Is LCS Dying a Slow Death?

There are procurement programs and there are “one of those programs” procurement programs.  The Littoral Combat Ship seems in the running to be the latter.  The ship has wrestled with more than its share of glitches and programmatic snags since the beginning — the most recent being the delay of the contractor downselect and the revelation that the mission modules weren’t working as advertised.

And the original soundbite — affordable, low maintenance, small crew, tailorable mission ship (both from a lethality as well as survivability POV) — seems to be increasingly falling on deaf ears as the Pentagon continues to tighten the belt.

Can the Blackshoe Mafia’s pet project survive SECDEF’s budget axe?  These would seem to be bad days to be an expensive platform with critical flaws and a questionably viable mission set (neither a COIN player or something that could keep the Chinese away from Taiwan).

Pat Donley at NAVSEA Public Affairs wouldn’t put a number to our question about LCS unit cost — “We’re in the middle of a competition,” she said — but one of the command’s press releases from late last year (put out during a lull in the “competition” no doubt) gives an idea of the ballpark — and Jerry Jones would be proud:

The total value of the LCS 3 contract, awarded to Lockheed Martin Corporation on March 23,2009, was $470,854,144 which includes ship construction, non-recurring construction and additional engineering effort, configuration management services, additional crew and shore support, special studies and post delivery support.

The total value of the LCS 4 contract, awarded to General Dynamics – Bath Iron Works on May 1, 2009, was $433,686,769 which includes ship construction, non-recurring construction and additional engineering effort, configuration management services, additional crew and shore support, special studies and post delivery support.

The contract values do not include government costs which include Government Furnished Equipment, change orders, and program management support costs. The contract values do not include the cost of continuation work and material used from the terminated original contract options for LCS 3 and 4. The value of the continuation work and material from the terminated LCS 3 was $78 million for Lockheed Martin Corporation and $114 million from the terminated LCS 4 for General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works.

The dollar value of the fixed-price-type contracts awarded to each LCS prime contractor to procure two LCS seaframes in FY 2009 was previously considered source-selection sensitive information because the price of the FY 2009 ships was to be linked to the competitive solicitation for the FY 2010 ships. That solicitation was cancelled and a new acquisition strategy does not link the FY 2009 prices with the FYs 2010-2014 source selection, thereby allowing normal release of this contract data.

So let’s give NAVSEA the benefit of the doubt and lop off a swag that we’ll say accounts for additional engineering effort, configuration management services, additional crew and shore support, special studies and post delivery support.  That leaves us with a sum around $400 million dollars for each LCS.  (I was told there would be no math . . .)  For context, remember a single F-22 costs around $125 million (and they do air shows).

CNO Roughead deployed the USS Freedom (LCS 1) almost two years ahead of schedule as a way to demonstrate the platform’s capabilities.  Highlights included a drug runner takedown (using the embarked H-60 helo) in the Caribbean and participation in the RIMPAC exercise off of Hawaii.  At the same time Freedom had some growing pains, most notably a breakdown of one of the gas turbine engines that forced the ship to limp back to port on backup power.

Rumblings from the waterfront and the Beltway indicate doubt about the ship’s future.  An industry source fresh from the most recent NDIA Undersea Warfare Symposium tells DT that “there seemed to be more open discussions [than usual] about LCS going away.”

So, we’ll ask again:  Is LCS money well spent or a Vern Clark dream gone wrong?

— Ward

  • R.Shed

    could this mean a possible replacement by the NG NSC design? I remember reading somewhere that northrop grumman could deliver a new frigate based on the coast guard NSC for under 400 million dollars (it would include VLS).

  • Dean

    The LCS program is like a horse with a broken leg, all of the admirals are standing around
    saying to themselves “she sure was fast.”

    So what do you do with a broken horse? You quickly put it out of it’s misery.

    • Adam

      unless it’s a real winner, then you put him to stud..

      i don’t think the original concept is flawed, just that no one’s gotten it right yet.

  • blight

    If the modules work, then we design new hulls. If the modules don’t work either, then squeeze the blood back out of the stones (LCS primary contractors)

  • The success of the general LCS program is irrelevant if the modules fail of their own accord. Survivability is also a big concern.

