Home » Budget Industry » Senators McCain, Reed Blast Littoral Combat Ship Development in Letter to Navy Leaders

Senators McCain, Reed Blast Littoral Combat Ship Development in Letter to Navy Leaders

USS Freedom (LCS-1), left, and USS Independence (LCS-2) in 2012. US Navy Photo

USS Freedom (LCS-1), left, and USS Independence (LCS-2) in 2012. US Navy Photo

The senior leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) took aim at almost every aspect of the Littoral Combat Ship program in letter issued last week to the heads of the U.S. Navy.

Chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) spring boarded off a critical report of LCS — included in the Office of Development Testing and Evaluation (DOT&E) annual report — to criticize the seaframe, the ship’s eventual development into a heavily armored frigate and the progress of the mission packages the ship’s will field, according to the letter obtained by USNI News.

“We are particularly concerned with the report’s assessment of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and its associated mission packages. More than seven years after the first LCS was delivered, the report makes clear the program remains mired in testing delays with an unclear path ahead,” read the Feb. 5 letter addressed to Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson and Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.
“We seldom hear from Navy leaders about these challenges and the path to achieving full operational capability. Instead, Navy leaders seem to be promoting the warfighting capabilities of the LCS.”

Reed and McCain went on to pick at claims Mabus made at last month’s Surface Navy Association (SNA) symposium.

“Because [LCS] can deploy with a carrier strike group, because they have such robust anti-mine and anti-submarine capabilities we’re redesignating them as frigates… a group of small surface ships like LCS is still capable of putting the enemy fleet on the bottom of the ocean. Now that’s the success story,” according to Mabus remarks on Jan. 14.

The letter calls out Mabus’ claims of the efficacy of both variants of the LCS – Lockheed Martin’s Freedom class (LCS-1) and Austal USA’s Independence class (LCS-2).

“Based on the detailed program information presented by the Navy and DOT&E to us, this statement and similar statements do not appear to reflect the reality of the LCS program,” read Reed and McCain’s letter.

The letter cited limitations in range of the ships to keep with a carrier strike group and claimed either LCS would need more refueling time with deployed logistics ships.

Reed and McCain spend most of the letter highlighting the delays in including the three mission packages into both hulls to take on mine countermeasure (MCM) warfare, surface warfare (SuW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW).

“The timeline for achieving a proven mine countermeasures capability remains unclear. Since 2009, the IOC for this package has been delayed by over four years. Meanwhile, legacy mine countermeasures platforms, including Avenger-class ships, Osprey-class ships, and Sea Dragon helicopters, have reached, are approaching, or have been extended beyond the end of their service lives,” read the letter.

The pair also singled out delays in development in the ASW package and the lack of missile development for the SuW package.

At its conclusion the letter said, “the recent history of the Navy’s turning ‘LCS plans’ into ‘LCS reality’ is not encouraging. We expect Navy leaders to acknowledge and close the chasm between aspirations and reality for the LCS.”

In response the Navy issued a statement to USNI News from chief Navy spokeswoman, Rear Adm. Dawn Cutler.

“For this new ship class, we will continue to refine how we train, maintain, operate and deploy LCS based on what we have learn in operational tests, maintenance, and deployments. The first two deployments of LCS have been successful, but we still have work to do in order to better execute the mission for which this platform was designed,” Cutler said.
“We look forward to working with the technical community, the fleet, and the Congress to address LCS concerns as we continue to spirally develop and strengthen this program.”

McCain is no stranger to the program and has been one of its most vocal critics in the last several years as the program was being developed.

His latest round of snipes at LCS and its mission packages comes shortly after a December memo from Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to Mabus in which Carter ordered the Navy to trim the program from 52 ships to 40.

The memo and subsequent budget changes to the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2017 budget is the second restructure of the program in as many years – following former Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel’s requirement to create the frigate variant.

The Navy has sent two Freedom variants to Singapore for two test deployments. The Independence variants have been used mostly as test beds for future mission packages and some are expected to head to Singapore in the next few years.

  • johnbull

    Scrap it all, buy a few competent minesweepers and get busy with a good cruiser replacement for the aging Ticonderogas.

    • sferrin

      “Get busy”? Given we’ve already cancelled at least one Tico. replacement, exactly how “busy” should we be? Getting pretty tired of “oh mah God, everything we’re working on now sucks, is too expensive, sucks, and, and, THE EVIL GODDAMN MIC! We need to cancel it all and start over. Surely next time everything will run smoothly, there will be no surprises, everything will be on budget, on time, and will be the best in the world.” Yea Gods.

