Littoral Combat Ship:

Knowledge of Survivability and Lethality Capabilities Needed Prior to Making Major Funding Decisions

GAO-16-201: Published: Dec 18, 2015. Publicly Released: Dec 18, 2015.

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What GAO Found

The lethality and survivability of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is still largely unproven, 6 years after delivery of the lead ships. LCS was designed with reduced requirements as compared to other surface combatants, and the Navy has since lowered several survivability and lethality requirements and removed several design features—making the ship both less survivable in its expected threat environments and less lethal than initially planned. The Navy is compensating for this by redefining how it plans to operate the ships.

In 2014, the Navy conducted its first operational test of an early increment of the surface warfare mission package on a Freedom variant LCS, demonstrating that LCS could meet an interim lethality requirement. The Navy declared LCS operationally effective. However, the Navy's test report stated that the ship did not meet some key requirements. Further, the Department of Defense's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation has stated that there is insufficient data to provide statistical confidence that LCS can meet its lethality requirements in future testing or operations, and further testing is needed to demonstrate both variants can meet requirements in varied threat environments.

The Navy also has not yet demonstrated that LCS will achieve its survivability requirements, and does not plan to complete survivability assessments until 2018—after more than 24 ships are either in the fleet or under construction. The Navy has identified unknowns related to the use of aluminum and the hull of the Independence variant, and plans to conduct testing in these areas in 2015 and 2016. However, the Navy does not plan to fully determine how the Independence variant will react to an underwater explosion. This variant also sustained some damage in a trial in rough sea conditions, but the Navy is still assessing the cause and severity of the damage and GAO has not been provided with a copy of the test results. Results from air defense and cybersecurity testing also indicate concerns, but specific details are classified.

In February 2014 the former Secretary of Defense directed the Navy to assess options for a small surface combatant with more survivability and combat capability than LCS. The Navy conducted a study and recommended modifying the LCS to add additional survivability and lethality features. After approving the Navy's recommendation, the former Secretary of Defense directed the Navy to submit a new acquisition strategy for a modified LCS for his approval. He also directed the Navy to assess the cost and feasibility of backfitting lethality and survivability enhancements on current LCS. Nevertheless, the Navy has established a new frigate program office to manage this program, and the Navy has requested $1.4 billion for three LCS in the fiscal year 2016 President's budget, even though it is clear that the current ships fall short of identified survivability and lethality needs. GAO has an ongoing review of the Navy's small surface combatant study and future plans for the LCS program.

This report is a public version of a classified report issued in July 2015. Throughout this report, GAO has indicated where information has been omitted or redacted due to security considerations. All information in this report reflects information current as of July 2015 to be consistent with the timeframe of the classified report.

Why GAO Did This Study

GAO has reported extensively on LCS—an over $34 billion Navy program (in 2010 dollars) consisting of two different ships and interchangeable mission packages. In February 2014, the Secretary of Defense, citing survivability concerns, directed the Navy to assess design alternatives for a possible LCS replacement.

House and Senate reports for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2014 included a provision for GAO to analyze LCS survivability. Based on congressional interest, GAO also examined lethality. This report examines (1) the extent to which LCS survivability and lethality requirements are aligned with the ship's threat environments and if they have changed, (2 and 3) and if LCS meets its current requirements. GAO also (4) assessed recent decisions pertaining to the Navy's plans to address the Secretary of Defense's concerns. GAO analyzed relevant documents and interviewed Navy officials.

What GAO Recommends

GAO suggests Congress delay funding for fiscal year 2016 LCS until the Navy submits a completed rough water trials report, acquisition strategy, and backfit plan; and consider not fully funding some or all LCS procurement pending analysis of these documents and the final survivability assessments. GAO also recommends several actions for DOD. The department concurred with two recommendations and partially concurred with two others, but did not concur with soliciting an independent technical assessment of the Independence variant. GAO continues to believe that such an independent assessment is warranted.

For more information, contact Michele Mackin at (202) 512-4841 or mackinm@gao.gov.

Matters for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Language in the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2016 limited the availability of LCS seaframe funds until the Navy provided key documents, including an acquisition strategy for the modified LCS or frigate and a plan to outfit existing LCS with upgrades to be installed on the modified LCS. The Navy has made some progress in response to this action, including obtaining an OSD-approved modified LCS, or frigate, acquisition strategy and outlining a preliminary plan to backfit existing LCS with some improvements identified for the frigate, among other things. We believe this congressional action meets the intent of this recommendation; therefore, we are closing it as implemented.

    Matter: To ensure that the Navy has provided a clear direction for the future of the program before committing funding to construct additional ships, Congress should consider, in the near term, restrict funding for construction of the three LCS seaframes requested in fiscal year 2016 until the Navy submits to Congress and GAO: (a) An acquisition strategy for the modified LCS that has been approved by the Secretary of Defense; (b) The Navy's plans to backfit the existing LCS and an analysis of the cost and engineering feasibility and risks of doing so; and (c) A completed rough water trial report for both variants.