  • blight

    To be fair I question if any ship smaller than a carrier is particularly “survivable”. If I remember correctly, ships and aircraft stopped being built ruggedly after WW2…

  • ohwilleke

    What is the alternative? At some point $1 billion ships in the 10,000 ton +/- size carrier/destroyer class have diminishing marginal utility. One aircraft carrier will buy you 35 LCS, before buying the aircraft and carrier group. The Zumwalt turned out to be almost as expensive as a small aircraft carrier and is still basically a destroyer. Do we really want $2 billion nuclear attack submarines to fight pirates and interdict smugglers violating arms treaties? Mid-sized U.S. Marine transports provide similar firepower and aircraft basing, but are bigger, more expensive and slower. There would be political hell to pay if we bought somebody else’s warship (see e.g., the Airbus Air Tanker).

    Five LCS are better than two destroyers for anti-piracy and interdiction and ASW missions. It would be nice to have a ship in the Navy that could outrun a fast speedboat. After a few intense days in Taiwan sustained ASW v. older diesel submarines in the East China Sea is likely. We have a shortage of anti-mine warfare ships; some were retired or sold before replacements were purchased. Our frigates and Cyclones are leaving service.

    • Dean

      ohwilleke, the Navy used to have a class of ship called Frigates, they were true multi-purpose ships, with good speed and great endurance, they did AAW, ASW, ASurW, they had real weapons, 5 in guns, Harpoons, SM-1, 2 missiles for air defense, ASROC, torps, and they carried helos, they were built tough and most importantly they were affordable in great numbers.

      Hey, I have a great idea, let start building Frigates again!

  • jsallison

    Survivable? On an ocean? If they’re not as large as an Essex or South Dakota than survivable = sinks slowly enough to allow most of the crew to escape. Given that things are going to be sunk then the question becomes: are they cheap enough that the no errors, *ever*, DOPMA gang are going to be willing to use them in action. A fleet in being that the admirals are afraid to hazard because of it’s cost and few numbers is abso*$&#*(^%lutely useless.

  • jsallison

    Ask the Kriegsmarine how that worked out for them.

  • jsallison

    Ask the Kriegsmarine how that worked out for them. More accurately, the Kaiserliche Marine

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Evening Folks,

    The LCS is an example of the Swiss Army knife approach to weapons platforms. It can do a lot of thing but none well and is very expensive. The USN started out looking for a Little Cheap Ship and now they have a rather expensive FFG “Lite” or as the the name of the LCS has come to mean on the docks, Little Crappy Ship.

    The idea of the LCS was a small reasonably fast ship for the Green water mission. The USN still needs to fill that roll but not with the LCS. What Sec. Gates wants according to a speech to the Naval War college and other venues is a lot of cheap ships with small crews that can take the fight to the terrorists (ie. Pyrates) in the littoral waters of the world.

    What the USN should consider buying is a 1,200-1,500 gross ton “Corvette Class” ship in the price range of $40-$60 million a USN spec’ed haul. This ship is made by several counties in the world and even on a sub contract basis at Grumman in Pascagoula Mississippi. in the US for Italy to sell abroad.

    Byron Skinner

  • I agree – back to the frigate. The Navy needs more hulls in the water, and a capacity to control a larger area of the sea.

  • amauyong

    Wonder why America can’t work with the British/Germans/Canada/yeah even the French….to come out with a “fixed” number of standard hulls….and the various modular systems that goes into it…

    Won’t this saved creeping cost for everyone…and coming out with the “best” viable for the next 10 years platforms.

    Just my view please.

  • STemplar

    The nothing is working part of the story is the real death blow. A one year old ship blows and engine? None, repeat, none of the modules are working and the surface warfare one is essentially non existent with the NLOS cancellation. It would be one thing if systems were working and the ships were just costing more than anticipated but it is both.

    The middle ground is a possibility as there were export variants proposed by both contractors that were armed and equipped in a more traditional fashion. It may be feasible to simply take the existing designs and make a new multi mission frigate out of it and skip trying to make the modules work. That gets away from the modules while skipping the headache of an entirely new RFP. I’m not really subscribing to that option, just pointing it out.

