Federal report: Some new littoral ships too heavy

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom performs high-speed maneuvers during open-sea operations.
The littoral combat ship USS Freedom performs high-speed maneuvers during open-sea operations. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel Barker)

MARINETTE (AP) – Four of six ships being built in Wisconsin and Alabama as part of a new class U.S. Navy vessels are too heavy, and some areas of performance have been affected, according to a newly released federal audit.

The report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that while the USS Freedom has met its sprint speed of 40 knots, it hasn’t been able to reach the distance and speed requirement of a 3,500 nautical mile range at 14 knots. That ship is being built in Marinette, along with two other ships that are within weight expectations.

Defense contractor Lockheed Martin said the Freedom-class littoral combat ships have met weight requirements upon delivery and that the company has submitted all weight reports to the U.S. Navy in accordance with its contract.

The USS Freedom, and similar ships, are being built for Lockheed Martin at Marinette Marine Corp. in Marinette. Another design of the ship is being built by Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama. Three of the ships built by Austal USA are also too heavy, the report said.

The speedy ships are designed to carry out several different missions, including minesweeping and anti-submarine warfare. But weight has affected performance in some areas of both ship designs, and that could be a limiting factor for future changes to the vessels and equipment, the report said.

The Littoral Combat Ship program has been under scrutiny. President Barack Obama has proposed cutting an order for four ships to three during the 2015 fiscal year. The projected overall cost to the Navy for the littoral combat ship program is roughly $34 billion.

But such scrutiny of the LCS program isn’t unusual, said Daniel Gouré, vice president of the Lexington Institute, a Virginia-based think tank that focuses on defense programs.

“There are no major weapon programs that don’t have these problems, and in many cases for surface ships, you don’t get to a stable configuration until you are halfway through the predicted production run,” he said. “You go down the road and a new technology pops up, or something goes wrong, that they have to change out, this is typical.”

Lockheed Martin and Marinette Marine have delivered the USS Freedom and USS Fort Worth to the Navy. Other ships are under construction at the Marinette yard, which employs more than 2,000 people. Lockheed Martin said it has incorporated the lessons learned on the first ships into the production process.

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