As the Milwaukee prepared to get back underway after a major propulsion casualty, Congressional skeptics of the Navy’s littoral combat ship program challenged admirals to “close the chasm between aspirations and reality for the LCS.”

In a Feb. 5 letter to Navy leaders, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and ranking member Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., contend the Navy is overstating capabilities of the LCS class, despite delays in testing and adding counter-mine, anti-submarine and surface warfare capabilities to the ships.

Originally conceived in light of Navy experiences in the Persian Gulf and other nearshore brownwater theaters, the LCS is now touted by the Navy in the frigate role, capable of bluewater operations and supporting carrier groups.

But the program has been under more pressure of late, with seaframe problems, a December directive from Defense Secretary Ash Carter to reduce the overall class from 52 vessels to 40, and the Milwaukee’s propulsion gear failure that same month. Another gear mishap at dock Jan. 12 sidelined the Fort Worth, which has been operating out of Singapore as part of the Navy’s testing program.

“We are particularly concerned with the report’s assessment of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and its associated mission packages,” McCain and Reed wrote to Navy Secretary Raymond E. Mabus Jr. and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John M. Richardson in the letter, first obtained by the Naval Institute. “More than seven years after the first LCS was delivered, the report makes clear the program remains mired in testing delays with an unclear path ahead.

“Yet, we seldom hear from Navy leaders about these challenges and the path to achieving full operational capability. Instead, Navy leaders seem to be promoting the warfighting capabilities of the LCS.”

McCain and Reed cited remarks Mabus delivered to the Surface Navy Association in January, when Mabus asserted the LCS 387.6’x57.7’x13’ Freedom class, built by Lockheed Martin, and the 418.6’x103.7’ Independence class built by Austal USA, have broad capabilities.

The LCS class vessels can “deploy with a carrier strike group, because they have such robust anti-mine and anti-submarine capabilities…we’re redesignating them as frigates,” the letter quotes Mabus’ remarks. “A group of small surface ships like LCS is still capable of putting the enemy fleet on the bottom of the ocean. Now that’s the success story.”

“This statement and similar statements do not appear to reflect the reality of the LCS program,” the senators wrote.

McCain and Reed tick off several major complaints, including delays in testing to develop the ships’ anti-submarine and counter-mine capabilities. The range of LCS variants so far has been limited to around 2,000 miles – less than the requirement for 3,500 miles at 14 knots, and half the range for carrier group vessels without refueling, they wrote.

LCS fighting power is not so potent as the navy portrays, the senators added.

So far surface weapons for the LCS are guns and missiles with range of only about 5 miles, while “potential enemies’ small combatants carry guns with ranges of more than 7 miles and missiles that can reach more than 100 miles,” they wrote.