Stackley on LCS: ‘The Ship Works’
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
WASHINGTON — The Navy’s acquisition boss told Congress the Navy is steadily working through the developmental issues in the littoral combat ship (LCS) and its mission packages, while the service’s top surface warfare admiral said the fleet commanders are looking forward to more LCSs deployed in their areas of responsibility.
“The ship works,” Sean Stackley, the assistant secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, said in closing testimony Dec. 8 before the House Armed Services Committee. “We have reliability issues but we’ll get through those.”
Stackley was testifying along with Vice Adm. Thomas Rowden, commander, Naval Surface Forces; Dr. J. Michael Gilmore, director, Operational Test and Evaluation at the Department of Defense; Michele Mackin, director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management at the Government Accountability Office; and Ron O’Rourke, specialist in naval affairs at the Congressional Research Service.
In her opening statement, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., attacked the LCS program, saying that it was “not just outrageously expensive, it’s outrageously bad at doing its job. It’s a dud. … We have a ship even the Chinese don’t want to copy … The LCS is the Ford Edsel of the sea. … Today we need to have the guts to say that the LCS was a mistake.”
Stackley said the LCS cost is one-third that of an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer and that the cost, schedule and quality of the LCS ships has greatly improved since the block buy of 20 ships was approved by Congress in 2010.
“We are late, we understand that, but we are bringing that capability forward in an incremental fashion when it is ready,” he said. “[With] every deployment, littoral combat ships are deploying with increased capability. Yes, we have changed the program as we go, but that is because we are learning. This is a new concept, concepts that were struck back in the 2001-2002 time frame. Now that we’re out there operating and deploying, we’re learning and we’re improving.”
Rowden also was optimistic about the prognosis for the LCS.
“It’s an exciting time in our Navy bringing this capability into the fleet, the capabilities that it [the LCS] is going to deliver” he said. “We have a team focused on the issues, we’re learning about the issues, we’re learning about how to maintain it, and going forward I am 100 percent that we will tackle those issues and we will defeat them.”
“We need to acknowledge that many problems that exist and fix them,” said Gilmore, who has been highly critical of the development of the LCS, particularly the schedule, lack of testing, lack of reliability and lack of redundancy of systems, which impacts survivability. “I’m glad the Navy is now acknowledging these problems, but in the past that hasn’t always been true.”
He noted, for example, that in 2014 Navy officials said the LCS’ Remote Minehunting System completed its reliability growth program and continued to test well.
“At that time, that simply wasn’t the case. It was testing poorly. I hope the Navy reviews all of the test results that are available on board and provides the resources to fix these problems,” he said.
“Concern with things like redundancy, I agree with Dr. Gilmore’s assessment that we need to increase redundancy, particularly for critical systems, and we are going about that, first with the frigate design and looking at back-fitting that to the earlier hulls,” Stackley said. “The mission packages are correctly selected in terms of warfighting gaps. We’ve got to deliver that capability regardless of what the platform is and we’ve selected the LCS platform to deliver those capabilities.”
Mackin said her chief concern with the LCS program has been the lack of testing. She also noted that the cost per hull of the LCS has doubled since the initial estimate, but that the cost since then has more or less been gotten “under control.”
O’Rourke noted that most of the LCS sea frame cost growth occurred prior to the block buy of 20 ships after the first four, which were funded by research and development funds.
Gilmore also was critical of the lack of testing of the mission package modules and of the ships’ propulsion systems, and noted that of the three mission packages, only one — Increment 2 of the surface warfare package — has been deployed to date.
Stackley said some modules of the mission packages were mature, but that as the program developed others had to be canceled and replaced by other solutions.
Mackin criticized the frigate follow-on to the LCS, saying that the Navy still does not know what the frigate will look like; that as a modified LCS it was the ”least-capable option considered,” and that it would be 2018 before an independent cost estimate would be completed.
Noting that LCs production is “running quite a bit behind,” she said, “there is no schedule imperative to add frigates to the pipeline right now.”
O’Rourke said the truncation of the LCS/Frigate program to 40 ships from 52 and the down-select to one sea frame could make it more difficult to increase the size of the fleet if the new administration decided to do so.
Stackley, acknowledging that the Defense Department-mandated reduction in the LCS plan was budget-driven, pointed to an upcoming force structure assessment that may change the desired size of the fleet, noting that “all pressure on our fleet points toward the need for a larger fleet.”
Rowden, whose surface force has deployed three LCSs to the Western Pacific to date, said the fleet commanders keep asking him, ‘How many LCS can I get and how fast can you get them to me?’”