Government auditors are again urging the Pentagon to delay the Navy's frigate program, as the Defense Department reviews the requirements and acquisition strategy for the ship.
"The Navy's current acquisition approach for its new frigate -- a ship based on a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) design with minor modifications -- requires Congress to make significant program decisions and commitments in 2017 without key cost, design, and capability knowledge," states a report released today by the Government Accountability Office.
GAO points out that the Navy plans to seek approval for a block buy of 12 frigates this year, including funding for the lead ship. The service plans to release a request for proposals for the frigate in late 2017 and award the contract to one of the LCS shipyards in 2018, according to the report. The Independence-variant LCS is built by Austal USA in Mobile, AL, while the Freedom version is made by Lockheed Martin in Marinette, WI.
"Approval of these plans would effectively represent the final decision for the entire planned buy of 40 LCS and frigates," GAO argues. "According to the Navy's approved acquisition strategy, the frigates would still require annual appropriations, so Congress would maintain its oversight through its annual appropriation decisions; however, any decision to reduce or delay the program, should that become warranted, could nevertheless be more difficult as the Navy may point to losses in favorable block buy prices, as has been done previously with LCS."
The report says the potential $9 billion frigate program has not been subject to a cost estimate, and "key detail design activities" will not begin until fiscal year 2018.
GAO made similar arguments in prepared testimony for a Dec. 1 Senate Armed Services committee hearing on the frigate program.
In comments on an earlier draft version of the report, DOD partially concurred with GAO's findings and stated the Pentagon's acquisition office would "revisit risks" to the Navy's frigate plans prior to making key programmatic decisions. The response states the Pentagon's office of cost assessment and program evaluation will complete an independent cost estimate prior to the frigate contract award in 2018.
Furthermore, the Pentagon is re-considering the frigate's design and acquisition strategy to add local air defense capabilities to the ship and open up the competition to designs beyond those based on the LCS, Inside Defense reported last week. The new proposal the Pentagon is considering would also involve pushing back the frigate contract award to no later than FY-20.