The Littoral Combat Ship, the strange bifurcated class of toothless surface combatants-minus-combat-capabilities, continues to produce headlines. The lame-duck Social Justice Secretary of the Navy, Ray Mabus, paid little attention to sailors, apart from undermining them, and less to ships, apart from giving them names that would assure he continued to be the Georgetown lion of his dreams. And he leaves the incoming DOD and Departent of the Navy with a large, weak, defenseless problem that’s going to build to dozens of worthless ships, if it’s not sharply stopped.
Item: LCS Has Zero Chance of Completing a 30-Day Mission
And that’s not a combat mission, for which even the ships’ coin-operated spokesmen are starting to admit the ships are completely unsuited. That’s just steaming somewhere for 15 days and coming back, maintaining combat readiness, without breaking down.
The current fleet of eight ships “have a near-zero chance of completing a 30-day mission, the Navy’s requirement, without a critical failure of one or more seaframe subsystems essential for wartime operations,” Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test And Evaluation.
Ish Kabibble, that’s not sounding too good.
“The miracle of the LCS didn’t happen,” said Paul Francis of the Government Accountability Office. “We are 26 ships into the contract and we still don’t know if it can do its job.”
Originally scheduled to begin service in 2008 at a cost of $220 million per ship, its cost has doubled to $478 million each. And although ships have been commissioned and deployed, they are yet to be equipped with the systems that would allow them to perform their primary missions, and won’t be until 2020.
This is what happens when your front office Schedules a Revolution® and waits back for the boffins to deliver. The entire program has yet to produce a single ship that can defend itself from, well, anything. These things can go into harm’s way — if each one is provided with escorts to tackle the anti-air, anti-surface, and anti-submarine missions that the LCS can’t do.
On the bright side, they do have smaller crews than previous ships, so even though more are destined to go down with all hands, there are fewer “all hands” to go down with each one of ’em.
Is the best answer to pull the plug and stop throwing more money after the sunk costs on what would become, were the balloon to go up, sunk ships?
Francis [the GAO guy — Ed.] said that while Congress also failed to exercise proper oversight on the program while it was spinning out of control, it still has a chance to inject some discipline into the next phase of the program by not approving a “block buy” of future ships.
“You are going to be rushed again, you are going to be asked to put in upfront approval of something where the design isn’t done, we don’t have independent cost estimates, and the risks are not well understood,” Francis said. “You’ll be told ‘it’s a block buy, we’re getting great prices, and the industrial base really needs this.'”
Francis recommended Congress not approve a block buy and instead demand that the Navy have a design competition in which it can downselect from two alternatives, and he further recommended hard questions be asked about whether continuing the program is worth the estimated $14 billion cost. Lockheed Martin and Austal USA are each building separate classes of the ship.
Congress has been all about sending cash to the districts where these turkeys are built. But seriously, the yards could be building Burkes or, hell, even Fletchers and we’d at least have ships with working propulsion, radars and guns. One of these against a Fletcher, who wins?
Item: Mabus’s Navy Pencil-Whipped Shock Trials
The Navy’s determination to keep beating this dead horse across the finish line has caused some, shall we say, honor violations. It seems, according to testimony in Congress, that the shock trials, under which explosions are set off near a ship to see if it can survive the sort of near-miss one expects in warfare, were, there is no other word, frauduent.That’s true of both subclasses of LCS. Maritime Executive:
[T]he shock trials for the Independence and Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ships were conducted at “reduced severity” due to concerns about the possibility of damage.
“The Navy argued that the reduced severity approach was necessary because they lacked specific test data and a general understanding of how the non-Grade A systems . . . would respond to shock.”
Even these squib tests were cut short on the Freedom-class vessel trial, for fear that even at one-third power, the blast would overwhelm the ship’s fragile systems.
[T]he Navy was concerned shocking the ship at the increased level of that trial would significantly damage substantial amounts of non-hardened equipment, as well as damage, potentially significantly, the limited amount of hardened equipment, thereby necessitating costly and lengthy repairs.
Navy officials including VADM Thomas Rowden, Commander of Naval Surface Forces, and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley (one of Mabus’s Social Justice Warriors), argued that the ships shouldn’t be tested like combat vessels, and shouldn’t be delayed by the testing other ships undergo, because the Navy needs them urgently for showing the flag, not for combat.
They further argued that the new ships’ frequent dead-in-the-water propulsion casualties were “routine,” and should just be accepted.
Rowden and Stackley also provided a detailed account of the two vessel classes’ recent propulsion casualties. They reported that two of five occurred due to operator error: the first involved improper setup of a lube oil service system on the USS Fort Worth’scombining gear; the second was attributed to a poor fix for a “routine failure” of an attached seawater pump’s mechanical seal, which allowed saltwater to enter one of the diesel main engines on the USS Freedom.
Of the remaining three, one failure was due to saltwater contamination of a steering hydraulic system; one to improper shaft alignment; and one to a software control issue affecting a new model of high speed clutch.
McCain Calls out Navy Witnesses for False Information
VADM Rowland and Social Justice Deputy Secretary Stackly also got taken to the woodshed by Senate Armed Services Committee éminence grise, John McCain (R-AZ). McCain, a retired naval officer himself, made it clear that the Navy’s beloved all-but-unarmed LCSes were only a symptom of a deeper problem, the more serious problem being the Navy’s dishonesty with the public, Congress, and perhaps, itself.
John McCain, chair of the Senate Armed Services committee and a longtime skeptic of the Littoral Combat Ship program, criticized the Navy for allegedly providing incorrect information regarding the prospects of the LCS and its mission packages. He called on the service to prevent future overruns and shortfalls in its acquisition programs.
“The reason I’m frustrated and other members [of the committee] are is that we can only make decisions based on the information we get. If that information is incorrect or false . . . then how can we function effectively for the people we represent?” McCain said. “I hope that our witnesses understand that we have to bring this to a halt. And fooling around on the fringes has proven to be unsuccessful.”
Neither Stackley nor Rowland responded directly to McCain’s charge of dishonesty, merely reciting boilerplate defenses of the embattled ships.