The US Navy's fight to buy 52 variants of its littoral combat ship (LCS) from two shipbuilders may have taken a fatal blow this week after the secretary of defense directed the service to cap its buy at 40 ships and pick only one supplier. The directive also orders the Navy to buy only one ship annually over the next four years, down from three per year.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter, in a Dec. 14 memo to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, told the Navy to "reduce the planned LCS/FF procurement from 52 to 40, creating a 1-1-1-1-2 profile, for eight fewer ships in the FYDP, and then downselect to one variant by FY 2019."
FF is a Navy designation for frigate. Beginning with LCS 33, the Navy is planning to build a more heavily-armed LCS variant with the FF designation — the result of a 2014 directive from then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to produce a more powerful ship.
The "1-1-1-1-2" profile would provide for one ship each year in 2017-2020 and two ships in 2021, the end of the current future years defense plan (FYDP).
Carter, in the Dec. 14 memo, directs the Navy to reallocate savings from the LCS/FF cuts to buy more F/A-18 and F-35 aircraft, more SM-6 surface-to-air missiles, and support Virginia Payload Module (VPM) development for future Virginia-class submarines. The VPM is an extra hull section that would be built into Block V submarines and mount four large vertical payload tubes.
The directive to cut the LCS comes in the face of strenuous Navy objections. The service has argued that building a ship takes much longer than ordering a new aircraft or missile.