Home » Budget Industry » Document: GAO Report Recommends Delay in Frigate Program


Document: GAO Report Recommends Delay in Frigate Program

The following is the April 18, 2017 Government Accountability Office report, Delaying Planned Frigate Acquisition Would Enable Better-Informed Decisions.

From the report:

The Navy is moving away from its troubled Littoral Combat Ship program to a new ship—called the frigate—which is based on an LCS design with minor modifications.

The Navy’s current approach requires that Congress make a significant commitment in 2017 to purchase 12 of these ships. However, we found that key frigate cost and design details will not be available to support Congress’s decision.

We suggested that Congress delay this decision (worth about $9 billion) until more information is known about the frigate’s cost, design, and capabilities. Doing so would result in a delay to the Navy’s frigate award until at least fiscal year 2019.

  • Ed L

    2 years? So does that mean 5 till the first one is even close to being operational?

    • Ctrot

      Probably closer to 10.

      • Duane

        Realistically, yes, closer to 10 than 5 or 6 years.

        Besides, there’s no rush. Just keep building more DDGs which are fantastic ships … my recommendation is just to do that only and forget the frigate. If the Navy really wants area air defense, then big hulls (DDG) is far superior to small hulls (FFG) which simply don’t have the hull volume to carry the large number of VLS and missiles that justify the expense of the AEGIS system.

  • Ctrot

    Cancel it. Buy the rights to a European frigate.

    • Duane

      Why buy someone else’s idea for a ship? That’s dumb. We have fantastic ship designers, design is easy, cheap, and quick – by far the easiest, cheapest, and quickest art of developing any new ship class.

      The hard, expensive, and time consuming part is building the first prototype hull and testing out all of the gear on it.

      Scrimping and cutting corners on design is the dumbest decision a buyer can make.

      • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

        “design is easy, cheap, and quick”

        So much so, when was the last time a foreign customer bought a US frigate?

        That splitting sound is the sides of DCNS, Blohm & Voss & Damen at your comment!

      • airider

        Duane, do you have design and engineering experience?

        • Duane

          35 years worth

          • airider

            Based where?

      • Ctrot

        What is dumb is continuing to defend the LCS in the face of all of its inadequacies and failures.

        • Duane

          Not inadequate at all, no failure at all, the LCS are operating, forward deployed, fulfilling their missions, awaiting the Navy to declare IOC on the three mission modules (SuW later this year, ASW next year, and MCM in 2020).

          • NavySubNuke

            Don’t hold your breath on that ASW module – they’ll be lucky to have it IOC by 2020.

    • Pat Patterson

      You don’t buy foreign ship designs and then waste a lot of money having to try to retrofit the combat systems you need into a hull that was not designed for it.

      • PolicyWonk

        The “foreign ships” we’d be licensing from our allies use a lot of American gear for interoperability reasons (think NATO).

        Its a far bigger waste to use an appallingly unsuccessful design to accomplish a mission it wasn’t intended to execute.

        The HII Legend-class National Security Cutter represents a vastly better frigate option that either “LCS” variant: they’re proven tough; seaworthy; arctic capable; have long legs, and room for growth. All virtues missing in either LCS variant.

  • Duane

    This report, by Congress, is both wrong and correct.

    It is wrong that the Navy is”moving away from its troubled LCS program” – that’s total BS, the Navy is on track to build and deploy 40 LCS, it has no plans whatsoever to abandon the LCS. The Navy, under the former NavSec and SecDef, did issue a directive to reconsider the last 12 of the original 52-ship LCS buy for potential redirection to frigates. But every single thing the old regime did or directed is now being reviewed and reconsidered by the new regime.

    It is right that there is no need for the Navy to attempt to rush and half-ass a frigate program, especially when some in NavSea are now declaring that the frigate needs to feature an area air defense capability. Doing that will guarantee that the frigates will end up costing nearly as much as an Arleigh Burke DDG (probably at least $1.5B a hull) both by adding the very expensive AEGIS system (there is no other that we have but AEGIS), and making it “area air defense” requires a far larger VLS installation. After all, you don’t waste an AEGIS with only a couple dozen VLS cells .. you really need to make it 80 or more cells, at which point, you’ve enlarged the hull so much that you’re now destroyer sized.

