GAO has published a report on the National Security Cutters, GAO-16-148, contending, “Enhanced Oversight Needed to Ensure Problems Discovered during Testing and Operations Are Addressed.” Note, it goes beyond problems discovered during tests and evaluation, to include other problems encountered during operation.
Results are interesting. In many ways it sounds discouraging, with ten major deficiencies found during testing, but on the basis of my very limited experience with this sort of thing, I suspect it is at least no worse than average. After all, the cutter was rated as operationally effective and suitable. The Littoral Combat Ship program is very much a contemporary program, and it is also still undergoing testing.
During testing there were problems with the gantry on the stern, the single point davit, the gun, air search radar, and the Nulka decoy system. I did find it a bit troubling that essentially, all the weapon systems seemed to be having problems.
Probably more troubling are the problems encountered during operations, “…the NSC’s engines and generators have experienced persistent problems, the reasons for which are not yet known. As a result of these and other equipment casualties, the NSC has been operating in a degraded condition in some mission areas, even while having spent fewer days away from home port than planned.” Problems with the main engines include an inability to maintain full power while operating in warm water due to over heating and incidents of cracked cylinder heads at a higher than normal rate, page 31-35. Generator bearings are overheating and failing at an unacceptable rate, page 35/36. The generator problems have resulted in ships operating with no functional back-up generator.
You can find a list of “Initial Operational Test and Evaluation Major Deficiencies and Coast Guard plans to resolve them” in Table 5, page 23/24.
Table 6, page 28 identifies “Retrofits and Design Changes for the National Security Cutter Class with Costs over $1 Million as of June 2015” totaling $202.1M. This is of course an incomplete list, in that additional changes are expected. Changes are also expected for the ammunition hoists, and the stern and side doors.
Replacement of the Gantry Crane (page 29): The crane, intended to move boats around the stern, was not designed for a salt water environment. I’m sorry, whose idea was this? How was this ever acceptable. If the shipyard picked the crane, I think they owe us at least the cost of replacement. A replacement has apparently been successfully prototyped.
Single Point Davit, page 30: The davit doesn’t work in high sea states, and it is not compatible with the Over the Horizon Boat IV so the ships end up with three different type boats. A replacement for this has also been prototyped.
Appendix II provides a “Summary of the Key Performance Parameters of the National Security Cutter,” page 42/43.
“As we found in 2015, during 2013 and 2014 the NSC fleet spent fewer days away from home port than the Coast Guard’s interim goal of 210 days. In addition, the NSCs operated in a degraded condition in one or more mission areas during a majority of their time spent in operations from 2010 to 2014 due to major equipment casualties.”
But the ships have a degree of redundancy and a depth of capability that allowed them to carry on.
“Although the NSC was often operating with major casualties during the period we examined, during the period from September 2013 through September 2015 the NSC was not mission capable as a result of maintenance needs only about 2 percent of the time, indicating that the casualties experienced during those years did not prevent the NSC from maintaining at least partial mission capability.”
Despite the lack of maturity of these assets, in terms of routing out systemic problems, that 2% figure is far better than the legacy fleet.
There was also a somewhat surprising note that the NSCs have space, weight, and power for a mine detection system.
We have Bryant’s Maritime Consulting to thank for the link to this document.