Think Tank: Cancel the Littoral Combat Ship

A research group is calling on lawmakers to cancel the Littoral Combat Ship months after the Pentagon cut the number of vessels it plans to buy.

A research group is calling on lawmakers to cancel the Littoral Combat Ship, the U.S. Navy’s newest type of surface combatant, months after the Pentagon cut the number of vessels it plans to buy.

The Center for International Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that promotes global demilitarization and dates to the Vietnam War, on Tuesday released a report, titled, “Cancel the Littoral Combat Ship, A Warship that Can’t Go to War.”

Two types of LCS vessels are being built by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal, respectively. While different in design, they’re both meant to patrol coastal waterways and hunt for mines, small boats and submarines.

Regardless of whether it’s Lockheed’s conventional hull or Austal’s trimaran, the vessel is too lightly armored to survive a direct hit from a cruise missile, too heavy to easily accommodate future upgrades and too far behind in development, according to Jacob Marx, a research associate at the group and the author of the analysis.

“The LCS was meant to do a dozen things, and it has ended up doing none of them well,” he said in a press release. “It’s an overpriced, under-performing vessel that does not meet current needs.”

His colleague, William Hartung, director of the group’s Arms and Security Project, which tracks the international weapons trade, agreed. “At $780 million per mission-ready ship, the LCS is a bad deal for taxpayers,” he said.

Due in part to federal budget cuts known as sequestration, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in February announced that the Pentagon would slash the number of ships it planned to buy, from 52 to 32. “No new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward,” he said.

Both contractors are building ships — Lockheed in Marinette, Wisconsin, and Austal in Mobile, Alabama — under a pair of ten-ship, block-buy contracts awarded in 2010, according to a recent report from the Congressional Research Service.

The Navy had previously planned to buy a total of four ships per year, two from each contractor, but reduced that figure to three in its budget request for fiscal 2015, which begins Oct. 1.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, headed by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Maryland, in July voted to agree with the service’s budget proposal for three ships — and to add $80 million for the advance procurement of materials for a ship to be built the following year. However, the House Appropriations Committee, headed by Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers, R-Kentucky, the month prior voted to further reduce the quantity of ships to two, noting it was “extremely concerned” by Hagel’s comments.

The panel “believes that if the current LCS is not the correct small surface combatant of the future, the Navy should correct its course sooner rather than later and begin purchasing the correct ship well before fiscal year 2019,” according to a report accompanying its version of the defense spending bill. The committee “was surprised that the Secretary of Defense allowed so much time to pass before ensuring the correct small surface combatant begins construction,” the document states.

Congress is currently on recess and hasn’t yet passed either a defense policy or spending bill for next year.

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Brendan McGarry
Brendan McGarry is the managing editor of Military.com. He can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Brendan_McGarry.