    In other words, the Navy is now on track with current proposals to develop a carbon copy of the Arleigh Burkes .. or else end up with a very wasteful baby sister of the Burkes that costs nearly as much but has only 1/3 the lethality of the Burkes. That would be very, very dumb and wasteful.

    The USN already has the Arleigh Burkes. Build more of them if needed, they are a far better value and literal “bang for the buck” than an underwhelming but gold plated little sister ship.

    If frigates are needed, keep them small, cheap, and well equipped for their real job of ASW on the blue waters.

    • airider

      The Aegis computing suite and a full DDG Aegis installation are two different things.

      LCS has a version of the Aegis computing suite onboard the Lockheed designed ships. The Navy is apparently buying those LCS versions for around $480M a pop. So, based on this the combat system computing suite is not the long pole in the tent regarding the FFG costs.

      Picking a new hull and HM&E design (not LCS based) and less expensive sensors than Aegis DDG’s (possibly Variant 1 of EASR, or some options from BAE or Thales since they’re all rotating phased arrays) will help keep those costs down. Also picking a different variant of Mk41 VLS (i.e. Mk 41 Tactical Length module) can help keep costs down as well while providing the capability to carry VLA, ESSM, and SM-2 which makes sense for the FFG missions the Navy wants to move forward with .

      • Duane

        AEGIS is the area air defense system, involving sensors, target tracking, computation of firing solutions, and integrated with the onboard surface to air missiles (SM series). It is a very complex, expensive and high performance system, the best in the world. You don’t waste it on a small vessel with a small number of VLS cells like a frigate.

        No – the current cost of the LCS is $348M for the hull or “seaframe”, and the mission modules are currently costed at $17M for SuW, $48M for ASW, and approx. $90-100M for the MCM. Meaning most LCS with mission modules are $364M for SuW, $396 for AWS, and $438-448M for MCM. The Navy’s “average” mission module cost is $67M.

        Virtually all frigates being built this decade by other nations are costing upwards of $900M and up (way, way up if we added AEGIS – probably at least $1.5B given that you can’t arm an AEGIS with only an 8-cell VLS as most frigates now have .. you’d need to enlarge the hull and carry at least 80 VLS to justify the cost of the AEGIS – and at that point, you have a $2B Arleigh Burke).

        • @USS_Fallujah

          I think, perhaps, you and I agree more than we would have thought. The question is what form do they want the Frigates that will follow the current LCS purchase plan. Will it be a slightly improved version of the same hullform, ie the FFE – or will the USN decide to go with a “Baby Burke” FFG? I’d expect for the same total dollars you’d get 2-3 FFEs for each FFG (You’d also get about 2 FFGs for the cost of each DDG – especially at Flight III costs). But so much depends on what role NavSea & Congress think the new Frigate will fill. Pressure seems to be pushing toward the FFG model, but its far from a done deal, and LCS (like the F-35C) have survived repeatedly when faced with problems that would have cancelled almost any other procurement program.

          • Duane

            If the Navy keeps the frigates small (no more than 5,000 tons), and doesn’t add the AEGIS to is, and gives it something like 30-40 VLS, they can probably keep the cost to no more than a billion or so (no way it will be 1/3 the cost of the DDGs). The temptation to add more, however, is already infiltrating the requirements-setting process, with some demanding it have AEGIS for area air defense, which makes no common sense at all.

            The LCS has never faced cancellation (that is just the fantasy promoted by the LCS haters), and neither has the F-35. The rationale and actual performance for both programs is unassailable, despite all the stupid assailing by the dumb critics of both. In today’s world of internet commenting and social media, however, loudmouthed trolls appear to be much more influential with decision makers than they actually are.

          • @USS_Fallujah

            $1B is about 1/3 the cost of a Flight III DDG.
            LCS survived repeated attempts by congress and some in NavSea to truncate the program even before AshCarter ordered the program terminate at 40, and NavAir tried to get out of the JSF several times but was overruled by Panetta and Carter. The total number of C variants that will eventually be bought is still being fought over.

          • Duane

            No – the Arleigh Burkes are coming in now at just under $2B.

            The people in the know and in command are the biggest fans of both the LCS and the F-35 today. Spend two minutes doing Google searches and there’s tons of statements and official releases and comments to that effect.

