The future of the Littoral Combat Ship/frigate program is still far from decided with the split between factions spilling into a Tuesday Senate hearing.
It has been clear for months that the Navy and Defense Department do not see eye-to-eye on the issue of how many small surface combatants to buy and from how many shipyards. What began as a whispered-about schism turned public earlier this month, with Navy Secretary Ray Mabus telling a congressional subcommittee that decisions about the program’s future “will be made by the next administration and by Congress,” not by Defense Secretary Ash Carter.
On Tuesday, it became clear that difference of opinion exists in Congress, too.
At a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on March 15, chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) – a vocal critic of the LCS program – praised the decision to curtail production of what he called an expensive and unproven platform. Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), in whose home state half of the LCSs are built, warned the discussion wasn’t over.
During his opening statement, McCain railed against the program.
“Initial cost-overruns more than doubled the cost of each Littoral Combat Ship, and development costs now exceed $3 billion and counting,” he said.
“Meanwhile, key warfighting capabilities of the LCS, including mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare, have fallen years behind schedule and remain unproven. Because of the long running cost, schedule, and performance issues with this program, I support the (Defense) Department’s proposal to down-select to one variant no later than 2019 and reduce the inventory objective to 40 ships. I am encouraged to see the Navy has begun the process of identifying the LCS replacement, and I hope we can transition to a more capable small surface combatant expeditiously.”