John Sayen wrote a stinging critique of the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship program for Time's Battleland Blog. He's not the first and certainly won't be the last defense commentator to square his crosshairs on a program that has seen deadlines fly by and and costs spiral.
What's different is the manner the Navy is so publicly pushing back against the arguments he made against the LCS. Navy's Chief of Information Rear Adm. John Kirby wrote a stinging rebuke to Sayen's article on the Navy's blog, Navy Live, picking it apart in a piece entitled "LCS: Lets Talk Facts."
It's rare to see a service spokesperson so deliberately counter an article by writing an article of his own. Often, public affairs officers will circulate talking points to commanders to dispel the article, or simply put out a statement. You could call Kirby's piece a statement, but rarely does a statement go on for more than 1,500 words.
Navy PAOs have taken notice to Kirby's pro-active approach in discussing controversial Navy programs since he took over as the Navy's top spokesperson. One Navy PAO wrote that Kirby has been "sending out regular missives to us PAO’s and challenging us to not be just a glorified answering machine for the Navy, but rather embrace our role as spokespeople and represent the Navy and it’s programs to the media."
As for Kirby's piece, it speaks for itself. Read the full blog here.
He tackles the questions over the ever increasing cost of LCS ships within the program writing:
"Yes, there has definitely been cost growth. Can’t deny that. The Navy initially established an objective cost of $250 million per ship and a threshold cost of $400 million per ship (seaframe and mission modules included). The first two seaframes of the class, which were both research and development ships of two different variants, cost $537 million (LCS 1) and $653 million (LCS 2), respectively.
"But that was then. This is now. We have 20 LCSs under fixed price contracts. The average price for LCS will be below the congressionally mandated cost cap.
"And the tenth ship of each production run will beat the cost cap by several tens of millions of dollars. That will allow us to inject added capabilities, if desired or required, without breaking the bank—just as we have done in the Arleigh Burke DDG program for the past 20 years.
"On balance, for the LCS’s size and capability, we believe the Navy — and the taxpayers –are getting one heck of a bargain."
In regards to the Congressional Research Service's study that found the LCS is not survivable in a "hostile combat environment," Kirby wrote:
"Like all warships, LCS is built to fight. It’s built for combat.
"Nobody ever said this ship can — and no engineer can ever design a ship to — withstand every conceivable threat on the sea. But the LCS is significantly more capable than the older mine counter measure ships and patrol craft it was designed to replace, and stands up well to the frigates now serving in the fleet.
"It is fast, maneuverable, and has low radar, infrared, and magnetic signatures. Its core self-defense suite is designed to defeat a surprise salvo of one or two anti-ship cruise missiles when the ship is operating independently, or leakers that get through fleet area and short-range air defenses when operating with naval task forces.
"Its 57mm gun is more than capable of taking out small boats and craft. Its armed helicopter gives the LCS an over-the-horizon attack capability and is lethal against submarines. LCS will stand outside of minefields and sweep them with little danger to its crew—and be able to defend itself while doing so. The ship has extensive automated firefighting systems and can remain afloat after considerable flooding damage.
"We’re more than comfortable that the ship can fight and defend itself in a combat environment, especially when acting in concert with larger multi-mission cruisers and destroyers, exactly as we designed it to do."
There will be plenty of defense observers who take umbrage with some of Kirby's arguments. Kirby says he encourages the discussion and finishes his piece writing this:
"I don’t expect the LCS debate to cease anytime soon. As I said, I welcome it. It’s healthy for us and for the country. But I do expect the criticism to be based on facts — current, relevant facts.
"Let’s try to have THAT discussion."