      • Ctrot

        So, what do YOU suggest?

        • MarlineSpikeMate

          I suggest slapping a better radar on the thing, adding some naval strike missiles, some ASM equipment, and sacrificing some speed for some range.

          • Ctrot

            Neither LCS has weight margins large enough to add much of anything.

        • sferrin

          We should have stuck with the original plan of building out the Zumwalts and then building a CG version of it. Same thing they did with the Spruance/Ticos. It’s the on again, off again, let’s build onsies/twosies, that kills you on price.

          • old guy

            SORRY, “Old Flopover is no better a snip than HUNK-A-JUNK.
            KG* is ZERO in a hard turn due to “TUMBLEHOME” hull.

            *KG- distance from center of gravity to center of buoyancy. Bigger is better.

      • gunnerv1

        Like I said above “The Cheap has a way of becoming the Expensive”, like we do with almost every platform, we start asking it to do more than it was designed for. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in multi-function platforms, but the platform has to be capable supporting the desired function(s). Like the WWII Destroyers of yesteryear, we kept adding roles to it until it turned into a Guided Missile Destroyer, that turned into a Guided Missile Cruiser and all with a complete Anti-Submarine (with over the Horizon attack capability) Suite, Complete Missile/Anti-Missile Suite, but with a still present, but reduced Gun Capability. It would take 3 LCS’s to equal one Cruiser (minus the Mine Counter Measure Suite LCS). Cruisers/Destroyers always made for poor Mine Counter Measure warfare (Steel Hull) but they excelled at “Destroying” the the Enemy’s Air/Surface/Submarine Fleets and always had separate Mine Counter Measure hulls (from Beach to Harbor to Ocean class) LCS’s can be overwhelmed much more easily with at distance with Surface Ordnance.

      • bee bop

        …and they went to sea in wooden ships…lets go back!

  • PolicyWonk

    “to criticize the seaframe, the ship’s eventual development into a
    heavily armored frigate and the progress of the mission packages the
    ship’s will field…”
    1. Neither of the sea-frames for LCS, planned or future, will ever meet even the navy’s lowest construction standard (level 1), according to Defense Industry Daily. Note that even the common fleet oiler is built to the level-2 standard, as are many ships in the ‘gator navy.
    2. The “Littoral Combat Ship” was never designed to “venture into the littorals to engage in combat”, according to former CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert, in an interview with Breaking Defense Dot Com.
    As such, there is little room for growth in either offensive or defensive weapons, or armoring, that will ever make LCS a “heavily armed” fighting ship (barring completely new weapons we don’t know about as of yet). Just because you’re calling it “heavily armed” doesn’t make it so.
    3. LCS is horrifyingly expensive given the appallingly low ROI: all of our allies initially interested walked away from LCS as implemented by the USN. The Saudi’s, more recently, signed on to pay for the development of a vastly more capable LCS at a far better price point than our own USN negotiated. We should be buying these instead, and otherwise should consider a navalized variant of the HII Legend-Class National Security Cutters being built for the USCG (a vastly superior ship).
    4. Using LCS (in any variant) for anti-submarine fleet operations would require the LCS to venture far away from the air-threat protection of the Burke’s or Tico’s, and the rest of a CSG (due to the noise they generate). Without adequate air defenses, the LCS’s would be sitting ducks.

    The scathing criticism’s of LCS, which even come from the Navy’s own inspector general, who declared that neither variant of LCS would be likely to “survive any of the engagements commanders were likely to assign it”, have yet to be addressed – and cannot be addressed with the woefully inadequate sea-frames being constructed under this blatant corporate welfare program.

    I have to admit, I love this part: “The first two deployments of LCS have been successful, but we still have
    work to do in order to better execute the mission for which this
    platform was designed,” Cutler said.”

    Wow: where the second deployment has some minor merit, the first deployment left the USS Freedom adrift in the pacific ocean when its propulsion plant died. The maintenance tasks for the crew was staggering (even with the help of the contractors, the SUW mission-package crew pitching in, and an additional 10 crewman added prior to the cruise). The subsequent report (I think from OMB) stated the problems were so numerous and severe, that the USS Freedom would only be used as a training/hazing boat, and would never see a real assignment. Granted, a number of those problems have since been solved – but that cannot solve the problems associated with the fundamental sea-frames.

    You cannot add onto a building that has a crumbling foundation. The same applies to a ship with an ill-considered sea-frame.

