The Future of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship

Posted on September 30, 2014
Since 2004, the Navy has been working on acquiring a new class of ship intended to provide surface combat capabilities near the shore (the littoral zone). The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was intended to have lower acquisition costs and to use innovative manning, training, and maintenance concepts. These concepts would minimize crew size and reduce operating costs over the long term. While previous surface combat ships had specialized equipment built into them for different missions, the LCS was designed to be reconfigurable for 3 different types of missions. As this new ship program continues to produce ships, we have been reporting on concerns and risks related to the Navy’s purchase and deployment of the LCS. What is the Littoral Combat Ship? The LCS’s major innovation is the reconfigurable ship (“seaframe”) and the specialized sensors, weapons, and other equipment that can be used with it (“mission packages”). There are 3 mission packages available for the LCS, each performing a different type of mission:
  • surface warfare;
  • mine countermeasures; or
  • anti-submarine warfare.
The ability to switch the mission packages on the seaframes was intended to give the Navy flexibility in operations. The Navy is currently buying two variations of the LCS—the Freedom variant and the Independence variant. Each variant has a different design and was built at a different shipyard.  GAO-14-749 fig1

Excerpted from GAO-14-749            

Lessons Learned from First Overseas Deployment The Navy deployed the USS Freedom, the first Freedom variant ship, from San Diego to Singapore for 10 months in 2013—the first overseas deployment for any LCS. The Freedom was equipped to conduct the surface warfare mission. We reported on the deployment and the overall costs of the LCS. Here are some of our major findings:
  • Operations and maintenance: The deployment showed that the Navy could implement some of the concepts needed to operate and maintain LCS ships. However, it has not yet addressed remaining risks in areas such as managing crew workload, training sailors, maintaining ships effectively, and finalizing needed logistics support.
  • Mechanical problems: The USS Freedom spent more time in port than at sea due to mechanical problems, resulting in high workloads for the relatively small crew.
  • Annual per-ship costs: Navy data indicate that the annual per ship costs for LCS are nearing or may exceed those of other surface ships, including those with greater size and larger crews, such as frigates and destroyers.
In another report, we found:
  • Gaps in operational knowledge: Significant gaps remain in the Navy’s knowledge of how LCS will operate and what capabilities it will provide—issues we initially raised in our July 2013 report.
  • Capability limitations: Initial LCS seaframes face capability limitations resulting from weight growth during construction. Navy and shipbuilder processes for managing ship weight have slowed the resolution of the problem.
  • Acquisition strategy risks: The Navy’s strategy of buying ships while key concepts and performance are still being tested increases the risks of costly retrofits and reduced capability.
We made a number of recommendations in this report, including advising the Navy to slow production of LCS until it resolved some of these issues. In March 2014, the Secretary of Defense directed the Navy to contract for no more than 32 of the 52 ships originally planned, citing concerns with the ship’s capabilities. The Secretary directed the Navy to study alternatives to the LCS.