NavWeek: Clock is Ticking For LCS

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If there is one significant difference in the management of the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program compared to a year ago it is this: the service brass has become noticeably more transparent about the hiccups slowing LCS progress.

This month’s power outages during the Pacific transit of the ship are a prime example of that – Navy leadership itself broke the news.

The danger when you point out your own warts, of course, is that some folks only want to focus on the warts. And with sequestration, continuing resolutions and a general national desire to slash-and-burn the defense budget wherever possible, it’s not a good moment to highlight warts.

But Navy officials say they’re making great progress, and these are expected just first-of-class problems. Give us time, they say. But time is becoming a bit of a luxury, especially for LCS, which enjoyed a fast-tracked acquisition plan this decade and a rare dual-award block buy for two teams competing with completely different vessels – the LCS-1 USS Freedom class led by Lockheed Martin and the LCS-2 USS Independence class design lead by Austal USA and General Dynamics – even before the Navy had the kind of operational data it usually requires to make such a decision.

Many defense analysts say the Navy has rushed LCS along, from concept to the USS Freedom deployment. That’s one of the reasons, they say, that the ship has been experiencing so many problems – “growing pains.”

In light of the problems with LCS, the Navy felt the need to put together the LCS Council of high-powered admirals to make program changes and cut through the red tape of bureaucracy and implement decisions as quickly as possible.

Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, head of the LCS Council, defends the decision to put the ship out to sea so quickly, saying sailors will figure out how to best operate and maintain the ship and their input is needed as soon as possible to forge the best concept of operations. The staffing and module-operational concepts are so new, the Navy brass says, that this kind of deckplate input is needed now more than ever.

Indeed, the Navy fast-tracked another process to capture some of that operational LCS knowledge by recently appointing Capt. James Garner as the new LCS Squadron commodore, even though Garner had not served previously as deputy commodore, as is often the case.

Hunt calls Garner his personal choice for the job and says the former Freedom commanding officer brings a wealth of experience.

Aviation Week reported in August that Garner, while commanding officer, chastised a subordinate for including strong negative language about the Freedom in a report, at a critical time when a decision was approaching on whether to down-select to a single design and team.

Garner tells Aviation Week he had concerns about influencing the legal process amid contracting and acquisition decisions in his role as an operator.

Hunt acknowledges there may have been legal issues surrounding Garner’s concerns and the admiral expresses no doubts or concerns about the commodore’s intentions or abilities.

Others connected to the LCS program echo that support. They praise Garner’s intelligence and say he could make some changes that could really make a difference.

If he’s given enough time, that is.

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