Home » Budget Industry » Debate Over LCS/Frigate Future Continues With Disagreement Among Senators

Debate Over LCS/Frigate Future Continues With Disagreement Among Senators

The launch of the future USS Montgomery (LCS-8) on Aug 6, 2014 in Mobile, Ala. Austal USA Photo

The launch of the future USS Montgomery (LCS-8) on Aug 6, 2014 in Mobile, Ala. Austal USA Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The future of the Littoral Combat Ship/frigate program is still far from decided with the split between factions spilling into a Tuesday Senate hearing.

It has been clear for months that the Navy and Defense Department do not see eye-to-eye on the issue of how many small surface combatants to buy and from how many shipyards. What began as a whispered-about schism turned public earlier this month, with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus telling a congressional subcommittee that decisions about the program’s future “will be made by the next administration and by Congress,” not by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

On Tuesday, it became clear that difference of opinion exists in Congress, too.

At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 15, chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) – a vocal critic of the LCS program – praised the decision to curtail production of what he called an expensive and unproven platform. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), in whose home state half of the LCSs are built, warned the discussion wasn’t over.

During his opening statement, McCain railed against the program.

“Initial cost-overruns more than doubled the cost of each Littoral Combat Ship, and development costs now exceed $3 billion and counting,” he said.
“Meanwhile, key warfighting capabilities of the LCS, including mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare, have fallen years behind schedule and remain unproven. Because of the long running cost, schedule, and performance issues with this program, I support the (Defense) Department’s proposal to down-select to one variant no later than 2019 and reduce the inventory objective to 40 ships. I am encouraged to see the Navy has begun the process of identifying the LCS replacement, and I hope we can transition to a more capable small surface combatant expeditiously.”

The Navy had previously planned to buy 52 small surface combatants – LCSs and follow-on frigates – and continue building ships at both Marinette Marine in Wisconsin and Austal USA in Alabama throughout the remainder of the program. Carter’s December 2015 memo called for downselecting to just one shipyard and stopping the program at 40 – a move the Navy has said will almost certainly force one yard out of business.

Sessions picked McCain’s comments apart during his time to question both Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.

First asking about the cost of the ships as the program has matured, Mabus replied that the cost per hull today is “a good bit below” congressional cost caps. The first ship from each yard saw cost overruns, but as the shipyards have improved their facilities and processes and the Navy has moved into serial production, costs have plummeted.

“The first concern, and rightfully so, is on cost. The price of ships coming off the line today is 50 percent of the first ones that came off the line,” Mabus said.

Sessions then questioned if that trend would continue under Carter’s plan to downselect and stop at 40.

“It seems to me, having seen that shipyard line, the ships being produced, it’s moving out at a fine pace,” Sessions said.
“The bugs are getting out, they’re virtually all gone, it’s coming through an assembly line almost like an automobile. And I fear that we’re going to end up raising the cost per copy if we reduce the number of ships, and we end up like we did with the B-2 and a lot of other programs – Congress says we’re going to do this, the Navy sets out to achieve the goal, and then we alter the plan.”

151002-N-MK881-095 BAY OF BENGAL (Oct. 1, 2015) The littoral combat ship USS Fort Worth (LCS 3) participates in a combined formation of U.S. and Bangladesh naval ships during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Bangladesh 2015. CARAT is an annual, bilateral exercise series with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joe Bishop/Released)

USS Fort Worth (LCS-3). US Navy Photo

Mabus confirmed that fear, replying that “I think it’s almost a certainty that if you reduce the numbers the cost per copy will go up.”

Sessions then asked about the mission module testing – the surface warfare package has deployed twice, but the mine countermeasures package is currently being reworked after the Remote Multimission Vehicle (RMMV) at the heart of the first increment proved unreliable in testing last year. The anti-submarine warfare package is furthest behind, and though it’s test schedule has slipped over time, officials familiar with the sonar system have called the capability a tremendous improvement over anything else in the fleet today.

Richardson assured that “we can fix this” in regards to the ASW test schedule. “We’re behind on the testing, it’s not where I want it to be,” he said, but “this is nothing that can’t be overcome.”

