The two Littoral Combat Ship variants, LCS-1 Freedom and LCS-2 Independence.

The two Littoral Combat Ship variants, LCS-1 Freedom and LCS-2 Independence.

CAPITOL HILL: The Navy is 90 percent sure its current estimated cost to operate and maintain the controversial Littoral Combat Ship is off target, according to a draft Government Accountability Office report obtained by BreakingDefense.

According to the anonymous authors – whose diagnosis, we should emphasize, is not yet the official and fully vetted conclusion of the GAO, which won’t publish the final report until September – the Navy may go into a critical decision in 2015 about whether to contract for up to 28 more Littoral Combat Ships without enough understanding of the long-term costs, the evolving concepts to sustain the vessels, or even whether they have enough bandwidth to exchange maintenance data with support facilities ashore. As a result of this uncertainty, the GAO draft says the Navy’s own analysts have “only about 10 percent confidence” in the current estimate that it will cost $50.4 billion to “operate and support” a total of 55 LCSs over their 25-year service lives. While such long-term “life cycle costs” are notoriously hard to estimate accurately decades out, a normal program would have at least 50 percent confidence in its figures at this stage.


That’s a big question mark over a big part of the future fleet. While not as well-armed or well-protected as the Navy’s workhorse Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers, the smaller, faster, and less costly Littoral Combat Ships play a crucial role in the Navy’s plans, replacing a host of aging frigates, minesweepers, and other smaller craft. Those vessels are what Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ) referred to dismissively as “support ships” in a hearing he chaired this morning of the House Appropriations Committee’s panel on defense.  The Navy is buying too many such low-end ships, he argued. “Support is one thing,” Frelinghuysen said, but with the Chinese military getting larger and more aggressive, he argued, the US needs “ships that are prepared for combat.”


Actually, replied the Chief of Naval Operations, Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy has 84 of the 88 cruisers and destroyers it thinks it needs: “Where we’re short is in small surface combatants and some of our supporting ships” – precisely the categories LCS is intended to shore up.


The problem is that the Littoral Combat Ship is so different from anything else in service that the Navy is still working out both combat tactics and day-to-day maintenance. The first of the class, LCS-1 Freedom, just arrived on its maiden overseas deployment to Singapore with seawater leaking into its lubricant fluid, the latest of a host of problems. Given the ship’s small size and crew, it relies heavily on shore facilities to perform repairs that larger ships would handle themselves at sea.


That’s the maintenance concept the draft GAO report says the Navy has not adequately worked out. In fact, the Navy has not updated its $50.4 billion estimate for LCS operations and support costs since 2011, and since then some key variables have changed. The planned fleet went down from 55 ships to 52, which would inevitably reduce the cost. Meanwhile the “core crew” per ship went up from 40 to 50, which would probably increase costs. (Each LCS would also embark additional sailors to operate mission-specific “modules” for minesweeping, sub-hunting, or fighting small boats). We say “probably” because the extra sailors might pay for themselves by preventing maintenance problems a smaller crew couldn’t cope with.


Meanwhile the Navy is still thrashing out exactly how it will “support and sustain” the the LCS. The Freedom’s deployment to Singapore is supposed to road-test those concepts, but there are two very different LCS variants, and the other type, the catamaran-like LCS-2 Independence, is still fixing “deficiencies” identified by Navy inspectors and is not currently scheduled for a test deployment of its own.


This blow from GAO comes on top of the leak of an internal Navy study that warned the LCS was not under under-manned but under-armed and under-protected, as reported this morning by our Bloomberg news colleague Tony Capaccio. (We don’t know if the near-simultaneous leaks are coincidence or a coordinated assault by LCS’s critics). That news dominated this morning’s hearing by the House appropriators.


