Senior Navy officials have mounted a vigorous campaign to rebut recent criticism of the Littoral Combat Ship program. The program is funding parallel development of two classes of high-speed warships equipped with interchangeable mission packages for shallow-water missions such as minesweeping and antisubmarine warfare. Most of the attacks leveled by private think tanks and reporters have been aimed at Lockheed Martin’s lead ship, which was developed in record time and commissioned nearly two years ahead of the other version offered by Austal USA. Critics cite cracks, leaks and corrosion in Lockheed’s ship, and question whether the relatively low-cost vessels are sufficiently survivable for combat operations.
According to Navy officials, though, the criticism is about as shallow as the coastal waters in which the Littoral Combat Ship was conceived to operate. In a letter to Congressman Roscoe Bartlett on May 15, Assistant Secretary of the Navy Sean Stackley asserted that the kinds of problems seen on the Lockheed vessel are “not uncommon to first of class ships,” and stated that “the number of critical deficiencies was reduced near tenfold” in the second vessel of the same class — which has now completed three underway trials. Noting that problems on the lead ship had been studied and fixed, Stackley praised the features of both warship variants and argued that “they have appropriate levels of survivability for their intended operational environment.” The service plans extensive operational testing to verify survivability goals have been met.
A May 11 message sent to personnel of the Naval Sea Systems Command by Vice Admiral Kevin McCoy rejected recent criticism of the program, citing exacting design standards and successful underway trials. McCoy also reported progress on the modular warfighting packages that will enable the ships to perform a wide array of missions while costing much less than other surface combatants. InsideDefense.com reported on May 9 that the Navy is projecting the acquisition cost of each ship, not counting mission packages, will average $420 million over the next few years — 20 percent below congressional cost caps and less than half of what new destroyers cost. A key reason for developing the Littoral Combat Ship was to provide cheaper ways of dealing with low-intensity coastal threats such as pirates, diesel submarines, floating mines and terrorists in speedboats.
It appears that critics have managed to mobilize the entire Navy in defense of the new warships. Although the Navy is sometimes described by outsiders as a fractious collection of competing communities, under Secretary Ray Mabus and deputy Robert Work, it has proven to be a remarkably unified and focused organization. If the other services were as effective at defending their programs, the joint force might be better prepared for the challenges of tomorrow.
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