LCS-1: More reasons to worry about Fincantieri

by Craig Hooper on November 30, 2010

As the PCU Fort Worth, LCS-3, prepares for a Dec 4 launch-date, I am increasingly concerned about Fincantieri’s “Italianate” management of the Marinette Shipyard. I suspect the LCS-1 team underbid.

Aside from Fincantieri’s foreign ownership, overall low level of investment in their US yards and the disparity between Fincantieri’s U.S.-based workers and their Italian counterparts, I am also worried about Fincantieri’s ability to deliver on their promises and the low-ball planning metrics they have used to allocate funds for recapitalizing Marinette (which, you remember, was bought by Fincantieri for a scandalously low price of $120 million USD–in an all cash deal!).

It’s all stuff that, I hope, Marinette’s Washington, DC-based and Lockheed-trained leader, Fred Moosally, has addressed.

But I doubt it.

First, let’s look at the impending launch. The LCS-3 will be side-launched–which basically means, “we’re taking a very expensive piece of equipment, hucking it into the river….and hoping nothing goes wrong!” It’s all visually exciting (don’t miss the launch if you can make it) but also fraught with risks.

Back in 2009, Fincantieri executive Pier Amato Costa was so worried about side-launching, he told Defense News that some of their $40 million-dollar investment in Marinette would go towards eliminating the side-launches–starting with LCS-3:

“At Marinette, we aim to stop using the side launch method of launching new vessels, where the vessel is effectively dropped in the water,” said Costa.

“Instead, we want to move them from Marinette on a barge to Bay Shipbuilding at Sturgeon Bay for a launch in a floodable dock.”

Costa said the switch would save money and protect the vessel from the risk of damage incurred in lateral launches. “We would like to launch the second LCS like this,” he said.

But, hey, that does not appear to be happening. But hey, for the American shipyards, why do today what can be put off until tomorrow, right?

The other thing I worry about is that Fincantieri’s much-hyped investment in Marinette was crafted to support a one-ship per year delivery schedule/metric–not a two-hull per year delivery goal. So…how does Marinette intend to meet the Navy’s goal of delivering two ships a year when, well, the executives planned for half that:

Fincantieri managers have made their recommendations based on a future delivery schedule of one vessel a year. With each vessel requiring 24 months of work, the yard must be able to work on two vessels simultaneously.

This just says to me that there’s some overhead here that isn’t accounted for in the LCS-1 bid. And if the money isn’t coming from Fincantieri to make these investments, then, well, I think they’ll just kinda pop up in the LCS-1 bill at a later date.

Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather see the Navy get two LCS squadrons than a contested down-select. But that is what I suspect will happen. It’s no secret that I believe that the Austal model has greater potential utility in the contested seas ahead, and that fact, combined with Austal’s industrial strength, Austal’s committed, on-site management, and Austal’s deep JHSV order book combine to make Austal either the overall winner, or at worst, winner of a contested re-select. I reiterate my call that Austal will win this.

But, that said, I’m an optimist. And if it comes down to it, I’d be glad to see a two different flavors of LCS at sea. The real test here is how these things work in squadrons, and we’ll only see that when we, uh, have ’em to experiment with. But…I’d really rather Marinette start getting into the SSK business.

Anyway, with that, let’s get a-building! And then let’s start talking about the Coast Guard’s OPV–the more I see of that, the more I like it!

(And let’s have our indefateigable commenter Ken Adams put something nice about the LCS-1 together for the front page–even with all my LCS-1 bashing, he kept his cool and kept me honest, so it’s only right to let him have a star turn out here on the main page!)

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Debasish Pal May 3, 2018 at 2:31 pm

I believe Marinette Shipyard demonstrated the ability to work on two hulls at once with the Staten Island Ferry project, with a total of three built. At least they were fabricating parts and modules for number two while number one was in the assembly shed. When the first one was side launched there was damage to the windows that run along the sides. Without all the glass of a ferry, side launching an LCS should be no problem.


Craig Hooper December 3, 2010 at 1:36 pm

Hey Mo–

That would be a good example…if the Molinari-class ferries didn’t suck.

They got launched in Sept 2003, Mid-2004 and Dec 2004, so yeah, they demonstrated the yard can deliver two hulls per year. But did the shipyard do a good job? I mean, on the first hull the propeller somehow broke…between launching and leaving the yard. The three shipos–the Guy V. Molinari, the Sen. John J. Marchi, and the Spirit of America–entered service between Jan 2005 and April 2006, but since then they’ve been pulled out of service for a host of problems–mechanical, propulsion, steering…cracked walls, ventilation, faulty generators, hell, the Marchi’s loss of power while docking injured 15-20 people in 2009.