    I think we really need to think about what we are deploying, how many, and what we are trying to accomplish. This whole idea of presence squadrons seem worth exploring I think. Using some existing hulls, or modified merchant vessels as command sustainment vessels, with associated supporting ships, frigates, corvettes, embarked OPVs etc. They USN has got to do more and do it with platforms more affordable than 10 billion Ford carriers and 3.5 billion dollar LHXs.

  • Tony C

    The ships don’t work, but they sure look good. Maybe the US Navy can supplement their
    budget by turning them into small luxury liners? The mission concept was flawed form the beginning, if you want to fight swarms of small boats carrying missiles, you have to
    either wipe them out in mass with heavy weapons or meet them one on one. The LCS isn’t able to do either. They are made out of aluminum, so if they are hit by an anti-ship missile, they will burn brightly.

  • Brian

    I’m not going to criticize the Navy for attempting innovation with the LCS, but it appears as though the plan didn’t work. No shame in that, it just didn’t work. What was supposed to use technology to reduce costs actually ended up increasing costs when the technology didn’t work. Now we’re left with an expensive ship and technology that still doesn’t work.

    Modules are a great idea. You can equip the ship for fighting pirates one day, and then if China goes crazy or North Korea explodes, you re-equip the sucker and send it out for anti-submarine duty. Modules aren’t supposed to make you do all things at once, they’re supposed to make logistics easier. So the idea isn’t bad, the technology just wasn’t ready.

    • USA

      The module idea is just stupid to have in a ship.. so what happens when the ship runs into a situation its not setup for?? The ship has to do what they did about a month ago in an article that was on this site about a exercise against a mock Iranian navy. The LCS’s came in attacked and when the mock Iranians countered the LCS setup they had to then turn and run to port reconfigure and then return and do it again, this happened repeatedly.. Its a waste of time, money, fuel and potentially ships and sailors lives if the LCS isnt properly configured for an unforseen situation…

    • blight

      What will happen is this.

      We pre-position modules around the world “just in case”-and bleed money paying for upgrades for modules waiting for a ship to come by.

      In a sudden war there may not be time to swap to the right module. Instead, ships with the right modules ship out and leave the ones who are refitting behind, which means LCS’ will trickle in and risk defeat in detail. Or you throw every ship into the war you’ve got regardless of module…which is the same as if you didn’t have modularity in the first place.

      Crews must train to train with completely random strangers in a different module. Or do you expect every crewmember to be a specialist in every module?

      We traded modularity for “base capability”. The base capability for the LCS isn’t much, so a lot of boats will do poorly and some will do very well, versus a fleet of all-purposers who will carry “useless” equipment for certain missions, but at least all units are interchangeable/predictable, any boat can be detailed for an assignment, and all hulls have predictable and uniform capability.

    • Mastro

      Where I see the weakness with the modules is that they should have had competing modules- Boeing versus GD or whatever. Maybe they did at one point- but it seems like they have no alternative now.

      Without the modules we have a high speed ferry with a 57 mm gun. Goodie.

    • Morgan

      The technology on the ship works and it works well. I know because I see it everyday. What doesnt work is the process for getting parts quickly to the ship when needed. Both ships are suffering from parts obselecence because the components were purchased 5+ years ago. Now the need is to find “form, fit and function” replacemets.

  • BND

    Is it so hard and expensive to update and build more Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates?

  • Jimbo

    Heh heh, maybe you *should* pay political hell & accept Visbys or Steregushchies would do the job just fine. And much cheaper.

  • Jimbo

    BND – Yes, Perrys are ugly.

  • Apgar

    IMHO, when you you modularize your weapons systems, you are essentially turning them into cargo which can function from a suitably designed cargo vessal. The LCS cargo vessal was built with the requirement for great speed, in addition to its cargo carrying requirement. This seems to have placed requirements back on the cargo modules, such that they could not be made to function. Dropping the speed requirement from speedboat level to fast ship level would allow you to take a proven JHSV full form , placing less restraint on the weapons module design.

  • Brian

    I don’t know the answer as far as what we should do. That is for Congress to decide. Though many on this board don’t like it, maintaining our industry IS an important consideration.

