WASHINGTON: In an otherwise pro-forma meeting to approve legislative language for the 2013 national defense authorization, the Seapower panel of the House Armed Services Committee paused to add just one amendment to the otherwise unmodified bill: a provision by California Republican Rep. Duncan Hunter demanding that the Navy ‘fess up to Congress on problems with its Littoral Combat Ship.
“This simply makes the navy come to us and explain all the problems [and] all the good things about the LCS we need to know to conduct proper oversight,” Rep. Hunter told the committee. “The Navy needs to be more forthcoming with us.”
Hunter apologized for adding the amendment at the last moment but said that new information had demanded action. In a conversation with this reporter after the 15-minute hearing, Hunter confirmed that information came in the recent LCS report by the independent Project On Government Oversight, POGO. While the Navy dismisses as old news the POGO report’s details of hull cracks in the Lockheed Martin variant of the LCS, Hunter was struck by the report’s mention that the Navy had not shown key data to the Pentagon’s own independent Director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
“I didn’t realize the Navy had been so restrictive in its reporting even with DoD,” Rep. Hunter told Breaking Defense. “We just want to know what’s going on.”
Hunter’s amendment passed by voice vote without objection, after a statement of support from Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson, who lamented the Navy’s failure to respond to his own inquiries about the program. Echoing another argument made in the POGO report, Johnson is skeptical of the Navy’s plan to buy two very different variants of the LCS: one designed by General Dynamics, the other by Lockheed Martin, which is the one whose troubles are detailed in the POGO report. Johnson had asked the Navy Department to estimate the savings from selecting a single design. Though he was promised answers in February, Rep. Johnson told the rest of the subcommittee, “I have not received any such analysis.”
None of this is good news for the Navy, which has bet heavily on the Littoral Combat Ship and plans to buy more of it than any other class of vessel. Besides the POGO report, there’s been controversy over whether the relatively lightweight LCS was a “real warship” able to survive a shooting-war, with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Under Secretary Robert Work racing to clarify a public statement on the ship’s survivability problems by Chief of Naval Operations Jonathan Greenert. Nor is it good timing for Lockheed Martin, whose variant is the target of POGO’s criticism and whose CEO, Bob Stevens, just stepped down amidst a strike at the company’s Fort Worth fighter factory.