New Law Restricts the Navy to 35 Littoral Combat Ships

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The U.S. Navy’s future littoral combat ship USS Billings (LCS 15) launches sideways into the Menominee River in Marinette, Wisc., following its christening by ship sponsor Sharla Tester. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin/Released)
The U.S. Navy’s future littoral combat ship USS Billings (LCS 15) launches sideways into the Menominee River in Marinette, Wisconsin, following its christening by ship sponsor Sharla Tester. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of Lockheed Martin/Released)

The defense bill signed by President Donald Trump last week limits the Navy to 35 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) in the fleet and bars funding for more.

"None of the funds authorized" in the National Defense Authorization Act can be used to exceed "the total procurement quantity of 35 Littoral Combat Ships," Congress stipulated in the legislation.

To get a 36th LCS, the under secretary of defense for acquisition would have to go before the Senate and House Armed Services Committees to argue that an additional LCS is in the vital national security interests of the U.S., according to the legislation.

The action signals Congress' frustration with the LCS program's progress and an intention to switch focus to a new class of guided-missile frigates.

Related: The Navy's New Pacific Maintenance Team Can Fix an LCS on the Fly

The limits on the LCS program are "necessary to maintain a full and open competition for the Guided Missile Frigate FFG(X) with a single source award in fiscal year 2020," the legislation states.

The Navy initially intended to purchase 55 ships in the LCS class, but cut acquisitions to 32 in 2014 following cost overruns, questions about the ships' combat survivability and a range of maintenance problems that led to failures to deploy.

Congress eventually added three more ships to the program, but has now focused its attention on the new guided-missile frigates under the National Defense Strategy, which calls for renewed focus on great power competition against China and Russia.

"The LCS program has been controversial over the years due to past cost growth, design and construction issues with the first LCSs [and] concerns over the survivability of LCSs [i.e., their ability to withstand battle damage]," according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report last week.

In addition, the CRS report cites "concerns over whether LCSs are sufficiently armed and would be able to perform their stated missions effectively, and concerns over the development and testing of the modular mission packages for LCSs."

The LCS was originally envisioned as a "relatively inexpensive Navy surface combatant that is to be equipped with modular 'plug-and-fight' mission packages, including unmanned vehicles (UVs)," the CRS report said.

The LCS comes in two versions -- Lockheed Martin's monohull Freedom class, made at Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisconsin, and the trimaran Austal USA Independence class, made in Mobile, Alabama.

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.

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