Home » Budget Industry » Mabus: Next Administration Will Have Final Say On Littoral Combat Ship Totals

Mabus: Next Administration Will Have Final Say On Littoral Combat Ship Totals

Littoral Combat Ships USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Coronado (LCS-4) sit at the pier at Naval Station San Diego on Feb. 17, 2016. USNI News photo.

Littoral Combat Ships USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Coronado (LCS-4) sit at the pier at Naval Station San Diego on Feb. 17, 2016. USNI News photo.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus raised the possibility of a restored Littoral Combat Ship /Frigate program, noting for the first time publicly that the next administration – not this one – will make the final decision about how many small surface combatants to buy.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s Dec. 14, 2015, memo that decreed the LCS/Frigate program would be halted after buying 40 ships instead of the planned 52, and that only one builder instead of two would finish out the ship class, clearly contradicted the Navy’s vision for building its future fleet. The Navy originally declined to comment to USNI News on the Carter memo. However, in contrast to the Carter memo’s statement that “the Navy’s strategic future requires focusing … more on new capabilities, not only ship numbers,” a “Department of the Navy Goals and Objectives for Fiscal Year 2016” memo was signed the next day and listed the top platform-related goal as “buy more ships.”

The Navy has several times reiterated that its validated requirement for small surface combatants – LCSs and frigates – remains at 52 despite Carter’s decision.

The discussion on LCS heated up last week when Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told the House Armed Services Committee that the downselect from two shipbuilders to one – either Austal USA or Marinette Marine – would “drive, likely, one of those shipyards out of business based on their other workload.”

“While today we have two shipbuilders who have been in this program from day one and have invested in their facilities, driven down cost, and are delivering in accordance with contracts, once you go to this level of construction you have to downselect, there’s not enough workload there to sustain two shipyards,” he said.

And today, Mabus made the point publicly that many had been making privately since December: “the decisions about what to do, the number of Littoral Combat Ships, the type of Littoral Combat Ships, will not be made by this administration. They will be made by the next administration and by Congress, and this [FY 2017 budget request] allows the decision space for the next administration and Congress to go whatever direction they want to,” he told the House Appropriations defense subcommittee at a hearing.

Mabus also said that buying two in FY 2017 – Carter’s memo called for one, but the Navy successfully argued it would need to buy two to help set up a downselect to one builder for the remainder of the 40-ship class – would keep both yards open and thereby preserve decision space for the next administration.

The defense appropriators made several comments in support of the Navy shipbuilding budget and the shipbuilding industrial base, and though it remains to be seen what budget, if any, lawmakers will be able to pass during an election year, there seems to be plenty of congressional support for keeping the LCS/frigate program alive until a new administration is voted in.

  • LewCypher


  • John King

    Megan, there is also the perspective that the newer shipyard, Austral, is less of a priority than MM because the catamaran design (shoved down our throats by Australia, which doesn’t buy their own design for THEIR navy ships) is “bonus” shipbuilding capacity and not baseline, core industrial capacity. LIFO.

    • Secundius

      @ John King.

      The Independence class was Designed by General Dynamics Consortium, and Built by Austral USA. So it was Hardly Rammed Down Our Collective Throats, UNLESS the US Congress DID the “Ramming”…

      • GJohnson

        GD was the asystems integrator to the Australian Austal designed catamaran baseline. And more navies are employing catamaran and trimaran designs.

      • old guy

        VOILA!!! You cracked the code.

  • PolicyWonk

    Well, I’m sure glad that LockMart and Austal are able to continue cashing the checks from these floating corporate welfare programs, that according to former CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert were “never designed to venture into the littorals to engage in combat”.

    The use of a common platform (such as was recently made a big deal of in the article discussing reusing the LPD-17 hull design for multiple platforms to save money), while touted by the navy as a way to save taxpayer funds and reduce project risk, while being openly/freely ignored when it comes to the LCS program.

    • tpharwell

      Touted it, and flout it. That’s the way to go.

    • DaSaint

      The shipbuilding ondustrial base is limited as is, part of the reason ships cost so damn much. The Perrys were built in at least 4 separate yards, increasing competition and lowering costs.

      Downselecting now serves no purpose.

  • Curtis Conway

    “The Navy has several times reiterated that its validated requirement for small surface combatants – LCSs and frigates – remains at 52 despite Carter’s decision.”

    Carter’s decision, which is one of the smartest things to come from that direction in several years, ‘increases leathality’ with ‘what we have’, instead of adding to a ship count using vessels that can’t do the job. Unfortunately, the LCS, or the USN’s new frigates, are ‘small surface combatants’ in name only, for they have neither the survivability, or multi-warfare capabilities, to go into harm’s way, and up against most of the smaller surface combatants fielded by many of the navies on the planet, that are much smaller in size, and cost significantly less. Sound like smart procurement policy to you? I fully support SECDEF in this decision.