    Brass tacks is this. We don’t need as many ships as we used to, but we still need some. Our enemies are still out there, but they are weaker than they used to be. We have to keep a reasonable shipbuilding industry alive, and that means buying ships. We have to balance all those things against each other.

    • jhm

      I agree with you except about your “We don’t need as many ships as we used to” because now the time for mumble jumbling of the 90s has to end now. The other navies such as China and Russia are commisioning greater numbers of ships. China alone produced 50+ type 022 Facs in a decade!

  • STemplar

    I think LCS just stands as another example of the DoD relying too heavily on immature tech in a system they actually need quickly. Plenty of other examples of this. I really hope common sense wins out and they prioritize what they need down to what they would like. I read a piece on how the Army seems to have done that with the next GCV RFP.

    The USN should do the same, seems like anti sub is the most pressing to me, followed by counter mine ability. The whole swarming boat thing was knee jerk IMO, we had plenty of capability for addressing that issue at the time we just didn’t deploy like that. When you take that into account I certainly think the lessons of Millennium Challenge 2002 sank in, coupled with some of the advances like drones and such, I really don’t think we need 3000 ton speed boats to fight speed boats.

  • txkboy

    Navy shipbuilding should be based on the assessed fleet needs 10-15 years down the road. If the path is a less road-tested, going to littoral and more small boat needs, then doesn’t it make sense to build a platform about the size of a PC, with modular capability? You could probably build to that scale for a 2 for 1 ratio of the LCS, and get more mission capability out of it.

  • MattMusson

    I guess we have to buy available small ships and drop the mission packages that do work onto them.

  • blight

    Someone’s already mentioned UAVs as the superior approach to countering enemy speedboats. They can outrun any speedboat and sink them if necessary. Thus the need for LCS to be fast-moving can be dropped. Perhaps this will help make LCS cheaper/feasible.

    Modules are one of the key planks in LCS-land, as is crew automation. Both are new, unproven, and will take lots of R&D money to resolve.

    I ponder if it’s worthwhile to take the sans VLS CG-47 to CG-51 and use them as module testbeds…

  • goinsnookin

    I was on a new dd-963 class destroyer in the late 70s, and it went through 2 gas turbines in less than 1 year, No one seemed to think that was unusual. Judging by the large number of GE shipping containers byt the pier, it was normal wear and tear.

  • Bobby Ferguson

    Since the above discussion demonstrates you don’t have to be an expert, I will join.
    Ward: Freedom did not limp back into port under back-up power. The diesels are the primary propulsion. Gas turbines are boosters for speed.
    R.Shed: Perhaps NG’s estimate of a frigate for under $400 million is comparable to the original estimates of a $250 million LCS. Easy to say until you have to build it.
    Tony C.: The GD/Austal model is all aluminum; the LM model has a steel hull and aluminum superstructure. Independence will burn more brightly than Freedom, and faster.
    BND: No it isn’t so hard or expensive, but they draw 25+ feet versus 15 for LCS. It’s about where you can take them.

  • I just needed a number anti ship/ boat missile launchers tubes installed on the boat like 8 anti missile launcher on each sides, 8 on front and 8 on back to make it credible and competative againts chinese and russian missile boats. Try Tomahawk or Penguin (AGM-119) missile launchers.

  • It just needed a number anti ship/ boat missile launchers tubes installed on the boat like 8 anti missile launcher on each sides, 8 on front and 8 on back to make it credible and competative againts chinese and russian missile boats. Try Tomahawk or Penguin (AGM-119) missile launchers.

    Read more:

