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Surface Forces: Finish First, Fix Later
   Next Article → COUNTER-TERRORISM: It's The Sermons, Stupid
November 21, 2007: Does the Navy need a lesson from its own history? Cancellation of the second General Dynamics Littoral Combat Ship, "LCS-4," on November 1st points up a problem that has plagued innovative American military technology development programs since the 1950s. The ship was cancelled because of "cost overruns." The original estimated cost per LCS was $220 million, but it kept rising as the first General Dynamics ship, the USS Independence (LCS-2), began construction. In response, the Navy tried to get General Dynamics to change the contract from "cost plus" to "fixed cost." In a "cost plus" contract, the Navy pays whatever the ship costs, plus a profit to the builder, while a "fixed cost" contract has the Navy pay a set amount, and any the cost over that has to be eaten by the builder. General Dynamics refused. Meanwhile the rose to $350 million, and kept going; When it hit $375 million the Navy pulled the plug.

 

Why did the costs rise? Well, one reason is that the General Dynamics design is pretty innovative. Among other things, it's an aluminum trimaran, a three-hulled vessel with a whole lot of new ideas and technologies. But that's only part of the problem. The main problem with the LCS, and with most post-1950s innovations in military equipment, is that the military keeps changing the specs. Even small changes may have "cascading" effects, as existing plans have to be changed. In some cases completed work may have to be modified or even ripped out, to accommodate the new idea. Sometimes changes follow on changes, and work may have to be redone several times, to insure that the latest nifty innovations are included in the ship. Naturally this costs money, in labor and materials, and also takes time, so that the ship is delivered later than planned.

 

There's a simple solution to this problem, one that worked very well during World War II, when the Navy was buying ships in huge lots. It was simply this; no new idea gets put into a vessel already under construction. During World War II the Navy determined that it was easier to complete a ship, even an aircraft carrier, to the original design, rather than interrupt work to allow changes. Once completed to the original design, a ship could be sent to a shipyard for the modifications needed to adapt it to the new, improved design (unless she was desperately needed with the fleet, and then her "boring old design" was probably perfectly suited to the mission anyway). Experience proved that doing things this way took less time and less money than trying to introduce modifications during construction. After the war, unfortunately, this intelligent approach was quickly forgotten.

 

Other examples of the services' penchant for shoving more and more nifty new stuff into a design, thereby causing the costs to go out of control, and often leading to the cancellation of a project: American tank development since the 1950s, ditto aircraft, etc., etc.

 

Sometimes old ideas work best.

 

Next Article → COUNTER-TERRORISM: It's The Sermons, Stupid
  

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gf0012-aust       11/21/2007 5:55:43 AM
 
The hull design isn't the expense - its an established extension of a commercial design.
 
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Herald1234    Correct.   11/21/2007 7:41:41 AM

 

The hull design isn't the expense - its an established extension of a commercial design.



But in the US right now we are training a whole new generation of shipwrights and trades people in the arcane ways of shipbuilding. That is what happens when you let perishable building skills and an entire technology tree die.
 
Word to the wise follows;
 
Even if you don't NEED it, build at least one sub, one carrier, one tank, one major surface combatant, one major aircraft program, per build cycle, and subsidize the skill and manufacturing sets. Once its gone, you will have a devil of a time relearning the skills and reestablishing the base. Industrial managers and engineers know this, but try explaining it to an idiot lawyer Congressman from Iowa.
 
Herald
 
 
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eldnah       11/21/2007 8:38:36 AM
Disagree Herald. The Congress Creatures are well aware of what you say; unfortunately, with few exceptions, they view government spending as a reelection mechanism, so if district or state is not getting its beak wet the CC won't vote for the project. Even Teddy Kennedy voted for defense projects that used GE jet engines from Lynn Mass. We need term limits and fast.
 
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Herald1234    I prefer the term Congress Cretin,   11/21/2007 9:29:33 AM
but I acknowledge your point. Nevertheless,the BD^1 individual mentioned, had to have it explained to him why we needed to subsidize shipbuilding as a tax policy to keep the tech base intact. It was described as like trying to teach a 2 year old how to, well you know...... 
 
^1 braindead.
 
Herald
 
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mrcrea       11/21/2007 9:51:39 AM
Funny thing is, None of lockheed's LCS have been canceled yet, and thier first ship was deliviered on time and on budget.  So maybe the problem isn't the ships or the new tech, but the company(General Dynamics).  Lockheeds second LCS, LCS-3, is on budget and on time for delivery in 2008 as well so this may add a little bit to all the LCS nay sayers out there.  It's not the changes in tech, I've never heard anyone complain about a Lockheed product being sub par, they sometimes may take longer(JSF) but they usually get their product spot on.
 
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Deaks2       11/21/2007 10:01:37 AM

Funny thing is, None of lockheed's LCS have been canceled yet, and thier first ship was deliviered on time and on budget.  So maybe the problem isn't the ships or the new tech, but the company(General Dynamics).  Lockheeds second LCS, LCS-3, is on budget and on time for delivery in 2008 as well so this may add a little bit to all the LCS nay sayers out there.


Where did you get that idea from? LCS 3 was canceled in April!

Key to that plan is the Littoral Combat Ship, which has come under lawmakers? scrutiny for its cost overruns and delays. In April, the Navy canceled LCS 3, the second Lockheed-built ship, and in October killed LCS 4, which was to be built by General Dynamics.

Speaking in his Pentagon office, as yet unadorned beyond a few paintings on the wall, he said, ?The fact that we made the decision to terminate [LCS] 3 and 4 in no way shakes my confidence or the need we have for the ship, but the fact of the matter is we need to get the cost down. ... It is important to get the configuration set and accurately assess the cost so that the shipbuilders and the Navy can have a good, stable production line.?

 
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eldnah       11/21/2007 10:19:13 AM
Hmmm..... Would the "Brain dead" congressman from Iowa be the freshman who had been the President of the state's Trail Lawyers Association? Excellent training for manipulating the public. I am for legislation that forbids lawyers from pursuing any office other than DA or Attorney General and that especially includes my daughters.
 
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mrcrea       11/21/2007 11:37:35 AM
My appoligies, one of the sites I frequent doesn't have it on the LCS part of their site.  I must have been asleep when it happend
 
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RockyMTNClimber    Contract: 101   11/21/2007 11:50:38 AM
Why would you ever order changes upon changes upon changes and wreck an otherwise interesting prototype before it ever gets into the water? USN must be absolute idiots for allowing that to happen. Anyone who has ever ordered a custom or semi-custom item (like a house or yatch or piece of mfg equipment) knows the changes will kill your budget faster than anything.
 
Tell the contractor what you want, have them build it, save the improvements for the follow-on. OR PAY ghastly cost overruns!
 
Duh.
 
Check Six
 
Rocky
 
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RockyMTNClimber    Contract: 101   11/21/2007 11:50:43 AM
Why would you ever order changes upon changes upon changes and wreck an otherwise interesting prototype before it ever gets into the water? USN must be absolute idiots for allowing that to happen. Anyone who has ever ordered a custom or semi-custom item (like a house or yatch or piece of mfg equipment) knows the changes will kill your budget faster than anything.
 
Tell the contractor what you want, have them build it, save the improvements for the follow-on. OR PAY ghastly cost overruns!
 
Duh.
 
Check Six
 
Rocky
 
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