The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Further Scrutiny for the "Little Crappy Ship"

The WasteWatcher is the staff blog of Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) and the Council for Citizens Against Government Waste (CCAGW). For questions, contact blog@cagw.org.


A senior naval commander believes the troubled Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), or “Little Crappy Ship” as it has been referred to inside the Navy, does not have enough firepower.  Other analysts believe the ship is not survivable. 

On March 28, 2013, Bloomberg News reported that in a classified memo, Commander of Naval Surface Forces Vice Admiral Tom Copeman called on the Navy to consider a vessel with more offensive capability following the completion of the first 24 LCS ships. 

In a January 2013 report, Department of Defense (DOD) Operational Test and Evaluation Director Michael Gilmore noted similar problems with the LCS and also described deficiencies in the ship’s defensive capabilities.  According to Bloomberg, Director Gilmore criticized the ship’s guns and stated that its helicopter was incapable of towing mine-hunting equipment.  Further, Director Gilmore asserted that the ship “is not expected to be survivable in that it is not expected to maintain mission capability after taking a significant hit in a hostile combat environment.”

These critiques come at an especially inopportune time, as the LCS is set to perform an increased role in the Obama administration’s strategic “pivot” to Asia and the Pacific.

The LCS comes at a relatively cheap price – $440 million per ship as opposed to more than $1 billion for the larger Arleigh Burke class destroyers.  The full LCS program is slated to cost $37 billion and will produce 52 ships.  So far, four have been built, and the Navy will purchase an additional 20 by the end of 2015. 

However, the relatively cheap cost of the LCS was achieved in part by building the ships to commercial rather than military standards.  This means they are less likely to survive an encounter with a potential adversary.  In fact, the Navy does not intend to perform the traditional blast testing on the LCS over concerns that such an activity would damage the ship.

Designed to operate closer to shore than destroyers and be used for a variety of missions including clearing mines and hunting subs, the LCS was never meant to rely on traditional firepower.  It was supposed to carry various unmanned vehicles that would provide the ship’s offensive capability.  Unfortunately, the various robotic systems have never materialized.  As a result, the ship does not pack the intended offensive punch and thus has ended up with a limited, undefined role.

Even the LCS’ basic function is still up for debate, as the Navy has yet to determine exactly how it should best employ the LCS.  While it seems to be a poor fit in a combat role, its speed, versatility, and the number of ships to be produced might make the LCS fleet useful for patrolling close to shore in an effort to curb the activities of pirates and smugglers, missions that the U.S. Navy has been performing with increased regularity in recent years.  However, problems with fuel efficiency continue to plague the ship, and could limit its usefulness in this role.  Many analysts see the LCS as flexible to a fault; the ship does not have an area of specialization, and most of the ways in which the U.S. could utilize it are still based on conjecture

The LCS program has suffered from multiple problems in the past, including corrosion due to a design flaw, and a crack in the ship’s hull.  In August 2010, the Government Accountability Office found that the Navy “risks investing in a fleet of ships that does not deliver promised capability.”  In addition, the per-unit acquisition cost of the LCS has doubled since 2005. 

This increase is partly explained by the Navy’s pursuit of two versions of the ship.  In 2010, the DOD received two bids for the LCS, one featuring a conventional steel hull (the LCS Freedom class), and another incorporating an aluminum trimaran design (the LCS Independence class).  Since both estimates came in below the projected DOD cost, it decided to build both, thinking this would hasten the production of the ships.  Predictably, according to Rear Admiral James Murdoch, the decision will also add approximately $400 million in lifetime operating and maintenance costs. 

With a poorly defined mission and a litany of problems, the LCS’ future remains ambiguous.  The fact that a senior naval commander has called for a premature end to the program so early in the acquisition process does not instill much confidence that taxpayers will see a positive return on their investment.  According to an April 5, 2013 Congressional Research Service report, proposals exist to “down select” the LCS program to one ship design (as was originally intended), or to truncate the program to a reduced number following the purchase of the 24th ship in 2015.  Given the LCS’ many technical problems and the ship’s uncertain role, these seem like logical steps.  In the interim, members of Congress and the administration must decide if the Little Crappy Ship deserves further investment.

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