Jacksonville, FL - Cost estimate overruns, scheduling delays and capability questions- just a few of the problems highlighted in a new government audit on the construction of a fleet of ships destined for Naval Station Mayport.
The Government Accountability Office has just released a study on the “significant investment” in to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), and considerable amount of questions and unknowns that remains. 14 of these ships are scheduled to arrive at Naval Station Mayport by 2020, with the first coming in 2016.
Overall, the GAO says the LCS program right now is “not the program envisioned over a decade ago.” The 77-page audit I combed through highlights several potential concerns and calls on Congress to consider slowing down the funding for the ship-building program.
Cost is one of the chief concerns in the project, specifically, that the current practices increase “the risk the Navy is not wisely spending its resources.”
The GAO says the two designs currently underway have continued to evolve and need improvements after the first of each kind were unveiled. The changes in the design, construction and outfitting is problematic because other ships are already under construction. The report says the first ships were supposed to be used as tests, aiding in finding areas of improvement, but construction on the rest of the LCS’s moved forward before all the testing was completed and applied, out of concern by the Navy for not securing a good contract for the construction.
Not all of the planned ships are currently budgeted for and approved by Congress. As such, the GAO says Congress has the chance to “pause” the program to let some of these studies and improvements catch up to the current designs.
The design itself is also a question, specifically regarding the LCS capabilities. The GAO gathered statements from the Navy regarding its expectation of the LCS performance. From 2004-2008, the concept for the LCS “against adversaries” is that they will be “primarily deployed for use in major combat operations.” In 2011-2012, the Navy statement shifted to indicate “current LCS weapon systems are under performing and offer little chance of survival in a combat scenario.”
A number of factors, including design development, have contributed to inconsistent delivery schedules for the ships. The lead ships were 2 years late, while the next LCS was two months ahead of scheduled and the next five are expected to be delivered about 7 months late. Even with these continued delays, the Navy also continues to look at other ways to possibly alter the design.
Mayport tells me they have received no notice about any possible scheduling change in its expectation of when the LCS will begin arriving. With the ships will come an infusion of sailors, their families, and ultimately maintenance work that will help the base, which is currently at a historic low level of homeported ships. In fact, the GAO audit says the LCS design specifically relies more than other ships on shore based support because the design includes only a limited capability for maintenance at sea.
I have taken my questions to the Navy as well to see if there is any anticipated shift in the scheduling that will come from the audit, but have not yet heard back. We will continue to update as more information becomes available, including whether Congress heeds the GAO warning to slow down new production.