Sessions ended his back-and-forth by noting the place of small surface combatants in the Navy’s plans to reach 308 ships by 2021.

“I hope we can get to the 308-ship Navy, but I don’t know how we get there if we lose another 12 ships,” the senator said.
“And if you replace it with a ship that costs two or three times as much, that’s going to be difficult. And it also is lean in terms of fuel use and low crew – 40, 60 crew to operate this ship compared to 200 or so for the next destroyer-type ship. So I’m concerned about this and I hope we can continue to discuss it as time goes by.”

It is unclear how this disagreement will play out in Congress. McCain, as the chairman of the committee, certainly wields a lot of influence. But the LCS program has its industrial base spread out over all 50 states and would operate out of East and West Coast naval stations, potentially creating a broad coalition of lawmakers to support the program.

Importantly, the disagreement does not follow party lines. Whereas some recent issues, like whether to allow another round of Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) have been largely partisan arguments, others have proven more complex. The debate over allowing the Air Force to retire its aging A-10 Warthog fleet two years ago split lawmakers in odd ways – those in favor of keeping the planes around had A-10 bases in their districts, had Army units that relied on A-10s for close-air support, were veterans themselves, were pushing back against budget- rather than strategy-based decisions from the Obama administration – and myriad other reasons to unite in support of saving the planes from early retirement.

If the LCS debate in Congress resembles the A-10 debate, it may take full committee debates and potential House and Senate floor debates to fully settle the issue of how the program will look going forward.

  • Yet, meanwhile, Europe and Russia are building Frigates that would make the LCS look like cutter.

    • Benjamin Chung

      The European and Russian “frigates” deserve the scare quotes. They’re not frigates, they’re really small destroyers, and have price tags to match. Full production rate LCS are smaller, considerably cheaper (about 1/3rd the price), and replace the capabilities lost with the OHPs more effectively.

      What I would like to see from the LCS is backing away from that 50kt speed in exchange for endurance, the NSM to be integrated as an ASuW missile, and the ASW mission module to be finished. That would turn the LCS into a very fitting OHP replacement.

      • sferrin

        “Full production rate LCS are smaller, considerably cheaper (about 1/3rd the price), and replace the capabilities lost with the OHPs more effectively.”

        Do you have any actual numbers? I find it hard to believe you could buy 3 LCS for the price of one Admiral Gorshkov.

        • Benjamin Chung

          The issue is that the Russian frigates have rather questionmark pricing. In this case, I was comparing to the Dutch De Zeven Provinciën class “frigates”. Each De Zeven Provinciën costs about $816 million whereas a full production rate LCS costs about $360 million, so you could actually buy about 2.4 LCS (either type) for each De Zeven Provincen. I’d guess that the Russian costs are not that different from the Dutch ones, given that the capability of the two ships is broadly similar.

          • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

            The LCS hull costs $360m…. but when you count it’s non-functioning mission modules, you are getting close to $450m.

            $450m for a non-combat-capable jet boat may seem useful for some, but it’s a joke to the rest of the world.

            And there is more to European navies than 6-7,000 tonne frigates….
            There are vessels in the same weight rage as the LCS, offering much more than the LCS at a similar or lower price point.

      • DaSaint

        Someone with sense!

        Agreed! VL ESSM, SSMs, multimission systems for ASW, SUW, and deep integration with UAVs, and I’d be pleased.

        I think switching to the RR gas turbines was a waste vs LM2500 but the extra capacity should be harnessed to electrical output for future directed energy weapons

    • DaSaint

      Yes, Europe is building all 10 of them. Maybe 20. Watch out!

      European navies don’t have the satellite coverage, CVNs, LHAs, LHDs, fleet air arms, or SSNs to create the total networked environment we have.

      Their frigates have to ‘compete’ with our DDGs. Oh wait, do they have DDGs?

      • Look at it this way, what Europe builds, makes every SWO drool

    • Secundius

      Russian CAN build ALL the Frigates it wants, but without a Propulsion System to Drive Them. Their Just “Paperweight’s”…

      • But look at Europe. Europe builds Frigates that makes SWO drool such as the FREMM Frigate and Saschen class frigate.

