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While the Littoral Combat Ship would fill three distinctive Navy needs — countering submarines, mines and fast small boats — it plays a far larger role for lawmakers and some Navy officials and experts that isn’t laid out in its military specifications.
Lawmakers, Navy officials and experts often use the term “presence” to define what appears to be one of the ship’s most important roles. In layman’s terms, they mean increasing the size of the Navy’s fleet.
Indeed, the ship’s core functions do not stir the same passions on the Hill as the need to have a fleet of at least 306 combat ships to provide U.S. naval presence across the globe.
As a result, a Pentagon proposal to reduce the overall planned purchase of the Littoral Combat Ships from 52 to 32 will be inextricably linked to the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan, the Quadrennial Defense Review — a congressionally mandated review of strategy and priorities — and a 306-ship requirement that current plans already fall short of achieving.
“I would ask how is it we are expected to meet our global requirements,” said former chief of naval operations Adm. Gary Roughead of the proposed reduction. “We need that ship.”
Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., agrees that the Littoral Combat Ship program has been deeply troubled in terms of cost, performance and its potential survivability in combat.
“I’m not trying to defend the LCS program,” he said. What worries him, however, is what shrinking the program would mean for the size of the fleet.
“We cannot settle for where these numbers are,” he said.
Therein lies the rub: The Littoral Combat Ship is the only class of ship that shows growth in numbers over 30 years. According to the Congressional Research Services, the Navy projects that the fleet would remain below 306 ships during most of the 30 years and, in fact, would experience shortfalls at various points in cruisers, destroyers, attack submarines and amphibious ships.
So, proponents of Littoral Combat Ships argue that the Navy should receive around $5 billion more annually for shipbuilding, whether it comes from the other services or an overall Pentagon budget increase. The Navy typically receives $13 billion to $14 billion annually for shipbuilding.
“I think it is good we can put this all on the table and have frank, open, objective discussions, and that is what we are going to have with the LCS,” Forbes said.