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US Navy's Littoral Combat Ship


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The biggest problems with military big ticket items is the cost overruns of these programs. The Raptor cost has skyrocketed to $300m. Destroyers are billions of dollars. All these costs go to reducing the numbers of systems that can be purchased. Back in the early 70's I read a book on defense procurement and the one prediction towards the end of the book was that weapons would get to be so expensive that only a handful could ever be purchased. We are seeing that trend now. In another 30 years we may be at that point. In the 80's the goal was a 600 ship navy. Now its a 300 ship Navy anything less and the USN will be unable to maintain control of the seas.


February 5, 2007:
On January 29th, the U.S. Navy fired the naval officer (a captain), who was program manager for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. Two weeks earlier, the navy had halted work on construction of the third LCS ship. This one is being built by Lockheed-Martin, as was the first one. The Lockheed-Martin design was supposed to cost about $200 million per ship. But now the manufacturer says it may cost more than twice that. This is a serious situation.

There are actually two different LCS designs. One is a semi-planning monohull from Lockheed-Martin. The other is a trimaran from General Dynamics. LCS 2 was laid down in late 2005. These are essentially prototypes, and serial procurement will probably not begin before 2008, when initial design flaws will have been worked out. One of the two designs may be selected for the rest of the LCS class, or, perhaps, there will be two sub-types. Ultimately, the Navy hopes to have between 50 and 60 LCSs by the middle of the next decade.

The LCS is sort of replacing the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. These are 4.100 ton ships that would cost about $100 million to build today. The big difference between the frigates and LCS is the greater use of automation in the LCS (reducing crew size to 75, versus 300 in the frigates) and larger engines (giving the LCS a speed of about 90 kilometers an hour, versus 50 for the frigates.) The LCS also has a large "cargo hold" designed to hold different "mission packages" of equipment and weapons.

The Littoral Combat Ship is, simultaneously, revolutionary, and a throwback. The final LCS design is to displace about 3,000 tons, with a full load draft of under ten feet, permitting access to very shallow coastal waters, as well as rivers. This is where most naval operations have taken place in the past generation. Max range is 2,700 kilometers. Built using commercial "smartship" technologies, which greatly reduce personnel requirements, the LCS is expected to require a crew of about 50 in basic configuration, but will have accommodations for about 75 personnel. The ship is designed for a variety of interchangeable modules, which will allow the ships to be quickly reconfigured for various specialized missions. Crews will also be modularized, so that specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules.

The navy is not happy with the performance of American ship builders. Costs are rising sharply, quality is down and the admirals can't get satisfactory answers from the manufacturers. For example, the new class of destroyers, the DDG-1000 class destroyers have also faced ballooning costs, up to as much as $3 billion per ship, as opposed to planned costs of $800 million. The current Arleigh Burke-class destroyers only cost $1 billion each.
The first of the new Ford-class (CVN-21) aircraft carriers will cost at least $13 billion (including R&D for the entire class). The current Nimitz-class carriers cost $4.5 billion each. Both classes also require an air wing (48-50 fighters, plus airborne early-warning planes, electronic warfare aircraft, and anti-submarine helicopters), which costs another $3.5 billion.
The navy wants some straight answers, and has gotten shipbuilders attention by halting work on the LCS and demanding answers.



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A little update on the LCS program


Navy to Restructure LCS Program
Virginia Pilot  |  By Dale Eisman  |  March 16, 2007
WASHINGTON -- The Navy plans to slow and restructure its troubled Littoral Combat Ship program, shifting more than $500 million appropriated last year for the purchase of two ships to help offset cost overruns on four others.

Navy Secretary Donald Winter, who in January issued a 90-day stop-work order on one of four ships under contract, said construction of that ship will resume only if builder Lockheed Martin Corp. agrees to assume responsibility for a larger share of price increases.

Throughout 2006, Navy leaders insisted that the four ships would cost about $220 million each. But officials acknowledged this month that the price of Lockheed Martin's LCS-1, to be delivered later this year, could top $375 million -- about 70 percent more than the target.

Lockheed Martin is building the first and third ships in the LCS series; General Dynamics is under contract for LCS-2 and LCS-4. LCS-3 is the ship covered by the stop-work order.

Winter said he hopes to strike a deal with Lockheed Martin before the stop-work order expires April 12.

The two builders are using different designs, but Winter said Thursday that the Navy will shift to a single design for Littoral Combat Ship purchases beginning in 2010. The Lockheed Martin design is a sleek monohull while the General Dynamics ship is a trimaran.

Navy leaders hope to buy 55 such ships by 2016 and to make them the workhorses of the U.S. fleet. Designed to travel at high speeds and operate in shallow water, the ships are to be outfitted with special "mission modules" that can be installed and removed rapidly to allow them to take on a variety of war-fighting duties.

While Hampton Roads' shipyards have no direct stake in the Littoral Combat Ship program, Navy leaders say their success in keeping the program's costs down will have a direct impact on the service's ability to buy other ships, including the submarines and aircraft carriers produced at Northrop Grumman's Newport News shipyard.

"It is imperative that the Navy deliver this warship class and its important capabilities to the fleet as soon as possible," said Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, in a written statement released by the service. "It is just as imperative that we do so in the most cost effective manner possible."

The program was the signature initiative of Mullen's predecessor, now-retired Adm. Vern Clark, who envisioned the new ships as critical to the war on terrorism. While the Navy typically takes a decade or more to design and develop the lead ship in a new class, the first Littoral Combat Ship is to be delivered just more than five years after Clark launched the program.


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This was from National Defense Magazine, Mar 2004

....The U. S. Navy is looking to tap the experience of foreign navies and shipyards in the design and development of its Littoral Combat Ship. The Navy envisions the LCS operating in coastal waters, clearing mines, chasing diesel submarines and potential terrorists, and ferrying special-operations forces.