LCS “is being built to the fleet’s lowest level of survivability and [is] not expected to maintain mission capability after a significant hit,” fumed Virginia Democrat Jim Moran. “LCS is ill fitted for combat against anything but small fast-attack boats” and can’t fend off anti-ship missiles of the kind carried by some 67 Iranian warships, he went on, citing the Bloomberg report. “Construction costs have doubled,” he said, from the original $220 million estimate to $440 million apiece.


“The LCS is one of our best programs,” replied Navy Sec. Ray Mabus, “although it did not start out that way.” The costs of the first two ships, Freedom and Independence, did double, but in large part because the Navy decided in the middle of construction to strengthen the hull and mechanical systems to better resist battle damage.


“If the ship takes a hit, it is able to survive, and it returns to base, it doesn’t stay and fight,” added Adm. Greenert. “It has met the standards of that level” of damage resistance. If the Navy should have set a higher standard, he went on, that’s a different debate.


(The original plan was to build LCS to commercial standards for damage-control, which basically means the ship takes long enough to sink that the crew can get off before they drown. Instead, the LCSs are actually being built to what the Navy calls “level one,” enough to take a hit and make it back to port for repairs. Destroyers and other large warships are “level three,” which means they’re supposed to take a hit and keep on fighting back).


“All our ships, even the very best,” are vulnerable to being swamped by an enemy who fires off enough missiles, Greenert continued. That’s why the Navy does not plan to send LCS, or any vessel, into battle on its own. New anti-ship weapons like the Chinese DF-21D ballistic missile, nicknamed the “carrier killer,”  but stopping them requires more than a single ship the admiral said.


Electronic warfare aircraft can protect an entire flotilla by jamming the enemy’s targeting systems, for example. Aegis cruisers and destroyers can protect both themselves and other vessels by shooting down incoming missiles. The individual ships can alter their electromagnetic emissions to confuse the missile’s sensors.


“You can jam it, you can spoof it, and as it gets closer you can put a wall of lead up,” Greenert said, referring to the rapid-fire anti-missile guns on the Navy’s Phalanx Close-In Weapons System. (LCS does not actually carry CWIS but it has a similar last-line-of-defense weapon called the Rolling Airframe Missile, RAM). Only when all those systems fail does the ship’s ability to take a hit come into play.


Of course, all this is moot if the fleet can’t afford to build or operate the LCS in the numbers planned. The Navy declined to comment on the draft GAO report, which is still going through a review process that will include Defense Department input: As a matter of policy, the military never discusses GAO documents publicly at this stage. “The Navy fully supports the work of the GAO, which is to provide information to Congress to conduct its oversight of defense programs,” said spokeswoman Capt. Cate Mueller. “We will continue to participate with the audit in question to ensure the Navy information is accurately represented and will provide appropriate comment through the report process.”


We’ll have to see how this latest news on LCS goes over with an already skeptical Capitol Hill. At this point, the program’s immediate challenge isn’t surviving Chinese or Iranian missiles: It’s surviving Congress.


Updated 9:50 am 5/8 to correct number of cruisers and destroyers in fleet.


  • Peter

    >>LCS does not actually carry CWIS but it has a similar last-line-of-defense weapon called the Rolling Airframe Missile, RAM

    Actually the LCS-2 “Independence” has the CIWS “Phalanx” 20mm. LCS-1 has the RAM missile system…the photos in the article actually show this. Sure, the Navy could add both systems if it wanted to (and wanted to pay for it). Spruance-class destroyers have RAM on the fantails and CIWS on the superstructure. LCS could have RAM or CIWS on the fantails also.

    My opinion is that the US Navy should outfit their LCS to their intended missions by making SPECIFIC role ships and by that I mean overhaul the rear landing deck to make custom ships for anti-mine, anti-sub, and so forth because as the photo shows, 2/3rds of the ship is a landing deck.

