Remarks by Senator John McCain on the Navy’s Troubled Littoral Combat Ship Program (excerpt)
(Source: Senator John McCain; issued Apr 09 2014)
WASHINGTON, D.C. ­-– U.S. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) today delivered the following remarks on the Senate floor regarding the Navy’s troubled Littoral Combat Ship program:

“I rise today to bring attention to the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a troubled major defense acquisition program that, if not properly addressed, will join a long list of failed procurements at the Department of Defense. From the thirteen arduous years that LCS has been in development, we have learned – yet again – an important, costly basic lesson: if we don’t know what we really want when we procure a weapon system, we’re likely not to like what we get … if we get anything. In this case, the Navy’s poor planning continues to frustrate its ability to state a clear role for LCS and has led to dramatic cost increases, years of wasted effort, and a ship that U.S. Pacific Command Commander Admiral Samuel Locklear recently conceded only ‘partially’ satisfies his operational requirements.

“The list of how the LCS program has failed is ironic and, given the amount of taxpayers’ investment to date, shameful. In LCS, we have (1) a supposed warship that apparently can’t survive a hostile combat environment; (2) a program chosen for affordability that doubled in cost since inception and is subject to the risk of further cost growth as testing continues; (3) a ‘revolutionary’ design that somehow has managed to be inferior to what came before it on important performance measures; and (4) a system designed for flexibility that cannot successfully demonstrate its most important warfighting functions.

Poor Planning Led to Confusion and Cost Increases

“Like so many major programs that preceded it, LCS’s failure followed predictably from a chronic lack of careful planning from its very outset in three key areas: undefined requirements, unrealistic initial cost estimates, and unreliable assessments of technological- and integration-risk.

“In 2002, the Navy submitted its first request to Congress to authorize funding for the LCS program. Yet, even then, the program’s lack of defined requirements drew criticism from the Armed Services Committee conferees. The conferees noted that ‘LCS has not been vetted through the [Pentagon’s top requirements-setting body, called the] Joint Requirements Oversight Council’ and that ‘the Navy’s strategy for the LCS does not clearly identify the plan and funding for development and evaluation of the mission packages upon which the operational capabilities of LCS will depend.’ Despite the conferees’ concerns, Congress approved funding for the LCS program and authorized hundreds of millions of dollars for a program without well-defined, ‘frozen’ requirements. The Navy, therefore, charged ahead with production without a stable design or realistic cost estimates. That resulted in frequent, costly changes to the ships even as they were being built.

“Originally, the Navy wanted a small, fast, affordable ship to augment larger ships in the fleet. With several interchangeable plug-and-play ‘mission modules’ that would be used with aluminum- and, separately, steel-hull seaframes, LCS was to serve multiple roles, operating in coastal or open waters as part of a larger battle force. The Navy could have easily procured a small warship similar to those already serving in naval fleets around the world. The capabilities of such ships were well-known at the time and would have required much less development. The Navy could also have upgraded older ships with a proven track record. Without any formal analysis of those reasonable alternatives, the Navy opted instead to develop a high-risk ‘revolutionary’ ship that bore little resemblance to anything else in the fleet.

“Despite the foreseeable costs of building LCS seaframes while development was still ongoing, LCS’s original cost estimates were overly optimistic. Navy officials have since characterized those estimates as ‘more of a hopeful forcing function than a realistic appraisal of likely costs.’ While hope for low costs may spring eternal, reality is a far more helpful basis for generating cost estimates. In this case, a realistic estimate would have allowed legislators – and top defense acquisition managers alike – to make much more informed decisions on procuring LCS.

“But, because of poor planning early in the program, LCS suffered through years of waste while demonstrating little in the way of desired combat capability. Hundreds of millions of dollars continued to pour into LCS each year even though the program continually failed to deliver useful capability or conclusively flesh-out the ship’s unstable design. Finally, in 2007, Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter identified the need to slow-down production so that a clear LCS design could be established and fixed-price agreements could be pursued before more taxpayer dollars were wasted. I strongly supported Secretary Winter’s actions, and I still believe that he effectively highlighted the extent to which LCS was slipping out of control.

“It was not until 2010, however, that the Navy ultimately began to implement guidelines to bring skyrocketing LCS costs under control. With congressional approval, the Navy overhauled and restructured the LCS program and, since then, the cost of building LCS’s seaframes has finally stabilized. But, even though the Navy has stabilized those costs, the large investments sunk into the program to date have still not yielded commensurate combat capability.

“Since the early stages of LCS procurement, I have attempted to shine a light on the lack of planning that has plagued the program. Last year, I authored legislation to reduce LCS production and require validation by DOD and the Navy that the program’s seaframes and mission packages are on schedule and would meet the capability requirements of combatant commanders prior to additional funding. Congress spoke resolutely on the issue, approving my proposed legislation and sending a clear message that LCS would need to justify its existence with meaningful progress toward becoming operational.

Continued Lack of Capability in the Program Suggests Need to Slow Procurement

“Despite that the cost to complete the construction of the seaframes has stabilized over the past few years, LCS continues to face another potentially crippling consequence of poor planning – a serious lack in capability. Just last month, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel identified this problem while announcing that the President’s budget request for fiscal year 2015 would reduce LCS production by forty percent, from 52 ships to 32 ships. Secretary Hagel said, ‘The LCS was designed to perform certain missions – such as mine-sweeping and anti-submarine warfare – in a relatively permissive environment. But we need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and firepower to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific.’ (end of excerpt)

Click here for the full speech, on Sen McCain’s website.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: The parallels between the Joint Strike Fighter and the Littoral Combat Ship programs, two of the biggest procurement failures in recent US history, are absolutely striking.
Both have Lockheed Martin as prime contractor (albeit only partly for the LCS), both started going off the rails during the first half of last decade, while Pentagon leadership was focused on waging wars in SW Asia, and both were re-baselined in 2010.
Today’s description of the LCS above can be used interchangeably to describe the JSF program, to a degree that is positively unearthly.)


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