While the United States lacks expertise in designing littoral ships, there are several foreign navies that have extensive experience and potentially could contribute to the LCS program, said U.S. officials participating in a Navy-industry international conference, in Arlington, Va.

Foreign navies have been focused on the littorals, while the U.S. Navy traditionally has operated in blue waters, said Rear Adm. Charles S. Hamilton, Navy program executive officer for ships.

Sweden’s Visby class corvette (Comment: made from composites) was designed for missions such as anti-surface warfare, mine countermeasures anti-submarine warfare and coastal patrol.

The United States and Sweden are collaborating on a study of littoral ship design and technology and infrared measurements on Visby and a Littoral Combat Ship prototype. A formal agreement will be signed this summer, said Rear Adm. Mark Milliken, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for international programs.

The Royal Norwegian Navy is building a fast-patrol Littoral Combat Ship. The first in the class was the P-960 KNM Skjold  (Comment: that is the Surface Effect Ship) . The Norwegian ship participated in tests and trials with the U.S. Navy from February to August 2002. The United States signed a project agreement with the Norwegian Navy in February 2002, said Milliken.

The capabilities of the Skjold were evaluated as the Navy set its requirements for LCS, said Milliken.

International cooperation in LCS, however, will be hampered by the restriction on classified information sharing, and the requirement that the ship be built in the United States. But Navy officials said those obstacles can be overcome, and that bringing foreign partners onboard will set an example for future cooperative efforts.

“If we do this right, we can use this program as a model,” said Gibson Leboeuf, executive director of Navy International Programs Office. “The LCS can be the wave of the future of doing business.”

France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom are leaders in technologies such as propulsion and power generation, fuel cells, mission module concepts, integrated antenna systems, gun modules, laser detection systems, unmanned aircraft recovery and damage control. These are areas where the U.S. Navy can benefit from international cooperation, officials said.


June 2003

Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Tests Contractors’ Creativity

by Sandra I. Erwin

The high-stakes competition to win the Navy’s littoral combat ship contract could be summed up in two words: “tough requirements.”

Each of the proposed hull designs vying for an LCS contract award scheduled for this fall has its own unique selling points, and they all claim to meet the Navy’s need for a low-cost, fast, high-endurance, small surface combatant.

But comments from several shipbuilding experts and engineers suggest that the Navy’s expectations—a ship with high speed and long range at a relative low price—may be unrealistic. In the world of shipbuilding, said one engineer, the conventional wisdom is that, “if you want speed, range and low cost, you can pick two, but it’s very hard to get all three.”

Conceptually, the Navy plans to deploy LCS as part of a carrier battle group. Capable of speeds of up to 40-50 knots, LCS would be the “first responder” vessel during a crisis, sprinting thousands of miles towards the coast, so it can detect and neutralize mines, hunt submarines and interdict potential terrorist gunboats.

Some Navy officials describe the LCS as an “anti anti-access” ship, that would help remove the obstacles that typically hamper naval operations in littoral areas, such as sea mines and enemy diesel submarines. The plan is to buy up to 60 ships during the next two decades.

The Navy asked contractors that their LCS designs not exceed $220 million per ship. A more desirable price tag would be $150 million, said Navy officials. A realistic price range, however, should be between $300 million and $350 million, according to AMI International, a naval analysis and consulting firm.

Guy Ames Stitt, president of AMI, said he is enthusiastic about the innovative designs being proposed for LCS and is hopeful that the program can help revive the U.S. shipbuilding industry. But he is skeptical about any company’s ability to deliver every feature the Navy wants in LCS at the $220 million price. “LCS is a tough program,” he said.

Stitt also is concerned about the Navy’s acquisition strategy for LCS. Rather than buy the hull and the combat systems at the same time, the Navy has chosen to select the hull first and then develop the “mission modules,” under a separate competition. That approach is risky, said Stitt, because its success is based on the notion that the winning design will be flexible enough to accommodate the mission modules later on.

“The teams claim they can plug and play anything,” said Stitt. It is not clear how the Navy can be sure that the mission modules will work, if the mission modules have not yet been designed. “That is [a similar situation] as when Microsoft released Windows 98,” he said. “After the third fix, then it began to work.”

Given the LCS fast-track schedule—the Navy wants a ship in the water by 2007—there may not be enough time to go back to the drawing board if any problems arise during the operational testing phase. “I worry about that,” Stitt said. “Rear Adm. Loren really needs to pay attention to that.” Rear Adm. Donald P. Loren is the director of the Navy’s surface ship branch, and oversees the LCS program requirements.

There is a lot of focus on the hull and not enough on the systems and the mission modules,” said Stitt. “I’m really concerned that the [contractor] teams are pushing their own unique systems. Loren is going to have a much harder time evaluating the system solutions than the hull.”

The Navy is “taking a risky approach by segregating the system from the hull,” he added.

Different modules, for example, would be inserted in the ship, depending on the missions—mine or submarine hunting, maritime interdiction or ferrying special operations troops.

The Navy should pay more attention to the mission packages, Stitt said, because they affect the way a crew operates at sea.

“Sailors have to be able to man these ships,” he said. “Sea keeping and stability are crucial.

If you add and remove systems and equipment, that changes the way the ship reacts in different sea states,” he noted. In bad weather, for example, a good portion of the crew may get seasick. “You just can’t easily change modules out. The idea sounds really great. But the implementation requires a lot more work.” Module changes have been done on ships before, but on large vessels, where seasickness is not as big a factor as it would be on an LCS.

While the Navy’s program executive office for ships is responsible for the construction of the hull, a different organization—the PEO for integrated warfare systems—will manage the mission module development and production.