    I don’t quite buy the “module concept” because the US Navy doesn’t have any anti-mine, anti-air, or anti-sub modules yet and their anti-surface module is two 30mm cannons with no missiles? That’s still a gunboat. The LCS and F-35 programs are supposed to be similar with one design supposedly fulfilling all these roles and requirements. But with a ship under construction, one could literally build new designs and parameters into the hull to fit specific duties. Sure, a LCS with anti-mine booms in the rear would cost more than a standard LCS with landing deck, but if that’s what is needed to do anti-mine duty properly, then modify the rear of a LCS ship to do it.

    As many critics have said, the LCS has the firepower of a Coast Guard Cutter…if that is what the US Navy wants. But the US Navy isn’t the weaker underarmed and underarmored Coast Guard on defense. The US Navy is often an offensive force.

    • Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

      > Actually the LCS-2 “Independence” has the CIWS “Phalanx” 20mm. LCS-1 has the RAM missile system…the photos in the article actually show this.

      Hmm. That bump on the side of INDEPENDENCE really does look like a Phalanx — but I know the RAM has some of the same components. And I’ve read various places that INDEPENDENCE has RAM, not just FREEDOM. Can you provide a reference? If I’m wrong, I’d love to get it right. Thanks.

      • Peter

        You are correct…it’s RAM with a Phalanx radar and not 20mm Vulcan Gatling Gun. Sorry, my mistake. So both LCSs have RAM. See RAM here.

        You asked me a question about a comment regarding the Army’s GCV and I replied but didn’t receive an answer from you. Could you email me direct?

      • Lop_Eared_Galoot

        The Mk.15 mounted SeaRAM is different from the Mk.49 GMLS that the USN presently uses for the RIM-116 RAM in that it can self designate targets for the mount whereas other the Mk.49 cannot and needs to have an external target reference to lay the mount on.

        This is good and bad news. Because the threats are improving and we need an ability to engage evasive terminal mode AShM and the Blk.2 RIM-116 gives this even as it also has an expanded ‘HAS’ or Helo/Aircraft/Ship secondary engagement (all IR) capability which needs to be designateable ‘through the seeker as mount’ to guarantee targeting in a collaterals as clutter dense environment.

        But it is also bad news because the Phalanx radar/optronics are pathetic in the grand scheme of things and the need to keep mount weight under control has further taken down the total onboard shot count from 21 on the original, pepper box, launcher to only 11 on the Mk.15 SeaRAM upgrade.

        SeaRAM can thus be seen as the cheapest possible way to get a standalone air defense mount onto the ship without having to pay for sophisticated integration with the LCS’ Sea Giraffe and SeaFLIR which are basically just search apertures anyway.

        The LCS is thus shy a midzone defensive package in the SM-2 or more likely RIM-162 ESSM category. Since the OHP which it replaces had just such a capability and the Mk.48/.56 VLS can take four Evolved Sea Sparrows per cell (meaning a single row of 5 cells on each side of the outer module bay ways would equate to 40 shots) while the modern SPY-2/3 can also incorporate ESSM into the overall AEGIS defense via datalink and offboard illumination (giving the LCS a reason to be part of said battlegroup); there is _no_ valid ‘radar integration, platform mission, cost or weight’ excuse not to give this hull some real defensive capability in the middle zone.

        Because that is what gives you the mulitiple engagement option (ESSM is also SSM rated now) against both speed boats and air threats as a layered and gracefully degrading WEZ envelope overlap with the SeaRAM and gun mounts.

        ESSM is expensive at 800 grande per shot. But given it took only a single, 1,500 dollar, M-08 mine to do _89 million dollars_ in damage to the Samuel B. Roberts in 1988.

        And further given that boghammars like this-

        May actually challenge the 30mm mount engagement ranges with their RCL or ATGW stern packages.

        It is high time and past time to get a longrange guided engagement capability onboard this class which is equal to or surpasses what the OHP had to contribute to it’s own as the battlegroup defensive


        ESSM can do SUW to the horizon. ESSM can do AAW to 20nm realistic, including supersonic, ‘in the spray’, AShM threats. ESSM is better than RAM of any flavor which is <3nm limited under realistic operating conditions.

