The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet has some communication problems that need to be addressed to enable the vessels to operate as planned, a recent U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report says, and Navy officials say they are assessing the problems and GAO recommendations.

“The Navy identified limitations in its four internal reports with LCS communications systems’ ability to transmit data electronically,” GAO says in a recent for-official-use-only report, “Littoral Combat Ship, Navy Needs to Address Communication System Limitations and Obtain Additional Operational and Cost Data.” The report is not available publicly.

“LCS depends on operational and maintenance support from the shore more than other Navy ships, so reliability and adequacy of communication systems, and the bandwidth required to transmit information, are critical to effective operations and sustainment,” GAO notes.

“As with all of our new ship classes, a lot of effort is made in evaluating how to improve the Littoral Combat Ship,” spokeswoman Lt. Caroline Hutcheson says. “Recommendations from the organizations like GAO and its report have been part of detailed discussions as the Navy assesses the program. The LCS Council is addressing the ships’ communications systems... .” The Lockheed Martin-built LCS-1, the USS Freedom, is on deployment in Singapore. Hutcheson says there has been no significant operational impact for Freedom on deployment due to the communications issue.

Navy officials acknowledge the ship’s unique maintenance support system is dependent on data flow, but they say the ship is meant to return to port at least monthly.

“Officials explained that part of the Singapore deployment is to learn about the sufficiency of the communications systems and bandwidth,” GAO says. “Given the importance internal Navy reports attribute to communication system reliability and bandwidth capacity for the LCS program, the LCS’s ability to share critical information with shore support facilities will likely be limited if these issues re not adequately addressed, which could reduce the LCS’s operational availability.”

Sensors installed on the ship relay data several times a day to shore-based personnel, who analyze it to identify any deficiencies in the equipment and plan for required maintenance.

“LCS relies on the Navy Information Application Product Suite system to transmit data, using bandwidth capacity to do so, as do many of the distance support functions,” the report says. “One internal Navy report found that problems with the system led to sensor data not leaving the ships for months, among other connectivity issues.”

The Navy internal report’s finding that “the LCS concept depends on distance support of ships, but the [information technology] pipes to make it happen aren’t reliable yet” led to a recommendation to “accelerate implementation of the condition-based maintenance program,” GAO says.

Along with the internal Navy reports reviewing LCS, GAO says, the concept of operations also cites the long-term insufficiency of current communications systems and states that these systems should be modified to ensure LCS self-sustainability.

“The Navy Information Application Product Suite system used by LCS was not originally designed to support the continuous flow of LCS data,” GAO says. “Because LCS depends heavily on distance support and especially applications based on this system, the Navy recognizes that alternative communication methods are necessary to ensure that the flow of information to shore is not interrupted in the event of an extended loss of capabilities, particularly during wartime.”

Navy officials told GAO existing communication systems are being “adapted for use on LCS but are not ideal for the unique needs of the ship even though the systems meet program requirements.”