Defense Acquisitions:

Plans Need to Allow Enough Time to Demonstrate Capability of First Littoral Combat Ships

GAO-05-255: Published: Mar 1, 2005. Publicly Released: Mar 1, 2005.

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To conduct operations in littorals--shallow coastal waters--the Navy plans to build a new class of surface warship: the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). LCS is being designed to accomplish its missions through systems operating at a distance from the ship, such as helicopters and unmanned vehicles, and that will be contained in interchangeable mission packages. The Navy is using an accelerated approach to buy the LCS, building the ships in "flights." Flight 0, consisting of four ships, will provide limited capability and test the LCS concept. The schedule allows 12 months between the delivery of the first Flight 0 ship and the start of detailed design and construction for Flight 1 ships. Estimated procurement cost of the Flight 0 ships is $1.5 billion. The Congress directed GAO to review the LCS program. This report assesses the analytical basis of LCS requirements; the Navy's progress in defining the concept of operations; the technical maturity of the mission packages; and the basis of recurring costs for LCS.

The formal analysis of requirements for U.S. littoral combat operations--conducted after the Navy established the LCS program--examined a number of options, such as the extent to which existing fleet assets or joint capabilities could be used. While the Navy concluded that the LCS remained the best option, it focused on LCS requirements for combating small boats. The Navy did not conduct an analysis of the impact of larger surface threats LCS may face. Such threats may increase the risk to LCS operations when no other nearby U.S. forces are available to help. The Navy has developed both a broad concept and more detailed plans on how the LCS will be employed. It has also identified a number of challenges that could put the LCS concept at risk, such as manning, logistics, and communications. For example, reduced manning--a key goal of the LCS program--may not be achievable because maintaining and operating the ship's mission packages, such as the MH-60 helicopter, may require more sailors than the current design allows. Further, the Navy has not yet incorporated the numbers of helicopters that will be needed to fulfill LCS's concept of operation into its force structure and procurement plans. If the Navy's efforts to meet these challenges are not successful, the Navy may not have sufficient time to experiment with the Flight 0 ships and integrate lessons learned into planning and designing for follow-on ships. While the Navy designed the first LCS to rely on proven technologies and systems, a number of technologies to be used in LCS's mission packages have yet to be sufficiently matured--that is, they have not been demonstrated in an operational environment--increasing the risk of cost and schedule increases if the technologies do not work as intended. Technologies must also be demonstrated for systems on the LCS seaframe. Other factors may affect the availability of mature technologies and subsystems, such as making the modifications necessary for adaptation to the LCS and transitioning projects from the laboratory to production. Collectively, these technology issues pose an additional challenge to the Navy's ability to sufficiently experiment with Flight 0 ships in time to inform the design efforts for follow-on ships. Procurement costs for the Flight 0 ships remain uncertain. The basis for the seaframe cost target--$220 million--appears to be more defined than for the mission packages, as the Navy has performed various cost analyses that consider the challenges in detailed design and construction. The Navy seeks to meet the cost target by trading between capability and cost. Cost data for the Flight 0 mission packages are not as firm in part because of the uncertainties associated with immature technologies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In their original response to GAO's recommendations, the Navy stated that analysis was underway on some of the issues that GAO presented, including torpedo defense, and that analysis on risks posed to LCS by surface vessels larger than small boats would be conducted for the next flight of ships. By December 2005, the Navy reported that an initial analysis of surface warfare capabilities had been completed and that the capabilities currently on the LCS could provide defense against surface threats. Further analysis for spiral development options towards additional offensive capabilities is planned. The program also plans to leverage Navy-wide analysis performed on torpedo defense. The DODIG considers this recommendation to be closed on the basis of analysis already complete.

    Recommendation: To determine whether surface threats larger than small boats do pose risks to the LCS when operating independently and to mitigate any risks the Navy subsequently identifies, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Secretary of the Navy to conduct an analysis of the effect of a surface threat larger than small boats on LCS operations and the impact on other naval forces in support of those operations.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Navy has (1) reviewed helicopter force structure requirements in light of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program and (2) assessed the impacts and mitigation needs associated with manning, technology, and logistics challenges for helicopter detachments. In January 2006 the Commander, Naval Air Forces was briefed on a set of concept of operations for helicopters and the LCS. As a result of these concepts of operations the helicopter force structure is being revised to reflect the additional units needed for LCS. The Navy is also working to address a deficiency in LCS manning for helicopter detachments discovered during their assessment.

    Recommendation: To address challenges associated with integrating the MH-60 helicopter into LCS operations, the Secretary of Defense should direct that the Navy include in its ongoing evaluation of helicopter integration with LCS (1) evaluation of the numbers and budget impact of helicopters required to support future LCS ships and (2) examination of how to address manning, technology, and logistical challenges of operating the helicopters from LCS.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In an April 2006 report to Congress, the Navy announced a plan to revise the acquisition strategy of LCS by extending the number of Flight 0 ships procured to 15 and delaying the procurement of a new flight of ships. The Navy will require OSD concurrence with this plan prior to acquiring the fifth Flight 0 ship. As part of their rational for continuing Flight 0 procurement the Navy cited the importance of "increasingly mature technologies and lessons learned" in enhancements to "subsequent LCS Class ship designs." Results of the construction, testing, and operational performance of Flight 0 ships will be taken into consideration for future procurement of LCS.

    Recommendation: To allow the Navy to take full advantage of the technical and operational maturation of the Flight 0 ships before committing to the much larger purchases of follow-on ships, the Secretary of Defense should direct the Navy to revise its acquisition strategy to ensure that it has sufficiently experimented with both Flight 0 ship designs, captured lessons learned from Flight 0 operations with more than one of the mission packages, and mitigated operational and technology risks before selection of the design for an award of a detailed design and construction contract for Flight 1 is authorized.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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