The Navy had planned to buy two of each of the different small
warships built by Lockheed and Austal in fiscal 2015 and 2016, but
it scaled back those orders to three ships a year as a result of
budget cuts mandated by Congress.
Assistant Navy Secretary Sean Stackley told members of the Senate
Armed Services Committee's seapower subcommittee that Navy officials
would now meet with both companies, and evaluate their schedules,
material purchases, expenditures and performance before deciding how
to divvy up the orders this year.
"What we are striving for is an outcome that has zero impact to
either builder and the vendor base," Stackley told reporters after
the hearing. "We're going to arrive at what we think is the best
outcome between the two builders and the split of ships between 2015
and 2016," he told reporters.
Stackley said the decrease in orders for 2015 would have some effect
on the cost of the ships, but the Navy hoped to minimize that impact
by working closely with the shipbuilders.
The Pentagon is reassessing the $34 billion Littoral Combat Ship
(LCS) program and whether to buy all 52 of the fast, agile warships
planned, or whether to modify the designs to give the ships more
firepower and increase their ability to survive.
Stackley said he was confident that the Navy's orders for the ship
orders could be timed to maintain both shipyard's production
schedules, but he was less confident about smaller vendors that
provide materials to the larger contractors.
Both companies are under contract to build a total of 10 ships for
the Navy, and the final four ships were to be ordered in fiscal
2015, bringing the total built to 24.
Stackley said the contracts were contingent on the availability of
funding from Congress, but any changes to the contracts would
require bilateral agreements, he said.
[to top of second column]
In addition to the budget cuts, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has
ordered the Navy to halt orders for the smaller, more agile warships
after 32 ships, and to study ways to better protect the ships and
give them more firepower.
A high-level Navy task force is to deliver recommendations on the
issue by July 31, in time to inform the Navy's fiscal 2016 budget
deliberations, Stackley told the committee.
Senator John McCain, a senior Republican on the committee who has
urged the Navy to halt the LCS program after 24 ships, renewed his
criticism of the program at the hearing on Thursday.
Stackley acknowledged the program encountered sharp cost increases
shortly after it began in 2005 but said that was largely due to
changes in Navy requirements. He said costs were now far below
congressional cost caps, and development was progressing on separate
interchangeable equipment packages.
Stackley said the ship had some ability to protect itself, but would
generally be deployed together with other ships that could provide
greater protection against airborne threats.
He said the ships were also far more "survivable" than the
mine-hunting ships they were replacing, which had no self-defense
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; editing by Ken Wills)
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