WASHINGTON, D.C. — Testimony in which acting Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley said a single Littoral Combat Ship in 2018 was the minimum needed to preserve the two shipyards was taken to heart in crafting the Senate Armed Services Committee’s defense bill that held to one LCS, SASC staffers on Thursday.
In May testimony before the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee, Stackley said the single LCS initially included in the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2018 budget request “only meets the minimum sustainment,” compared to the optimal production rate of three a year across the two years, USNI News reported at the time.
SASC took that testimony and kept the program at a single ship, the staffers said.
“We authorized the LCS that was in the budget request. We support the president’s budget in that regard. The testimony from Secretary Stackley before the SAC-D that one was the minimum in ’18 to sustain the industrial base was taken into account. …
We found that testimony compelling,” a staffer told reporters on Thursday.
“There’s one LCS in ’18, which the secretary said in SAC-D testimony was the minimum.”
While the administration had initially put only a single LCS in the budget submitted to Congress, the next day the White House shifted course and asked acting Navy acquisition chief Allison Stiller to say the administration was supportive of two in the budget.
Both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Appropriations Committee support three LCS hulls in the FY 2018 budget.
The move from the Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)-chaired SASC comes as little surprise. He has been as constant a critic of the LCS program, as the Navy has seen in the last several years. Last year McCain pointed out $13 billion in what he deemed was wasteful spending in the federal government in his “America’s Most Wasted” report, and the LCS program counted for $12.4 billion of the $13 billion total.
While the SASC language is cool on LCS, staffers said they would welcome a full and open competition for the follow-on frigate design that will look at hulls beyond the current Lockheed Martin-built Freedom-class and Austal USA-built Independence-class designs.
“We’re supportive of the timing,” a staffer told reporters.
“We’re supportive of free and open competition using existing designs.”
The Navy will look at both domestic and foreign designs as it seeks a frigate more capable than today’s LCSs.
“The Navy Frigate Requirements Evaluation Team (FFG RET) will update the SSCTF analyses to investigate the feasibility of incorporating additional capabilities such as local air defense and enhanced survivability features into the current LCS designs, as well as explore other existing hull forms,” the Navy told USNI News in April.
Some in the Senate have pushed for the Navy to consider foreign frigate designs that have a more robust air defense capability than the current LCS Flight 0 designs.
At least one of the three fleet architecture studies recently released by the Navy that will guide the service in the future called for a more robust air defense frigate that would incorporate Mk-41 vertical launch cells that would make the follow-on design much more lethal to traditional air and cruise missile threats.