WASHINGTON - The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program was under a microscope this week after news of an electrical problem resulted in a brief loss of power for USS Freedom (LCS 1) over the weekend and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a critical, 72-page report today scrutinizing the cost of the program.
However, top Navy leadership including the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Jonathan Greenert view the performance problems as common for any first-in-class platform--especially in an innovative platform such as the LCS with its interchangeable modular payload design enabling the ship to conform to its battle space.
Greenert spoke about the GAO report that was leaked days in advance during a Pentagon press brief held July 19 to discuss the status of the Navy with the Pentagon Press Corps. In his comments Greenert compared the LCS with debuts of previous first- in-class ships and said there was initial skepticism with those platforms too.
"My view is, what we are finding is not that significantly different from the Perry class of the ʻ60s and ʻ70s, the Spruance class of the ʻ70s, nor even the Arleigh Burke class when it comes to the size and the impact on it," Greenert said defending the initial hiccups of the LCS.
Not one for excuses and understanding of our nation's budget constraints Greenert added, "But we need to be vigilant, we need to follow up, and we have work to do."
For CNO, that work continued yesterday, July 24 less than a week after the Pentagon press brief as he toured the Marinette Marine Corporation shipyard July 24 to observe the progress of several Freedom-class variants of the LCS currently under construction.
During his tour, Greenert walked through several of the $74 million improved Marinette Marine shipbuilding facilities to see firsthand future LCSs: (LCS 5) Milwaukee, (LCS 7) Detroit, (LCS 9) Little Rock, and (LCS 11) Sioux City not only being built, but being built better with integrated feedback from industry and Sailors in the fleet.
President and CEO of Marinette Marine Chuck Goddard said efficiencies in the building process resulting from upgrades to the shipyard will drive down costs per unit of the LCS over time while the fleetʼs feedback is resulting in a more superior product for our Sailors charged with protecting the worldʼs sea lanes.
"Iʼm very impressed," Greenert told a group of Marinette reporters following his tour of the shipyard.
Greenert was equally impressed by the communication between the LCS industry and Sailors in the fleet whoʼs valuable feedback is enabling Marinette Marine to change designs and manufacturing processes as necessary to fix issues with current LCS models and prevent them from being integrated into future LCSs.
"We have a team effort," Greenert said about the Sailors who operate the ships and the shipbuilders in Marinette Marine. "Their feedback and connection with what Freedom is undergoing, with what Fort Worth is undergoing back into the design is impressive and it turns quickly into the shipyard."
Greenert reiterated to the Marinette reporters that historically, it's not uncommon to have to modify a first-in-class ship's design once it becomes operational despite best efforts to fix and find all of the bugs during the testing period.
"It really isn't about the quality of the workmanship, I think the question is what decisions the Navy has made to build this type of ship, the decisions we collectively made as to how we were going to build them in sequence, design and changes, that's not unusual," Greenert said. "We need to take them deliberately and seriously and we are in as much of a partnership as we can with the General Accounting Office."
Ultimately, the Navy is committed to the LCS Greenert said.
"This class of ship is so important to us, for its modularity, its speed, its volume," Greenert said.
"I came here to see how are the changes coming around, what is the relationship more long term," Greenert said to reporters at the conclusion of his confidence visit and tour of Marinette Marine. "We're only in the starting pieces of this long program."