WASHINGTON — As the U.S. Navy moves to cancel its anti-submarine warfare mission package for littoral combat ships, it has triggered another cost breach for the LCS mission modules program.
The Navy in its fiscal 2023 budget announced its intention to cancel the anti-submarine warfare mission package, one of three warfare-specific packages the LCS ships can carry. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday has said the package was not performing well in testing and that the Navy would get better sub-hunting performance out of the Constellation-class frigates that will deliver from the Wisconsin-based Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard later this decade.
Though the decision is meant to prevent the service from spending on a system it doesn’t want, it means the broader mission modules program will produce fewer quantities, resulting in a spike in the per-unit cost.
The sea service informed Congress May 13 the unit cost on the LCS mission modules program now exceeds the original baseline estimate by 37.3% and exceeds the current baseline by 18%, Navy spokesman Capt. Clay Doss told Defense News.
This Nunn-McCurdy cost breach, named for 1982 legislation that established the reporting requirements, requires congressional notification but is not significant enough for the program to be recertified or canceled.
The LCS mission package program also faced a Nunn-McCurdy breach in 2018, when the Navy reduced the number of planned mission packages across all warfare areas.
The Navy in the early 2000s mapped out an LCS program based on fast and inexpensive hulls and mission modules that could be plugged into the ships and then swapped out as the mission changed. The Navy developed three mission modules: surface warfare, mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare.
The surface warfare package is in use today, and pieces of the mine countermeasure package are in use in the Pacific, with the entire mission module nearing completion.
The anti-submarine warfare mission package got off to a promising start, but has repeatedly fallen behind in testing.
Gilday said this week in a House Armed Services Committee hearing the ASW package “did not work out technically. So after about a year and a half study, I refused to put an additional dollar against a system that would not be able to track a high-end submarine in today’s environment.”
He has previously said the LCS program and its mission packages were planned nearly two decades ago, with diesel submarines as the primary target for the ASW package. Today, Russia has a growing number of sophisticated nuclear-powered submarines that will force the U.S. Navy to field a better ASW capability than the LCS towing the ASW mission package could provide.
The Navy, as a result, canceled its work with Raytheon Technologies on the AN/SQS-62 Variable Depth Sonar, also called the Dual-mode Array Transmitter, which was at a heart of the ASW mission package.
The Constellation frigates will use the CAPTAS-4, or Combined Active Passive Towed Array Sonar, made by Advanced Acoustics Concepts.
As a result of ditching the ASW package, the Navy is also arguing it needs fewer LCS ships and has proposed decommissioning early nine Freedom-variant hulls.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.