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Navy's New Warship: Boon or Boondoggle?

May 21, 2012

WASHINGTON - When the Senate Armed Services Committee takes up the new defense budget on Tuesday, 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 (LCS). There are two contracts for the ship, one with General Dynamics in Alabama, the other with Lockheed Martin in Wisconsin, which built the USS Fort Worth, scheduled for a September commissioning in Galveston, Texas.

Ben Freeman 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's numerous cracks; the ship regularly floods because it has a stern door that simply doesn't close."

The group sent a letter to the House Armed Services Committee detailing its concerns, and some members want a review of the Navy's quality control steps. Still, the committee recommended full funding for the LCS.

According to Navy reports, the Fort Worth performed "extremely well" during recent trials on Lake Michigan. Lockheed Martin spokesman Keith Little says POGO's concerns about design flaws are based on outdated reports, adding that the company and the Navy are learning from the first ship in what he calls a "totally new class."

"The Navy and contractors extensively test these ships, purposefully 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 state. But Freeman says the project is already over budget, and he warns that having two different versions of the ship is not 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. We've got two options. It's a simple choice. Navy, pick one."

"Littoral" is a synonym for coastal. The LCS is designed for missions close to shore and has been touted for its potential uses against pirates and drug traffickers as well as in combat.

After its commissioning on Sept. 22, the USS Fort Worth will make its home in San Diego.

Peter Malof, Public News Service - TX