Defense Secretary Ash Carter has issued a general memo regarding U.S. Navy fleet size, calling for procurement to meet the service branch's target of 308 vessels but suggesting that the number should not be “irresponsibly exceeded.”
“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 . . . this has resulted in unacceptable reductions to the weapons, aircraft, and other advanced capabilities that are necessary to defeat and deter advanced adversaries,” he wrote.
Instead of the shipbuilding investments, Secretary Carter called for upgrades to the American submarine fleet, the procurement of thirty additional fighters and a variety of additional electronic warfare systems updates.
For some naval shipyards the news will come as a blow. Secretary Carter called for cutting orders for Littoral Combat Ships and frigates from 52 down to 40, consistent with needs outlined in the Navy's own analysis. The cut would be made by selecting one LCS variant out of the two current models starting in 2019. The LCS vessels are made by yards in Marinette, Wisconsin and Mobile, Alabama, and the Austal yard in Mobile is one of the city's largest employers.
Congressman Bradley Byrne of Alabama issued a defiant statement in response to Secretary Carter’s memo.
“Make no mistake about it, from Mobile to Marinette, from San Diego and Jacksonville, the bell has rung, and those in the Pentagon need to hear that this will not stand. Not just for our ship yards but also for our Navy and for the defense of the people of the United States of America . . . Congressional support for the LCS is incredibly strong,” he said.
The two LCS designs cost in the range of $440 million per ship, and have elicited controversy over their flexible weapons packages, one of which – the remotely operated minesweeping package – has been said to have a high failure rate in the field. The aluminum-hulled variant built by Austal has also faced questions regarding its firepower, hull strength and survivability.