        That's about time for ONE, two-shot, shoot-shoot-look salvo engagement on a single inbound, high speed, threat. After which the wardet will be close-aboard and thus do some damage, regardless.

    • Shipbuilder

      “with a ship under construction, one could literally build new designs and parameters into the hull to fit specific duties” ? Possible in theory, but not in reality. Many factors are considered when “re-designing in line”, not least of which is the weight and moment changes caused by incorporating engineering changes. Change one part of the ship and it can affect the entire ships structural integrity and balance. So to incorporate a design change as significant as you infer would add significant costs, increased build time, and significant re-direction of efforts, keeping it “cookie cutter” helps reduce costs during the build time and builds a positive learning curve for the craftsman. By building each differently to accomplish unique tasks, the craftsmen would end up with a virtually flat learning curve.

  • PolicyWonk

    “If the ship takes a hit, it is able to survive, and it returns to base, it doesn’t stay and fight,” added Adm. Greenert. “It has met the standards of that level” of damage resistance. If the Navy should have set a higher standard, he went on, that’s a different debate.
    “If” the navy should have set a higher standard? That is most certainly NOT a different debate. That is the RIGHT thing that didn’t happen at the RIGHT time. That, is simply what is called “negligence”. The term “LCS”, last I heard, the C is supposed to stand for “Combat”. That implies it is a ship intended to go into harms way. These ships, as currently built, are not designed or constructed to go into harms way. Not in a real fight.

    Bottom line: the LCS isn’t even built to withstand the shock that a mere fleet oiler is designed to take. Now the internal navy report (unreleased as of yet) concludes the *same* things that the critics have been complaining about for years?

    Example: the Skjold-class patrol boats carry a 76mm cannon plus 8 anti-ship missiles, while the LCS only has a 55mm gun, and zero (0) anti-ship missiles. There are many smaller navy vessels out there that are far more heavily armed – even if the LCS has its “surface warfare” package. A Skjold-class boat would mop the floor with the LCS.

    The LCS does got fast, and it will have to – because it isn’t built to fight anything other than a lightly armed speedboat.

    • Peter

      Says about the same thing…only officially.

      Many critics have complained about the LCS. Amazing why the U.S. Navy hasn’t revised the design. I mean there’s the heavier armed and slower “International LCS” version that may work better.

    • Lop_Eared_Galoot


      That implies it is a ship intended to go into harms way. These ships,
      as currently built, are not designed or constructed to go into harms
      way. Not in a real fight.

      Interesting view. May I suggest a trip to Wiki?

      Note that in all of these cases, either a mobility (too much shipped water) or a mission (no functional electronics/too much list to employ weapons) kill took the hull right ‘out of the fight!’. Not least because those tankers which they were guarding couldn’t stick around for a cripple.

      In the case of the Roberts, you have a 1,500 dollar mine which did 89 million dollars in ‘new engine room please!’ damage. The similar incident of the U.S.S. Cole bringing a whopping 250 million dollars in damage compared to the 1.4 billion of acquisition.

      Roughly ten percent of the purchase price of the hulls is what makes me doubt, severely, the efficacy of ‘replaces all specialist classes in their mission sets’ advocates because an Avenger is not only non-metallic it is also only 274 million dollars.

      You see, the bigger PCIs and coastal tramps which shoot RPG, Recoilless and light guided weapons from beyond your Mk.44’s effective ability to track and shoot back _also_ drop mines.

      In fact, just like the E-Boats of WWII fame, I would say that they do more damage with these ‘no lane is swept longer than it takes them to go home and bring out more’ systems than they do with direct engagement because they suffer no attrition and have the advantage of covert emplacement while the awareness that there might be a mine threat messes up your operational initiative as confidence in everything else you do (psychological kill).

      Which means that there is even less RORO justification for a 96hr switchout in MCM vs. SUW configured ‘modules as missions’ because even if you have the ‘when in doubt, load it out’ correct kit onboard, you could easily be caught out with an ROV on the wire or a helo coming in at the very moment you least wanted to be compromised as boghammars came out of the shadow of neutral shipping or an oil platform.