    • Curtis Conway

      AND an LCS-1 chewed up is gears just a few weeks ago! Frankin-boat has gotta go! Give them to SOUTHCOM. They will operate near friends (mostly) who can help. We have already wasted $Billions and a decade+.

      • gunnerv1

        Having the “Reduction Gears” (Combining Gears) g o south is a Major x Major cost for repair and if it is a “Class” fault, they may as well send the entire LCS Fleet to the Suisun Bay “Mothball” Fleet. The cheap has a way of becoming expensive. I also read somewhere that it was two LCS’s with the Gear Problems. (I may be wrong).

      • PolicyWonk

        Gad. I hadn’t heard about the chewed gears incident.

        The OMB’s assessment of the Freedom was unfortunately all too correct. I doubt SOUTHCOM wants them (what did they ever do to you? :-D). I know the coasties sure don’t – they’re already getting the ship they want and need (albeit, in smaller quantities than I think they really need/should have).

    • gunnerv1

      In my view, the LCS’s would be used as “Expendable ‘Bait'”, much like the WWII Radar Picket Escort (DER’s) ships were employed during Viet-Nam operations (Draw Fire and call in the Destroyers and (Gun) Cruisers (That no longer exist) that are just over the horizon).

      • PolicyWonk

        Certainly without the ability to defend itself from any meaningful air-attack, it would be very expendable. But the radar picket destroyers were at least able to nominally defend themselves against the threats of the day.

        The LCS is a notable exception to this.

        • gunnerv1

          And I totally agree, our little 3″/50 Cal. could handle anything South of Da Nang but would have been a 100% Suicide Mission North of Da Nang (Flank speed, 21 Kts) without having Air Support and larger Surface Combatant trailing behind us. I also went North (of the DMZ) but with two other DDG’s and was sweeping shrapnel off the Weather Decks in the morning Sun light (at first, they were “Collector’s Items”, but soon anybody who wanted a piece was satisfied, so we swept the rest over the side.) I still call any ship smaller than a DDG a DE (I despise the term “FF” (it’s simply “Un-American”)).

          • El_Sid

            Tell that to Old Ironsides….

          • gunnerv1

            Not bad in the days of Black Powder, Iron Shot and a range of about 500 yards as compared to a six inch shore battery (several) with HE and a range of about 8 miles. (and a little difference of about 150 years of technological leaps and bounds).

          • El_Sid

            I was referring to “I still call any ship smaller than a DDG a DE (I despise the term “FF” (it’s simply “Un-American”)).”

            You clearly think that USS Constitution is “Un-American”…

          • gunnerv1

            I clearly think that between a “Bark, Frigate, Sloop, Brigantine and Man o’ War” are in disuse and only the “FF” designation was brought back to placate our EU Allies, we have come along way in that there is NO comparison of yesteryear. I DID NOT imply, insinuate or proclaim the “USS Constitution” as “Un-American”, the term “Fast Frigate” is archaic and “Destroyer Escort” is better a descriptive of it’s role in Naval tactics. What’s a Fast Frigate?, it’s a small ship that performs Escort Duties for/in place of a Destroyer (I served in five “Knox” Class DE’s, one DER and three DDG’s, we didn’t call them Fast Frigate Radar or Fast Frigate Missile ships then and we still don’t.

    • old guy

      Shipyard Welfare Investment Program, Expensive (SWIPE). No Mission, No capability needed, No future. JUST CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTIONS.

  • Rian

    The LCS is a sad excuse for a warship. Build a real frigate for Christ sake. Its insane to imagine these things will make up 1/7th of our total fleet.

    • sferrin

      Yep. Russia hit the nail on the head with their new frigate, the Admiral Gorshkov-class.

      • TomG

        Well, they can’t afford it either. And given the problems they’ve had with the Yasen, T-14, PAK FA, I’m not sure their procurement is any better than ours.

      • Secundius

        @ sferrin

        As I recall, at least Four of the Admiral Gorshkov class Frigates, are STILL sitting in the “Slip Berths” without Marine-Grade Gas Turbine Powerplants in them. Because the Ukraine Republic, STILL refuses to give them them the Engines that THEY “ONLY” Produce. Maybe Putin can “SUE” them in the International Courts for Breaching Their Contract on the Deal…

  • Curtis Conway

    Well . . . we will soon find out if we still have leaders with integrity in the Department of the Navy. One cannot fix a problem when riding a barge that is “On a River in Egypt”.