“The trouble is that those modules are greatly going to impact the size and shape of the ship,” Stitt said. Based on his experience in shipbuilding, he said, it does not make sense to select a ship if the mission systems development is disconnected from the hull-form design.

Asked which of the competing LCS designs he liked the best, Stitt said  the best performer may be the concept proposed by the Lockheed Martin team. It is a semi-planing aluminum mono-hull, based on the Destriero class. The Destriero holds the trans-Atlantic speed record, averaging 53 knots.

Lockheed’s team includes the naval engineering firm of Gibbs & Cox and two shipyards: Bollinger and Manitowoc Marine Group.

Stitt noted that the Destriero, although made in Italy, is based on a French design by CMN, a Normandy shipyard. “It’s a fabulous design ... a phenomenal ship,” he said.

In the quest for LCS, the Lockheed team is up against some formidable competition.

Only one other mono-hull has been proposed for LCS. It is a displacement mono-hull, a derivative of the Swedish Visby-class 270-foot stealthy corvette. Leading this proposal is Northrop Grumman Corp., with a team that includes the Swedish design firm Kockums, United Defense LP, Band Lavis & Assoc. and Navatek.

Unlike the semi-planing mono-hull proposed by Lockheed, the Visby-class is made of composite material, a drastic departure from the traditional materials used in U.S. shipbuilding today.

“The Visby has great performance,” said Stitt. But a composite hull raises “construction issues,” because U.S. shipyards have lacked the infrastructure to work with advanced materials, he noted. Northrop Grumman, however, is better positioned to take this on than any other U.S. ship builder, he said. It currently operates a composite-ship yard in Gulfport, Miss., and has conducted research on composites for years.

Also competing in the LCS program is a hybrid catamaran air-cushion ship   (Comment: similar to the successful Skjol design used by Norway) designed by Textron Marine & Land Systems, partnered with EDO Corporation.

Company officials said the HCAC combines features of both the catamaran and the surface-effect ship. When operating as a catamaran (off the air cushion) on diesel engines, the ship is more efficient at cruising speeds of 18-20 knots. As an SES (on the air cushion), it can exceed 50 knots.

Both the catamaran and the SES hull-forms have been around for a long time, even though the Navy never managed to incorporate them into the fleet. If LCS comes to fruition, it would be the Navy’s first 50-knot ship, noted retired Rear Adm. Joe Carnevale, a career ship architect. Carnevale, who is working with the Textron team, said the HCAC gives the Navy a flexible design that can be adapted to various missions and burns considerably less fuel than high-performance mono-hull ships.

Textron’s ship is made of an aluminum alloy currently used in the Coast Guard’s motor lifeboats. These high-endurance boats perform daring rescue operations in 20-foot breaking seas and are known for their ability to survive a complete roll over.

Stitt noted that Textron’s advanced aluminum production lines give the company an edge in manufacturing technology, but he views the surface-effect ship as a “high-risk” design that the Navy may not be willing to take. “My fear is the stability of the ship at certain speeds and weights,” Stitt said.

He expressed similar concerns about the trimaran concept proposed by General Dynamics Bath Iron works, partnered with Boeing, Austal USA and BAE Systems. The trimaran is a novel design based on the British RV Triton, a 295-foot steel hull. Stitt’s assessment is that the trimaran is an innovative concept but “needs more work.”

Also offering an SES ship is Raytheon, which leads a team that includes the naval design firm of J.J. McMullen & Assoc., Atlantic Marine, Goodrich and Umoe Mandal. The design is derived from the Norwegian Skjold, a 154-foot composite ship.

Composite ships are desirable for many reasons, such as the fact that they don’t require painting, said Chris B. McKesson, a ship architect at J.J. McMullen. He said the SES hull-form “gives the best balance” needed to meet the Navy’s ambitious requirement for a small ship that can carry a substantial amount of payload, at high speeds and over long distances.

Surface-effect ships were introduced to the U.S. Navy more than three decades ago, but the Navy never got around to buying them. The Coast Guard employed SES ships in the 1970s to interdict drug runners.

Stitt said the Skjold design is impressive, despite some risk. “Scandinavian countries have been notorious for taking on new hull-forms and proving them out.”

Regardless of which ship is selected for the LCS, the program has huge industrial implications for the U.S. shipbuilding sector, because it could help invigorate a market that has been in decline for decades, Stitt said. The Navy, in his opinion, should make an effort to make LCS “marketable” to foreign navies.

“The U.S. Navy is going to have to be more like the Europeans,” who aggressively promote their ships around the world. In recent months, said Stitt, “I have been in South America and the Philippines: everyone is excited about LCS.”

As the project moves forward, the Navy should help the winning shipbuilders sell their designs, said Stitt. The contractors, not the Navy, should own the designs, so they can more easily be sold to foreign navies. U.S. shipyards need more export sales to keep their prices competitive, he added.


My sense of all of this is that there a whole lot of inertia.  Mr. Stitt is probably expressing a common opinion when he expresses reservations about the multi-hull and Surface Effect Solutions.  And yet they work.  They are used in civilian and military applications.  They were not accepted by the US Navy.  Perhaps it had something to do with their reluctance to get involved in brown water operations.

Likewise, when he tackles the issue of modularity he expresses concern about having to rebalance the centres of mass and gravity with each new module.  This is also understandable given his preferred solution for a hull form is a long-distance racer which has no other function than to get some rich people into the Guiness Book of Records.  It is not an inherently stable platform, unlike the multi-hulls.

Beyond that though I suspect that the monohull concept appeals to the traditionalists because that is what a ship is supposed to look like.  A trimaran probably isn't a real ship.

As well it is made clear that US yards just are not equipped to handle innovation.  There are few if any places in the States that know how to build using composites,  or apparently even aluminum.  Likewise for multi-hull expertise.  And precious little of that expertise has been developed in the US.