        • Secundius

          @ Nicky.

          The Frigate Design Competition, were Reduced from 18 Competitors to Just 9 at Last Count. Two Being Enlarged Variants of the Freedom class and Independence class. BAE, Huntington-Ingalls, Blohm+Voss and Thyssen Nordseewerke, plus 3 Unknowns are also in the Competition…

          • That’s why I think the US should make a deal with the UK on the Type 26 GCS

          • Secundius

            @ Nicky.

            BAE own’s the Type 26 Design…

  • PolicyWonk

    First of all, having two separate classes of what is supposed to be functionally the same warship represents an appalling and irresponsible waste of taxpayer dollars. The LCS program is also in direct and blatant violation of the policy of reusable hulls the Navy is supposedly following (as was recently elaborated on, on this very site with the article on LPD-17 hulls being used for the LX(R) program).

    Next, there are the many outstanding/lingering problems with both LCS classes, as have been outlined in detail by the OMB, DOT&E, the USN’s own Inspector General, among other auditing agencies, let alone our allies who all walked away from LCS (saying it was far too expensive, for far too little ROI) – that the navy has so far refused/failed to address. It is notable, that some LCS’s are nearing the middle of the lifetime of their sea-frames, and none of them are anywhere near being ready to perform independent missions.

    They’re so far behind the 8-ball, that the PC/Cyclones were up-gunned and sent to the Persian Gulf to perform the missions that LCS was supposedly designed for. At 600 tons, the PC/Cyclones are far better armed/protected for their size than LCS (3500 tons), as they were designed from the start as a small warship instead of an Admiral’s Tchotchke.

    But it won’t take years to find an LCS replacement because we already have one: For example – the HII Legend Class National Security Cutter. A navalized version has already been designed by HII, and the NSC’s already a-building on the slipways. And they’ve been proven reliable, arctic capable, sea worthy, have long legs, and considerable room for growth.

    • sferrin

      My god, do you think you could dial back the hysterics?

      • PolicyWonk

        Hysteria? This is hardly about hysteria.

        Is there anything I posted that isn’t factual? And lets face it: 12 years+ after launching (not merely 12 years after *design*), and not one independent mission, is a long time.

        The taxpayers deserve better.

        • Matthew

          12+ years after launching? First ship launched in September 2006, Add 12 years and we are in 2018-19.. huh I must have been in a coma for a few years seeing as I swear it is 2016.. thanks mate.
          The first vessel where ordered 12 years ago, laid down 11 years ago, launched 10 years ago and commisioned 7.5 years ago. With an average life span of a ship around 30 years for most navies LCS-1 is only a quarter of the way through its life cycle, Not half way as you hysterically claimed.
          Your assesment on the navy being in ‘blatant violation of the policy of reusable hulls’ is flawed considering the decision to use the San Antonio hull for the LX(R) program was made in 2015, Considering the LCS program started a decade before this then you are literally grasping at straw’s in a hysterical attempt to discredit the LCS program with out any factual basis in this particular argument.
          As for your view and the view of far to many arm chair admirals to use the Legend class NSC in place of either LCS.. HUH! WTF! OMG! Are you serious? The LCS program while being stuffed up from constant changing goal posts has always been around a vessel able to perform missions in littoral waters, The Legend class that you so well love has a draft of 6.9 meters compared to 3.9 to 4.27 meters of the LCS variants. Your proposal for a littoral vessel is to acquire a vessel designed for operations in the deep blue, Not a few miles off the coast in shallow waters.

          • Curtis Conway

            Then tell the USN to stop talking about ASW and other Blue Water missions this vessel will perform.

    • RobM1981

      I like the NSC. It would require a deeper analysis, but the hull seems “about right.”

      Can they be equipped with VLS? Even 20 cells? Do they have the capacity to handle those sensors?

      The OHP’s were the right idea. They had viable SAM, SSM, and ASW capabilities. Not as much as a DD, but that’s the point – less, but not none.

      The concept hasn’t changed.

      • DaSaint

        Lest anyone forget, as much as we all ‘love’ the Perrys, they were initially hated for the following reasons:

        The single GE LM2500 gas turbine and single screw propeller were considered vulnerable. Backup was 2 deployable pods, an untested concept for a warship at the time.

