McCain, a senior Republican on the Senate Armed Services
Committee, said the Navy's poor planning had led to a new class of
ships that could not survive in combat, cost far more than expected,
provided less capability than earlier warships and had not
demonstrated their utility after 13 years of development.
Lockheed Martin Corp and Australia's Austal are building two
different versions of the ship, which was designed to be rapidly
reconfigured to fight other surface ships, hunt for and destroy
enemy mines and battle submarines.
A longtime critic of the program, McCain used a speech on the Senate
floor to back Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's decision to limit LCS
procurement to 32 ships instead of the 52 ships initially planned
and called for a further cut to 24 ships.
"Production should not go forward until the Navy and (Department of
Defense) confirm that LCS provides greater capabilities than the
legacy ships it is intended to replace," McCain said.
He said the Navy also needed to demonstrate that the three
interchangeable weapons systems being designed for the ship provided
military commanders the combat capability they needed.
McCain's speech came a day before Navy acquisition chief Sean
Stackley and other top Navy officials are due to testify about the
fiscal 2015 shipbuilding budget at a hearing of the Senate Armed
Service Committee's seapower subcommittee.
Hagel announced plans on February 24 to stop building the current
class of LCS ships after 32 vessels and focus on ships with more
firepower and protection, saying he had "considerable reservations"
about building all 52 LCS ships as planned.
Lockheed and Austal are each under contract to build 10 ships, which
will bring the total number of LCS ships to 24.
The Navy has set up a task force to study alternatives for a new
small warship and provide recommendations by July 31, in time to
inform the Pentagon's fiscal 2016 budget deliberations.
Initially designed to be a small, fast and affordable ship to
augment larger ships in the fleet, the LCS program has seen numerous
cost increases and schedule delays over the past 13 years, although
Navy officials say production costs are now down sharply and the
fielded ships are performing well.
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Vice Admiral Thomas Copeman, commander of Naval Surface Forces, told
the annual Navy League conference on Wednesday he was convinced that
the Navy would wind up building 20 more small warships because they
offered a relatively inexpensive way to essentially double the
Navy's presence around the world.
"We need to have a certain number of ships out there," Copeman told
reporters at the conference, before McCain's speech. "You do have to
make some trades. I'd love to have every ship be unsinkable and
shoot down satellites and defeat every weapon and enemy there is,
but that's unaffordable."
Copeman said the new LCS warships were much larger than World War
Two destroyers and used far less manpower. He added that no warship
could survive under all circumstances.
Copeman also said the LCS ships were also subject to far greater
scrutiny than any other new ship class, and many U.S. lawmakers
based their criticism on outdated information.
McCain said the congressional Government Accountability Office would
soon release another report that criticized the LCS program and
called for more rigorous testing and evaluation.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Cynthia Osterman)
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