By Brandon Moseley
Alabama Political Reporter
On Thursday, December 17, US Secretary of Defense, Ash Carter announced an order cutting the LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) program from 52 to 40 ships, and ordering that by 2019, there will only be one version of the ship in production. Congressman Bradley Byrne (R-Montrose) was quick to announce his opposition to the plan, which would directly impact Austal, which makes the Independence Class LCS in Mobile.
US Representative Byrne said in a statement, “I will not stand for the Obama Administration’s attempts to scale back our naval fleet. The Navy has made clear they need and want the Littoral Combat Ship. I’m going to fight this proposal tooth and nail, not just for our ship yard, but also for our Navy and the defense of the United States of America.”
Secretary Carter wrote, “For the last several years, the Department of the Navy has overemphasized resources used to incrementally increase total ship numbers at the expense of critically-needed investments in areas where our adversaries are not standing still, such as strike, ship survivability, electronic warfare, and other capabilities. This has resulted in unacceptable reductions to the weapons, aircraft, and other advanced capabilities that are necessary to defeat and deter advanced adversaries.
Earlier this year the Department of Defense gave guidance to correct and reverse this trend of prioritizing quantity over lethality; however, counter to that guidance, the Department of the Navy’s latest program submission fails to do so. It is accordingly unbalanced, creates too much warfighting and technical risk, and would exceed the numerical requirement of 308 ships… This requirement should be met, but not irresponsibly exceeded.”
Rep. Byrne said, “The United States is threatened by multiple adversaries, from China’s efforts to dominate the sea lanes in the South China Sea to Russia’s initiatives in the Black Sea through its seizure of Crimea, and to Iran’s attempts to choke off lanes into the Persian Gulf. Our Navy is at risk across the world and the weak and impotent Obama Administration seeks to further undermine our position with this ill-considered decision.”
According to original reporting by Sam LaGrone with USNI news (United States Naval Institute), Carter is directing the Navy to instead devote those resources on procuring 31 F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters, new F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, SM-6 missiles, accelerating Flight III Arleigh Burke DDG-51 acquisition and expanding development of the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) for the Block V Virginia-class submarine program.
Ash Carter plan for the 2017 budget is to reduce the LCS purchase from 52 down to just 40, and down select to a single shipbuilder and design for the class, meaning that either Austal or Lockheed will be the only supplier as of 2019.
Rep. Byrne vowed to reverse the Administration’s plan. Byrne said, “Make no mistake about it, from Mobile to Marinette, and from San Diego to Jacksonville, the bell has rung, and those in the Pentagon need to hear that this will not stand. Not just for our ship yards but also for our Navy and for the defense of the people of the United States of America.”
Three of each class of LCS, Freedom-class (LCS-1) and Independence-class (LCS-2), have been commissioned into the navy at this point with more coming up the supply line.
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 smaller lighter LCS can operate in shallower waters closer to shore, the “littoral combat zone,”
According to manufacturer Lockheed Martin F35C fighter will cost $115 million (not including the engines).
The US Navy plans had called for building 55 LCSs with the first twenty being ten each of the Independence-class and Freedom-class.
In 2014, then Secretary of State Chuck Hagel ordered the LCS program limited to just 35, but that order was opposed by the Congress and ultimately reversed.