Target 2 On Assignment: The Littoral Combat Ship Debate - WBAY

Target 2 On Assignment: The Littoral Combat Ship Debate

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This article originally appeared on May 2, 2013:

Marinette Marine's contract to build ships for the Navy has some asking questions in Washington.

Target 2 got a rare look at the shipbuilding process and the Northeast Wisconsin workforce behind it. (Click here for part 1 of our report.)

But Target 2 also learned several members of Congress have ordered a number of reviews of the entire Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, claiming the Navy hasn't been forthcoming about problems with the ships.

In tonight's Target 2 On Assignment, we investigate the claims and strong reaction to them.

Target 2 has learned a number of Congressional reviews have been ordered for the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship. Some in Congress have accused the Navy of a lack of transparency.

Furthermore, leaks from inside the Navy, if they're to be believed, show some top commanders seriously questioning the effectiveness of the ships.

As a Northeast Wisconsin workforce labors around the clock to fulfill the Navy's order, questions swirl in Washington over the ships and program's future.

In Bloomberg News last week, citing Navy cybersecurity specialists, a report claims the Littoral Combat Ship is vulnerable to hacking, saying a team found major deficiencies in the USS Freedom, the first ship built by Marinette Marine and Lockheed Martin.

Joe North is Lockheed Martin's vice president of Littoral Combat Systems. "The ship is secure, meets the requirements, and we think it's doing everything it's supposed to be doing," he said.

We met North and Chuck Goddard, Marinette Marine's president and CEO, at the USS Milwaukee, their third LCS under construction.

"All the official documentation tells us the program's on track," Goddard said.

Both admit a number of issues with Freedom, including an initial crack in its hull.

A picture was documented in an April 2012 report by the Project on Government Oversight -- a self-described non-profit working to expose what it calls "overpriced military spending."

Both North and Goddard argue any problems associated with their first ship are fixed as four other ships are under construction in Marinette's shipyard, which many now argue will be the true test.

"I think what we've done is nothing but improve these ships as we've gone," North said. "So the first ship that went out there we wanted to learn as much as we could. First design is like building a first car. You test it, put it out there and you figure out what's wrong, what needs to be tweaked. We took that very seriously."

Still, as part of the 2013 Defense Authorization Act, several reviews of the overall program were ordered for ships being built in Marinette and Mobile, Alabama.

A number of lawmakers argued "the Navy has not adequately informed Congress to the full extent possible on program deficiencies, including mechanical and structural failures."

"They went through some of the growing pains that happened with completely new developments," said Congressman Reid Ribble (R-8th Congressional District).

Wisconsin Congressman Ribble lobbied against the reviews, saying the Navy has been forthcoming about initial deficiencies.

"You're having the proper amount of government oversight that's necessary, and you have the navy supportive of it, and so the Navy at the end of the day has to defend their purchasing decisions," said rep. Ribble.

The future, as in any government contract, can be uncertain, leaving Marinette Marine's highly-trained workforce in the hands of Congress.

"It's easy to sit back and throw rocks. It's a lot harder to do what we're doing and watching these guys get these ships out on time and get them out there and watch them operate,"

In statements to Target 2 from the U.S. Navy, they stress the ships are fully capable of conducting the missions they were designed for, that the orders continue and problems addressed when found.

A report from the Navy Secretary is due to Congress by the end of the year.

Two other independent reviews ordered for congressional investigators are expected to be out this summer and fall.

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