  • Yellowute

    In comparing costs it is important to remember that these are 25-year hulls (some say 20-year) vice 35 years for a standard DDG 51 Flight I/II or 40 years for a Flight III. Thus TO MAINTAIN FORCE STRUCTURE you have to buy between 1.6 and 2.0 LCSs (complete with 1.16 mission modules per ship, assuming 64 modules for 55 ships) to keep a ship in service either 35 or 40 years, vice only one DDG 51. This makes the LCS about as expensive as an ARLEIGH BURKE for a lot less capability in all mission areas except littoral MIW — which a metal-hulled ship should not be doing anyway. This makes LCS a very expensive way to get very little capability to sea.
    Also, why are we buying 55 ships to fight in the littorals — where our adversaries want us to fight? Can’t we fight OUR WAY instead, using our firepower overmatch, ISR advantages, and air supremacy to negate their small boat forces?
    These LCSs — if built — will never fight without air cover from a carrier air group or an AEGIS ship. The “sea frames” may be expendable (at their cost, a doubtful proposition from the outset) but the crews are not — this is not 1942 and we have a much more casualty-averse electorate nowadays. So if we have to have a carrier and/or AEGIS ships in the area anyway to protect the LCSs against C-802s and air strikes, just what does LCS bring to the table that justifies their acquisition and life cycle costs?
    If we need small patrol craft to do VBSS and MIO in the littorals, then we should build improved CYCLONES or something like a Sa’ar V for a lot less money and leave the elimination of small boat swarms to armed helos (e.g., AH-1Zs) or even PGMs if we can hit them in port after the shooting starts. Chasing the adversary int o the shallow littorals sounds too much like what they want us to do.

  • Curt

    The origional plan was to build two (with R&D funds) to test out the concept, take the best features and make what you really wanted. What that concept then morphed into is the problem.

  • EJ257

    I say we forget about the LCS and just get a bunch of these. ;)

    • jhm

      arent you smart one Ha Ha Ha

  • Let’s just buid a modified small Sa’ar 5 class boats with a lot of missile laucher fire power installed on it instead of The Littoral Combat Ship with caramaran flippers for speed.

  • STemplar

    I just think modularity is oversold and unnecessary. I think if the navy would take a breath on the swarming boat issue they would let common sense catch up to reality. In 2002 when Millennium Challenge highlighted the issue of the swarming boats think about where drone tech was and think about now. No Reapers, no ScanEagle, no Fire Scouts, no Global Hawks, etc. So clearly our ISR and payloads have skyrocketed on our drones.

    The mission of watching the Straits of Hormuz and oil terminals is tailor made for drones. We have a far better view of the battle environment now than during MC 2002. We will either see them coming if they hit first, or we will decide to use force against Tehran over its nuke program. In that case we will certainly task the FACs and ports in the initial strikes along with the anti ship cruise missiles and such as job one.

    Now after a reality check think about what we really need, what we are really concerned with in the littorals. That’s subs and mines. I am confident we could put together a new shallow draft frigate to address those two issues that has a robust set of deck weaponry. I also think we don’t need this modularity to accomplish it.

    However, in a nod to the idea of being able to field different capabilities with the modules, perhaps continue the research on other platforms. The HSV’s have plenty of space and we are buying them regardless. The SeaFighter has the room and was intended for the modular approach as well. They would be cheaper than LCS and have a use in the littorals regardless.

  • roland

    Although the LCS design is impresive I don’t think it will out perform the chinese and russian missile boats on any confrontation. We should do more on its defense capabilties.

  • Yellowute

    In answer to Blight1, I was using the published figures on module purchases from the recent Congressional Research Service (CRS) report. But I agree with Blight1 (and others) that the planned numbers of modules is too small to support the concept. Right now it allows a swing of only 9 modules, which hardly seems worthwhile. Also, the recent wargames in which 6 LCSs were used in operations against a littoral threat that kept shifting tactics would seem to indicate that at least three modules (one of each kind) need to be on scene at a given time to avoid our forces always being caught with the wrong loadout. That would treble the cost of having LCS on site and swing the debate even father in the direction of buying more DDG 51s or some other multimission warship that does not use modules.
    The whole modular loadout of weapons also appears questionable to me. I am very troubled that nowhere do I see data on how this concept actually works in practice with the Danish FLYVEFISKEN class Standard Flex 300 patrol vessels. I would think that the LCS program would be touting the StanFlex 300s as examples of how well the idea really works when implemented. But all I can find is “sales brochure” type claims of the virtues of modularity. To me, the lack of open source data on the Stanflex 300s and the US Navy’s silence on the subject indicates either (1) the data is there and looks bad or (2) the Navy did not check the StanFlex 300s out before they committed to LCS. The Danes built only 14 of these ships, so there has to be real user data on mundane things like actual changeout times, corrosion control, configuration management, hull strength/flexing, maintenance, parts usage, crew issues, and so on. I think a hint exists in the fact the Danes’ next modular warship, the 2-ship ABSALON class, has a flex deck for MIW (or a hospital, or vehicles, or cargo, or whatever) and a weapons deck for FIVE modules, but all of these have to be missile-firing modules: the rest of their weapons are hard-mounted. This looks like the Royal Danish Navy might be backing away from modularized weapons. If true, the reasons for that would be enlightening.
    It has to be remembered that the RDN is a very small navy compared to the USN, and even if modular weapons work for them it might be because they don’t have to support 55 modular ships (I think they have 12 now, counting StanFlex 300 decommissionings) worldwide, managing upgrade and logistics programs and maintaining computer program compatibility across all combinations of modules and “seaframes,” transporting and installing/removing modules at locations far from home, and sending sailors to ships at the drop of a hat. I sure hope the USN took a hard look at all these considerations during the start of the LCS program, but I don’t see any evidence of it in the open sources.

