jonathan is a staff writer and editor of the Early Bird Brief newsletter for Military Times. Follow him on Twitter @lehrfeld_media