A Navy task force is reassessing the program after Defense
Secretary Chuck Hagel expressed significant concerns about the
survivability and firepower of the LCS ships, and ordered a pause in
orders after 32 ships.
The Navy has so far ordered 24 of the 52 ships planned for the
program from the two companies that build them, Lockheed Martin Corp
and Australia's Austal.
Mabus told Reuters he did not want to skew the results of the task
force review, which is due to be completed by July 31 in time to
inform the fiscal 2016 budget deliberations, and said he was anxious
to learn about any concerns or problems.
But he left no doubt about his confidence in the program, which has
seen ship costs drop by more than half to about $350 million each
and said the equipment packages now cost $25 million to $75 million
each, far less than expected.
Military commanders were clamoring for more of the fast, agile
coastal warships, which can access coastal areas too shallow for
U.S. Navy destroyers and other warships, Mabus said in an interview
at his Pentagon office.
Crew rotations also allowed the ships to remain deployed far longer
than other warships, he said.
He said he would travel to Hawaii in July to visit the USS
Independence, an aluminum trimaran-design LCS ship built by Austal
that will take part in the large "Rim of the Pacific" naval
exercises planned for June and July.
Sending the ship to the naval exercise, which will include China and
many other countries, would help U.S. allies see the ship's speed
and capabilities, but also demonstrate the Navy's commitment to the
ships, Mabus said.
He said the breadth of the task force review should help address
lingering concerns about the program, which has seen major cost
reductions in recent years after sharp increases at the start of the
'WARFARE OF THE FUTURE'
"What I'm hoping is that this task force will put to rest whatever
questions there are," Mabus said, adding the Navy still had a need
for 52 small surface ships and could not execute its war plans
"I want this to be a straight-up review. If there are issues, I want
to know about them, and solutions for how do we get there," Mabus
said. "But we have got to have 52 small surface combatants, and
we’ve got to do it within the budget."
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In February, the Pentagon's No. 2 official at the time, Christine
Fox, questioned the ability of LCS ships to survive an attack, given
advances in anti-ship munitions being developed by potential
Hagel later announced plans to pause LCS orders and reassess the
program's future. Lockheed and Austal last week sent the task force
their best ideas for a revamped ship.
Mabus said the program had been sharply criticized, given early cost
growth and its new modular design, which allows the ships to swap
out equipment for different missions such as fighting submarines,
surface warfare or hunting for mines.
But he said the way the LCS ships were designed would allow the Navy
to upgrade the ships more rapidly and affordably than if the
equipment was "hard-wired" in.
"It’s the warfare of the future. It’s the way we’ve got to head
because of the tremendous expense of building platforms," Mabus
said, recalling the Wang computers still used by the State
Department when he was the U.S. envoy to Saudi Arabia 20 years ago,
long after the company that made them went out of business.
"We have a habit in government of taking a long time to buy staff
and hard-wiring technology in," he said. Using a modular "open
architecture" approach would allow the Navy to swap out software and
keep ships more up to date, he said.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Peter Cooney and Ken Wills)
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