Lockheed Martins' "solution" probably appealed as a traditional solution that might possibly be within the existing capabilities of the US industry.  Apparently it isn't.

Finally it is interesting to note that conflation of the need to range over thousands of miles, just like a real Blue Water ship, while handling the littoral mission.  Blue water ships, especially mono-hulls, require a deep keel for stability.  Littoral ships require a shallow keel to get in close to shore.  Multi-hulls compensate for the lack of deep keel by having multiple keels but apparently they can be a bit jerky on the ride, instead of rolling like a traditional ship.  However, unless they want to experiment with "dagger board" keels that can be drawn up when manoeuvring close to shore and limiting speeds then the multi-hull seems to be the best option.

I can't help but wonder why, if the US Navy wanted a near term solution to littoral combat it didn't just Combine some of its older LPDs and the Norwegian Skjolds in a Mothership concept.

PS - I know these articles are from 3-4 years ago, however I believe they speak to many of the issues surrounding the LCS programme and its current state.  As I stated at the beginning - there is an awful lot of inertia to overcome, both in the Navy and in industry.



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A little update on the LCS program: the 2nd LCS vessel has been cancelled!


Navy Cancels Second LCS Ship
Associated Press  |  April 13, 2007
WASHINGTON - The U.S. Navy on Thursday said it was canceling a widely criticized Lockheed Martin Corp. contract to build a next-generation combat ship after negotiations to control cost overruns failed.

"We're disappointed but we have to have it at a price we can afford," Navy Admiral Charles Goddard said at a Pentagon press briefing to discuss the unusual decision.

Lockheed expressed disappointment over the Navy's decision and accepted blame for cost overruns on the first LCS ship it has nearly completed.

After nearly a month of extensive negotiations with Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, neither the Navy or the company could agree on a restructured contract that was acceptable to both parties and controlled costs on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.

In a statement, Bob Stevens, Lockheed's president and chief executive, said: "We believe that our proposal was fully consistent with the Secretary's stated desire to bring the benefits of increased competition to shipbuilding while holding the Navy's industrial partners accountable for cost performance within their control."

The defense contractor had submitted a final proposal to the Navy late Monday in hopes of salvaging the deal.

"Lockheed's best offer is considered unaffordable by the department," Goddard added.

The Navy ordered work halted on the start of the second Lockheed ship in January after cost estimates on the first ship, which is 75 percent completed, soared to at least $350 million (?259.89 million) from an initial price of $270 million (?200.49 million).

Until now, Lockheed had blamed cost overruns on revised Navy requirements and material delays from subcontractors.

Negotiations will now be held on what happens to and who pays for materials already ordered for the second ship. Lockheed likely will be paid for termination and stop-work order costs it incurred.

The Navy had initially awarded contracts for four LCS ships, two to Lockheed and two to Falls Church, Virginia-based General Dynamics Corp. The GenDyn contract remains under close review but is expected to proceed, the Navy said. Goddard warned that any unexpected cost overruns could result in the Navy restructuring the contract.

The Navy has also decided to put out bids for five more LCS ships, three in fiscal 2008 and two in fiscal 2009.

Lockheed spokesman Craig Quigley said it was soon to tell whether Lockheed would compete for those contracts.

Shares of Lockheed Martin were down 7 cents to $96.10 (?71.36) in aftermarket trading after ending the day down 45 cents to $96.16 (?71.4) on the New York Stock Exchange. Shares of General Dynamic rose 2 cents to $77.36 (?57.44) in aftermarket trading after closing up 62 cents to $77.34, (?57.43) also on the NYSE.


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The project is still a go as General Dynamics is still building the two there were delegated to construct.


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Here's a little update on the latest problems with the program.


Navy Torpedoes LCS
Associated Press  |  November 01, 2007
WASHINGTON - A senior Navy official said Thursday one of General Dynamics Corp. next-generation combat ships has been canceled after efforts to control costs failed.
After more than a month of extensive talks, neither the Navy nor Falls Church, Va.-based General Dynamics could agree on a restructured contract that contained cost overruns in a way that was acceptable to both parties.

"They were above the numbers we were willing to accept," Navy Adm. Charles Goddard, told reporters at a Pentagon briefing.

This is the second ship that the Navy has canceled on the so-called Littoral Combat Ship program. In April, the Navy terminated Bethesda, Md.-based Lockheed Martin Corp.'s second ship after costs on the first ship soared to at least $350 million from an initial price of $270 million.

The Navy declined to specify how much costs on the General Dynamics ship has exceeded initial estimates, but said the cost difference is comparable to Lockheed's.


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I have to believe it isn't the Aussie hull that's breaking the bank but probably a combination of rebuilding General Dynamics shipyards and gold-plating all the stuff that all those Naval Types would love to shove into her.

Build the platform.  Add gear to the maximum the budget will allow.  Adjust TTPs accordingly.


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The Norweigian Skjold Class LCS being pitched to the US military- another possible threat to US-made LCS program.


Attention U.S. Navy: Littoral Combat Craft For Sale
Posted by Joris Janssen Lok at 11/2/2007 9:47 AM

The Norwegian Chief of Defense is to present his proposal for the country's next multi-year defense plan on Monday Nov. 5 -- and the Skjold-class program to acquire six super-fast (60-kt.) littoral combat craft is expected to be one of the main casualties.

All the more so because another study, from the Norwegian parliament, is also recommending that the Skjold-class be cancelled.

The problem with the program is that it will be too expensive to run the six craft, which are excellent for high-speed hit-and-run operations along the Norwegian coast but have only limited expeditionary capabilities.

Priority should be given to maintaining the five new Aegis-frigates, to develop (together with Sweden and possibly Singapore) a successor to the six Ula-class submarines and to acquire logistic support ships, the chief of defense is expected to recommend.

