WASHINGTON: Eight senators sent a letter Friday to Defense Secretary James Mattis, urging him to request all three Littoral Combat Ships originally planned for the 2018 budget. While eight percent of the Senate may seem small, the bipartisan co-signers — four Republicans, four Democrats — include five members of the appropriating and authorizing and committees for defense. Most notable among them is senior Alabama Senator Richard Shelby, who also chairs the Senate rules committee.
Smaller and more fragile than traditional destroyers, the Littoral Combat Ship has been controversial since its inception, and it frequently takes a shellacking in congressional hearings. But it’s long had strong support in Alabama, where Austral builds the triple-hulled Independence variant, as well as in Wisconsin, where Marinette Marine makes the single-hulled Freedom. Now the program is at a turning point, with the Navy itself acknowledging it needs an upgunned ship and is setting up a competition between Austal and Marinette to build what it calls a frigate, essentially a better-armed but less versatile LCS. Congress’s investigative arm, the GAO, argues the program isn’t ready for the transition to frigates, while some prominent outside observers argue the LCS should be cancelled altogether in favor of an all-new ship.
In this moment of uncertainty, LCS backers want to make sure it preserves its share of the budget. That means three of the small vessels in 2018 — potentially with subsequent contract modifications to make them frigates instead of vanilla LCS.
The eight signatories include four Republicans:
- Shelby, the sixth most senior Senator, who sits on the Senate appropriations subcommittee on defense (SAC-D) as well as chairing Rules & Administration.
- Luther Strange, not only Alabama’s junior Senator but the Senate’s newest member, appointed in February to fill Jeff Session’s seat once Sessions became Attorney General for President Trump. He’s been assigned to the Senate Armed Services Committee.
- Former presidential candidate Marco Rubio of Florida, who while not on SAC-D does sit on appropriations, as well as the intelligence and foreign relations committees.
- Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. While not on any defense committees, he chairs the House Foreign Relations Europe subcommittee.
And four Democrats:
- Bill Nelson of Florida, where East Coast LCS are based in Mayport. Nelson is on the Senate Armed Services Committee.
- Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, who serves on SAC-D.
- Gary Peters of Michigan, just across the lake from Wisconsin, who serves on SASC.
- Debbie Stabenow, also of Michigan, who serves on no defense committees.