New Weapons Systems Increasingly Unaffordable

17 January 2006

As tracked by The Nav Log, the US Navy is finding it cannot afford the cost of three new weapons systems it deems critical for the 21st century.

Earlier this month, the Navy ordered a sudden halt to construction of Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). A week earlier, the Navy again revised downward the number and delivery times for the P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine warfare and maritime air patrol aircraft.

LCS-1 “Freedom” is launched

On January 12, 2007, the Navy ordered Lockheed to stop work on its second LCS (to be the third such ship as General Dynamics is building alternating hulls of its own design) because of large cost overruns. Construction on the first ship – USS Freedom, recently launched -- will continue, but the second Lockheed Martin ship is on hold and subject to a 90-day stop-work order. The Navy's sudden action to stop work during such an early phase suggests a serious problem.

The stop work order was issued “because of significant cost increases currently being experienced with the construction of LCS-1 and LCS-3, under construction by Lockheed Martin” said one source. Navy Secretary Donald Winter issued the order “to assess the LCS program and ensure we understand the program’s cost and management processes before we move forward. It is essential that we complete LCS 1 and get it to sea so we can evaluate this new ship design.” Translation: LCS is one more new weapons system that is way over budget. The contract for LCS-3 was awarded in June, 2006, for $197.6 million.

LCS is designed to carry a variety of mission modules into “brown water” close to shore in support of land forces. DD(X) – the new destroyer class – is also to be so operated but may be canceled because of its own huge cost overrun problems (http://navlog.org/cost_crunch.html).

Sources indicate that the Lockheed LCS is now expected to cost at least $320 million a copy, up from the projected $220 million each once production on the class gets rolling. and even more than the $300 million the Lockheed Martin lead class ship was to cost. The Navy is planning a total of 55 LCS which were designed to pull littoral and “brown-water” duty through a combination of shallow draft, interchangeable mission modules, and a high degree of automation. Duties would involve providing support for littoral operations and superiority over third world coastal nations’ submarines, mine warfare, and “go fast” attack boats. $1.7 billion has already been funded for initial LCS R&D. Lockheed won the contract for the first and third of the Freedom-class ships with General Dynamics winning the second and fourth hulls with a competing design. GD is about half done with its first ship in the class. The company declined to estimate what its first ship is likely to actually cost on its $197 million contract.

On the brown shoe side of the Navy, news about problems in delivering the Boeing P-8A is dribbling out of numerous industry staff meetings. The P-8A has been in the works for several years after Boeing defeated Lockheed for the P-3 follow-on. The Navy’s choice of the Boeing twin-engine 737-800 variant still hasn’t been fully accepted by the deck plate Navy, which has for over 40 years flown the four-engine P-3 turboprop, a configuration some still prefer considering patrol aviation’s profile of low-level, long mission ASW.

General Dynamics Trimeran design LCS

At a recent meeting in Jacksonville, FL, home of one of only two remaining East Coast P-3 bases*, it was revealed that JAX is to get five or six operational P-8 squadrons plus transition VP-30, the Fleet Replacement Squadron, from the P-3 to the P-8. The Navy indicated that the P-3C will be around until at least 2020, by which time the basic aircraft will have been in service for 58 years. The initial plan to produce 16 P-8s a year has already dropped to thirteen a year, and this reporter believes this estimate is unrealistically optimistic. As noted elsewhere (http://navlog.org/mma_cnx.html) the official plan to build 108 P-8s is unlikely against the current financial demands of an infantry-based war on terror. Considering cost constraints and the capabilities growth of unmanned combat aerial vehicles, if even 60 P-8As are built, distributed between NAS JAX and NAS WHIDBEY, this writer will be surprised. One analyst has noted that for decades, US military procurement has been Air Force, 36 percent; Navy, 33 percent; Army 16 percent; and rest, 15 percent. This is under increasing pressure to change in light of the demands of fighting radical Islam. The biggest battle within the Navy is likely to be between the brown water brass and the aircraft carrier admirals whom have run the Navy for the past 65 years. Stay tuned.

* The other, NAS BRUNSWICK, ME, is slated to be closed in 2011