Cancelling the Skjold program is difficult as building is well under way and many of the systems have already been delivered.

So the craft may well be offered for sale -- with the U.S. Navy being a possible interested party given its need to reinforce the Cyclone-class of coastal patrol craft and the lack of progress in the Littoral Combat Ship program.

The Skjold class are waterjet-propelled surface effect ships that are planned to be armed with Kongsberg NSM anti-surface missiles and an Oto Melara 76-mm. main gun. The combat management system is supplied by DCNS of France in partnership with Kongsberg.

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Sure is hard to get contracting right (usual copyright disclaimer):

Navy terminates construction of Littoral Combat Ship

The US Navy announced Thursday it has terminated a contract with General Dynamics to build a second Littoral Combat Ship after failing to reach agreement over how to stem cost overruns.

The navy wanted to change to a fixed price incentive contract after costs soared in the construction of the first of the small, fast, networked vessels designed for combat operations close to shore.

"The navy worked closely with General Dynamics to try to restructure the agreement for LCS 4 to more equitably balance cost and risk, but could not come to terms and conditions that were acceptable to both parties," the navy said.

The navy awarded contracts in 2004 to General Dynamics and Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors to each build two of the ships.

The second of the Lockheed Martin vessels, LC3, was terminated in April after it failed to reach agreement with the navy on controlling costs.

The General Dynamics first vessel, designated LCS 2, was hit by spiralling costs.

Navy Secretary Donald Winter said the decision to terminate construction of LCS 4, the second General Dynamics vessel, was difficult.

But he said "active oversight and strict cost controls in the early years are necessary to ensuring we can deliver these ships to the fleet over the long term."

Admiral Gary Roughead, the new chief of naval operations, said he remained committed to the Littoral Combat Ship. The navy plans to build 55 of them.

"We need this ship," he said. "It is very important that our acquisition efforts produce the right littoral combat ship capability to the fleet at the right cost."

More on the LCS:



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Time to merge this thread with a previous thread I pasted below on this topic?



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This piece from the NY Times, though long, is a good summary of the LCS program to date.

Lesson on How Not to Build a Navy Ship

By PHILIP TAUBMAN    New York Times Published: April 25, 2008

With the crack of a Champagne bottle against its bow, the newly minted Navy warship, bedecked with bunting, slid sideways into the Menominee River in Wisconsin with a titanic splash.

Moments before the launching on Sept. 23, 2006, Adm. Mike Mullen, the chief of naval operations, told the festive crowd of shipbuilders, politicians and Navy brass assembled at the Marinette Marine shipyard, “Just a little more than three years ago, she was just an idea; now Freedom stands before us.”

Not quite. The ship — the first of a new class of versatile, high-speed combat vessels designed to operate in coastal waters — was indeed bobbing in the river, just four months after the promised launching date. But it was far from finished. In fact, the ship floats there still, work continuing day and night.

A project heralded as the dawning of an innovative, low-cost era in Navy shipbuilding has turned into a case study of how not to build a combat ship. The bill for the ship, being built by Lockheed Martin, has soared to $531 million, more than double the original, and by some calculations could be $100 million more. With an alternate General Dynamics prototype similarly struggling at an Alabama shipyard, the Navy last year temporarily suspended the entire program.

The program’s tribulations speak to what military experts say are profound shortcomings in the Pentagon’s acquisitions system. Even as spending on new projects has risen to its highest point since the Reagan years, being over budget and behind schedule have become the norm: a recent Government Accountability Office audit found that 95 projects — warships, helicopters and satellites — were delayed 21 months on average and cost 26 percent more than initially projected, a bill of $295 billion.

In a narrow sense, the troubled birth of the coastal ships was rooted in the Navy’s misbegotten faith in a feat of maritime alchemy: building a hardened warship by adapting the design of a high-speed commercial ferry. As Representative Gene Taylor, the Mississippi Democrat who leads the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces, put it, “Thinking these ships could be built to commercial specs was a dumb move.”

Behind the numbers in the Accountability Office study, experts say, is a dynamic of mutually re-enforcing deficiencies: ever-changing Pentagon design requirements; unrealistic cost estimates and production schedules abetted by companies eager to win contracts, and a fondness for commercial technologies that often, as with the ferry concept, prove unsuitable for specialized military projects.

At the same time, a policy of letting contractors take the lead in managing weapons programs has coincided with an acute shortage of government engineers trained to oversee these increasingly complex enterprises.

The coastal ships — called littoral combat ships — are especially important to the Navy, which has struggled to retain a central role in American military operations after the cold war. In part, they are a response to the Navy’s own Sept. 11 moment, which came in October 2000, when two terrorists in a bomb-laden rubber dinghy rammed the destroyer Cole, killing 17 sailors and wounding 39 more.

An examination of the littoral combat ships by The New York Times, including interviews with many of the principal Navy and industry officials involved, found that the project was hobbled from the outset by the Navy’s zeal to build the ships as fast and inexpensively as possible and the contractors’ desire — driven by competitive pressures — to stay on schedule, even as the ferry designs proved impractical and construction problems multiplied.

In their haste to get the ships into the water, the Navy and contractors redesigned and built them at the same time — akin to building an office tower while reworking the blueprints. To meet its deadline, Lockheed abandoned the normal sequence of shipbuilding steps: instead of largely finishing sections and then assembling the ship, much of the work was left to be done after the ship was welded together. That slowed construction and vastly drove up costs.

“It’s not good to be building as you’re designing,” said Vice Adm. Paul E. Sullivan, commander of the Navy branch that supervises shipbuilding.

