Fox knocks Navy’s reliance on ‘niche’ ships

The first U.S. Navy Littoral Combat Ship, Freedom (LCS 1), during trials in July, 2008. The ship is designed for littoral, or close-to-shore, operations.

How do you criticize a multibillion-dollar ship program without ever mentioning its name? You do it the way the Defense Department’s No. 2 civilian did in San Diego yesterday.

The first two littoral combat ships have been repeatedly criticized for going way over budget and for their maintenance woes. The LCS is fast and it can maneuver in shallow waters, but it is rated to what the Navy terms “Level 1+ survivability” – meaning it is meant to withdraw if it takes a hit in combat. That level is lower than the frigate it replaces.

On Tuesday, acting deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox called for fewer “niche platforms” (looking at you, LCS) and more survivable, lethal ships.

“We need more ships with the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary,” Fox said at the U.S. Naval Institute’s West 2014 conference, per USNI News blog.

Her comments come after Defense News broke the story on Jan. 16 that Fox directed the Navy to cut its planned buy of 52 LCS down to 32 ships.

Whether that directive will go forward or be overruled is still up in the air. However, it illustrates some of the deep divisions within the Pentagon over what the future surface Navy should look like. Without the cuts, the LCS would eventually comprise about one-sixth of the Navy’s ships. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus is a big LCS supporter, and Fox’s eventual replacement, Robert Work, championed the program while working as Mabus’ undersecretary.

Stars and Stripes is currently assembling an in-depth story on the LCS and the surface fleet.


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