By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
Congressman Jo Bonner (R) from Mobile announced in his Friday column that the U.S. House of Representatives has approved additional funding to build four more littoral combat ships (LCS). Two will be build by local shipbuilder, Austal, and two will be built by Lockheed Martin in Wisconsin.
Representative Bonner said, “The Defense Appropriations Act of 2014 passed the House with $1.8 billion included to build four new LCS. Two of the ships will be built in Mobile by Austal, the other two by Lockheed Martin in Wisconsin. A month earlier, the House also passed the Defense Authorization Act of 2014, which authorized the new ships.”
Rep. Bonner continued, “Mobile’s Austal USA is in the middle of a $3.5 billion government contract to build up to ten littoral combat ships for the US Navy. The futuristic looking ships are designed to counter mine, submarine and small boat threats in shallow waters by using interchangeable mission “modules,” which adapt the ship’s capability to the threat.”
Congressman Bonner said. “Austal has already launched two trimaran hull LCS ships: the USS Independence and the USS Coronado. Both are currently undergoing tests and further trials. As the contract moves forward, Austal’s local workforce has grown beyond 3,600 employees. Austal is also busy completing construction of ten Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV) for the Navy. The JHSV contract is already fully funded.”
Rep. Bonner said that last week he participated in a House Armed Services Committee hearing reviewing perceived challenges of the LCS program. Bonner said that the LCS continues to face criticism from people who misunderstand its mission and compare the LCS to larger blue water combat ships like destroyers and frigates.
Rep. Bonner said, “I pointed out during the hearing, the smaller, more agile and adaptive LCS is designed as a deterrent to shallow water threats. The LCS is an integral part of the Navy’s new force projection strategy and not meant to replace larger blue water combat vessels; it will instead free them to perform the missions they were designed to do.”
Congressman Bonner said that one LCS is currently stationed in Singapore to support our allies in Asia and the Pacific and that the Navy plans to deploy more LCS in the Pacific region. Rep. Bonner said, “To be sure, Austal USA and its Mobile workers will continue to play an important role in maintaining the peace far from our shores.”
The Independence-class LCS has a top speed of 44 knots, carries a crew of just 40 sailors, and can be specially configured for mine sweeping, sub hunting, operating unmanned aerial vehicles, operating helicopters, and can support Marine or Special forces operations. The cost is $704 million each, although the original navy estimate was that the LCS would cost just $220 million each.
The U.S. Navy plans call for building 55 LCSs with the first twenty being ten each of the Independence-class and Freedom-class, however it is likely that those plans will face some downsizing given the ongoing sequestration crisis.
The U.S. Navy had originally proposed a competition between the two competing designs with winner take all; but eventually decided to split the order between both shipyards.
Austal is the largest builder of aluminum ships in the world. Austal has two shipyards: one in Western Australia and one in Mobile. Started in 1988, Austal has manufactured 220 vessels to date including warships, ferries, and luxury motor yachts.
Rep. Jo Bonner represents Alabama’s first district in the United States Congress. Congressman Bonner will resign his office on Thursday and a special election will be held to find his replacement.