      This guy has the advantage of being a mine looker, full time. But an LCS doesn’t want to defend ships from Boghammar or FAC swarm attack from in amongst the herd as it were.

      If you’re out of the cleared lane, you are just as much a potential victim as anyone. More so if you are darting about at 40 knots and can’t see a damn thing.

      Is this the point where you want to be risking a 660 million dollar metal hull on mixed missions?

      Finally, in reference to this-

      The LCS does got fast, and it will have to – because it isn’t built to fight anything other than a lightly armed speedboat.


      I would suggest watching this video-

      From time indexes 36:00 and 1:15 onwards through the gun tests. Watch the cowboy captain do his best cigarette boat immitation as he ‘crosses the T’ on the enemy. And THINK about what you are seeing.

      First off, he has to turn broadside to unmask two of his three guns but should he? He is 377 feet long and so long as he keeps bow on, he maximizes the firing arc of his longest ranging weapons mount. OTOH, if he goes broadside and the enemy now has to turn into pursuit angle to make the hypotenuse on the intercept cutoff and _they can’t_ because they are topped out at 39 knots and he is just getting going with a hull much better able to sustain high speed in running seas. So what do the testers do? They shut down the test. Here’s what SHOULD have happened. The speed boats, being run by savvy Pasdaran veterans, turn 90` off and run a **counter course** that takes LCS-1’s 5,000m, 57mm, mount out of the action almost at once and quickly puts his 3,000m, 30mm mounts into long TOF lead calculations of their own. Now, it is Thien who cannot make the angles work and if he is to stay in the fight, he has to turn 180` to bring them into pursuit. Which will mask two of his three guns. At which point, (120 seconds later) he has lost the fight because the PCIs are like wolves among the convoy he is protecting. What’s worse is that, as he again focuses on their threat, ANOTHER group of bohammars can come up on either stern quarter and now he has a three way fight going which he cannot surround sound win because which ever way he turns, he is masking a turret and giving the enemy a free shot at closure.

      While they can ALL fire from standoff using RCLs or ATGW like these-

      And these threats in fact -can- make such an attack because they are now inside the 2,500m limit for their ranges and being small craft can stop on a proverbial dime, stabilize for the shot and then speed away again once it is made.

      This is why the 30mm/57mm gun systems are all wrong. Because as the second portion of the gunnery sequence demonstrates, when Thien chases the boghammars, his exec tells us “One minute they were on one side the next on the other…” This isn’t an endorsement of the LCS-1’s agility, it is an endorsement of the Boghammars. While Thien has the faster, more stable, ocean going hull, he doesn’t have dominant agility as the means to change energy states and pointing angles, rapidly.

      Which is why arguing that high speed is for engaging speed boats is really, really, wrong.

      Because you DO NOT want to accept the merge with these kinds of threats and you DO NOT want to get into turning fights with multiple opponents behind your beam. Rather, you want to control closure and keep them stood off at range, using systems like an SSM moded SAM, a 5″ mount or Hellfire off an HH-60 (MQ-8 is sequestered/cancelled, again…) to constantly force them to change bearings and deny them approach angles.

      If you want to see how you properly fight a small boat threat you need look no further than the way the CG-49 Vincennes was handled during the runup to the Iran Air shoot down. Pushing targets like a broom ahead of each slow speed (18-25 knots) lunge and using the helo like horns to cover the exposed flank as the ship engaged each group in turn. The question then becomes: if you can do it with a 10,000 ton cruiser, why do need to do it at half the engagement range with a 3,000 ton corvette at 40+ knots?

    • Dennis HIll

      To oversimplify: They have thrown away the lessons of late WW-II and the Kamikaze. Mercantile standard war built frigates and warship built Destroyer Escorts were replaced with the larger and more capable warship built “postwar Frigates.”