Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Defense: Littoral Ship Buys May Slow; Mayport Is Slated to Get 8 of the Ships; Long-Term Effects Still Unknown

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Defense: Littoral Ship Buys May Slow; Mayport Is Slated to Get 8 of the Ships; Long-Term Effects Still Unknown

Article excerpt

Byline: Steve Patterson

Defense Secretary Ash Carter tripped a political alarm by telling the Navy to curb plans for adding littoral combat ships, the smaller new vessels expected to become mainstays of Mayport Naval Station.

The instruction, delivered recently in a memo to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, apparently won't change announced plans to bring eight ships to Mayport by 2020. But it could have longer-term consequences for the base, which will become the East Coast hub for the ships, called LCS.

Members of Congress have already challenged a part of Carter's memo - a preliminary instruction for preparing a budget proposal expected by February - that referenced the Navy buying 40 LCS instead of the 52 formerly planned.

"We live in dangerous times, and the only way to make America safe is to make America strong. ... Our current national security demands require more vessels in the fleet, not fewer. That includes the LCS," U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., said in a statement last week.

The number of LCS vessels the Navy needs has been debated before, with critics questioning efforts to outfit the craft with changeable "mission packages" of equipment for tasks ranging from surface warfare to mine countermeasures.

Carter's predecessor, Chuck Hagel, last year froze plans for the final 20 of the 52 ships while the Navy examined the lightly armored ships' firepower and survivability. The Navy later said orders for those final ships would begin by 2019 and would include significant upgrades.

The Navy is operating six LCS vessels so far, with another 18 either in construction or under contract from teams led by rival shipbuilders Lockheed Martin and Austal USA, each producing their own variant of the ship.

Carter's memo argued Navy spending has to deliver weapons that are battlefield-ready, saying "our military is first and foremost a warfighting force." It emphasized focusing "more on capabilities, not only ship numbers. …

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