Politics

Congress Buys Navy $400 Million Ship It Doesn't Want

| by Robert Fowler
Littoral Combat Ship USS Fort WorthLittoral Combat Ship USS Fort Worth

U.S. lawmakers are pushing for the construction of an additional Littoral Combat Ship in 2017, despite Secretary of Defense Ash Carter saying the Navy does not need the vessel.

Legislation in both the House and the Senate funding the expensive and often-criticized LCS have coincided with a heavy lobbying blitz conducted by two shipyards that stand to profit from the vessel’s construction, Politico reports.

LCS models have been a component of the Navy since 2008 and have been criticized by Pentagon officials for ineffective and prone to breaking down. The warships have resulted in high maintenance costs and have been deemed vulnerable to enemy vessels.

In December 2015, Carter ordered that the production of new ships be slowed down, calling for the scheduled 52 new ships be reduced to 40. The Department of Defense requested that only two ships be constructed in 2017 instead of the scheduled three.

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The two shipyards that produce the vessel for the Navy, Austal USA of Alabama and Lockheed Martin’s Marinette Marine of Wisconsin, lobbied Congress from January to March 2016 to fund more shipbuilding.

Austal USA reportedly spent $189,096 to convince lawmakers to include provisions to produce the extra LCS vessels in defense appropriations bills, while Lockheed allegedly spent $3.65 million during the same time frame.

In March 2016, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus urged the House to fund the 52 new ships as scheduled, going against Carter’s recommendation.

Mabus was backed by Republican Rep. Bradley Byrne of Alabama and Republican Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin. Both House members are based in the districts where Austal USA and Lockheed Martin reside.

Their support for the production of LCS also went against the opinion of the Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman, Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, who wrote a letter in February telling Navy officials he was not satisfied by the vessels' capabilities.

Citing a Department of Defense report on the LCS, McCain wrote that the findings “raised troubling questions about the Pentagon’s ability to develop and procure weapon systems in an effective, timely and affordable manner.”

McCain added that the Navy’s plan to expand on the LCS “has significant design, testing, integration, and deployment challenges that must be overcome before the promised warfighting capability is realized.”

Despite all of these concerns, the House passed a bill ordering $384 million in funding for the extra LCS while the Senate is expected to pass legislation that will order $475 million to be spent on the vessels.

Congress will be mandating that taxpayer money be spent on an extra ship that the Department of Defense does not want to commission.

The LCS has proven to be a costly proposition for several parties involved. On July 5, Austal, the Australia-based parent company of Austal USA, announced a $115 million write-off because of costs related to updating the ships to meet standards.

Despite improvements being made to the vessel, the Government Accountability Office has concluded in a new report that the LCS will remain ineffective in combat.

Sources: Defense News, Politico, U.S. Senate / Photo credit: Naval Surface Warriors/Flickr

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