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An artist rendering of the U.S. Navy FFG(X) Constellation-class guided-missile frigate. U.S. Navy graphic.

U.S. Navy ‘Botched’ Design Oversight of $22 Billion Frigate, GAO Report Finds

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May 30, 2024

By Tony Capaccio (Bloomberg) —

The US Navy mishandled oversight of a $22 billion frigate program to replace the much-criticized and more vulnerable Littoral Combat Ship, according to a new congressional audit.

The Navy awarded the initial construction contract for the first vessel and an option for nine more in April 2020 despite an incomplete design, according to the report released Wednesday by the Government Accountability Office. That flaw resulted in growing weight and in crucial subsystems that could fail at sea, it said.

The service failed to ensure that the vessel’s “functional design” — the drawings and specifications that define the ship’s structure, major systems and the positioning of piping for water and ventilation — was ready to proceed before awarding the project to a Wisconsin-based subsidiary of Fincantieri SpA, according to the report released Wednesday.

The Navy’s “inadequate functional design review practices and botched metrics” to assess progress toward a complete design “contributed to prematurely starting lead ship construction before the design was sufficiently stable to support that activity,” according to the report.

The Navy has contracted so far for five more vessels, for a total of six, including two last week in a $1 billion order. Each frigate is estimated to cost $1.1 billion to $1.2 billion, with the first ship topping $1.3 billion.

The shipbuilder and the Navy had no immediate comment on the new report.

The Navy disclosed in April that the first frigate — which started construction in 2022 — is now projected to be three years later than its contracted April 2026 delivery date. An unreleased Navy chart put much of the blame on the company’s difficulties hiring and retaining an experienced workforce. 

The frigate was developed after cancellation of the Littoral Combat Ship, which was intended to operate in coastal waters but was plagued by development and construction problems and was found too lightly armed to survive an attack.

The GAO said the Navy “had good reason to be optimistic that the frigate program was positioned to deliver capabilities on the schedule it promised.”  

The new vessel was based on a solid foreign design that needed to be modified, the GAO said, but “missteps” that followed “have jeopardized the Navy’s ability to achieve” its goals.

The Navy and the shipbuilder “continue to finalize key functional design documents over a year after construction began,” the auditors found. Among problems: growth in the ship’s weight that’s forcing the Navy to consider options including “a reduction in the frigate’s speed requirement.” 

© 2024 Bloomberg L.P.

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