The rapid cost escalation of the
Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program largely stems from insistence that the ship
have high speed (90 kilometers an hour, which is 50 percent faster than similar
size destroyers). This required a huge power plant, and then the navy kept
adding and removing other features, while the two shipbuilders were building
their prototypes. The LCS was supposed to cost about $200 million per ship. But
this rapidly escalated to more than twice that. There were numerous problems,
not the least of which trying to keep the LCS (which was originally supposed to
be a 1,000 ton ship) small.
actually two different LCS designs. One is a semi-planning monohull from
Lockheed-Martin. The other is a trimaran from General Dynamics. LCS 2 was laid
down in late 2005. These are essentially prototypes, and serial procurement was
not expected to begin before 2008, when initial design flaws should have been
worked out. Ultimately, the Navy hoped to have between 50 and 60 LCSs by the
middle of the next decade.
The LCS is
sort of replacing the 1970s era Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates (4,100 ton
ships that would cost about $100 million to build today). The big difference
between the frigates and LCS is the greater use of automation in the LCS
(reducing crew size to 75, versus 176 in the frigates) and larger engines
(giving the LCS a speed of about 90 kilometers an hour, versus 50 for the
frigates.) The LCS also has a large "cargo hold" designed to hold different
"mission packages" of equipment and weapons.
Littoral Combat Ship is, simultaneously, revolutionary, and a throwback. The
final LCS design will displace at least 3,000 tons, with a full load draft of
under ten feet, permitting access to very shallow coastal waters, as well as
rivers. This is where most naval operations have taken place in the past
generation. Max range is 2,700 kilometers. Built using commercial "smartship"
technologies, which greatly reduce personnel requirements, the LCS is expected
to require a crew of about 50 in basic configuration, but will have
accommodations for about 75 personnel. The ship is designed for a variety of
interchangeable modules, which will allow the ships to be quickly reconfigured
for various specialized missions. Crews will also be modularized, so that specialized
teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules.
is not happy with the performance of American ship builders. Costs are rising
sharply, quality is down and the admirals can't get satisfactory answers from
the manufacturers. For example, the new class of destroyers, the DDG-1000 class
destroyers have also faced ballooning costs, up to as much as $3 billion per
ship, as opposed to planned costs of $800 million. The current Arleigh
Burke-class destroyers only cost $1 billion each. Part of the problem is
mismanagement by the shipbuilders, but a lot of the blame belongs to the navy,
and the non-military officials in the Department of Defense, politicians in
Congress, who get involved. No one is in charge, no one is responsible, and
everyone is surprised that the system doesn't work.