Vice CNO: Sequestration Threatens Littoral Combat Ship, Mission Modules

By Sarah Sicard

NORFOLK, Va. — The littoral combat ship’s mine countermeasures module will be a key enabler for the Marine Corps that will keep expeditionary forces out of bomb infested waters, the vice chief of naval operations said Nov. 18.

But if sequestration returns in fiscal year 2016, it could pose a risk to the program, Adm. Michelle Howard said at NDIA’s annual expeditionary warfare conference.

“My biggest concern and challenge is whether or not we end up being sequestered. That is my biggest concern and challenge to the LCS and the mission modules and for us to be able to replace those aging mine countermeasure ships out there,” she said 

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert testified on Capitol Hill in September that if sequester is reinstated, the Navy will only be able to maintain a force of about 250 to 255 ships, she said.

Today, it has a force of about 290, which means that “over the course of five years, we would have to reduce that force structure in order to keep other ships ready."

As to whether the Navy would have to cut the LCS total buy or to stretch out production of its 32 vessels, Howard said, “Until we know what would happen [with sequestration], we wouldn’t be able to make those decisions.”

She urged industry members in the audience to appeal to their representatives in Congress and the Senate. Outside of the House and Senate armed services committees, many elected officials are not aware of how sequestration negatively impacts the military, Howard said.

“You are constituents of someone,” she said. “As you folks come from … different parts of the country, you probably have a senator or congressman who may or may not be familiar with the services that you provide to the military. … Helping educate [them] will really make a difference.”

The littoral combat ship has been heavily criticized by some Navy officials and other experts who believe it is not survivable enough in combat, and that its mission modules for surface warfare, mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare have lagged in development.

Howard said she felt confident in the capability of the platform and its mission packages, especially in comparison to the legacy mine countermeasures ships.

Underwater mines are just one of the methods that future adversaries could employ to deny the Navy and Marine Corps access. It’s clear that China is developing systems meant to create an anti-access, area-denial (A2/AD) environment, and adversaries in the Mediterranean and Middle East could use similar tactics, Howard said. The U.S. military must figure out how to maneuver into those areas.

"How do you rework technology so that we can gain access to those areas and then be able to sustain access in those areas, so that if we had to, we could dominate in a warfight?” she asked.

One possibility is for surface ships to gradually move into an area and then introduce expeditionary forces, she said. “Definitely, in this case, you want to have something like LCS and its mission packages … because that ship is self deployable” and speedier than legacy ships, so it can quickly move to a denied environment and create “maneuver space for the forces to flow in behind us.”

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, Shipbuilding, Surface Ships

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