Pentagon Chief says 40 LCS Ships is Enough
On Thursday, U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter defended the Pentagon's decision to buy just 40 Littoral Combat Ships instead of the 52 originally planned, saying the money saved would allow the Navy to buy more missiles and undersea technology.
Carter told reporters during a visit to Seattle that the U.S. military was making a deliberate choice to skip buying the additional dozen LCS ships and focus more on improving the Navy's "lethality and capability."
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and other backers of the program have said the Navy's requirement for the smaller, fast coastal LCS warships remains unchanged at 52, despite Carter's decision to truncate the program. Mabus told lawmakers on Wednesday that the final decision about how many small surface warships to buy would ultimately be made by the next administration.
Carter was emphatic when asked about those comments on Thursday, saying the department has set a clear priority to buy other more powerful warships and beef up the firepower of its existing ships.
"Forty is enough. The Navy's own war-fighting analysis indicates that, but it is also our priority," Carter said. "That's the right decision to make because it allows us to have the right kind of ships, lethality, and to make investments in ... undersea technology, in missiles."
Lockheed Martin Corp and Australia's Austal are building two separate models of the LCS ships. Carter has said he wants the Navy to have a competition and pick just one supplier for future ships, although the timing of that remains unclear.
In February, Senators John McCain and Jack Reed, the top-ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, sent a sharply critical bipartisan letter to the Navy regarding the LCS program.
Their criticisms stem from findings in the latest report of the Department of Defense's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, issued in January.
"More than seven years after the first LCS was delivered, the report makes clear the program remains mired in testing delays with an unclear path ahead. Yet, we seldom hear from Navy leaders about these challenges and the path to achieving full operational capability. Instead, Navy leaders seem to be promoting the warfighting capabilities of the LCS," including its rebranding as a destroyer.
Mabus recently credited the LCS with the ability to "put the enemy fleet on the bottom of the ocean" and described the ships as suitable for use as carrier strike group escorts. However, the senators said that the LCS' proven range is only about 2,000 nm at 14 knots, raising the question of how the small ships would keep up without frequent refueling: other vessels in a carrier strike group have a range of about twice as far, they said.
Additionally, one of the main intended uses of the LCS platform, mine clearing, has not yet been realized. "LCS has not reached an initial operational capability in any elements of mine countermeasures today and the timeline for achieving mine countermeasures capability remains unclear,” four years after its scheduled operating date, they wrote.
The senators also noted the delays in testing and approval for the system's anti-submarine capabilities, and the limited abilities of its surface warfare systems, which have a "maximum effective range of five miles."
"Unless the enemy fleet consists of a small number of lightly armed boats at extremely short range, we fail to see how the LCS reality is consistent with [Secretary Mabus'] remarks."