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GAO Flags LCS Missile Problems

by Greg on March 30, 2010

A couple of weeks back we posted a story about how the failure of the Army’s Non Line-of-Sight-Launch System (NLOS-LS) Precision Attack Missile (PAM) to hit its targets in a recent series of live fire tests could prove problematic to the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). See, the LCS is to be fitted out with interchangeable modular mission packages, such as various weapons, aerial drones and helicopters, so the same ship can be custom tailored to different missions.

One of the primary missions of the LCS is to act as a screen for larger fleet ships, fending off small boat swarms in coastal waterways. The standard package for that mission is the Surface Warfare module (SUW), which includes a 30mm cannon and the NLOS-LS. According to a report released today (big .pdf) by the auditors at the Government Accountability Office, the Navy took delivery of a SUW package in 2008, minus the launcher and missiles (see page 98).

GAO says the launcher was tested last summer, but failed due to a malfunctioning sensor and battery connector. The Navy expects delivery of another SUW package this year, this time with the launcher, but minus the missiles. As we noted in our previous write up, Army officials told us they think the missile’s targeting problems are pretty serious ones, considering how far along the NLOS-LS is in development. They’ve hinted they may look at a low cost alternative to the NLOS-LS.

Yet, the Navy is going ahead with delivery of the launcher. Why is the Navy taking delivery of a problematic launcher to fit in a mission module for an unproven missile? I’m guessing they’ve already sized the module for the NLOS-LS and at this stage it may be tool late to redesign it for another launcher without incurring serious costs. Absent a functioning SUW package, the LCS is not mission capable for its primary function as a small surface combatant. We’ll try and get some answers from the Navy on whether they have another launcher and missile on-deck in case the NLOS-LS doesn’t pan out.

– Greg

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