By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, February 6, 2014 U.S. Representative Bradley Byrne (R) from Montrose penned a letter along with 21 of his colleagues to the President of the United States, Barack H. Obama, supporting the Navyís Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.
It was recently reported that Navy planners were poised to cut the LCS order by 20 ships from its original order of 52. This ship is manufactured in part by Austal USA from its facility in the Port of Mobile, employing roughly 4,000 residents of South Alabama.
Congressman Byrne said: ìI am committed to using every avenue possible to fight for these jobs represented by the Navy contracts at Austal in Mobile. As the Secretary of the Navy himself stated, this ship has the potential to become ëthe backbone of the future fleetí with its varied capabilities, relative low cost to manufacture, and low cost to operate
Representative Byrne had previously argued that the reports were fueled by arbitrary forces from within the Administration and not from any coherent long term naval strategy.
Rep. Byrne said, ìWe cannot allow the livelihoods of thousands of South Alabama families and the future of the United States Navy to hang in the balance over an arbitrary decision from the Administration. The President and Secretary of Defense need to understand the deep ramifications their actions could have, placing the Navyís procurement program a decade behind schedule and causing families across shipbuilding regions like South Alabama to lose their jobs.î
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 hollowing out of the force that has occurred over the last five years.
Congressman Reid Ribble (R) from Wisconsin whose District encompasses the facility in Marinette, Wisconsin building the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship, said: ìThe Navy continues to want and need this vessel and Secretary Hagel himself described it as the ship of the future. Especially in lean budgetary times our military needs to have this cost-effective vessel as part of its arsenal. We should not be sending large, costly destroyers to patrol against pirates and drug runners. It makes little strategic or financial sense. Our nation needs a lean, quick vessel as part of its ongoing transformation to a more nimble, efficient military. The LCS is precisely that vessel. It doesnít make sense to reduce a program with declining costs to make up for other Navy programs whose budgets are ballooning.î
Rep. Byrne said, ìI said that I would make our case on this issue passionately to the powers that be and that I would not give up. I said that I would build coalitions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to defend these jobs. This letter represents a positive step forward. I will continue fighting for these jobs and I believe we will be successful, because we have a united community behind this program and a common-sense case to make.î
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 and accepted both the Austal designed Independence class and the more conventional Freedom class.
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. Bradley Byrne represents Alabamaís first district in the United States Congress. Congressman Byrne was elected in a special election in 2013 after the previous congressman, Rep. Jo Bonner resigned to take a position with the University of Alabama system. Byrne faces re-election this year like the rest of Congress.