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Is LCS Dying a Slow Death?

by Ward Carroll on September 27, 2010

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

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