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SECDEF Hagel High on LCS Amidst GAO Critique

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Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses the crew of the USS Freedom (LCS 1) in Singapore, June 2, 2013. Department of Defense Photo

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel addresses the crew of the USS Freedom (LCS 1) in Singapore on June 2, 2013. Department of Defense Photo

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke highly of the Littoral Combat Ship program and forward deployment over the weekend despite reports that the Government Accountability Office will advise Congress to slow procurement of the ships and mission packages, according to a Friday report from Bloomberg.

“We appreciate your good work,” Hagel told the crew of USS Freedom (LCS-1) said. “What you represent to our country and our partnerships in the Asia-Pacific I don’t think can be overstated. You are really defining a new era of partnership.”

Over the weekend Hagel praised the planned forward deployment four LCS as part of the Pentagon’s rebalance to the Pacific as part of the International Institute for Strategic Studies Asia Security Summit — also known as the Shangri-La dialogue.

“We are using these assets in new ways, in new ways to enhance our posture and partnerships,” he said in remarks on Saturday.
“For example, we are pushing forward with plans for innovative rotational [deployments] in the region. Last year, we noted at this forum that the U.S. Navy had committed to rotating up to four littoral combat ships through Singapore. In recent weeks, the first of those ships, the USS Freedom, arrived to begin a busy schedule of regional maritime engagements.”

On Friday, Bloomberg reported details of a draft copy of the GAO report that found the Navy had not completed a series of technical studies will meet the service’s needs.

“The apparent disconnect between the LCS acquisition strategy and the needs of the end user suggests that a pause is needed,” the GAO said. “Congress is in a position to slow funding… pending the results of the technical studies that are already underway.”

In 2010 the Navy put forward a plan to buy 24 of both hulls of the LCS — the Lockheed Martin Freedom variant and the Austal USA Independence variant. The terms of the contract awards allowed the Navy to exercise options to buy four ships a year.

Though the GAO did not recommend stopping the program outright, it did call for more time and study for the modular ship concept.

“There are also significant unknowns related to key LCS operations and support concepts and the relative advantages and disadvantages of the two seaframe variants,” the GAO said.

The ships are set to be paired with mission packages that will field Mine Countermeasures (MCM), four Surface Warfare (SUW) and Antisubmarine Warfare (ASW) capabilities. The packages have suffered several delays in production and fielding.

Rear Adm. Thomas S. Rowden, U.S. Navy Director of Surface Warfare N96, defended the Navy’s procurement plan for LCS in a Friday blog.

“As we gain momentum, we will take plenty of fixes and make the course corrections to ensure we are getting LCS forward, in numbers, to support our national maritime objectives,” wrote Rowden. These ships provide much-needed capability, and as I indicated last week, I strongly believe that forward presence and numbers are important values in a naval force unto themselves.”