            The ankle-biters lost the arguments, rightfully so.

          • airider

            The Flt-IIA’s we’re building now are coming in at just under $2B….the FLT III’s will be north of that with their AMDR, SEWIP, SPQ-9 and other sensor changes and upgrades. This will require changes to Aegis computing suite/software to integrate that all under Aegis. Then there are the HM&E additions to handle the increase power and cooling demands.

            The people in the know, realize that LCS is not the right solution for the requirements they’re looking at, and they know they can’t get to 355 either with just Flt III’s since they’re going to cost a bundle. With the Columbia SSBN’s going forward, shipbuilding needs a different solution.

          • Cocidius

            First lumping the LCS and the F-35 into the same conversation makes absolutely no sense as they both are hugely different initiatives, are obviously different weapons systems, with completely different goals and objectives (apples & oranges comparison).

            I can find as many negative comments on both these controversial programs as positives via Google in two minutes but in all honesty what does any of this mean considering the cyber/social media disinformation dissemination that has become common place in our time?

            Its also not surprising that the “people in the know” support the F-35 and the LCS when they’re told all the way from the top down that it’s in their best interest to do so from a career perspective.

            Specifically on the F-35 I’m at a loss as how you can make the statement that actual performance for of the JSF is unassailable considering the detailed engineering and technical analysis available from the GAO and DOT&E going back at least a decade on the JSF.

            I don’t consider the DOT&E trolls or ankle biters and we should all support their mission of insuring that the weapons system that are delivered to our service men and women are fully operational and can do the job they were designed to do!

          • Duane

            I didn’t do that – the commenter I responded to lumped them together.

            Learn to read before you open your mouth.

          • airider

            The reason neither program has faced cancellation is due to its political backing, not the programs actual performance.

            The Navy has been trying hard to recreate the industrial base it had before all the defense contractors consolidated in the late 90’s early 2000’s. For shipbuilding that means more shipyard options. Lockheed is a brand new player in the shipbuilding game. While GD wasn’t new, their partner Austal was for U.S. Navy ships and when Austal took over the program outright, it gave the Navy two new players. Leadership may want a down select for FF, but the Navy is trying hard to keep industrial base around for competition.

            F-35’s international backing will ensure its survival…plain and simple.

          • Duane

            No – you have it exactly and precisely backwards. The politicking is all on the anti-side of both programs .. mainly fueled by a combination of jealous competition from the companies that don’t produce the highly prized weapons platforms (i.e., Boeing, which has for 16 years and continues to this day tried to eliminate or reduce the F-35 program so that it can selfishly sell more F/A-18 Super Hornets. They’re still flogging that notion as we speak, though their obviously inferior JSF entrant was a dog and certainly did not compete well at all with the LM entrant. Likewise, the Senators representing states with large A-10 bases (Arizona and New Hampshire) were the leaders in forcing the AF against its will to maintain the inferior and obsolete A-10s – that was simply a case of home constituent protection, pork barrel spending, and Congressional logrolling. The “same old, same old” Washington selfish politics at work as always.

            As for the LCS, its enemies include the Russians and their vast legion of paid trolls on the internet, the presence of which has been confirmed for years by all of our intelligence agencies, such psy-ops being an old Soviet/Russian trick going back to the Bolshevik revolution in 1917 and before … and a bunch of old sailors who are dedicated to reviving the FFGs because they (mistakenly) believe that the LCS caused the Navy to ditch the FFG. No – the Navy abandoned the FFG because it chose instead to go with the much more capable and fiscally-sound Arleigh Burke DDG instead of the small and incapable frigates.

          • PolicyWonk

            According to an analysis commissioned by Breaking Defense, the LCS-based “frigate” would only reflect a marginal improvement over what is deceitfully called the “littoral combat ship”.

            The same conclusion was reached by DOT&E (among other auditing agencies). And according to Defense Industry Daily, the LCS program office admitted that no version of LCS – present or future – will ever meet naval construction standards (this, after claiming the huge cost increase in the LCS program was because they decided to enhance the LCS sea-frames to the navy’s level-1 standard while they were building on the slipways).

            Without a significant redesign, basing a frigate on either LCS variant is a waste of taxpayer money.

