By BEN FREEMAN, Ph.D.
The Navy's close-to-shore combat ship just hit some rougher seas.
An amendment requiring the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct a review of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program passed during the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) markup of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) yesterday. The amendment, introduced by Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA), requires the GAO to investigate cracks, equipment failures, engine breakdowns, weld quality, and other matters related to the ships performance and cost.
If this sounds familiar, it’s because, as Rep. Speier indicated during the markup, the LCS letter we sent to Congress last month was Rep. Speier’s impetus for submitting the LCS amendment.
Speier was also aware of additional troubling news about the LCS program brought to light by an Aviation Week investigation published yesterday. The author of the investigation, Mike Fabey, was given a guided tour of the first LCS, Lockheed Martin’s USS Freedom. He discovered that the ship was, “plagued by extensive corrosion and manufacturing issues more recent and serious than anything the Pentagon or prime contractor Lockheed Martin have publicly acknowledged thus far.” Fabey goes on to state:
The vessel is rusting and blistered by corrosion in many areas, marred by crack repairs throughout the deckhouse and hampered by what appear to be flaws in vital piping systems.
Corrosion is particularly evident throughout the ship’s waterborne mission area, located at the Freedom’s stern, because of a large gap between the stern doors and the vessel’s deck floor, which allows water to pour in when the doors are closed.
Not to be deterred by Fabey’s first-hand description of problems on the ship and a photograph showing the gap in the stern door that’s big enough to slide your hand under, a Navy spokesperson called Fabey’s investigation, “a collection of speculation, outdated or incorrect information, third-party anecdotes, opinions, and outright irrelevancies.” A Lockheed Martin spokesperson added that the findings “appear to be based on selective information that is outdated or inaccurate, and has largely been previously reported.”
This aggressive non-denial / denial tack is precisely how the Navy responded to our letter. But, facts are stubborn things. There’s nothing speculative about a picture, nothing third-party about a first-hand tour, and nothing irrelevant about a stern door that allows water to pour in to the ship.
Fortunately, Speier and her HASC colleagues didn’t find this to be irrelevant either. “Making sure the stern door seals shut is shipbuilding 101,” Rep. Speier told Aviation Week.
We at POGO commend Rep. Speier and her HASC colleagues for holding the Navy accountable for these failures. But we need to be sure others in the House don’t roll back this commonsense measure when the NDAA is on the floor next week. We also need to encourage the Senate Armed Services Committee to take action on the failures of this ship and the entire LCS program. We encourage you to join the thousands of others who have already taken action by asking your members of Congress to stop wasting money on the LCS.
Ben Freeman is a POGO national security investigator.
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