Troubled Littoral Combat Ship Hits another Snag

Multiple news outlets reported early this week that the Navy’s newest Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the USS Milwaukee, broke down at sea and had to be towed 40 miles to a Virginia port for repairs, only a month after being commissioned. This comes as no surprise to those who follow wasteful Pentagon spending, but at $360 million a ship, the news is extremely disappointing to taxpayers who keep footing the bill for this problematic program.

Here are just some of the challenges plaguing the LCS:

In July 2014, the Government Accountability Officer (GAO) issued two reports highlighting major concerns with the LCS. The first report, about lessons learned during the first overseas deployment of the LCS, found problems with crew workload and logistics, major mechanical problems (the “USS Freedom spent more time in port than at sea due to mechanical problems”), and high annual costs per ship more in line with much larger frigates or destroyers.

The second report considered the LCS program more broadly and raised important questions about the role of the ship in the Navy’s global strategy. The report noted that gaps remain of “how LCS will operate and what capabilities it will provide” (an issue previously raised by the GAO in 2013), that the LCS faces capabilities limits that seem at odds with the LCS mission and indicate acquisition problems, and finally that buying ships “while key concepts and performance are still being tested increases the risks of costly retrofits and reduced capability.” In sum, the Navy didn’t have a clear role in mind for the expensive LCS that taxpayers are buying.

Like the F-35, the LCS suffers from “concurrence,” the Pentagon’s foolhardy practice of putting systems into production during, or even before testing.  NTU has repeatedly urged Congress to halt or slow procurement of the LCS until major problems and questions about its utility can be resolved. A directive issued yesterday by Defense Secretary Ash Carter ordering the Navy to cap its LCS purchase at 40 (down from 52), from one supplier, at a rate of one per year over the next four years (down from 3 per year) appears to alleviate some of those concerns.

However, like with so many spending decisions at the Pentagon it’s still mind-boggling to taxpayers that the Department of Defense would continue to disburse hundreds of millions of dollars per unit on such a shoddy product with an uncertain role in our future security.  It’s equally frustrating to taxpayers that with the ink barely dry on the Bipartisan Budget Act – which raised the Budget Control Act of 2011’s modest spending caps and provided a significant spending increase for both FY16 and FY17 – some lawmakers are already insisting on relief from the new and “improved” spending caps.  The dismal, ongoing tale of the LCS is a good reminder that before Congress and the Pentagon plead poverty, they should reexamine how the taxpayer dollars they already have are spent.