Shortly after USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) had a severe engine problem off the East Coast, the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has taken another hit. This time, though, the hit has come from inside the halls of the Pentagon as Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has ordered the program be cut to 40 ships from a planned 52.
As I have outlined earlier, this is a good way to kick the unit cost of the LCS up. In this case, the cut Secretary Carter has imposed come to 23% of the planned ship class. But the effects go beyond making the LCS seem more expensive than it actually is. In this case, we’re now getting fewer ships for a Navy that has already declined by 50% from its Reagan-era force structure. This shortage of ships has reached a point where nearly three-fourths of drug smugglers get through SOUTHCOM’s area of operations.
So, this decision is going to affect the Navy. The LCS was supposed to not only replace the Oliver Hazard Perry-class ships, but also the Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships and the Cyclone-class patrol craft – so these ships were already being stretched a little thin. Now, with 12 fewer ships, the Navy will have even more of a shortfall to deal with. This has become quite a pattern, though. Like the Zumwalt, Seawolf, F-22, and B-2, the LCS is being halted earlier than planned.
Secretary of Defense Carter has also directed the Navy to choose one of the two designs, either the Freedom-class (a monohull design) or the Independence-class (a trimaran design), and to take the savings to help the Navy buy more F-35C fighters, F/A-18E/F Super Hornets, SM-6 missiles, and Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, among other things.
Recently, Russia and China have been expanding their navies, and bringing deadlier ships online.
Russia’s recent use of Gepard-class frigates and Buyan-class corvettes to launch 3M54 “Klub” missiles against targets in Syria highlights the issue even more, as these ships, far smaller than the two LCS designs, carry far more firepower. According to a report by USNI News, Carter reprimanded Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus for valuing quantity over lethality.
That being said, there is one obvious question: Why should the Navy be forced to choose between lethality and quantity? Cutting 12 littoral combat ships “saves” about $4.34 billion. In other words, the Navy gets two more Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, and then has to divvy up the $740 million among other priorities. The federal government could have gotten almost twice that figure by getting rid of its unused properties, which cost $8 billion per year according to a 2013 Washington Times report. To put that into perspective, that $8 billion dollars would allow the navy to buy four Flight III Burke-class destroyers, and still have $800 million available for the other projects – and the Navy could still get those dozen littoral combat ships.
It would just take a little common sense. But that, it seems, is rather hard to find in this Administration’s Pentagon.