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Failed Equipment, Flawed Designs Plague Lockheed Littoral Combat Ship

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By DANA LIEBELSON

Cross-posted on POGO's blog.

POGO sent a letter today to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees recommending that an expensive and severely flawed variant of the Littoral Combat Ship program be eliminated. The letter comes on the heels of POGO's release of Navy documents revealing serious cracking and corrosion problems with the ship -- along with evidence of dangerous equipment failures.  

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a surface vessel commissioned to operate close to shore. It's supposed to be the jaguar of Navy ships: fast and agile, with the flexibility to both engage in surface combat with modern-day pirates, and also take down submarines and mines. There are two variants of the LCS: one built by a team led by General Dynamics, which will cost $345.8 million per ship; and the other built by a team led by Lockheed Martin, which will cost $357.5 million per ship.

As we've reported, The General Dynamics LCS has some problems with corrosion. But the Lockheed Martin version can hardly even make it out of the harbor. As we wrote in our letter, POGO has obtained a number of documents showing that Lockheed Martin's USS Freedom has been "plagued by flawed designs and failed equipment since being commissioned, has at least 17 known cracks, and has repeatedly been beset by engine-related failures."

These are serious problems. "What the documents show is grounds for questioning this LCS variant's viability," says POGO National Security Investigator Ben Freeman. A source close to the program, who blamed the Navy's Quality Assurance for accepting such a flawed ship, told POGO that this ship is "not fit for combat and should only be used for training [at most]."

In the letter, POGO pointed out that "from the time the Navy accepted LCS from Lockheed Martin on September 18, 2008, until the ship went into dry dock in the summer of 2011 -- not even 1,000 days later -- there were 640 chargeable equipment failures on the ship. On average then, something on the ship failed on two out of every three days."

According to the documents POGO obtained, in one particularly dangerous example, the ship was involved in counter-drug trafficking operations -- which included detaining suspected drug smugglers -- when the electricity on the entire ship went out, leaving it temporarily adrift. If this had occurred during combat, this mishap could very well have been fatal.

Imagine if you had to fly on a commercial jet that had equipment failures (like power outages!) most of the time. Not only would you be rightfully concerned for your safety -- but how on earth would you get anywhere on time?

Well, the reality is that USS Freedom doesn't -- after more than six months in port, the ship has only been out to sea twice this year, and during both trips the engines and other key equipment failed. This is a far cry from what the Navy has been telling taxpayers: it's claimed to Congress that both variants of the LCS are performing well.

It's time for the Navy to fess up that this ship is nothing but a busted, leaky boat with a history of design and equipment failures. With the LCS program expected to cost taxpayers $120 billion, it simply doesn't make sense to keep this unnecessary vessel.

Read POGO's letter to the Senate and House Armed Services Committees about the Littoral Combat Ship program.

Dana Liebelson is POGO's Beth Daley Impact Fellow.

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