  • jhm

    Overall, the we should divert more funds to produce further Aleigh Burkes or start producing newer designs. Our enemies abroad such as Iran and potenitally China have steadily increased their navies. Iran could be hegemonied, but China can’t. LCS should be produced but just is too expensive, and our retarded production and acquistion programmes are not even close to efficient.

  • Byron Skinner

    Good Morning Folks,

    I thinks there is a consensus developing here that what the USN really needs is a FFG class ship in the 3 to 3.5 Kt. range to replace the aging Perry’s and to incorporate new technologies that permit a smaller crew, and more combat power then the current Perry’s have.

    The USN also need a Corvette Class, 1.2 to 1.5 Kt. range that is gun heavy, a class up from the current Cyclone Class of Fast Patrol Boats, is able to be self deployable world wide, perform sustained, extended, and independent operations in the littoral green waters of the world. The ASW/AA rolls can be done by other platforms in the AO , a limited AA capacity would be the “Stinger”.

    The modularization concept along with all the other add ons has drive the LCS’s cost beyond the acceptable upper limits. Although much about the LCS is increases in naval technology and automation that are not yet useful enough to justify the price. What is working, and can justify it price could be incorporated into the FFG’s or Corvettes.

    Also because of structural problems with in the US military shipbuilding community that for several years now have been unsolvable, foreign bidders and yards should also be considered. Many countries have put successful FFG’s and Corvettes in the water. It would be economically prudent for the USN to shop these foreign builders for future small surface ships.


    Byron Skinner

  • jhm

    People have constantly talked about reusing the Perries. the Lcs hull and weapon systems are the next generation. tEh hull on one model is intended to be far stealthier then the perries. Also, the perry is pushing the sizel limit. although costs would be low, its overall lifespan in the future would be glaringly short as it would be considered obsolete within a couple years. Remember, there’s a reason the US isn’t following up with upgraded Perries

  • roland

    Although LCS designs on its ship and boats are impresive in speed, I don’t think it will be competative against 022 Chinese missile boats firepower.

  • roland

    The Chinese knows the nearest location between two point is a straight line. This is why a horizontal missile flight is more effective than a vertical missile flight, this is what they have on their catamaran 022 missile boats. Which make it more effective in firepower than our littorial ships and boats. If we are going to use these LCS designed littorial ship for defense, we should armed them with missiles on its sides, front and back.

  • ziv

    Re-inventing a Perry would get you a proven frigate but it would still draw 22′, it wouldn’t have LCS2’s reduced radar profile, nor the storage for Strykers, when needed & even if you could reduce the crew by 50% you’d still need twice the crew that operates the LCS-2. The LCS2 is worth it, it may take a second ship to iron out the bugs, but at half the tonnage of a frigate drawing 13′ vs 22′ and with a lower radar profile it can do things that a Perry simply can not. The LCS will be cheap enough that they will be deployed in pairs or threes, each of which will have a different primary module. But if the third Austal still hasn’t reduced the price, it wouldn’t be worth it to build a third trimaran LCS. That would be a pity, because the design begs to be improved. But the loss of the NLOS and the use of a 57 mm gun makes the LCS a bit of an easy target, both for an aggressor and for a cost cutter.