Mar 26 2014

Navy Secretary Reaffirms Value of LCS

WASHINGTON, DC, Wednesday, March 26, 2014 – U.S. Senator Richard Shelby (R-Ala), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a senior member of its Defense Subcommittee, today at a hearing on fiscal year 2015 funding for the military, questioned Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on the importance of the littoral combat ship (LCS) to the U.S. naval fleet and the program’s future.  Mabus reaffirmed that a small surface combat ship capability is critical to the Navy and discussed options for reaching the fleet’s 52-vessel requirement, beyond the 32 LCSs that the Navy will purchase in a dual-buy from Austal USA in Mobile and Lockheed Martin in Wisconsin.

Mabus said that the Navy is currently considering three options for the procurement of the 20 additional small surface combat ships – continue the current LCS program, pursue a modified LCS, or draw up a new design.  In deciding among these options, Mabus said that speed of delivery to the fleet and cost will be critical factors.  In discussing the viability of a modified LCS, Mabus then praised the adaptability and cost-effectiveness of the LCSs already under production:

“And the great thing that a ship like LCS brings is that, as technology changes, as missions change, because it's modular you don't have to change the whole ship, you just change the weapons system,” Mabus said.  “And the final thing I'll say is that the price of LCS [is] one of the things I'm most happy about.”  

After the hearing, Shelby reacted to Mabus’s comments:

“I was pleased to hear Secretary Mabus reaffirm the Navy’s need for this critical capability and praise the work done thus far on LCS.  Listening to his comments today on the future of the program, I am optimistic that Austal is well-positioned to continue meeting this essential requirement for our fleet.  As Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, I will continue to monitor these developments carefully.”     


An excerpt of the unofficial transcript of today’s Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense hearing, provided by Congressional Quarterly, is as follows:

SHELBY:

Mr. Secretary, the Department of Defense, as you well know, has decided to reduce the overall purchase of LCS ships from 52 to 32, in favor of what they -- what we've heard is a more capable surface combatant, whatever that means.

I understand the decision about the future of the program will go one of three ways possibly. It could stay on track. It could be modified. Or the Navy could draw up an entirely new design.

Last week, you commented that you saw the modification option perhaps as a viable option in the future. Could you discuss that hopefully [with] the Committee today?

MABUS:

Senator, I'll be happy to and I think it's very important to look at exactly what the Secretary of Defense said about LCS. First, he said that we should not engage in contract negotiations past 32 ships. And getting to 32 ships will take us almost completely through this five-year Defense plan.

Second, you're absolutely correct that there were three options.  Navy has set up a team, CNO [Chief of Naval Operations] has set up a team, to look at our options. And the three options that you gave -- continue the LCS, continue a modified LCS or a brand new design.

The last two things, though, that the Secretary pointed out was that we had to take cost into account and we had to take delivery time to the fleet into account.  Because overall, we need the 52 small surface combatants that we have said that we need. 

We will have this review done in order to inform the F.Y. '16 fiscal year. 

And Senator, one other point I'd like to make -- this is not unusual in Navy ships. We're on -- we're about to start building flight 4, flight 3, but there was a 2 and a 2A, on our DDG-51s that are built in Maine and Mississippi. We're about to begin flight 4 on our Virginia-class submarines.

So we take a look at these programs and changes as requirements change, as technology changes. And the great thing that a ship like LCS brings is that, as technology changes, as missions change, because it's modular you don't have to change the whole ship, you just change the weapons system.

And the final thing I'll say is that the price of LCS, one of the things I'm most happy about, first ships of those class, both varieties, built in Alabama and Wisconsin, cost more than $750 million. The ships coming out of the 10th ship on the block buy from each one will cost around $350 million.

SHELBY:

So the more you buy, the price comes down. Isn't that just basic economics?

MABUS:

It's basic economics and it's -- and it's true for every ship.  I want to point that out.

SHELBY:

How important, Mr. Secretary, for the record, is LCS to the Navy?

MABUS:

Well, a small surface combatant is critical to the Navy. And if you listen to our combat commanders, if you listen to the needs that they require, we have to have the countermine capability, the counter-surface capability, and the counter-submarine capability that these ships are designed to bring.  And in terms of the countermine and counter-submarine, the weapon systems that LCS has today are better than what we have in the fleet.

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