GAO: Frigate LCS will not provide desired improvement

Plans for improving survivability of the U.S. Navy’s small surface combatants, the LCS ships, will not help improve much, a recently published United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) report suggests.

What is more, the agency recommends that the Congress consider not funding any requested LCS in fiscal year 2017.

The 3,000 tonne littoral combat ships built by Austal and Lockheed Martin did not live up to their expectations as modular mission packages did not quite work the way the navy expected them to work as the design took more time and funds to adjust than it was initially envisioned.

Additionally, a Congressional Research Service report found that the ships would have problems surviving in a hostile combat environment. The report said that neither of the ship variants was expected to achieve the degree of shock hardening as required by the CDD (Capabilities Development Document).

Following an order by the U.S. Secretary of Defense Charles Timothy Hagel to provide solutions for improving the U.S. Navy’s proposed 40-unit fleet of littoral combat ships, a navy task force has spent more than a year analyzing new and existing designs and concepts, including modified LCS concepts.

GAO’s analysis found the planned frigate will not provide much greater capability in some areas than LCS and that some cost assumptions may have overstated this option’s affordability.

The Navy recommended procuring an SSC (termed a frigate) based on a minor modified LCS. In making its recommendation, the Navy prioritized cost and schedule considerations over the fact that a minor modified LCS was the least capable option considered, the report argues.

GAO added that certain cost assumptions made by the task force may have overstated the minor modified LCS’ relative affordability as compared to other options. The Navy’s decision was also based on a desire to start production of the first frigate in 2019, and without a break in production at the LCS shipyards.

The Navy noted in its recommendation that the minor modified LCS will provide improvements in combat capability over the current LCS fleet, specifically due to its multi-mission capability. However, GAO says the frigate will have similar capability in most areas as the current LCS.

Many of the performance requirements for the frigate are the same as LCS requirements. As noted, some of the improvements led to lowering some capabilities for the frigate, such as range. Moreover, a minor modified LCS will not fully address all lethality and survivability concerns raised by the former Secretary of Defense. DOT&E identified some of these concerns in its reporting on the planned frigate program. Namely, the planned frigate will not have significant improvements to AAW capability or to reducing the vulnerability of the ship to sustaining damage as compared to the current LCS.