MILWAUKEE — The U.S. Navy's littoral combat ship program that's created thousands of shipbuilding jobs in Wisconsin may soon have a powerful ally in Washington with the nomination of Robert Work as Deputy Defense Secretary.
As Navy Under Secretary, Work was a top advocate for the $34 billion program and authored a 2012 paper for the Navy War College entitled "The Littoral Combat Ship: How We Got There And Why."
On Tuesday, Navy officials are in Milwaukee to prepare for Thursday's keel-laying ceremony of the next littoral combat ship, USS Sioux City, at the Marinette Marine shipyard.
The keel is generally the first part of a ship to be built, and laying the keel is often marked with a ceremonial event.
So far, two of the warships have been built in Marinette and four more, including Sioux City, are under construction.
The Navy envisions a fleet of fast ships that can operate in waters as shallow as 20 feet and reach speeds topping 46 mph. The 377-foot vessels could be used to hunt submarines, search for underwater mines and launch unmanned drones.
Navy officials say they're committed to acquiring the 52-ship fleet even as Acting Deputy Defense Secretary Christine Fox has directed them to limit the acquisition to 32 ships.
The Navy has fended off critics of the littoral combat ship program that could provide work at the Marinette shipyard for many years.
Questions have been raised about the ships' mission, firepower and defenses. The reliability of the first three vessels, including USS Freedom built in Marinette, has also been questioned.
Fox is scheduled to step down soon, and President Barack Obama has nominated Work to replace her. The Senate Armed Services Committee has scheduled a hearing Thursday for Work's nomination, and at the hearing he may be asked about his position on the littoral combat ship program.