SECDEF Carter Directs Navy to Cut Littoral Combat Ship Program to 40 Hulls, Single Shipbuilder

December 16, 2015 11:52 PM - Updated: December 17, 2015 7:52 AM
USS Freedom (LCS-1), left, and USS Independence (LCS-2) in 2012. US Navy Photo
USS Freedom (LCS-1), left, and USS Independence (LCS-2) in 2012. US Navy Photo

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has ordered the Navy to trim its total buy of Littoral Combat Ships to 40 and down select to a single shipbuilder and design for the class as part of its fiscal year 2017 budget, according to a memo obtained by USNI News.

The directive to trim the service’s planned total of 52 planned LCS and Frigate hulls and direct the savings into other programs was contained in the Monday letter from Carter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus.

The new plan would call for a building only six LCS between fiscal years 2017-2020 – eight less than the Navy’s submitted in its 2017 plan – and directs the Navy to down select to a single shipyard and a single hull type in 2019.

“This plan reduces, somewhat, the number of LCS available for presence operations, but that need will be met by higher-end ships, and it will ensure that the warfighting forces in our submarine, surface, and aviation fleets have the necessary capabilities and posture to defeat even our most advanced potential adversaries,” read the memo.
“Forty LCS/FF will exceed recent historical presence levels and will provide a far more modern and capable ship than the patrol coastals, minesweepers, and frigates that they will replace.”

A representative from the Navy Research, Development and Acquisition arm had no comment on the memo when contacted by USNI News.

News of the memo was first reported by Defense News.

Carter directed the Navy to instead devote the resources to procuring 31 F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters (JSF), additional F/A-18 E/F Super Hornets, SM-6 missiles, accelerating Flight III Arleigh Burke DDG-51 acquisition and expanding development of the Virginia Payload Module (VPM) for the Block V Virginia-class submarine program.

While budget disagreements inside the Pentagon are common the tone and language of Carter’s memo directed at Mabus – who has led the Department of the Navy since 2009 – was unusually stringent.

“For the last several years, the Department of the Navy has overemphasized resources used to incrementally increase total ship numbers at the expense of critically-needed investments in areas where our adversaries are not standing still, such as strike, ship survivability, electronic warfare, and other capabilities,” read the memo.
“This has resulted in unacceptable reductions to the weapons, aircraft, and other advanced capabilities that are necessary to defeat and deter advanced adversaries. Earlier this year the Department of Defense gave guidance to correct and reverse this trend of prioritizing quantity over lethality; however, counter to that guidance, the Department of the Navy’s latest program submission fails to do so. It is accordingly unbalanced, creates too much warfighting and technical risk, and would exceed the numerical requirement of 308 ships… This requirement should be met, but not irresponsibly exceeded.”

Three of each class of ship – Lockheed Martin’s Freedom-class (LCS-1) and Austal USA’s Independence-class – have been commissioned into the service with up to 20 ships at least under contract.

Last year, then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel directed the Navy to develop a class of ship in line with the capabilities of a frigate. The service elected to up gun its existing LCS designs.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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