The Littoral Combat Ship is a relatively small ship that will comprise about one-third of the navy’s surface combat fleet, and was created as a way of reacting more quickly to asymmetrical threats in the war on terrorism including counter-mine anti-submarine warfare. The Navy has two ships already completed, commissioned in 2008 and 2010 has ordered 22 more. Panelists at the Cato even debated whether the Littoral Combat Ship was the right choice for the Navy as the military decreases spending.
Robert Work, the undersecretary of the Navy supported the ship as a part of a new naval strategy that favors a combination of bigger and smaller ships. He suggested that many critics of the ship just wanted to see the Navy with big, powerful ships, and the Littoral Combat Ship didn’t fit that bill.
“There are so many people in this Navy that believe that if you are not in a frigate, cruiser or destroyer then you are not in a war ship,” Work said. “People who don’t think this is a war ship are nuts.”
Some of the panelists came down firmly against the Navy’s use of the ship as part of the surface fleet, including Ben Freeman, a national security fellow at the Project on Government Oversight, and Christopher Preble, Vice President for Defense and Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.
Freeman cited many technical issues with the first version of the ship including cracks, equipment failures and design issues. He said that many of the first issues that they found had been fixed, but more problems were popping up.
“[The structural problems] shouldn’t be issues in the first place,” Freeman said. “Ship builders told us, members of the house armed services committee told us – this is ship building 101.”
Freeman also questioned the use of the ship in a combat role because it cannot withstand the kind of attacks that larger ships can. The ship is intended to be small, fast and applicable to a variety of situations.
“I liken it to a Swiss Army knife. It can do a lot of things, but it can’t do a lot of things well,” Freeman said.
Prebel primarily questioned the fact there are two versions of the ship. He served on the USS Ticonderoga in the 1990’s. The two verisons of the ship are built by Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
“I am not opposed to a dual buy-in principal,” Prebel said. “Anyone at all who looks at [Littoral Combat Ship One] and [Littoral Combat Ship Two] knows that these are different ships.”
Eric Labs is a senior analyst for naval forces and weapons at the Congressional Budget. Office approached the issue of the Littoral Combat Ship from a financial perspective without taking a strong stance on the Navy’s approach to the design of the surface fleet.
Labs said that other ships, like the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter might be better fitted to the role the Littoral Combat Ship is supposed to play because it has a greater greater range and endurance, but it would be more expensive. Cheaper ships might not be able to perform all the functions of the Littoral Combat Ship.
Labs also acknowledged that there are problems with the design of littoral combat ship that may prevent it from lasting 40 years.
“The concept of the [Littoral Combat Ship] is an innovative one,” Labs said. “I would be hesitant to cancel a program that has pursued the first serious excursion down this path.”