ARLINGTON, Va. — The Littoral Combat Ship has become a main point of pride for the U.S. Navy. But it has begun to attract a critical eye from some analysts and lawmakers who blame the LCS for draining resources from larger, more expensive surface combatants.
Two Littoral Combat Ships already are in the water, and the Navy has committed to buying 20 over the coming two decades. But long-time naval analyst Ronald O'Rourke, of the Congressional Research Service, told the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium this week that the LCS is becoming a favorite target of Washington budget hawks.
"The LCS is in the process right now of becoming a sort of standard item in proposals you see around [Washington] for how people were to cut the defense budget,” he said.
Other analysts echoed O'Rourke's warning and said that the Navy's biggest priority should be to address a critical shortfall in cruisers and destroyers. O'Rourke said he has seen little to no action on the service’s part to attack the problem.
“The only thing to me more remarkable about the size of this projected shortfall is the little amount of attention it receives in Navy presentations and documents,” O’Rourke said. “It’s almost completely absent from the Navy’s discussion.”
While Navy officials rarely mention the gap often referred to as the “projected cruiser-destroyer shortfall,” O'Rourke used two other terms to describe it: a huge unfunded requirement and a looming force-structure crisis.
A vision for the future in the form of a coherent story for the public and lawmakers could save some programs from termination and help give the Navy what it needs for the future, he said.
Navy officials said they will conduct a force structure study this spring that will help define ship requirements for the future. Undersecretary of the Navy Bob Work told symposium attendees, however, not to get caught up in a numbers game when it comes to the fleet.
Work said that ships are just one piece of a larger network that includes other important weapons systems such as 117 P-8 aircraft, the 68 BAMS [broad area maritime surveillance] unmanned aircraft, Fire Scout drones, remote mine-hunting systems and unmanned surface vessels.
“Everything interconnects,” he said. “You can’t just count the ships.”
It doesn’t matter that the Navy doesn’t have as many as 600 ships anymore, he said. He adopted a whining voice and said, “Everyone focuses in on, ‘Oh. is it going to be 313 ships or 310?’”
“I don’t care,” he said. “I got BAMS … How many ships would it take to provide the same maritime domain awareness? It’s a lot bigger than a 600-ship Navy, I guarantee you that.”