    We need a real multi-warfare guided missile frigate, that can at least engage a Tactical Ballistic Missile, and a supersonic ASCM, with something other than a Rolling Air-frame Missile, employs a real gun that can support Marines on the beach, can conduct ASW at some level, and perhaps employs (or will be able to employ in the future) Directed Energy Weapons.

    • thirstypirate

      So we need a DDG?

      • Curtis Conway

        No. The DDGs & CGs have their own jobs and are indispensable with their large capability and crews. What we need is a CAPABLE & SURVIVABLE small surface combatant for presence missions that is not a sacrificial lamb like the FFG-7’s turned into after the Mk 13 was removed. The fact that the Navy specified an LCS shows you just how far today’s administration is willing to go to put a vessel in the mission set (and harm’s way) that does not posses the capability (even a chance) at surviving in the modern battle space.

        An Analysis of the Aegis CG (came first) with the Aegis DDG (came second) and how they stack up to each other is required. The cost of the system and the fact that no one believed such capability could cost effectively put an Aegis like system on an FFG sized platform is the genesis of our problem. With the advent of BL 9 the DDG is every bit as capable as the CG with fewer missiles. With the advent of modern technology (SSDS & COMBATS-21 control systems) an Aegis like FFG is MORE than possible. The budget invested already would have more than fielded this capability. The design CRITERIA for Aegis platforms must be used for the smaller FFG, with equipment available (or soon will be available like SPY-6(v) 9-RMA/antenna AMDR for example, or use CFAR). The criteria stays the same, but range and capacity is reduced. In a NIFC-CA environment, max capability of the main sensor means less if you are a weapons donor. Antithetically, If you are on the periphery of the Battle Group like FFGs usually are, then the subsurface and air-search capabilities become more necessary, for lack of it can turn you into a trip wire vs a Skirmisher. The gun capability on a US Frigate that cannot support Marines ashore is antithetical to the American experience with frigates throughout US Navy HiStory. With the advent of guided projectiles this becomes even more pronounced. Don’t need a deep magazine with guided projectiles, just the capability to get it out the tube. Frigates and Marines go back to Before the Founding. The FFG-7 was a low dollar aberration to most of us naval HiStorical types. The LCS transformed into a 40+ knot abortion. Too much developmental risk, too small a crew, too little capability, and going to where? A sacrificial platform pure and simple. This does not speak well of the US Navy and how they treat our sailors, who should ALWAYS have a chance in the environment in which they are introduced.

        With our new power generation and distribution systems, along with the versatility of the Hybrid Electric Drive systems, one is only left to wonder just exactly what the US Navy is thinking . . . however, it is damn sure they are NOT thinking of the sailors, or the missions they are asking them to accomplish. A Ferrari in a Mud Truck Race just doesn’t hack it.

  • John B. Morgen

    The LCS class might do better for the Coast Guard than they would with the Navy, as many of us have said; the LCSs are too under-armed to be pitted up against the PLAN in the South China Sea or in any part of the Western Pacific..

  • Murray

    There appears some consensus that the LCSs have deficiencies regarding their designed roles. Here’s a thought. Could the LCSs be effectively tasked as fast minelayers in the South China Sea? Operating out of the Philippines and Singapore they could be prepositioned to lay mines athwart PLAN supply routes to their Great Sand Wall should the need ever arise. Using P-3 or P-8 MPA for this task would be quite risky. This is a “fast in, faster out” role which would appear to suit these small ships bearing in mind the SSNs would have more important tasks and there are no other suitable surface ships in the fleet. Similar tactics were used effectively by the Germans and British in the North Sea during both world wars. Both LCS classes can already launch mission packages through the stern, so adding a mine laying capability shouldn’t be a huge cost.

    • CuddlyCobra

      They are already dangerously below the weight margins. You are not going to be able to just stack some mines on their decks.

      You will have to likely remove the mission packages to do that.

      The problems of small fuel capacity and gas guzzling engines get worse if you actually use the speed it was designed for.

      A ship that needs an extra tanker which we are decomissioning plus regular replenishment just to get to Hawaii and can’t maintain/repair itself w/o onshore contractors is going to have massive logistics issues in the vastness of the Pacific.

  • old guy

    My vote is for ANYONE that promises to end the fiasco.

  • Murray

    In an attack by a PLAN attack fighter such as the JH-7, I’d back a ship armed with SEARAM ahead of an aircraft with only a passive chaff/IR dispenser. Chaff isn’t much use against a 23mm cannon!