    • NavySubNuke

      I don’t see a need for Aegis – especially since SM-6 includes an active seeker. I’m not a radar expert but surely there is a solution out there that provides a modest air search radar capability without anything approaching the cost and complexity of Aegis. We don’t need a multi-million watt radar that can see into space for this thing after all.
      When the frigate is alone the air search radar can provide the queuing the SM-6 needs and when the frigate is part of a battlegroup the Aegis ships will provide for the anti-air while the frigate focuses on anti-submarine.
      A nice 30 cell VLS launcher with a modest air search radar will go a long way towards righting a lot of the things LCS got wrong. Especially if it can tow a tail and support a helo and some UUVs.

      • Pat Patterson

        There probably needs to be some sort of linkage and sharing with the AEGIS Burkes for cooperative engagements.

        • NavySubNuke

          Linkage to the burkes in order to receive data certainly – not sure what they would add to the burkes to say sharing is occurring though.

    • Pat Patterson

      No you don’t need a Burke sized missile load. The FFG had a 40 round missile magazine and that was good enough.

      • Duane

        The FFG was not AEGIS area air defense. My point is that if the Navy does what some in NAVSEA say they want, to make the frigates AEGIS, then that’s silly – to justify the expense of AEGIS you need double the number of VLS of the old frigates. That’s what “area air defense” means – enough firepower to down massed BM attacks or aircraft attacks. For CIWS (own ship defense) you don’t need AEGIS and therefore you don’t need 80 to 100 or more VLS.

        Defense of cruise missiles from long range requires airborne look-down radars – not AEGIS which cannot detect sea skimming ASCMs from long range.

    • El_Sid

      you don’t waste an AEGIS with only a couple dozen VLS cells .. you
      really need to make it 80 or more cells, at which point, you’ve enlarged
      the hull so much that you’re now destroyer sized.

      Not necessarily – think of the SPY-1F which is effectively a half-size Burke radar used on Norway’s Nansen class.

      I’m not saying you’re wrong in not wanting Aegis on an LCS derivative, I’d probably agree with you that the balance of cost/effectiveness is probably marginally against it, but at the same time LCS-Aegis doesn’t have to look like a full SPY-1D system.

      Also implicit in your comments is a certain opinion on the proportion of sensors to effectors in a ship – there’s nothing wrong in having “eyes of the fleet” which have a lighter weapons load but still have really good sensors (and eg things like quad-packed ESSM act as multipliers on your tube count)

      • Duane

        The point in having the sensors is having the weapons to deal with targets you sense. Having only 30 or 40 VLS – not all of which can hold air defense missiles, since a large proportion will be devoted to anti-ship missiles and TLAMs – is simply not enough to provide any significant degree of area air defense. Allowing for those other weaps in the VLS, that means a frigate would have room onboard for maybe 10 air defense missiles … nowhere near enough to provide effective area (as opposed to own ship point) air cover.

        That’s why our Arleigh Burkes carry 96 cell VLS. That provides plenty of missiles for both offense, point defense, and then still plenty of room for large area air defense.

        • El_Sid

          The point in having the sensors is having the weapons to deal with targets you sense.

          But those weapons don’t need to be onboard – the point of being the eyes of the fleet is that you have a fleet behind you. It’s about the team, particularly when that team is linked in with NIFC-CA and the like. The US has lots of platforms to launch missiles – but with the red team increasingly adopting stealth and fighting in wide open spaces of the Pacific, target-quality detection will be ever harder.

          One also has to consider the mission – and you’re assuming that the frigates will be doing the same mission as a Burke, using the same weapons in smaller numbers. I’d suggest that it’s actually a systematic weakness in US thinking that everything has to be “full-size”. It would be interesting to think what could be squeezed into a Mk48 if one really tried – with the option of quad-packing in Mk41 if need be. An obvious one would be what kind of anti-surface capability could fit in a Mk48 – something like a Marte-ER is roughly the same size as an ESSM (but a bit fatter) which has >100km range from a helicopter.

