Government Officials Criticize LCS and Cutter Programs

LCS 2, the USS Independence (courtesy U.S. Navy)

Published Feb 8, 2016 9:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, the top-ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a sharply critical bipartisan letter to the Navy regarding the service's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.

Their criticisms stem from findings in the latest report of the Department of Defense's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, issued in January.

"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. Yet, 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," including its rebranding as a destroyer.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently credited the LCS with the ability to "put the enemy fleet on the bottom of the ocean" and described the ships as suitable for use as carrier strike group escorts. However, the senators said that the LCS' proven range is only about 2,000 nm at 14 knots, raising the question of how the small ships would keep up without frequent refueling: other vessels in a carrier strike group have a range of about twice as far, they said.

Additionally, one of the main intended uses of the LCS platform  mineclearing – has not yet been realized. "LCS has not reached an initial operational capability in any elements of mine countermeasures today and the timeline for achieving mine countermeasures capability remains unclear,” four years after its scheduled operating date, they wrote.

The senators also noted the delays in testing and approval for the system's anti-submarine capabilities, and the limited abilities of its surface warfare systems, which have a "maximum effective range of five miles."

"Unless the enemy fleet consists of a small number of lightly armed boats at extremely short range, we fail to see how the LCS reality is consistent with [Secretary Mabus'] remarks."

The Navy's leadership emphasized the strengths of the LCS program at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium in January. U.S. Navy Director of Surface Warfare RAdm. Peter Fanta called on members of the Navy to join together to back the service's new Littoral Combat Ship and to “sell the story” of its capabilities. “In the long run, you've got to help me get the message out, there's warfighting capability in this thing, and it's overwhelming even our own submarines and surface ships,” he said, referring to the LCS’ performance against other U.S. Navy assets in exercises.

Separately, Government Accountability Office (GAO) officials told Congress' Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee Wednesday that the USCG needed additional oversight of its National Security Cutter (NSC) program. Navy tests on the ships in 2014 found that they were suitable and operationally effective, but noted ten deficiencies, including that "the Coast Guard has not yet demonstrated that [the NSC] can achieve a hard and soft kill against a subsonic cruise missile as required," said a statement from Michele Mackin, the GAO's director of acquisition and sourcing management. In addition, the GAO said that the USCG will have to pay about $200 million for fixes unrelated to the Navy's deficiencies list, including electronics systems repairs and replacements, “structural enhancements,” and recurring problems with propulsion systems.

Huntington Ingalls, the builder of the National Security Cutter, declined to comment to media, as the GAO's statement referred to vessels already delivered.