A Lockheed executive vice president, Christopher E. Kubasik, said, “We have acknowledged all along our shared responsibility for challenges encountered in the design and construction of the littoral combat ship, which are similar to those typically experienced with first-in-class vessels, including the competing LCS design.” Mr. Kubasik said the company was working toward “realistic cost goals for subsequent ships.” General Dynamics declined to comment.

Despite the problems, the Navy secretary, Donald C. Winter, and other top Navy officials say they remain committed to building 55 of the ships, once a steady, fixed-price production run can be assured. Even at about $500 million apiece, Navy officials add, the coastal ships would be a bargain compared with most Navy combat vessels.

Still, throughout the military-industrial world, the program is seen as a cautionary tale, especially for a Navy whose 30-year shipbuilding strategy calls for building scores of warships — including aircraft carriers, destroyers and submarines — to bolster an aging fleet.

“The littoral combat ship is an imaginative answer to emerging military requirements, but it has the most fouled-up acquisition strategy I have ever seen in a major military program,” said Loren Thompson, a military analyst at the Lexington Institute, a policy research center.

A New Mantra

Traditionally the Navy had disdained small combat ships as a major component of the fleet. But strategists came to fear that the “David and Goliath” phenomenon underlined by the attack on the Cole, what they call asymmetric warfare, would only grow in the years ahead.

“We needed to figure out how to asymmetric the asymmetric guys,” recalled Adm. Vern Clark, who championed the ships as chief of naval operations from 2000 to 2005.

To Navy planners, a ship designed for coastal combat could neutralize hostile submarines, surface warships, mines and terrorist speedboats, clearing the way for other combat ships to operate in offshore waters and support combat ashore. The Navy first publicly declared its intention to build the ship on Nov. 1, 2001. In those days, the Pentagon’s defining procurement mantra was “Faster, Better, Cheaper.” From the first, the coastal ships’ defining characteristic was speed.

The first model was to be delivered no more than six years after conceptual planning began, half the normal time. Construction was to take two years, instead of the usual four or five.

The Navy also wanted ships that could travel fast, better than 40 knots. And they needed to be easily outfitted with different weapons and surveillance systems. A removable package of mine-sweeping equipment, for instance, could be replaced with a package of special-operations gear used by a Seal team.

Each ship would carry an uncommonly small crew, about 40 sailors.

Compared with a $2 billion destroyer or a $7 billion to $9 billion aircraft carrier, the new ships would be produced at the cut rate of $220 million apiece, not including weapons packages.

In short, the accelerated, cost-conscious acquisition plan — promoted as a new shipbuilding paradigm to help the Navy rebuild the fleet — appeared to be exactly the kind of transformational thinking that Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and his top civilian aides favored as they moved into the Pentagon in 2001. It was quickly approved.

A Plan, Then It Changes

Another idea that had taken hold was that the Pentagon should break free from cumbersome, gold-plated acquisition programs by taking advantage of commercially available technologies.

With that in mind, Lockheed and General Dynamics proposed different high-speed ferry models as the template, and in 2004, the Navy selected the two companies to compete for the business. The model for the Freedom was a ferry built in Italy. An Australian ferry was the model for the General Dynamics prototype, named Independence.

Lockheed had virtually no shipbuilding experience. But in keeping with a Pentagon policy that called for letting big military contractors run complex projects with minimal government supervision, the Navy made the companies primarily responsible for all phases of development — from concept studies to detailed design and construction.

In theory, the contractors’ business and technological acumen would save taxpayer dollars. But the Navy agreed to reimburse the companies for cost overruns rather than setting a fixed price, leaving little incentive to hold down costs.

To compensate for its lack of experience, Lockheed joined with the naval architecture firm of Gibbs & Cox and two shipyards, Marinette Marine, and Bollinger in Louisiana.

The Lockheed proposal called for a steel single-hull ship 378 feet long and 57 feet wide. It would have a spacious flight deck and space for two helicopters, a stern ramp and side door near the waterline for launching and recovering small boats, and large interior compartments that could be quickly reconfigured for different weapons systems. But as Lockheed and the Navy were completing contract negotiations in 2004, the rules changed drastically. Commercial ferry standards, the Navy determined, would not do.

The underlying principle behind the decision, Admiral Sullivan said, was that the new ships had to be able to “hang tough in a storm and take some battle damage and still survive long enough” for the crew to be rescued.

A military expert said the Navy had badly miscalculated.

“They were eager to take advantage of commercial practices and the lower cost of buying off the shelf, but they did a lousy job of understanding the war-fighting requirements,” said the military expert, who asked not be named because he was involved with the program. “It was like, ‘You mean you want to put wheels on that car?’ ”

Adm. Gary Roughead, the current chief of naval operations, said: “We had thought that the commercial variant would not be that far away from what we needed. I’ll tell you, that was underestimated.”

At the same time, the Navy realized the time had come to modernize its shipbuilding code. The resulting Naval Vessel Rules in many ways trumped the idea that the new ships could draw extensively on commercial ferry designs.

The new rules called for a water-mist fire extinguishing system instead of the commercial sprinkler system normally found on a ferry, forcing the shipyard to order new pipes, high-pressure nozzles and other equipment. Other revised requirements included heavy-duty power cables and reinforced crew compartments.

Ultimately, there were nearly 600 significant engineering changes affecting nearly all parts of the ship, according to the Navy.

The Navy and Lockheed agree that the Navy described the new rules as they were being developed, and that it increased the budget to accommodate some design changes. Even so, both parties acknowledge they badly underestimated the consequences.

“Once the rules were issued, it took us a year to fully understand how they would impact the project,” said Craig R. Quigley, a Lockheed spokesman.

By then, early 2005, the ship was already under construction at Marinette.

The Setbacks Begin

Building a ship requires precision sequencing, as sections are built and outfitted in large manufacturing halls, then moved to a towering building where they are welded together to create a ship.

