On Monday, the Government Accounting Office unsealed a far-from-glowing report of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) — one of two military vessels made at Austal USA in Mobile.
An independent agency authorized by Congress, GAO ended its report suggesting the Navy delay funding for the shipbuilding program in 2016, describing the $350-million ships as “less survivable” and “less lethal” than originally thought.Monday’s release is the public version of a classified report released to Navy officials and members of the U.S. Congress back in July 2015.
According to the GAO report, the LCS was initially “designed with reduced requirements as compared to other surface combat” vessels, and the Navy has continued to lower its survivability and lethality requirements.
So far, nearly 24 of the ships have been built or are under construction at two locations — Austal in Mobile and a Lockheed Martin facility in Wisconsin. Lagniappe reached out to Austal for comment on the release of the report, but so far a response hasn’t been received.Even a temporary halt in funding for LCS production would have direct effects on Mobile, but U.S. Rep. Bandley Byrne downplayed the GAO report saying he’d “seen it months ago” and didn’t think it would have much impact on the Navy’s “clear, consistent and strong support” of the LCS program.
“The navy has been working with our ships now for some time, and they are more than satisfied with the performance of the ships from Wisconsin and with our variant here in Mobile,” Byrne said. “The bigger issue we’re facing right now is the Secretary of Defense’s proposal to downsize the original buy from 52 to 40 ships.”
Byrne was referring to a proposal in December from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter asking the Navy to reduce the “planned LCS procurement” outlined in the Navy’s long-term shipbuilding plan. He said securing the budget the Navy wants — $1.4 billion for three LCS in 2016 — is the biggest hurdle he sees for Austal in Mobile.
“We just want to make sure we don’t let politics get in the way of what the Navy needs to complete their feet,” Byrne added.
The report points to a lack of sufficient data needed to “provide statistical confidence in the LCS” during future operations, but as Byrne pointed out, most of the specific concerns are related to the Freedom Class variant produced in Wisconsin. Last month, one of those vessels, the USS Milwaukee, broke down during an operations test after only three weeks in service.
The only issues raised in the report about the Independence class, which is made in Mobile, was a concern about “an unknown” with the aluminum used in the ship’s production that could make them less durable.
“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 the GAO has not been provided with a copy of the test results,” the report goes on to say. Results from air defense and cyber security testing also indicate concerns, but specific details are classified.”
The GAO report goes on to say “further testing is needed to demonstrate both variants can meet lethality requirements in varied threat environments.”
The report specifically suggested Congress delay funding for 2016 LCS contracts until the Navy does more testing and also consider “not fully funding some or all LCS procurements pending a final survivability assessment” — a test not planned to be completed until 2018.
“In 2014, the Navy conducted its first operational test of an early increment of the surface warfare mission package on a Freedom variant LCS,” the report reads. “The Navy declared LCS operationally effective. However, the Navy’s test report stated that the ship did not meet some key requirements.”
Though the GAO is an arm of congress, Byrne said he wasn’t taking their report or the suggestion to halt funding the LCS program to heart just yet.
“Sometimes the GAO has really good expertise, and sometimes they don’t,” Byrne said. “This particular report has to do with some issues that are not issues anymore, at least in the way the Navy is looking at using the (LCS).”
Those changes in the ship’s planned uses were addressed in the report as well, but GAO characterizes them a little more harshly — saying the Navy had “compensated” for the LCS being “less survivable” and “less lethal” than originally thought by “redefining” the plans for the ship.
“This is still a new vessel, so you’ll always have some shake out, but the Navy wants these ships and they like these ships — Navy Secretary Ray Mabus spoke out very forcibly on that just last week,” Byrne said. “Now, are there improvements that we need to continue to make? Absolutely, but that’s true with any combat ship.”
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