        They could only make, and keep 28 knots, and could not keep up with a CBG.

        The 76mm Oto Melara mount on the superstructure was ridiculed and had limited firing arcs.

        The Dutch fire control system couldn’t properly handle both the gun and the SAM system, and could only target one target at a time.

        The superstructure was aluminum.

        The hull had to be lengthened to accommodate the VDS and TASS, increasing weight, reducing top speed.

        We all loved them once they survived combat-like situations, but let’s not pretend they were flawless or embraced upon introduction.

        The LCS is flawed. Swapping out modulea during combat ia stupid, but a low-cost multimission vessel is needed. The time to recompete, select a design, and launch the first clean-sheet or european design is no less than 10 years. Fix what we have and reLize that the DDGs are the core of thw fleet and the LCS/FF is the low end, juat like the F-15 / F-16 combination. Whenever there was conflict, no one ever sent in a squadron of F-16s, they sent F-15s.

        • Curtis Conway

          The point is, over time we fixed everything to be effective, survivable, and it could maintain watertight integrity and compartmentalization right up front (e.g., USS Stark, and USS Samuel B. Roberts). In the end we took a very good cost effective platform, that could defend itself, exercise ALL warfare areas (until they took the Mk 13 off), and replaced it with something that cannot do those things.

          • DaSaint

            Curtis, agreed. But we didn’t know that up front with the Perry’s. Most thought they were less capable than the Knox and Garcia classes. Less survivable. Less flexible. Their only obvious advantage was the larger flight deck and twin hangars, and commonality of propulsion system with the larger Spruance class.
            So the LCS is fixable as well – IF we want to fix it. Everything is relative. The Perry’s weren’t cheap in relative terms. The LCs is FAR from perfect, but it is fixable for what it’s designed to do: show the flag, maneuver with smaller navies, perform multiple roles (albeit simultaneously should have always been the mandate), and free up larger, more capable combatants.
            Not having VL ESSM and SSMs was an idiotic decision, but absolutely fixable. BTW, doesn’t the Independence class have a VL module behind the 57mm gun?

          • Curtis Conway

            It is not a Mk41 (vertical launch Hellfire launchers). In order to solve the problem these would have to be Self-Defense Modules (smallest shortest ones that hold four (4) ESSMs ea.) at least, or install Mk29 launchers for ESSM). Then we need a non-rotating 3D radar. Perhaps the Lockheed Vigilance System in the short term, or better yet the AN/SPY-6(v) 9-RMA AMDR when it comes out. Either will fit easily.

        • RobM1981

          I had forgotten the controversy around the power plant. Yes, it all comes back to me now…

          I only wish that these kinds of things were what we disliked about the LCS’s. Unfortunately, we’ve gone so far beyond that kind of thing… it explains much about the “revolt” in the GOP. For Senator Sessions’ pants to not actually ignite is a miracle. He’s not a lobbyist, at this point – he’s a cheerleader, ignoring the safety of the sailors and wasting taxpayer dollars by the dump-truck load.

          We have a ship that uses an anti-tank missile as it’s SSM. We have two hulls to do the exact same thing. We have Point Defense that we call SAM. It’s appalling how under-armed these things are, how unreliable they are, and how wasteful they are.

          So, yes, if this was only about reliability we’d have a good conversation, like we did with the Perry’s. Thanks for the reminder – that was fun. 🙂

    • DaSaint

      I like their design, but…

      Their hills cracked.

      No one elae wanta to buy them.

      They’re not built to naval standards.

      Other than that, they would look fine paintwd grey.

  • sferrin

    “praised the decision to curtail production of what he called an expensive and unproven platform”

    I get so tired of people trotting out the “unproven” moniker, as if it’s supposed to be some automatic reason for cancellation. NOTHING comes off the drawing board in a “proven” condition. EVERY SINGLE DESIGN began as “unproven”. We’d still be flying some WWI bi-plane if all we went with were “proven” designs.

    • Matthew

      No no no, Even the Bi planes were un proven.. We would barely be walking around on 2 feet instead of all four’s if we were never allowed to prove something.