This system allows workers ample space, light and access to heavy construction tools as they build each section, called a ship module, and outfit it with pipes, cables, insulation and other equipment, and apply coats of paint.

Getting the modules as complete as possible before assembly is critical because it becomes far more difficult to work in the cramped quarters of a ship. Marinette’s general manager, Richard T. McCreary, said it costs roughly six times more to outfit a module aboard a ship than standing free.

Normally, the Marinette yard prefers to get modules 85 percent to 90 percent completed before they are transported to the ship erection building. In the case of the Freedom, with its repeated design alterations, better than half of the 39 sections fell well short of that goal.

The risks seemed obvious, yet neither the Navy nor the shipyard was willing to reconsider the timetable.

Rear Adm. Charles S. Hamilton II, one of the Navy officers with lead responsibility for the project, said he had given Navy officials several opportunities to slow down the project.

“The clear signal from all quarters was, ‘Hamilton, I want that ship in the water, and I want it out there now,’ ” he recalled in an interview.

Admiral Hamilton left the Navy last year. He now works at Booz Allen Hamilton, the consulting firm.

At Lockheed, executives say they feared that slowing down construction would put them at a disadvantage in their battle to win the contract over General Dynamics.

Yet if the project was troubled, the Navy’s oversight at Marinette was less than robust. Because of staffing reductions, the Navy office responsible for supervising shipbuilding initially dispatched no one full time to Wisconsin. Even after a team arrived, it failed to appreciate the severity of problems.

“We had very junior people on site,” Admiral Sullivan said.

Construction was also hampered by steel shortages: the lower levels of the hull required the same low-alloy steel the Pentagon was buying to strengthen the armor on Humvees in Iraq.

The most wrenching setback came in autumn 2005, when a key gear for the propulsion system was cut incorrectly, forcing a 27-week delay in ship construction. Rick Kennedy, a spokesman for G.E. Aviation, the General Electric division that produced the gear, said a machinist had misread a drawing; G.E. absorbed the additional cost.

Shipbuilders usually start with the engine space, which contains the most machinery, then build around it. Because of the gear problem, Mr. McCreary said, “We did just the opposite.”

Joe North, who manages the project for Lockheed, said in an interview at the shipyard that he initially thought the yard could work around the problems, that design work would eventually catch up with construction.

Looking back, Mr. North said, “it was death by a thousand cuts.”

‘It Got Oversold’

With work nearly finished and the Menominee River ice gone, Lockheed plans to take the Freedom to sea trials in Lake Michigan this spring and hopes to deliver it to the Navy late this year.

The competing General Dynamics ship, an aluminum trimaran considerably bigger than the Lockheed model, is to be launched on Saturday in Alabama. Even though General Dynamics had more time to digest the Navy’s design changes before starting construction, its ship ran into many of the same problems and delays as Lockheed’s. The price tag also more than doubled.

Last year, the Navy temporarily put the entire program on hold when it terminated contracts for more ships because it could not reach agreement with the two companies on a fixed price.

While the financial gap was not great, Navy and industry officials said, the Navy, hammered by Congress for its handling of the project, wanted to demonstrate its determination to hold down the price for future ships. Congress has set a spending cap of $460 million per ship, excluding weapons packages.

Once the Navy evaluates the two prototypes, it can select one or order a mixed fleet. While it could opt for a different approach, military experts say that seems unlikely, given the need for the new ships and the money and effort already expended.

The Navy recently restarted the program, inviting the two companies to submit fixed-price proposals for three additional ships. Lockheed, still hoping to win the entire prize, said the problems encountered with the Freedom would not be repeated, now that the company has a finished design.

“It will be great, the next time around,” said Mr. North, the program manager. “Lead ships are truly hard.”

Navy and industry officials say blame for the program’s rocky early history has to be shared.

“It’s easy to lay all the blame at the foot of the government, and the Navy was naïve, but the companies bear some of the responsibility,” said a senior industry official who asked not to be identified because of his involvement in the project. “They were playing the game to get the contract, not owning up about all the issues until well into the game, hoping to make some recovery downstream.”

Mr. McCreary, the Marinette general manager, said that while the shipyard might not have fully mastered the Navy’s accounting system, it had given the Navy frequent progress reports showing problems mounting.

Mr. Winter, the Navy secretary, complained that the Navy bureaucracy had failed to alert him to rising costs. The Pentagon, he said, was bedazzled by the idea of saving money and time with commercial technologies.

“It got oversold,” he said. “The concept was just abused.”

He lamented the Pentagon’s eroding expertise in systems engineering — managing complex new projects to ensure that goals are achievable and affordable — and faulted the notion that industry could best manage ambitious development projects.

“Quite frankly, industry is not good at doing this,” he said.

Recently, Mr. Winter said, he instituted new procedures to ensure tighter supervision of all shipbuilding projects. He says he is confident that the coastal-ships program will produce a fleet of fine, affordable vessels. But as he contemplates the Navy’s long-range rebuilding plans, he says he stands behind a scorching critique that he delivered at a convention in Washington last year:

“If we do not figure out how to establish credibility in our shipbuilding programs and plans, and restore confidence in our ability to deliver on our commitments, we cannot expect Congress or the nation to provide us with the resources we so urgently need.”




Army.ca Myth
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My sympathies lie with the contractors.

The Navy had ample time to evaluate the survivability and seaworthiness of the Cat concept that drove this programme. They, the Army and the Marines have been renting those boats for something like 7 to 10 years now.  If they didn't think they were survivable there are a bunch of Marines that have been put at risk.

For the Navy to start a project based on a known hull and then start moaning about changes is a bit much. As a contractor I would be submitting requests for Change Order POs with every change adding to the price - and no sure knowledge that the next change wasn't going to conflict with the last. 

