MARINETTE, WIS. — U.S. Navy leadership said it’s committed to the Littoral Combat Ship program in the face of budgetary concerns and questions about the ship program.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told workers at Marinette Marine Corp. on Thursday that he — and the chief of naval operations — are behind the ship program and plans to buy 52 of the vessels designed to operate in shallow waters.
“I use this program as an example of what can be done and and how something that was, at the beginning, costly and had some problems, but working together we’ve lowered that cost dramatically,” he said. “We’re absolutely committed to building the whole class of 52 ships of this class.
“It’s the future of the Navy and the future of how we fight.”
Four of the ships are under construction at Marinette with funding secured for three more. Plans call for another four ships by 2015.
The Littoral Combat Ship program has been contentious at times in Congress and other circles. Cost has been called into question, as well as the early design and performance of the ship. The questions and concerns being raised about the LCS program are similar to those brought up at the outset of other naval programs that came to long-term fruition, Mabus said.
Development of mission-specific equipment for the ships have had a bumpy development so far, and earlier this summer a Government Accountability Office report suggested the Navy limit its purchases of ships and mission modules.
“We continue to believe that the acquisition approach for this program, with large quantities of ships and modules being bought ahead of key test events, is risky, especially for a new class of ship, like LCS,” the report stated.
The Navy says slowing the program could cause prices to rise and the mission packages are needed on ships that are operational.
Mabus said the per-ship cost of the program has come down from $750 million from the first ship built at Marinette and is expected to settle around $393 million by the 10th ship.
“There are people in the Navy who still don’t like LCS, and they don’t like it because it’s new,” he said. “That’s happened every single time we’ve built a new ship ... Every time we build a new ship people say it’s not going to work and every single time they’ve been wrong.”
The Littoral Combat Ship is a multi-mission ship designed to operate in shallower coastal waters.
The LCS program is split across two designs of the ship. Marinette Marine is building the Lockheed Martin version of the ship while Austal USA is building a different version of the vessel in Alabama.
Mabus said it’s his current “notion” is to continue to purchase both variants of the ship.
Marinette Marine Corp. is getting ready to add another 157 workers at the yard, which will push total employment over 1,500 in the next year, said Chuck Goddard, president and CEO.
The yard has been working with the Navy and lead contractor Lockheed Martin to find production efficiencies in the program to cut build time and costs. Shipbuilder and yard owner, Fincantieri Marine Group, has invested about $74 million in production facility improvements at Marinette.
“By the time we get done with the 10th ship under this contract, it will be half the price of what that first ship was,” Goddard said. “That’s the kind of learning we’re able to achieve here.”
Mabus said he would consider naming a future vessel after Marinette, though he added there are usually dozens of name choices and suggestions each time the question of naming comes up.