Littoral Combat Ship: Actions Needed to Address Significant Operational Challenges and Implement Planned Sustainment Approach
The Navy is planning for a total of 35 Littoral Combat Ships, which are designed to operate in shallow waters close to shore.
But the Navy hasn't demonstrated that this type of ship can perform its intended missions. For example, operational testing found challenges in the ship's defenses. Also, some key equipment has failed, and the Navy is behind schedule in developing capabilities such as mine countermeasures.
The Navy is taking steps to address these and other issues, but doesn't have a comprehensive plan to resolve them. We recommended making such a plan and tying the decision to use the ships to the progress made in addressing the issues.
Littoral Combat Ship Freedom Variant (U.S.S. Freedom) at Sea
What GAO Found
The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet has not demonstrated the operational capabilities it needs to perform its mission. Operational testing has found several significant challenges, including the ship's ability to defend itself if attacked and failure rates of mission-essential equipment. The Navy is also behind schedule in developing the various mission modules—different configurations of key systems for different missions, such as mine countermeasures—for the LCS. In addition, GAO found that the LCS has frequently encountered challenges during deployments. The Navy has begun to take steps to address some of these issues, but it does not have a comprehensive plan to address the various deficiencies identified during testing and deployments. Without a comprehensive plan to address deficiencies, perform adequate testing of the mission modules, and implement lessons learned from completed deployments, the LCS will remain at risk of being unable to operate in its intended environment. Further, gaps between desired and demonstrated capabilities have substantial implications for the Navy's ability to deploy the LCS as intended. Until the Navy makes future operational deployments contingent on progress in addressing gaps between desired and demonstrated capabilities, the LCS will continue to be dependent in combat and require protection by multi-mission combatants.
The Navy has implemented eight of the 10 recommendations from its 2016 Review of the LCS program. Among other things, it has implemented new approaches for assigning and training sailors for the LCS crew. However, the Navy is facing challenges in implementing a revised maintenance approach, under which Navy personnel will perform some maintenance currently being conducted by contractors. Until the Navy determines the specific tasks Navy personnel will perform, it risks not being able to meet the maintenance needs of the LCS, thus hindering the ships' ability to carry out their intended missions.
The Navy's operating and support (O&S) cost estimates for the LCS do not account for the cost implications of its revised maintenance approach. Specifically, the Navy has not assessed the cost implications of its revised maintenance approach, and thus lacks a clear picture of its impact on O&S costs. Some of the Navy's O&S actual cost data are also incomplete and inaccurate. For example, the Navy reported on each O&S cost element for the seaframes in its Visibility and Management of Operating and Support Costs database, but it reported only on the maintenance cost element for the mission modules. Further, the Navy does not report maintenance costs separately for each mission module, but instead totals those costs for all mission modules and divides by the number of seaframes in the fleet. Without complete and accurate cost data, the Navy is at risk of failing to anticipate O&S cost increases that could create challenges in funding LCS as intended or delivering capabilities when expected.
Finally, the Navy has not updated its O&S cost estimates to reflect its revised operational and sustainment concepts and has not incorporated actual cost data into some of its estimates. Without complete information on the cost of implementing the revised operational and sustainment concepts, and the use of actual cost data, the Navy will not be able to analyze the differences between estimates and actual costs—important elements for identifying and mitigating critical risks to the LCS.
Why GAO Did This Study
The LCS is designed to operate in shallow waters close to shore—known as the littorals. The Navy estimates it will cost over $60 billion to operate and support the 35 LCS it plans to build, including the 17 it has already delivered.
A House report accompanying a bill for the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020 included a provision for GAO to review the LCS's affordability and sustainability. This report examines the extent to which the Navy has (1) demonstrated that the LCS has the operational and warfighting capabilities to perform its missions; (2) implemented the recommendations in the Navy's 2016 Review; and (3) updated its cost estimates to account for revised operational and sustainment concepts.
GAO reviewed relevant laws, regulations, Navy guidance; analyzed LCS cost data for fiscal years 2009 to 2019; and interviewed relevant officials. This is a public version of a sensitive report that GAO issued in August 2021. Information that the Navy deemed sensitive has been omitted.
GAO recommends, and the Navy concurs with, developing a comprehensive plan to address deficiencies, performing adequate testing of the mission modules, and implement lessons learned; making deployments contingent on progress in addressing gaps in capabilities, and determining tasks Navy personnel and contractors will perform, among others.
