Defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin Corp. will be producing littoral combat ships for the U.S. Navy until the mid-2020s regardless of a recent order from Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to reduce the planned quantity of ships, according to the company's LCS program vice president Joe North.
North declined to speculate what the long-term impact of a reduced ship buy would be, noting that budgets had not been finalized and the Navy and Defense Department continued to negotiate about how many of the vessels the service needs.
"Less ships is definitely not as good as more ships," North said during a briefing with reporters.
Carter's Dec. 14 memo chastised the Navy for overemphasizing shipbuilding while causing "unacceptable reductions" to other war-fighting assets including fighter aircraft and missiles. He told the service to reduce the number of LCS and frigates it planned to buy from 52 to 40 and to select one builder and variant.
The Navy's current strategy involves purchasing two variants: the Freedom-class, from Lockheed, and the Independence Class, made by the Australian shipbuilder Austal.
With six ships in varying stages of construction or planning, North estimated Littoral Combat Ship work would remain in the shipyard in Marinette, Wisconsin, until at least 2022.
"We have not seen any '17 budget exhibits yet," he said. "That'll tell me exactly where we end up as far as work, but I predict it's well into 2025 or later and then we'll see what the frigate in the FY19 acquisition strategy turns out to be before we can determine more impacts on what we're doing in the production cycle."
According to Pentagon budget documents from earlier this year, the Navy plans to spend $29 billion on the Littoral Combat Ship program, including $21.8 billion for 32 Littoral Combat Ships and $7.5 billion for mission module packages. Those figures don't take into account the changes ordered by Carter.
North said Lockheed had no current plans to make changes to its strategy in order to become more competitive in light of a possible down-select.
"I'm always confident where we are; I think we've got a good product," he said. "We're staying on the path we are with what we promised the government, on schedule to get these things done."