A shipbuilding advocacy group issued a letter to the chairs of the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus saying that Congress has put the amphibious shipbuilding industry in danger because it failed to fund the twelfth San Antonio-class amphib.
The letter, written by the Amphibious Warfare Industrial Base Coalition, or AWIBC, to Rep. Rob Wittman, R- Va., and Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., criticized the decision not to build a twelfth San Antonio Class LPD or amphibious transport dock. There are currently plans to build 11 LPD 17s “fulfilling the acquisition objective for this class,” Navy officials said.
Although AWIBC did not list a dollar amount in their letter to Congress, the unit cost of an LPD 17 amphibious transport dock is approximately $1.7 to $1.8 billion dollars -- according to DoD budget documents.
AWIBC officials refer to the Navy 30-year shipbuilding plan’s call to maintain a minimum of 33 amphibious warships in the fleet, claiming there are only 27 operating at the moment.
“It is critical to national security that these combat warships and their U.S. Navy-Marine Corps teams be available and in position around the globe to respond to threats and to protect U.S. citizens. It is also critical to national security that the U.S. industrial base that provides parts and products for amphibious warships remain strong,” writes the letter’s author, AWIBC Chairman Brian Schires.
Navy officials say their service’s 30-year shipbuilding plan calls for construction of as many as 19 new amphibs. According to the fiscal year 2014 30-year shipbuilding plan, the Navy plans to reach an inventory of 34 amphibs by 2025, Navy officials said.
The letter also states that the absence of sustained funding for LPD 28 will place skilled jobs in the shipping industry at risk.
“Building these warships on a regular schedule ensures stability in construction, keeps production lines active and allows second-and third-tier suppliers to allocate their resources and manpower to support the cost-effective and fiscally efficient production of amphibious warships,” Schires writes.
The letter also requests Congress to fund the early conceptual effort to build a new amphibious warship, the LX(R).
The Navy is now conducting an analysis of alternatives, or AoA, for the LX(R), an initiative which consists of various efforts to analyze designs, plans and potential technologies for the platform, service officials explained.
The new ship, expected to be ready by 2024, could wind up being built as a new design, a modified amphibious transport dock such as the LPD 17 or a modified dock landing ship such as the LSD, said Lt. Rob Myers, Navy spokesman.
“The AoA is researching alternatives in three categories: traditional Navy standards, tailored specifications and commercial standards,” Myers said.
Highlighting the global demand for amphibious warships is also a priority for the AWIBC, which claims that amphibs have been called upon more than 80 times to respond to mission need around the globe since October of 2011. Amphib advocates also point out that amphibious warships were strategically positioned off the coasts of Egypt and Syria last year, poised to respond to potential crises.
The letter arrives as the service gets ready to formally welcome its newest America-class amphib – the USS America, or LHA (6). The newly completed big-deck amphib recently completed acceptance trials off the coast of Mississippi.
The acceptance trails involved rigorous tests of the ship’s major systems and components including combat, propulsion, communications, computer, aviation and navigation systems, Navy officials said.
The 44,000-ton, 844-foot long amphib, built to house the MV-22 Osprey and Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, will reach speed of more than 20 knots. The ship is slated for official delivery to the Navy in the spring of this year.