Of course the contractor isn't going to moan too much in public when they are still competing for an ongoing project.  No matter how obtuse the customer is.

The other factor here is Lockheed Martin. They started well behind.  They had a drawing board concept that would have appealed to more traditional sailors. But the Aussie design could have been launched long before theirs...... unless the rules were changed forcing General Dynamics and the Aussies to go backwards.

I sense an aroma.


Army.ca Legend
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I guess this is the advantage of using two different builders. The Lockheed Martin design LCS1 has had the cost overruns which saw the cancellation of their two follow on ships. This Austal design may end up with the entire program.


Army.ca Myth
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I sense some similarities between the GD/Austal LCS and HMS Triton (DERA, Qinetiq) which, according to Wikipedia, after being paid off by the RN ended up as a survey ship in Australian service

Lockheed Martin may have been even further behind the curve.



Army.ca Fixture
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No longer woes. Apparently.

Navy Gets New Combat Ship

So, $500 million gets us a Marine extractor. That’s great. Though it does beg the question, “How did the Marines get there in the first place, and just how, exactly, is this ship going to extract them?” (Not to mention how did we ever manage to extract Marines before the LCS came along.) According to Lockheed-Martin, the Freedom is equipped with RIBs (rigid hull inflatable boats) so I assume that’s how the transfer will take place (unless the Marines brought their own transportation, though the literature does not describe the Freedom as being AAV/LCAC capable) which would mean that the Freedom won’t be doing any “hot” extractions (rubber boats aren’t exactly bulletproof and the 378-foot long Freedom is armed with exactly one 57mm cannon for gunfire support, which doesn’t exactly inspire fear.) This in turn begs the question, “If you’re not going to do a hot extraction, what’s the rush? Couldn’t you just helo them out?” I can’t imagine the Freedom sailed all the way from Little Creek to wherever it dropped off the Marines all by itself. One, it doesn’t have the legs for it, two it doesn’t have the crew to support a large number of passengers for an extended period of time and three it lacks any kind of self defense capability. No, the Marines came from a real amphib, and they could just as easily get extracted by that amphib (using those brand new, high speed MV-22 Ospreys, which, by the way, were also developed for just this very purpose.)

The Freedom is described as a fast, maneuverable and networked surface combatant with the operational flexibility to execute focused missions, such as mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare and humanitarian relief. The Freedom’s capabilities will help the U.S. Navy defeat growing littoral, or close-to-shore, threats and provide access and dominance in coastal water battle-space. I’m sorry, but you’re not dominating anything with a single 57mm cannon. The same goes for surface warfare, unless you’re going up against the Somali Pirates and their mighty Dhow Armada. When I think of a surface boat threat, I’m thinking along the lines of the old Soviet built Osa class fast attack boats. The Osa was 120 feet long, had a top speed of 38 knots, and carried four SS-N-2 Styx missiles, each with a range of 80 nautical miles and armed with a 1,000 pound shaped charge warhead. Despite the fact that the Osa is a 1960s era platform, it has more surface warfare capability than the Freedom. The most powerful “weapon” this ship possesses is its helicopters, and even then, the helos have to do all the work since the Freedom doesn’t have an over-the-horizon offensive capability (on a “conventional” ship like a DDG 51 destroyer, the ship could launch Harpoons at targets spotted by the helo. Since the Freedom can’t do this, the helicopters have to fire their own missiles, which limits them to Hellfire ATGMs, or ASW torpedoes.)

As for the Freedom’s counter mine capabilities, there aren’t any counter mine features listed in core capabilities literature, so I can only assume that the counter mine gear is one of the “mission packages” the Freedom can be outfitted with. This having been said, will such a module provide the same capabilities found on our current fleet of minesweepers? The Avenger class MCM ships are dedicated sweepers. They are wooden/fiberglass hulled vessels capable of conducting mechanical sweeping operations as well as sonar and remote vehicle based “hunter-killer” operations. Given that the Freedom is of all metal construction, I doubt it will be doing physical sweeps, which means the majority of it’s mine hunting will be performed by on board UUVs and its MH-60S helicopter. Again, the helo is doing all the work.

The same holds true for the Freedom’s ASW capabilities. For a vessel with a core mission of detection and prosecution of stealthy diesel-electric submarines, the Freedom is a little light on ASW capabilities. I can only assume that the Freedom’s ASW capabilities are yet another of its mission packages which leads me to ask, just how many packages can this ship support at any given time. The Navy says the LCS was specifically designed to dominate the asymmetrical threats (mines, quiet submarines and small boat surges) associated with the littoral battle-space, but if the Freedom can only support one package at a time, its capabilities become pretty one-dimensional. Once again, lacking any real offensive ASW capability (the Freedom is not armed with ASW torpedoes) all the work is performed by its embarked helicopters.

Finally, there is the Freedom’s humanitarian relief capability, something it didn’t have until Myanmar was inundated by a storm surge in may of 2008. While any capability is better than no capability at all, what sort of support will a 3,000 ton, 40 man warship be able to provide a nation of millions, and is this really an efficient use of funds, building a fleet of $500 million limited capability humanitarian relief vessels? In the realm of humanitarian relief, size matters, and the Freedom is completely out of its depth here. Providing humanitarian relief means providing medical care, food, water and shelter to millions of displaced civilians, a need far beyond the capabilities of the Freedom’s 40-man crew.

You want a real LCS? Take a look at the old WWII era Allen M. Sumner or Gearing class destroyers. Strip off some the 40mm mounts and the depth charge projectors, upgrade the ASW torpedoes, install some harpoons, a helo pad, a mine sonar in the front and a dipping sonar in the rear, and you have a true brown water fighter. The Freedom is nothing more than a money pit packed with enough marketing adjectives to make a Harvard MBA soil themselves, but absolutely zero combat potential.