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Senate Armed Services Committee Questions Fleet Size, Reliance On LCS


 The Senate Armed Services Committee is concerned about the makeup of the Navy’s fleet over the next few decades, raising issues with the service’s projected budget and likely future threats, according to the panel’s fiscal year 2014 authorization bill.

In the report accompanying that bill, the committee asks the Navy to report back by Feb. 1, 2014, on current fleet capabilities compared to the threat situation over the next 30 years, as well as provide analysis on the 306-ship requirement the Navy has announced, down from its previous goal of 313 ships.

“Within this seven-ship net decrease to 306 ships, actual combat power is reduced by six large surface combatants, three small surface combatants, and four cruise missile submarines, for a total reduction of 13 combatant ships, offset by an increase of six command and support ships,” the committee says in its report. “The reduction in cruise missile submarines reflects a Navy plan not to replace these ships when they retire in the late 2020s.”

The panel also expresses concern over the “Report to Congress on the Annual Long-Range Plan for Construction of Naval Vessels for FY 2014,” which proposes bringing the fleet down to its smallest since 1917 — just 270 ships in FY-15.

“The committee is concerned that the plan will not meet the goal of a 306-ship battle force inventory until 2037 and assumes risk over the 30-year period, with periodic shortages of aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, attack submarines, and amphibious ships,” the report states. “The committee notes that the Navy possesses only 28 amphibious ships, with an average of only 22 ships available for surge deployment, despite a Marine Corps requirement for 38 amphibious ships. As such, the committee is also concerned that the Navy’s shortfall in amphibious ships adds risk to the Marine Corps’ ability to meet current and future COCOM requests.”

More specifically, the report notes concerns about the Ohio-class submarine replacement, the procurement of which has already been pushed back by two years. “The Navy has consumed all schedule margin for replacing the existing Ohio-class boats on a timely basis, and increased the risk that an unforeseen event affecting a strategic missile submarine’s operational availability would prevent the Navy from being able to fully satisfy U.S. Strategic Command (STRATCOM) requirement,” it states.

The committee also notes that the Littoral Combat Ship class is slated to comprise about a third of the surface combatant fleet by 2028 despite not having completed operational test and evaluation yet, or demonstrating it can meet the requirements for its mission packages.

The Senate committee — as did the House Armed Services Committee — also wants additional oversight on the LCS program. It asks that the chief of naval operations, in coordination with the Pentagon director of operational test and evaluation, submit a report to the congressional defense committees “on the current concept of operations and expected survivability attributes of each of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) seaframes when they would be employed according to the concept of operations.” The report should compare assessments of the LCS seaframes with other Navy surface combatants and with potential enemy surface combatants and assess the “core defensive capabilities of each of the LCS sea frames, especially when employed against air threats expected to face the LCS under the concept of operations.”

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) notes at the end of the report that, “The Navy has spent some $12 billion on LCS to date and is planning to spend another $28 billion through 2034. At this point [in the] program we need an honest, objective look at the requirements, capabilities, and current acquisition strategy for LCS. I encourage my colleagues to consider a reporting requirement that would direct the Secretary of the Navy to submit to Congress specific certifications on LCS acquisition milestones and capabilities before being authorized to obligate funds for LCS-21 and beyond.”

The Senate is seeking to add $20 million to the LHA-8 amphibious assault ship program to further mature its design before construction. The ship program will re-introduce the well deck back into the ship for surface connector operations, whereas LHA-6 and 7 took the well deck out for enhanced aviation operations.

“Repeated Navy shipbuilding programs have shown that failing to complete a ship’s design before starting construction inevitably leads to cost growth and schedule delays,” the report notes. “The committee believes that the Navy should invest more than it is currently planning to invest in maturing the design of LHA-8 before starting construction activities.”

The Senate committee also recommends a direct modification of the radar system that will be deployed on the Navy’s MQ-4C Triton unmanned maritime surveillance system to provide a ground moving target indicator capability that is comparable to the Air Force’s Global Hawk Block 40 multi-platform radar technology insertion program.

Moreover, the Navy plans to equip approximately 60 Triton aircraft with a signals intelligence suite as a replacement for the EP-3 aircraft toward the end of the decade. However, the committee is concerned there will be an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support gap for the combatant commands because the Navy plans to remove a large number of personnel from EP-3 to stand up an early version of the Triton program.

Further, the committee says it is concerned about obsolescence issues for the EP-3 and Special Projects Aircraft that are slated to support the wartime operational plans of U.S. Pacific Command until Triton SIGNIT reaches initial operational capability.

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