In 2013, major and obvious problems with the US Navies Littoral Combat Shipped had been fixed. There is a bill would to prohibit spending any money for “construction or advanced procurement of materials” for LCS 25 and LCS 26. But Littoral Combat Ships 5 through 12 are still under construction, while ships 13-16 are “in pre-production phase.” LCS 17-24 are still awaiting Congressional authorization.
The per ship construction costs were originally to be $200 million but are now about $700 billion and rising. The operation costs will probably be easily over $1 billion per ship over 25 years. Results on tests on whether the ship is battle worthy will not be available until 2016 or so.
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.
McCain opened fire on the “over budget, behind schedule, deficient” Littoral Combat Ship, quoting the Government Accountability Office’s recent report calling for a “pause” in the program. (Interestingly, GAO largely backed off that recommendation in a subsequent hearing). Did she favor such a pause?
When Rooney tried a diplomatic answer, McCain stomped again: “I hope you will answer the question, and that is, do you believe a pause is needed as recommended by the GAO?”
Rooney’s polite reply boiled down to “No”: Slowing down production at this point, she said, when the price per ship has come down dramatically, will just send costs spiking upwards again.
The Navy won’t have finished key tests of LCS’s much-disputed battleworthiness, such as “full ship shock trials,” until 2016. By that point, the nation will have paid for all 24 ships already under contract, and the Navy will be about to issue a second multi-ship “block buy” for more, heading towards a planned fleet of 52.
Meanwhile, of the three planned “mission modules” — essentially plug-and-play packages of equipment that turn an LCS into a minesweeper, a sub-hunter, or a small craft killed — the first, most complex, and most critical is the mine-warfare package, whose initial, limited-capability version won’t even begin operational testing until 2014, by which date the Navy will already have bought four of them. Before the full-up mine-clearing module completes testing in 2018, the Navy will have bought at least 13.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
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