      • Tim Dolan

        And the only reason bi-planes were proven is because one certain general went and sunk a old navy ship from the air by violating orders; got in trouble for his efforts. Although I suspect It would be blasphemy, I still think one of the CVN’s they build in my backyard (technically end of the block) should be named “Billy Mitchell”

        • MA

          I thought that was Billy Mitchell trying to prove the effectiveness of using air power against naval targets and had nothing to do with proving bi-planes?

          • Tim Dolan

            Until he did that the Navy thought planes were only good for scouting so the battleships could sink the other ships or so I have been taught. So biplanes were only good for scouting, they were unproven for combat use.

          • Secundius

            The Union Army of 1861, had the World’s First Operational Air Force. The Balloon Observation Corps. No the Surface, “A Damn Fancy Sight To See From”, but Beneath the Skin. Many an Observer DID Carry Guns. And Probably USED Them Too…

  • @USS_Fallujah

    The lack of significant upgrades in the FFE are going to be the death of this program. OSD gave NavSea a 2nd bite at the apple and they came back with lame sauce. Had they eliminated the 40kt requirement and used the space/weight allowance to include a 16 cell VLS for ESSM, Ascroc & LRASM loadout. Then they could sell OSD/Congress on this being a real fighting platform and using the early model LCS for dedicated to MCM and interdiction/piracy. Now they’ve gone all in on a pair of 5s, leaving OSD & Congress wondering if NavSea can ever be trusted with developing new ship classes again.

  • The_Usual_Suspect61

    Kill it. Kill it now. No more good money after bad. Same with the F-35.

    • Secundius

      NOT GOING TO HAPPEN! George W. and the 2005 GOP US Congress funded the Program. Not Funding or Cancelling the Program, would be Admitting BAD Judgement…

  • John B. Morgen

    The Navy should cancel the program, so we can cut our losses and look towards our allies for warship examples for the LCS replacement. We should use something that already works because both Japan and Europe have outstanding replacement designs that the Navy could build and deploy.

  • old guy

    There once were some ships, LCS
    Whose program was mired in a mess
    Its mission were spare
    Couldn’t’go anywhere
    But its boss got a Flag….nonetheless

  • Angie Nathan

    Retire the A-10?? And replace with what?? The A-10 was a triumph from concept through production and is an aircraft that has proven itself in combat. It is loved by our troops and feared by our enemies. Could there be any clearer contrast to demonstrate the downward spiral of today’s “partnership” between the Dept. of Defense and private industry than comparing the A-10’s from Fairchild Republic in the 70’s to the LCS program of today?

    I am convinced that as a nation that we would never be able to duplicate our space missions of the 60’s no matter how much money we were to invest. There would be no room in today’s workplace for the likes of Wernher Von Braun nor the mavericks he chose to serve on his teams.

    • Secundius

      Well, there’s the Air Tractor AT-802U. Which meet ALL the A-10’s Requirements of being “Low, Slow and Ugly” and yet carries a 9,000-pound Warload (1,000#’s more that the A-1D Skyraider). And the Stavatti Aerospace SM-27S/T Machete or the SM-47 Super Machete. ALL American-Made…

      • Angie Nathan

        I do not think a converted crop duster qualifies as a replacement.

        • Secundius

          It’s a Military Modification of a Air Tractor AT-802 Crop Duster/Glider Tow Plane. Also STOL Capable…

        • Secundius

          Why Not? A “Crop Duster”, is Designed for Heavy Stress Loads on it’s Fuselage. And 9,000-pounds of Ordnance isn’t Bad for A Crop Duster. Like the Douglass A-1D Skyraider/Spud/Sandy, being Slow has it’s Advantages. Being able to stay on Station for Long-Periods of Time. Giving Fire Support When Needed and Having a Height Advantage in Seeing the Enemy. Attach a “Screaming Minnie, Stuka” Siren and your ALL SET. Having STOL capability Also has an Advantage, in Being Able to Take-Off and Land on “Gator-Freighters”. With Minimal Effort and Assistance from the Ship Itself.

          Also the Air Tractor AT-802, are used as Forestry Fire-Bombers…