YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The Navy’s leadership got its wish on one of its top priorities Wednesday, when President Barack Obama signed a bill that lets the service spend roughly $9.8 billion on two versions of the Littoral Combat Ship.

Congress has authorized the Navy to purchase up to 20 ships as part of a larger bill to keep the government running through March 4 at 2010 spending levels, according to Reuters.

Without that addition, the Navy would have been forced to choose between Lockheed Martin’s monohull design and Austal USA’s trimaran for its initial order of ships.

One of each design, the USS Freedom and the USS Independence, have already joined the fleet. The ships are envisioned as a fast, coastal force with the ability to fight submarines, defeat mines and launch small boats in rough seas. The Navy plans on buying 55 Littoral Combat Ships through 2035, according to government reports.

However, the LCS program was criticized for technical snags and budget overruns in a September 2010 General Accountability Office report, then attacked again during a Dec. 14 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

Sen. John McCain, the most vociferous critic of the program’s overspending, questioned whether buying dual seaframes would result in higher long-term costs.

Navy officials countered that the competitive bids, which they could not entirely disclose because of bidding rules, offered $2.9 billion in savings over the previous plan to select only one seaframe.

“I believe we have arrived at an opportunity to realize significant real savings within our shipbuilding program, and we have done so by following congressional guidance,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told the committee in support of the dual-build strategy Dec. 14.

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