The Congressional Research Service's new report provides background information and issues for Congress on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.
A total of 20 LCSs have been funded through FY2014. The Navy had been planning to procure an eventual total of 52 LCSs, but on February 24, 2014, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that “no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward” and that the Navy is to submit “alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate. I’ve directed the Navy to consider a completely new design, existing ship designs, and a modified LCS.”
LCSs have been procured since FY2010 under a pair of 10-ship, fixed-price incentive (FPI) block buy contracts that the Navy awarded to the two LCS builders — Lockheed and Austal USA — on December 29, 2010. Under these contracts, which cover the years FY2010-FY2015, four LCSs (numbers 21 through 24) were to be requested for procurement in FY2015. The Navy’s proposed FY2015 budget, however, requests funding for the procurement of three rather than four LCSs.
Hagel’s February 24 announcement and the Navy’s request for three rather than four LCSs in FY2015 raise several potential oversight issues for Congress, including the Navy’s plan for determining which of the two LCS builders would receive one LCS in FY2015 rather than two, and the analytical basis for the actions affecting the LCS program announced by Hagel on February 24. Congress’s decisions on the LCS program and the potential successor program will affect Navy capabilities and funding requirements, and the shipbuilding industrial base.
The LCS program has been controversial due to past cost growth, design and construction issues with the lead ships built to each design, concerns over the ships’ survivability (i.e., ability to withstand battle damage), and concerns over whether the ships are sufficiently armed and would be able to perform their stated missions effectively. Prior to Secretary Hagel’s February 24, 2014, announcement, some observers, citing one or more of these issues, had proposed truncating the LCS program. In response to criticisms of the LCS program, the Navy has acknowledged certain problems and stated that it was taking action to correct them, and disputed other arguments made against the program.