WASHINGTON ― House appropriators ripped a proposal to decommission four littoral combat ships contained in President Joe Biden’s Pentagon budget request for next year as “a misuse of taxpayer funds.”
The House Appropriations Committee’s report on its defense spending bill, released Monday ahead of its markup Tuesday, offered new details on its many tweaks to Biden’s budget request, and some criticism. The bill, if passed into law, would block three of the four ship retirements.
The proposed bill would add $915 million for Navy shipbuilding for a total of $23.5 billon for eight new ships ― including a second Arleigh Burke-class destroyer not included in the Biden budget request. It signaled its approval for a follow-on multi-year contract for the class.
The bill also includes a provision to block the retirement of three of the four littoral combat ships the administration asked to retire ― the LCS Fort Worth, the LCS Detroit, and the LCS Little Rock ― and it directs the Navy to report to Congress on plans and missions for them in its budget request next year. It would allow the LCS Coronado to be retired.
“The Committee is disappointed that the Navy has planned to decommission two ships, the USS Detroit and the USS Little Rock, that are five and four years old, respectively,” the panel’s report reads.
The U.S. Navy’s budget director said during the service’s budget roll-out in February that the cost of upgrading and repairing the first four littoral combat ships is too high and it’s better just to decommission them.
Navy officials argued the ships ― intended to serve as a fast and nimble warship, capable of morphing into a minesweeper, antisubmarine vessel or ship killer ― were less relevant for competition with Russia and China.
Though the class has been plagued by reliability problems and escalating operating costs, Capitol Hill pushed back at the Navy’s initial proposal in 2019 to decommission the first four littoral combat ships, all designated research and development hulls for testing and training missions stateside. Congress is allowing the LCS 1 and LCS 2 to be decommissioned ― and now LCS 3 (the Fort Worth) and LCS 4 (the Coronado) are back on the Navy’s hit list.
Why lawmakers would be willing to let go of the Coronado when they are working to save three other hulls wasn’t made explicit. While the Freedom variants of the LCS have been suffering engineering challenges, the Coronado belongs to the Independence class, which hasn’t faced the same engineering and reliability issues.
The report also said the panel is “dismayed” by the Navy’s decision to remove a projected Arleigh Burke-class destroyer from its budget. The Navy had again removed a major ship procurement from its budget request and then placed it first on its unfunded priority list ― a “troubling trend” the report said.
The Biden administration’s omission of the second destroyer was controversial on Capitol Hill because without it, the Navy cannot meet its obligation under multiyear contracts with both Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works. Those contracts call for each of the companies to build one ship in FY22.
Not only does such a move harm “the already fragile domestic shipbuilding industrial base,” the Navy had already delayed the detail design and construction schedule of the planned follow-on program to fiscal 2026 at the earliest, the report reads.
“The Committee believes that a follow-on multi-year procurement contract beginning in fiscal year 2023 may be a prudent plan to ensure a smooth shipbuilding manufacturing and design industrial base transition from the DDG–51 to the follow-on large surface combatant.” the report reads.
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