GAO also recommends, and the Navy partially concurs with, updating and improving LCS cost data, as discussed in the report.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of the Navy||The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Chief of Naval Operations conducts a study to determine the appropriate number of maintenance teams and personnel, a feasible set of tasks to be performed by these teams, how to obtain technical data needed to perform maintenance, and how to use these teams to fill vacancies on the LCS. (Recommendation 1)||
DOD concurred with our recommendation. In January 2022, the Navy stated it had begun establishing maintenance teams (MT) to support preventative maintenance within and beyond the continental United States and currently plans to build up enough MTs to achieve a goal of supporting approximately 95 percent of preventative maintenance for all littoral combat ships (LCS). Navy officials said the Navy had allocated funding in Fiscal Year (FY) 2021 to pay for MT personnel and planned to provide funding for additional MT personnel through FY 2024. Navy officials also stated that they planned to use MT sailors to fill LCS vacancies only under exceptional circumstances. Officials said that keeping maintenance teams intact will be vital to fulfilling maintenance obligations to the LCS Fleet. Navy officials expect to complete these efforts by the 4th quarter of FY 2024. We will periodically follow up with the Navy on its progress in doing so.
|Department of the Navy||The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Chief of Naval Operations assesses the implications of the Navy's revised maintenance approach for the LCS seaframes on future O&S costs. (Recommendation 2)||
DOD concurred with our recommendation. In January 2022, Navy officials stated that efforts to address this recommendation are being undertaken by Task Force LCS. Navy officials expect to complete these efforts by the third quarter of fiscal year 2023. We will periodically follow up with the Navy on its progress in doing so.
|Department of the Navy||The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that Naval Sea Systems Command updates the cost estimates for the LCS to include operating and support costs, incorporate data from completed LCS deployments, and reflect current and planned revised operational and sustainment concepts. (Recommendation 3)||
DOD concurred with our recommendation. In January 2022, Navy officials stated that efforts to address this recommendation are being undertaken by Naval Sea Systems Command and Task Force LCS. Specifically, they plan to update 2021 Selected Acquisition Reports with complete operating and support data that incorporates deployment costs and maintenance team employment. Navy officials told us that the department expects to complete these efforts by the fourth quarter of FY 2022. We will periodically follow up with the Navy on its progress in doing so.
|Department of the Navy||The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Program Executive Office Unmanned and Small Combatants reports complete and accurate operating and support cost data in VAMOSC for LCS mission modules on a per ship and per mission module basis. (Recommendation 4)||
DOD partially concurred with our recommendation. In January 2022, the Navy reported that Program Executive Office Unmanned and Small Combatants (PEO USC) currently reports data on the maintenance costs for systems that comprise the three mission packages. In addition, the PEO USC plans to continue reporting this data while expanding the scope of its reporting operating and support (O&S) costs to cover all O&S cost categories per mission package type-surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare, and mine countermeasures. As we identified in our report, the LCS has 12 mission modules across the three mission package types. The Navy reported that it will expand cost data reporting to include non-maintenance tasks but these expanded data reporting efforts are not expected to be completed until the first quarter of fiscal year 2025. We will periodically follow-up with the Navy on its progress in doing so.
|Department of the Navy||
Priority Rec.The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the LCS program office, in coordination with the Chief of Naval Operations, develops a comprehensive plan, including estimated costs and time frames, for addressing deficiencies in the seaframes, performing adequate testing of mission modules, and implementing lessons learned from completed deployments. (Recommendation 5)
DOD concurred with our recommendation. In January 2022, the Navy reported that it had merged the LCS Strike Team into the newly established Task Force LCS to identify reliability issues on both variants of LCS. The Navy also reported that the surface warfare mission package has completed operational testing and achieved initial operational capability. In addition, the Navy plans to complete formal testing aboard the LCS and achieve initial operational capability for the anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and mine countermeasures mission (MCM) packages by the end of fiscal year 2022. Furthermore, the Navy plans to conduct additional testing of the ASW and MCM mission packages based in part on the Director, Operational Test and Evaluation's Integrated Evaluation Framework Process. Navy officials said that lessons learned from these testing efforts, as well as Task Force LCS's efforts to identify reliability issues should inform the development of a comprehensive plan to address deficiencies in the seaframes and implement lessons learned from completed deployments. We will periodically follow up with the Navy on its progress in doing so.
|Department of the Navy||
Priority Rec.The Secretary of the Navy should ensure that the Chief of Naval Operations, to the extent practicable, makes future operational deployments contingent on demonstrated progress in addressing gaps between desired and demonstrated capabilities. (Recommendation 6)
DOD concurred with our recommendation. In January 2022, Navy officials said the Navy's Task Force LCS had begun addressing this recommendation. Navy officials stated that some planned operational deployments had been paused pending correction of performance challenges. In addition, Navy Commanders conduct recurring readiness briefs to address and resolve identified issues prior to operational deployments. Navy officials stated they plan to complete actions to address this recommendation by the first quarter of fiscal year 2024. We will periodically follow up with the Navy on its progress in doing so.