  2. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: Congress did not take action on this Matter for Congressional Consideration and funded all three LCS requested in fiscal year 2016.

    Matter: To ensure that the Navy has provided a clear direction for the future of the program before committing funding to construct additional ships, Congress should consider not funding some or all of the Navy's request in fiscal year 2016 for the three LCS seaframes given the Navy's lack of knowledge of the ships' survivability and lethality capability.

  3. Status: Open

    Comments: Although Congress did not take action on this Matter for Congressional Consideration in the fiscal year 2017 NDAA, we will continue to monitor this matter to see if Congress implements future restrictions prior to the final survivability assessments being completed. The Navy's final survivability assessment report is planned for fiscal year 2018, with DOT&E's assessment to follow.

    Matter: To ensure that the Navy has provided a clear direction for the future of the program before committing funding to construct additional ships, Congress should consider, given the uncertainties over the long term about the ship's survivability and lethality and proposed changes to future ships, consider not fully funding the Navy's request for future LCS ships beyond fiscal year 2016, pending the completion and analysis of the final survivability assessments for both variants due in 2018.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Citing concerns with the composition and capability of the Navy's surface ship fleet, the Secretary of Defense curtailed procurement of LCS from 52 ships to no more than 40. The concerns that the Secretary of Defense cited were consistent with the concerns we had been making since 2013 on the LCS program, and with a number of recommendations to both the Secretary of Defense and the Congress to reduce, slow, or otherwise curtail LCS procurements until key unresolved issues with combat capability and effectiveness could be resolved. We believe the department has satisfied the intent of this recommendation with the reduction of the total LCS/modified LCS procurement.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Navy has a sound acquisition approach moving forward, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that the commitment to buy 20 modified LCS remains an affordable priority given other acquisition needs.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Citing concerns with the composition and capability of the Navy's surface ship fleet, the Secretary of Defense curtailed procurement of LCS and modified LCS from 52 ships to no more than 40. The Secretary also directed the Navy to downselect to only one variant of frigate, which would likely eliminate one shipyard from LCS/frigate production activities. This decision indicated that the Secretary of Defense was placing the concerns about ship capability ahead of concerns of continuing work at the shipyards. We believe the department's decision addresses the intent of our recommendation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Navy has a sound acquisition approach moving forward, the Secretary of Defense should ensure that the Navy's acquisition strategy for the modified LCS does not place industrial base concerns ahead of demonstrating the ship's lethality, survivability, and affordability.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Open

    Priority recommendation

    Comments: DOD did not concur with our recommendation advocating an independent technical assessment by a classification society, stating that such an organization could not provide an independent look and was not technically competent to conduct such an evaluation. To fully implement this recommendation, we continue to believe that an independent assessment performed by the American Bureau of Shipping, or some other independent entity with relevant subject matter expertise would be valuable to understanding seaframe performance, which remains a significant uncertainty. Although the Navy has conducted rough water, ship shock, and total ship survivability testing, it has not demonstrated that the ship will achieve survivability requirements. Completion of the final survivability assessment report is anticipated in fiscal year 2018. Further, although the Navy has not completed its analytical reports of the rough water events, both Littoral Combat Ship variants sustained some damage, and the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation, has expressed concern with the testing and results from full ship shock trials and total ship survivability testing. An independent technical assessment of the Independence variant's survivability would help solidify the Navy's understanding of the ship's expected performance, and takes on added relevance given that the Navy's plans for a frigate award in fiscal year 2020 may include a downselect decision to a Littoral Combat Ship-based seaframe design. In July 2017, the LCS Program Office indicated that there is no additional information to provide, as the Navy maintains its non-concurrence with this recommendation. We will continue monitoring this recommendation to see if the Navy solicits such an evaluation, given continuing concerns about the ships survivability from the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the Navy has a sound acquisition approach moving forward, the Secretary of Defense should require the Navy to solicit an independent technical assessment from an organization like a ship classification society on the survivability of the Independence variant seaframe and its ability to meet its applicable requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Open

    Comments: DOD partially concurred with GAO's recommendation, stating it will provide sufficient test resources but does not believe that testing 'every aspect' of weather and tactics is necessary. The Navy has since received DOT&E approval of a partial update to the LCS Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP), which was required before March 2016 by a restriction included in the NDAA for Fiscal Year 2016. According to the department, the update included changes to the scope of SUW mission package testing. The LCS Program Office stated that a full LCS TEMP is expected to be approved by the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the last quarter of fiscal year 2017. OSD approval of the TEMP would likely meet the intent of our recommendation; however, until it is approved, we will monitor the TEMP status and keep this recommendation open.

    Recommendation: To ensure that the program has requirements that are testable and measurable and to improve realism of LCS operational testing, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to investigate resourcing and conducting more operationally stressing SUW mission package testing onboard LCS, to include testing in a clutter environment and diverse weather and tactical scenarios to help ensure that the ships can operate effectively in their intended environment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

 

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