Congress loves buying littoral combat ships, but when looking at the packages of sensors and systems which make the ships useful, lawmakers have been less enthusiastic.
In the 2019 Defense Department funding bill that just left the conference committee, lawmakers have funded a 33rd, 34th and 35th littoral combat ship, three over the 32-ship requirement set through the Navy. But when you are looking for the mission modules destined to make each ship whether mine sweeper, submarine hunter or small surface combatant, that funding may be slashed.
Appropriators cut all funding in 2019 for your anti-submarine warfare package, a variable-depth sonar and a multi-function towed array system the Navy was aiming to have declared operational next year, citing only that this funding was “ahead of need.” The National Defense Authorization Act had authorized about $7.4 million, still well below the $57.3 million requested with the Navy, citing delays in testing various components.
Appropriators are also poised to half the requested funding for that surface warfare package and cut nearly $25.25 million through the mine sweeping package, which equals with regards to a 21 percent cut through the requested and authorized $124.1 million.
Nor are this year’s cuts the only time appropriators have gone as soon as the mission modules. A review of appropriations bills dating back fiscal 2015 demonstrates appropriators have cut funding for mission modules every single year, and in 2018 took big hacks out of each funding line for this modules.
The annual cutting spree has established a baffling cycle of inanity wherein Congress, unhappy while using continuing development of the modules falling behind schedule, will cut funding and cause development to fall further behind schedule, as outlined by a resource familiar while using details from the impact from the cuts who spoke on background. All this while Congress is constantly on the pump money into building ships without the from the mission packages having achieved what’s known as initial operating capability, meaning the device is getting ready to deploy in most capacity.
The surface warfare version has IOC-ed some initial capabilities but is adding a Longbow Hellfire missile system which will be delayed with cuts, the origin said.
That signifies that with 15 in the currently funded 32 ships already delivered to the fleet, do not require can deploy having a fully capable package of sensors which is why the ship was internal consumers, a situation that doesn’t have a very clear end state while the programs are caught in a very sucking vortex of cuts and delays.
“This is a prime example of program issues causing congressional cuts which result in further delays, then more cuts inside a vicious loop,” said Thomas Callender, a retired submarine officer and analyst with The Heritage Foundation.
But the appropriators shouldn’t take every one of the heat, he added. The progression of the various modules have hit technical issues and are all drastically behind schedule. The minesweeping package, for instance, was basically likely to deliver in 2008, but now isn’t slated to IOC until 2020, to start dating ? that is to be further uncertain if Congress passes the appropriations bill since it left committee, sources agreed.
“The technical development issues and subsequent delays with several modules, especially the ASW and MCM mission packages, contributed to congressional angst plus some of such cuts,” Callender said. “Many of such cuts, such as the cuts recommended in the House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee for FY19 were reductions in the amount of initial modules purchased until they have successfully completed operational testing.”
Both authorizers on the House and Senate Armed Services committees and also the Appropriations committees have got hacks in the funding towards the modules, but ultimately the National Defense Authorization Act through the services committees is more of your guide for appropriators than a pair of handcuffs. Appropriators can fund what they want to invest in.
A statement from the office of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the committee works with the Navy on these programs and funds what is able to be funded.
“The Committee did using the Department from the Navy to be aware of the mission system test requirements, that have often changed as a result of various reasons, and dedicated to funding those requirements which can be ready for production,” said Blair Taylor, Shelby’s communications director.
Part in the reason this software is at risk of these cuts in a way that, for example, the Arleigh Burke destroyers are certainly not for the same extent is because of the program’s structure. The ships were being purchased separately and built to be highly versatile, switching out in the matter of days when pier side from anti-surface systems to counter-mine systems to anti-submarine systems because the missions changed.
But a reorganization with the enter in 2016 ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and led by then-head in the Naval Surface Force Pacific Adm. Thomas Rowden changed each in the ships to single-mission ships, with all the first couple of ships slated to become surface warfare variants.
But the warfare packages are still being developed under separate programs, leaving them as low-hanging fruit for cuts.
“The separation from the mission modules from specific LCS hull procurement does leave them more vulnerable to these sort of programmatic cuts,” Callender said.
The whole dilemma is taking on increasing urgency as LCS builders Fincantieri in Marinette, Wisconsin, and Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama, begin pushing ships for the fleet through the handful each year. As of August, the Navy had 15 LCS vessels delivered, with 29 awarded and 11 in various stages of construction.
But because the development modules has devolved in to a merry-go-round, where cuts beget delays that beget more cuts, the fix where this puts the Navy becomes more real from the day.
The fleet needs the capabilities the LCS modules are designed to deliver. For example, the Navy is slated to decommission its last Avenger-class minesweeper inside the 2020s. This means the mine-sweeping package really can’t suffer way too many more delays without greatly helping the threat posed on the Navy by cheap marine mines, leaving the fleet with only ad hoc solutions for combating them before the mine-sweeping package could be fielded in numbers.
And while there are additional ships in the fleet such as the DDGs which can be effective at anti-submarine and anti-surface missions, it’s the mine-sweeping package that has Bryan McGrath, a retired destroyer skipper and consultant with The FerryBridge Group, worried.
“I’m concerned that there aren’t enough MCM modules coming along fast enough, and I am concerned that there aren’t enough LCS inside the current plan (four on each coast) dedicated for the MCM mission,” he explained. “I’d enjoy visiting the LCS plan re-evaluated plus much more of them devoted exclusively to MCM.”