The WasteWatcher: The Staff Blog of Citizens Against Government Waste

The “Little Crappy Ship’s” Decade of Failure

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.


When the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) launched on April 26, 2008, it was intended to modernize the Navy and become “the backbone of the future fleet.”  After more than a decade, this dream has not come to fruition.  In fact, the LCS seems unlikely to be deployed for a second consecutive year.  The status of the program is so dire that the Navy recently began developing a replacement for the LCS.  Despite this fact, members of Congress continue to fund this inefficient and wasteful program.

A June 6, 2018 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report outlined the failures of the LCS since its conception, and recommended changes the Navy should take.  As is so often the case with failed military acquisitions, problems stemmed from the Navy beginning to build the LCS before either the design or technology development processes were finished.  As the design and technology changed over time, the construction of the LCS had to be continually revised.  These revisions caused cost overruns greater than 20 percent and unscheduled delays between six and 18 months.  Beyond the immediate costs, these errors contributed to further problems with the LCS, such as corrosion, engine failure, and cracks in the ship.  Overall, the cost per ship has more than doubled from a projected $220 million to $478 million, and the Navy has decreased its order from 55 to 28 ships.

In certain instances, even after ships were delivered to the Navy, the LCS was not deployable.  For example, the radar system on one ship did not function properly.  The LCS also failed a number of performance tests, including speed, range, and surface warfare capabilities.  Any one of these shortcomings could have devastating consequences in combat and show a disturbing pattern.

The structure of the Navy’s compensation system helps explain the failures of the LCS program. Typically, a Navy contractor is reimbursed up to 150 percent of projected costs for overruns and is only contractually obligated “to use its best efforts.”  GAO estimates that the Navy pays for 96 percent of contractor errors on all naval projects itself.  In the case of the LCS, the navy ultimately paid 150 percent of projected cost and in return, received two incomplete ships in 2010.  The  Navy’s LCS contracts included no clear method of holding contractors accountable.  Even worse, the Navy fails to learn from its mistakes, and often hires the same contractors that made the original errors to repair their own mistakes.

For more than a decade, the LCS has been the Navy’s “unfortunate and classic example of defense acquisition gone awry,” according to Senate Armed Services Chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.).  The LCS program has not produced results and the Navy has been left with a useless ship.  To address these issues, GAO recommends that the Navy should improve its acquisition process and adopt a more disciplined overall approach.  As the Navy builds a replacement for the LCS, it should remember its past mistakes, in order to avoid repeating them.

-- Caleb Ashley

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