The U.S. Navy takes corrosion issues affecting its new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) "very seriously," Pentagon acquisition chief Ashton Carter told Congress on Aug. 2, but the service believes that the widely-reported problems "in no way threaten the viability of this ship class, and the cost of the Navy's mitigation measures is affordable."
Carter was responding to a July 12 letter from a group of seven senators, including longtime LCS critic Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., that asked several pointed questions about corrosion issues on the ships and questioned the Pentagon's certification process of the LCS program.
Two LCS designs are being built for the Navy - the Freedom (LCS 1) class from prime contractor Lockheed Martin, and the Independence (LCS 2) class from General Dynamics and Austal USA. The first ships of each class are now in service and more are under construction from both teams. Altogether, the Navy plans to buy 55 LCS ships.
Carter - who has been nominated by the White House to become the next deputy defense secretary - defended his decision last year to use Navy rather than Pentagon cost figures for the ships, pointing out that the offers from both competitors came in under the military's cost projections.
"To do otherwise," Carter wrote, "would suggest to the shipbuilders that the government would be willing to pay more for ships in the future than is reflected in the contracts just awarded."
Carter described some of the issues affecting the water jet system on the Independence, which has been found to be suffering from galvanic corrosion. The situation, he wrote, is found on all ships when different metals are adjacent to each other in salt water. The original designer's approach to the problem on the Independence was found to be faulty, and is being changed, he explained.
The cost to repair and fix the Independence is about $3.2 million, Carter wrote, and a new protective system to be built in to subsequent ships will cost about $250,000 per ship.
The original July 12 letter to Carter was signed by senators Mark Begich, D-Alaska, Scott Brown, R-Mass., McCain, Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Rob Portman, R-Ohio and Jim Webb, D-Va. - all members of the Senate Armed Services Committee - and Tom Coburn, R-Okla.