The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

Obscuring the Cost Growth of 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.


The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), referred to as the “Little Crappy Ship” by some inside the Navy, has been a disaster since its inception.  The difficulties experienced by the program range from a vaguely defined mission, a lack of firepower and survivability, and design flaws leading to cracks in the hull and corrosion.  The number of ships has been cut in half, from 55 to 28, while the cost per ship has increased by 117.3 percent, from $220 million to $478 million.

The Department of Defense (DOD) is apparently fed up with the bad press.  According to a March 2017 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, the DOD Office of Prepublication and Security Review, which is charged with reviewing information to be released to the public, blocked critical information regarding cost growth in the LCS program.

The GAO was forced to delete the cost overrun of two ships purchased in 2014, the USS Milwaukee built by Lockheed Martin, and the USS Jackson built by Austal, after this information was redacted by the DOD office.  The report stated that the Pentagon deemed the cost growth of the ships “to be sensitive but unclassified information, which is excluded from this public report.  However, the percent difference for each ship was above target cost.”

While two defense secretaries under President Barack Obama were critical of the LCS program, President Trump and Defense Secretary James Mattis have yet to weigh in publicly.  However, some have suggested the LCS might play a role in the new administration’s stated goal of increasing the Naval fleet from 272 ships to 350, given the platform’s relative affordability compared to other options.  A December 1, 2016 Fiscal Times article noted that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a vocal supporter of the program as a senator from Alabama, the state where a portion of the ships are manufactured.

The revival and expansion of the LCS program would be a mistake.  The program has been a continual disappointment in both performance and cost from the beginning.  A 2014 Naval evaluation of potential alternatives to the LCS rejected other ship designs, opting instead to modify the LCS slightly and re-designate the ship as a frigate, but the same problems still exist. 

A December 1, 2016 GAO report recommended against the planned acquisition of the final two LCS ships of the old model in fiscal year (FY) 2017, citing the program’s obsolete design.  The report also criticized the Navy’s request for 12 frigates in FY 2018, questioning “whether a ship that costs twice as much yet delivers less capability than planned warrants an additional investment of nearly $14 billion.”

The course of action regarding the LCS seems clear:  the Navy should cut its losses immediately.  Members of Congress should forgo any further investment in the old LCS models, and close the door on the block buy of the 12 frigates.  Perhaps those involved might even allow taxpayers to learn how much they ultimately spent on each of the Little Crappy Ships.

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