Pentagon Chief Deals Blow to Navy’s LCS

By Jon Harper

The Navy’s littoral combat ship/frigate program took a major hit recently when Secretary of Defense Ash Carter suggested the service should slash planned procurement from 52 to 40 ships, a 23 percent cut.

In a Dec. 14 memo to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, Carter criticized the service’s shipbuilding plans and argued that some of the money slated for LCS and modified-LCS frigates could be better spent on other capabilities.

“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,” he said. “This has resulted in unacceptable reductions to the weapons, aircraft and other advanced capabilities that are necessary to defeat and deter advanced adversaries.”

The Carter memo calls on the Navy to procure eight fewer littoral combat ships and frigates over the course of the future years defense plan. The average cost of an LCS is about $450 million, according to the Navy’s fiscal year 2016 budget request.

The memo also tasked the Navy to downselect to a single variant by 2019. Lockheed Martin and Austal USA are currently building littoral combat ships with different baseline designs.

Under the revised budget scheme outlined by Carter, the Navy would procure additional high-tech capabilities across the future years defense plan, including: 10 Flight III destroyers; SM-6 missiles and other advanced munitions; 31 additional F-35C joint strike fighters; an unspecified number of F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets; advanced electronic warfare capabilities; and upgrades to Flight II destroyers and attack submarines.

The Defense Department also intends to increase the Navy’s budget by $1.7 billion over the course of the future years defense plan to further boost investments in such equipment, Carter said in the memo. “These choices will create a Navy that is far better postured to deter and defeat advanced adversaries.”

Navy spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Hayley Sims acknowledged the memo but declined to address specifics.

“Shipbuilding has always been a priority for the Navy and we will continue to balance capability with capacity in our shipbuilding programs as we have always done,” she said in an email. “We are aware of the memo, however budget discussions are pre-decisional. It would be inappropriate to discuss anything further until the [fiscal year] ‘17 budget is finalized.”

The Pentagon’s 2017 budget request is slated for release in early February.

In the wake of the Carter memo, Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, made a case for boosting the Navy’s budget.

“Secretary Carter has framed this as a choice between capability and capacity, but the undeniable reality is that our Navy needs more of both,” he said in a statement. “We shouldn’t have to keep making these hard choices between LCS and submarines, presence and surge capacity, modernization and readiness. … Unless we provide more resources for our Navy, it is not going to be able to keep meeting the demands that our nation and our national security strategy place upon it.”

Photo: Navy

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

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