To deal with the problems witnessed firsthand by Aviation Week and other issues identified on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS-1) USS Freedom, the U.S. Navy is paying more money than it had planned to repair and maintain the ship.

The service spent about $30 million for recent post-shakedown-availability maintenance work — higher than expected — as well as another unanticipated $6 million for more emergent dry dock work, on top of the $24 million spent for earlier deployment maintenance and repairs, according to a source intimately familiar with the ship’s operations.

The current cost estimate for the Freedom’s ship frame, outfitting, post-delivery and related costs goes as high as $670.4 million — or about half the cost of a destroyer and its combat system, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) notes.

Initially, the ship was to cost as little as $150 million, according to 2004 Navy projections, cited in a 2005 CRS report, the same year Congress first approved the Navy’s plan to build the first two sea frames, using research and development funds rather than shipbuilding funds, and required the two frames to be of different designs.

By fiscal 2008, though, the program was in a financial storm. Rising costs and related concerns forced the Navy to cancel LCSs 3 through 6 and Congress capped the per-unit sea frame cost at $460 million per ship for LCSs procured in fiscal 2008 and subsequent years. Congress also required the Navy to use fixed-price-type contracts for the construction of LCSs procured in fiscal 2008 and subsequent years.

But in fiscal 2009, CRS notes, Congress delayed the implementation of the LCS sea frame unit procurement cost cap by two years — to ships procured in fiscal 2010 and subsequent years — and rescinded $337 million in fiscal 2008 shipbuilding funds for the LCS program, “effectively canceling the funding for the LCS procured in fiscal 2008.”

The cap was raised again late that year to $480 million, which, CRS notes, equated to $538 million by December 2010, according to the Navy.

The biggest program change came in late 2011 when the Navy abandoned its plans to select only one of the two ship designs to anchor the future LCS fleet and asked Congress to approve a plan for a dual-block buy of both LCS versions.

Congress approved that plan and during fiscal 2011 and funded the procurement of two LCSs at a cost of $1.17 billion.

In a request made late last month that the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) investigate LCS cost growth and related matters, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the top Republican of the Senate Armed Services Committee, puts the per-unit cost at less than $360 million. But that still means a higher LCS fleet price tag than what the Navy initially planned, defense analysts note.

A fleet of 30 to 60 LCSs, CRS said in 2005, might cost $7.5 billion to $15 billion. But now the Pentagon estimates the total acquisition cost for 55 LCS sea frames alone to be about $37.4 billion.

And, CRS cautions, “DOD (the Defense Department) has not reported a total estimated acquisition cost for the entire LCS program, including costs for both 55 LCS sea frames and 64 LCS mission packages.”

Responding to questions about cost growth and other issues raised by the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the Navy reportedly notes of LCS-1 and 2, “Not only are they ‘first-of-class’ vessels but they were procured using research and development funds in a manner outside the bounds of previous ship programs. Previous combatant procurements leverage off of years of research and development, integration testing and validation of systems using surrogate platforms.”

Government defense analyst reports attribute some of the LCS-1 cost growth and Freedom’s problems to the program’s failure to secure a definite design or set of concepts of operation at the LCS program’s onset, and a change in shipbuilding standards midstream to naval — Naval Vessel Regulations (NVR) — from commercial standards.

“The NVR issued for the LCS program incorporated, among other things, an increase in the survivability standard (the ability to withstand damage) to which LCSs were to be built,” CRS says. “Building the ship to a higher survivability standard represented a change in requirements for the ship that led to many design changes, including changes that made the ship more rugged and more complex in terms of its damage-control systems.”

The change was meant to make LCS more of a traditional combat vessel. But the ship’s conops warns against making the ship too much in the same old Navy mold. “Do not try to compare LCS to current platforms,” says another Navy LCS cardinal rule. “It cannot be manned, trained, equipped, maintained or tactically employed in the same way. No old think.”

But the growing litany of Freedom's problems — and general questions about the program — has Navy officials rethinking the manning, training, maintenance and capabilities of the vessel and the LCS fleet.