          And even if an LCS derivative did have Mk41, I doubt it would have strike length tubes, which is why they seem to be pushing the idea of LRASM from canister. So you’re not looking at the possibility of Tomahawks/LRASM (or ASROCs, arguably more of a loss if you’re sub-hunting in bad weather). So if you had say 16 tac-length Mk41 tubes, that would mean 64 ESSM, which in the real world should be enough to fight off the typical attack of Harpoon-class missiles like Kh-35/C-802/Noor etc. It won’t be conducting ballistic missile defence or holding off regiments of Backfires, but that’s not the mission. And by the time the LCS-frigate is in service ESSM Block 2 will be in service, which will have significantly greater range giving it some area capability.

          • Duane

            Having ABM area defense sensors does not necessarily require that the defensive missiles be deployed on the sensor ship, true. But where will they come from? Thin air?

            The only ships that have large numbers of ABMs also happen to be the ships that have the ABM sensors – that would be the AEGIS equipped cruisers and destroyers we already have.

            To build and operate another dozen small surface combatants with ABM sensors but without the ability to actually deploy the weapons makes no sense at all. Just build and operate the damned Arleigh Burke DDGs and then you don’t have to play Rube Goldberg games trying to come up with a system of fighting back against the ABMs.

            I do agree there is a need for “area air defense” that assists our smaller combatant warships and auxiliaries …but it is not an air defense system that you can put on any ship. That air defense system is a network of airborne radars and other sensors capable of “look-down” sensing. That is the only way you can detect incoming sea-skimming anti-ship cruise missiles. They cannot be detected by any shipboard radar like AEGIS, however. After all, that is the entire point of sea-skimming ASCMs – they are not visible on surface radars as on ships.

            But we already have such a system, and it consists of our airborne sensors on AWACS, E-2 Hawkeyes, various ISR drones, even satellites equipped with real time IR sensors. And we are adding to that network with our brand new F-35s of all three variants, which have exquisite airborne sensors and sensor fusion, with built-in datalink to transmit threat data to all elements of our forces on the surface of the sea, in the air to other aircraft, and to ground forces (Army and Marines).

            An AEGIS-equipped frigate is like having a standard street-legal Toyota Corolla with a Ferari V-12 engine in it … it may be real fast for a street passenger car, but it is still useless as a race car.

            For area air defense, use what we already have: fantastic AEGIS-equipped CGs and DDGs to detect high altitude threats, and our system of airborne sensor-equipped ISR aircraft, manned and unmanned, to “look down” for sea-skimming ASCMs.

    • fjm1235

      These should be considered our low end ships. Take the Legend CG cutter design, up-gun it, upgrade the sensors, & whatever else is needed & voila! A low cost FFG should result. I agree, building baby Burke’s would be stupid, just build more Burke DDG’s vs. a less lethal but mega expensive FFG.

  • RobM1981

    “which is based on an LCS design with minor modifications.”

    I can only speak for myself, but: if they thought we were howling about the LCS, wait until they try to re-gift it as a “frigate.”

    We’ll call the project “Project Tinkle On The Taxpayer’s Shoes…”

    Build a hull that can handle the mission. Why is this so hard? Oh, right, there are big businesses involved, and they don’t want to take the beating that they deserve for selling such a dog as the LCS. Note how I said “businesses,” plural. Not only did our Congress and Navy spit at us, they did it twice… and now they want to pretend that “minor modifications” are the only issue.

    It really is hard to fathom just how low our congress can go, isn’t it? They do realize that we need these ships for national defense, right? Do they care?

  • Desplanes

    One of many interesting entries from CRS publication RL33741 titled ‘Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) / Frigate Program : Background and Issues for Congress’ , dated April 6, 2017 . This excerpt is from page 30:

    [ begin text from CRS publication]

    In July 2016, LCS 6 completed shock trials in accordance with the DOT&E approved plan.
    This trial was conducted at a reduced severity due to serious concerns about the potential
    for damage to the ship.

    LCS 5 did not complete the entire shock trial because the Navy
    stopped testing in September 2016 due to concerns with the shock environment,
    personnel, and equipment. The Navy and DOT&E disagree on the need to complete this
    trial.

    The program now expects results of rough water trials—testing that occurred and
    resulted in damage on both designs several years ago—by June 2017.

    [end text from CRS publication]

    OK, LCS fan boys, start commenting…

  • Secundius

    I suspect that the US Congress (aka, Paul Ryan) wants to extend the 2013 Sequester by another Couple of Years…