    The Cutler statement “…The first two deployments of LCS have been successful, but we still have work to do in order to better execute the mission for which this platform was designed…” is not encouraging. If I did not know better I would think he knew Jim Jones, for he speaks as though he has drank the cool-aide. As our Native American Brethren express it, that statement was spoken with “Forked Tongue”, by a man with No Understanding. Qualified Leadership?!

    • bee bop

      You can call Egypt’s river by name…they only got one, longest in the world!

    • PolicyWonk


      If we had leaders with integrity in the Department of the Navy, these things called the “Littoral Combat Ship” wouldn’t exist as they are today.

      • Curtis Conway

        Hear Hear . . . you are exactly right about that. unqualified and lack vision and judgement. Priorities all in the wrong place at least until Ash came along.

        Case in point: The current administration’s penchant for pursuing the ‘Green Fleet’ has been a huge disappointment, and in fact a crime. Only an ideological interpretation can justify the changes made over the last half decade to the energy systems to the US Navy, spending a huge percentage of the budget doing so. A much better program would have been redesigning/augmenting current propulsion systems for increased efficient use of aboard fuel. Now we have a green fleet, and every surface combatant still hits the Tanker on schedule, burning the fuel we have at pretty much the same rate we always have.

        Aviation on the other hand has embraced higher efficiency turbine technology increasing the power, efficiency, and range of our aviation jet engines. Some electric drive aviation is pursued by NASA and some foreign concerns, but that is about it.

        The Surface Combatant Hybrid Electric Drive (HED) Program has been delayed, or placed on hold for most of the last half decade. All major emphasis has been placed upon this alternative energy development program. What is the differences between the two programs? One feeds specific industries and development that enhanced the fortunes of individuals in a specific energy sector (renewable fuels development). The other program increases the combat capability of our Surface Combatant Commanders by enabling them to stretch their fuel. I’ll leave it to you to determine which is the most significant increase in defense capability, and the best expenditure of defense dollars given the current international context, and availability of fuel stocks. Someone should go to jail for this one.

        • PolicyWonk

          Absolutely we should be investing heavily in hybrid drives.

          However, from what I understand, the DoD has been researching use of alternative fuels and investing heavily in renewable technologies (solar, wind, etc.), in many cases due to the horrifying logistical problems in Afghanistan – let alone Iraq – and that started well over a decade ago (when gasoline was over $4.00/gallon).

          When the nation was hugely dependent on the middle east for oil, given its past (let alone present) volatility, the DoD had energy independence listed as a major national security problem. Whether this remains the case is debatable. But under the circumstances, I can see why they went after “green” fuels as an option (and the prices have come way down).

          • Curtis Conway

            The prices coming down had nothing to do with the “…use of alternative fuels and investing heavily in renewable technologies (solar, wind, etc.)”. We have such a glut of product refined and otherwise tankers off the coast are being used for storage, and export has begun. I haven’t seen yet, nor do I expect to see a Destroyer with Photo Voltaic sails.

            As present, if we can’t get flight training hours up over 11 hrs/mo then something else is going on.

  • Michael Nunez

    The L.C.S. Program has turn out to be ” Horrible ” . We need calls to shut it Down , As Soon As Possible . Before Anyone Gets Killed , Enough is Enough . Shut It Down ……. !

    • bee bop

      Killed? Thats a serious charge! Unless you are attacked, or something. I’ve served on about 12 different ships in my Navy times, maybe some close calls, but that is shipboard operations. I am still here to tell my sea stories.

  • Ctrot

    LCS has no capability vs any ship in its class (based on cost), it has no capability vs hostile aircraft and it has no capability vs hostile subsurface threats other than the SH-60. So I have to ask: what is its purpose as a $700m “warship”?

  • Lazarus

    The only way to work out problems with LCS is to deploy and operate the ships. Certainly better “operational” testing than the sort planned by DOT&E. Note as well that Senators McCain and Reed did not call for the LCS program to be cancelled. That’s because there are not other financially viable alternatives to LCS.

    • bee bop

      You are right. Cap’n Ron said…if its gonna happen, its gonna happen out there! Anchors, aweigh!

    • bee bop

      Quoting Captain Ron, “if its gonna happen, its gonna happen out there!”

  • vincedc

    Between the F-35 and the LCS, DoD should have learned a lesson…one size does not fit all. Continuing to build platforms to support a multitude of missions, means compromises that give marginal results at best. This ship was built for a different time and different doctrine, when “littoral” was the name of the game. Trying to adapt this ship to a blue water platform trying to keep up with a carrier group is just asking for too much.

    • old guy

      HEY KID, Don’t forget TFX (F-111). and V-22. All Lobbyist’s sweethearts.