The final boat of the three had propulsion problems and couldn’t even make the trip from the yard to NYC without repairs–and then the state insisted on getting an extended warranty for the vessel.

So the yard can meet a 2-hull-per-year pace (on a three-hull contract! Wheeeee!), but what, exactly, did they manufacture over there? Lemons? Or Ferries?

The verdict is still out.


Mo Wanchuk December 3, 2010 at 9:22 am

I believe Marinette Shipyard demonstrated the ability to work on two hulls at once with the Staten Island Ferry project, with a total of three built. At least they were fabricating parts and modules for number two while number one was in the assembly shed. When the first one was side launched there was damage to the windows that run along the sides. Without all the glass of a ferry, side launching an LCS should be no problem.


mrguest December 2, 2010 at 6:29 am

Fort Worth Pictures being towed out at bottom of page.


Craig Hooper December 2, 2010 at 1:40 am

Hey, guys, USNI is good people. I’m good people. No need for either to run the other down in public. If anybody has a burning desire to discuss the nitty gritty or feels like they have something to add, then email me directly, offline

Regarding the launching issue, I think it was significant that Fincantieri managers thought that it was significant. They brought it up, said it was a hazard (eliminating the side launch “would save money and protect the vessel from the risk of damage incurred in lateral launches”) and that they wanted to end the practice. I am merely relating what Fincantieri managers said to one of America’s higher profile defense trade outlets.

The fact that they didn’t do anything is, to me, damned interesting and reflects upon their ability to deliver. Which then contributes to acquisition costs (the 34% estimated TOC for a surface combatant). Sure, it ain’t the operational part of the game, but screwing the pooch in the acquisition part of the process can make a significant hike in the TOC of the platform.

And that’s why I’m focusing on the comparative shipyard strength. Austal’s shipyard is, I think, stronger here and will lead to fewer cost shocks stemming from fabrication. Marinette–I’m not so sure.


William Bates December 1, 2010 at 11:41 pm

I may have inferred too much and apologize if I did so. I did say “If you were asked to leave” for you to fill in the details. I was not making an accusation by any means. If you have creative and/or political differences with USNI then so be it, that is your own personal judgment call.

I would, in fact, applaud you for deciding to go your separate way if that was the case. There is nobility in taking a private stand on principle and that should be recognized.

Back to the original topic (but not letting Craig off the hook) the real problem is not how they are launched but rather the Total Ownership Cost (TOC) issues. Side launching is in reality no different than “down the ways” launches, which have been done for hundreds of years. Mitigating the risks is a relatively minor task as compared to building an entire warship, and real shipbuilders know how to deal with that.

I am curious why you focused so much on this small detail?


Russell Bichowsky December 1, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Craig – I’m confused. You raised the issue of leaving USNI. Are you leaving them, or did they ask you to leave as William Bates asserts?

And what’s this thing? I tried to get in but it looks like some sort of forum for Surface Warfare Officers. Were you a SWO?


Craig Hooper December 1, 2010 at 8:03 pm

Who says that? Send me a linky!

Or, do what other folks do–just email me the libelous thread from 🙂


William Bates December 1, 2010 at 7:11 pm

It really calls your credibility into question if you were asked to leave USNI. This needs to be addressed.


Craig Hooper December 1, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Russell- Send me an email from .mil and we can discuss that offline. Cheers-


Russell Bichowsky December 1, 2010 at 10:21 am

Leaving USNI? Why?


Craig Hooper December 1, 2010 at 12:03 am

Yeah, side-launching probably not that big a deal (though there are some horror stories out there). I think the bigger news is that the Italians went on record, saying it was a hazard, and didn’t fix it. Would be kind of a big deal if the launch went bad.

Would really like to know more about how LCS-1 “solved” and LCS-3 “cured” this model’s issues with weight.


leesea November 30, 2010 at 11:45 pm

the start point is the LCS-1 is more than 10% overweight and has fallen off its original hydrostatic lines. That is reagarded as a failed HPMV design. Will LCS-3 have altered hull form?

Having seen Halter Marine side launch many large vessels without too many problems, I think MMC who has been doing that as long should get the job done. They take up less turf also. I’ve not been to MMC but to many other US shipyards

Austal LCS design has some predecessors already operating too.


Craig Hooper November 30, 2010 at 11:12 pm

Thanks for the compliment…There are a few of us out there who are happy to ask if the Navy is, you know, ready!

But if you’ve been over at USNI reading their blog (a venue that I’ll be leaving shortly), I suspect you already know that.


Russell Bichowsky November 30, 2010 at 9:02 pm

Been following here and at USNI for some time. Excellent writing! Superb that someone with your insight, knowledge and experience is bringing issues like this to the fore. Keep it up!


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