The Office of the Secretary of Defense has instructed the Navy to reduce its planned buy of the new Littoral Combat Ship from 52 to 32 ships, substantially limiting the size and scope of the emerging multi-mission, shallow-water ship program, according to reports.
Defense News cites a Jan. 6 memo from Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox account announcing the decision pointing to budget guidance from the White House on some large acquisition decisions.
Pentagon and Navy officials would not comment on the memo or the acquisition decision regarding LCS fleet size, citing budget deliberations as pre-decisional.
“We continue to work with OSD (office of the Secretary of Defense) on all our ship acquisitions,” a Navy official told Military.com.
However, the LCS program has long been the center of controversy and disagreement within the Navy as well as analysts and lawmakers. An internal Navy report released last year questioned the ship’s ability to perform its mission, and a number of lawmakers and analysts have raised questions wondering if the platform can survive in combat.
The $37 billion LCS program, in development since 2002, is a next-generation surface-ship aimed at delivering a fast, agile, littoral vessel equipped with technologically advanced mission packages engineered for surface warfare, anti-submarine and mine-countermeasure missions, among others.
Overall, the Navy had planned to acquire as many as 52 LCS vessels. In total, this high ship number will comprise a large percentage of the Navy’s overall surface fleet.
The LCS class consists of two variants, the Freedom and Independence - designed and built by two industry teams, respectively led by Lockheed Martin and an Austal USA-led team. Contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin and Austal USA on December 29, 2010, for the construction of up to 10 ships each.
Navy officials and senior leaders have responded by saying the ship’s speed of 40-knots, combined with its sensors, weapons, aircraft and technology packages bring substantial advantage to the fleet and improve survivability. They also emphasize that, while survivable, the LCS is not intended to function as a destroyer or heavy warship but rather perform littoral missions.
So far, the first three LCS ships have been commissioned and the fourth, the USS Coronado, is slated for commissioning in April of this year, Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman Matthew Leonard said.
LCS 5 and 6 launched in December of last year, and ships 7 through 16 are in different stages of production, Leonard added. The Navy plans to wind up delivering four LCS ships per year.
“With some of these they are building portions and modules. They build pieces separately. Fabrication involves cutting steel and beginning to build larger portions which will be assembled together following the laying of the keel,” Leonard said.
Speaking at the Navy Surface Warfare Annual Symposium Jan. 15, Chief Naval Officer Adm. Jonathan Greenert praised the development of the LCS platform, saying the ships would soon be performing mission across the globe in places such as Bahrain, Singapore and the South China Sea. In fact, the Navy Pacific rebalance strategy calls for four LCS ships to be on rotational deployments through Singapore.
“They (LCS) are going to start coming at us and we have got to accept them and move along, bring that mission package capability into the fleet,” Greenert said. Greenert made no mention of the potential reduction in LCS fleet size.
The Navy’s first LCS, the USS Freedom, recently completed a 10-month long deployment which wound up resulting in operational missions in the South China Sea and disaster relief in the Philippines.
Navy officials have long maintained that this first deployment will help refine concepts of operations and tactics, techniques and procedures for the ship as well as afford an occasion to identify and correct problems with the platform. The deployment gave the Navy the opportunities to make adjustments, fixes and corrections for the remainder of the fleet.
“The deployment of Freedom provided a lot of lessons learned and it proved out several key concepts of the program and the platform,” Leonard said.
The fixes included addressing areas such as air compressors, cabling and the ship service diesel generators, officials said.