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Navy's New Warship: Boon or Boondoggle?

May 21, 2012

WASHINGTON - The Senate Armed Services Committee takes up the new defense budget on Tuesday, and an issue that's sure to come up is the Navy's newest warship. Reports of serious design flaws have dogged early versions of the Littoral Combat Ship or LCS, intended for near-shore operations. There are two contracts for the ship, one with General Dynamics in Alabama; the other with Lockheed Martin in Wisconsin.

Ben Freeman, policy analyst with the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), thinks the Lockheed Martin contract should be cancelled.

"What we found in our investigation, working with whistle-blowers very close to the Lockheed Martin ship, is that there have been far more problems than have been reported. There are numerous cracks; the ship regularly floods because it has a stern door that simply doesn't close."

The group sent a letter to the U.S. House Armed Services Committee detailing the problems, and some members are asking for a review of the Navy's quality-control steps.

However, the House committee recommended full funding for the LCS.

At Lockheed Martin, spokesman Keith Little says POGO's information is outdated, and that the company and the Navy are learning from the first ship in what he calls a "totally new class."

"And the Navy and contractors extensively test these ships, purposely to obtain insight only possible through usage."

POGO contends both contracts for the LCS are being maintained for political reasons, because no one wants to kill jobs in either Wisconsin or Alabama. But Freeman says the project is already over budget, and having two different versions of the ship isn't a wise investment of tax dollars.

"It's going to increase your operating costs, it's going to increase your training costs for the sailors, and it's just generally going to increase your long-term operations and maintenance costs. So, we've got two options. It's a simple choice: Navy, pick one."

The LCS has been touted for its potential uses against pirates and drug traffickers as well as in combat. The next Lockheed Martin ship is scheduled for a June delivery to the Navy.

Once complete, eight of the new littoral ships will be based in Jacksonville, Florida, according to published reports.

Senate committee mark-ups are Tuesday to Thursday this week.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - FL