  • The_Usual_Suspect61

    The late Senator William Proxmire would have had a field day with the LCS. If there were somebody like him around, it would have been cancelled by now. McCain and Reed need to stand up and be counted – put out a bill ending funding for the program.

    • Secundius

      @ The_Usual_Suspect61.

      One problem though? Senate doesn’t control Naval Buget Funding, House does. Senate can Recommend, BUT House doesn’t have to approve if they don’t won’t too…

    • The_Usual_Suspect61

      Senator Proxmire had his monthly Golden Fleece Award and drew negative attention to several programs that eventually were defunded. I understand that the funding originate in the House; however, it is the folks in the Senate who are making the first noises about this albatross. The gentleman from Texas (Mac Thornberry), who is Senator McCain’s counterpart, needs to pick up the ball.

  • bee bop

    The two most satisfying days in a boater’s life is when he buys a boat and when he sells it! Its either the gear cycle to next repair or short refuel cycles needing more nurse time at the mother ship. We are in a definite paradigm for maritime security at the littoral road blocks in the South China Sea. Been there! Member of the Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, long hull Gearing Class, USS Carpenter DD825, Pineapple Fleet, Pearl Harbor, HI, 1966.

    • disqus_zommBwspv9

      I miss my Lighting Sailboat

      • bee bop

        Lightnings were great. My favorite sailboat was the Windmill when I was a kid, but the Thistle was faster and a little more technical. Hey, I have an idea for the Task Force 77 command. Put out a fleet of sailboats in regatta style to cruise the littorals of the S. China Sea and call it the South China Yacht Club daily regatta. The area is loaded with fishing trawlers, anyway. Might encourage the enemy to match the competition, peacefully. Just watch for the sea snakes if someone wants to take a dip.

      • PolicyWonk

        I miss the Finns I grew up sailing…

        Gad – what a great boat for an animal 😀

    • bee bop

      God, I miss my youth and Waikiki Beach!

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    Shame we can’t do it. But buying foreign on a new Frigate appears to be cheaper in the long run. Then the fourth fleet can have all the remaining LCS’s for that AOR.

    • bee bop

      Why does the architecture of foreign warships always look more impressive.

  • Kim Chul Soo

    Are the statements by Rear Adm. Dawn Cutleron – “what we have learn in operational tests” a typo or is this another commom core, equal opportunity appointment?

  • bee bop

    Have you noticed that the LCS-2 looks like the futuristic warship presented on a recruitment poster back in the early 80’s

  • Chaos

    How many of you have been on an LCS? I have been on the Independence class at sea and she is a marvel mix of ship and technology. The flight deck is huge, the power plant is as solid as it gets and she sails great. It has unlimited volume so you can put whatever weapons system you want on it. Any talk about no opportunity for growth is just not correct. Upgunning can take place now without changing the platform at all on the Indepedence class. While othe ship prices continue to go up the Independence cost continues to decrease. As with all classes you learn more, the more you use them.

  • Roger Beck

    In a surface fight, these incredibly lightweight ships wouldn’t last five minutes. Undergunned, undermanned, they are vulnerable to just about every weapon that could be brought to bear on them.

    • TomG

      Exactly. They can parade around, sinking pirates, traveling to different ports, and doing a whole lot of nothing, like most other ships in the Navy. Much like the Super Hornets used to blow up pickup trucks when a B-17 would have been adequate.
      And when a terrorist rams a motorboat full of C-4 into the side of the ship, we will be out 700mil, not 2 billion+.
      In fact, if we could make it in china out of plastic, it could work even better.


    It will never “Earn it’s keep!”

  • Will Johnston

    I try to stay a little informed, reading this and other stories about this program, but end up shaking my head.

    Do the people IN CHARGE at the highest level of the LCS program run their personal life like this?

    It is like walking into Walmart for a fishing rod and reel and walking out with a 100′ sport fishing yacht parked on a 300′ mother ship supported by hundreds of personal water craft, helicopters, drones, etc. that will do any fishing mission possible any where in the world any time.

    Except, the craft don’t operate properly, break down often, and are too expensive to maintain to be useful.

    And, you could not afford it to begin with.

    No one can blame the President of the U. S. for this type of waste and overspending.

    It comes down to the corrupt corporation executives and bought and paid for elected officials who should all be put in jail for a long time.

    And the Navy needs to make up its mind in the beginning exactly what it is ordering.

    • Joe Sumcock

      Have you ever seen Pentagon Wars?
      Replace LCS with Bradley, I’m sure you’ll get the gist of the movie.