19 septembre 2018 | International, Naval

Congress to buy 3 more LCS than the Navy needs, but gut funding for sensors that make them valuable

WASHINGTON — Congress loves buying littoral combat ships, but when it comes to the packages of sensors and systems that make the ships useful, lawmakers have been less enthusiastic.

In the 2019 Defense Department funding bill that just left the conference committee, lawmakers have funded a 33rd, 34th and 35th littoral combat ship, three more than the 32-ship requirement set by the Navy. But when it comes to the mission modules destined to make each ship either a mine sweeper, submarine hunter or small surface combatant, that funding has been slashed.

Appropriators cut all funding in 2019 for the anti-submarine warfare package, a variable-depth sonar and a multifunction towed array system that the Navy was aiming to have declared operational next year, citing only that the funding was “ahead of need." The National Defense Authorization Act had authorized about $7.4 million, still well below the $57.3 million requested by the Navy, citing delays in testing various components.

Appropriators are also poised to half the requested funding for the surface warfare package and cut nearly $25.25 million from the minesweeping package, which equates to about a 21 percent cut from the requested and authorized $124.1 million.

Nor are this year's cuts the only time appropriators have gone after the mission modules. A review of appropriations bills dating back to fiscal 2015 shows that appropriators have cut funding for mission modules every single year, and in 2018 took big hacks out of each funding line associated with the modules.

The annual cutting spree has created a baffling cycle of inanity wherein Congress, unhappy with the development of the modules falling behind schedule, will cut funding and cause development to fall further behind schedule, according to a source familiar with the details of the impact of the cuts who spoke on background. All this while Congress continues to pump money into building ships without any of the mission packages having achieved what's known as initial operating capability, meaning the equipment is ready to deploy in some capacity.

(The surface warfare version has IOC-ed some initial capabilities but is adding a Longbow Hellfire missile system that will be delayed with cuts, the source said.)

That means that with 15 of the currently funded 32 ships already delivered to the fleet, not one of them can deploy with a fully capable package of sensors for which the ship was built in the first place — a situation that doesn't have a clear end state while the programs are caught in a sucking vortex of cuts and delays.

“This is a prime example of program issues causing congressional cuts which lead to further delays, then more cuts in a vicious cycle," said Thomas Callender, a retired submarine officer and analyst with The Heritage Foundation.

The Navy has been pursuing a strategy of buying 32 littoral combat ships and then 20 more lethal frigates now in development.

Surface warfare boss Vice Adm. Richard Brown told Defense News in August that both the surface warfare package and the anti-submarine warfare package were on track to be ready in 2019, but that future is now in doubt, Callender said.

“The appropriators' FY19 cuts of zeroing out ASW module and cuts to the MCM [mine countermeasures] module will likely delay IOC and operational testing,” Callender said.

But the appropriators shouldn't take all the heat, he added. The development of the different modules have hit technical issues and are all drastically behind schedule. The minesweeping package, for example, was initially supposed to deliver in 2008, but now isn't slated to IOC until 2020, a date that will be further in doubt if Congress passes the appropriations bill as it left committee, sources agreed.

“The technical development issues and subsequent delays with several modules, especially the ASW and MCM mission packages, contributed to congressional angst and some of these cuts,” Callender said. “Many of these cuts, including the cuts recommended from the House Armed Services Committee and Senate Armed Services Committee for FY19 were reductions in the number of initial modules purchased until they have successfully completed operational testing.”

Both authorizers on the House and Senate Armed Services committees and the Appropriations committees have taken hacks at the funding to the modules, but ultimately the National Defense Authorization Act from the services committees is more of a guide for appropriators than a set of handcuffs. Appropriators can fund what they want to fund.

A statement from the office of Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said the committee works with the Navy on these programs and funds what is ready to be funded.

“The Committee has worked with the Department of the Navy to understand the mission system test requirements — which have often changed due to variety of reasons — and focused on funding those requirements that are ready for production,” said Blair Taylor, Shelby's communications director.


Part of the reason the program is vulnerable to these cuts in a way that, for example, the Arleigh Burke destroyers are not to the same extent is because of the program's structure. The ships were to be purchased separately and designed to be highly versatile, switching out in a matter of days when pierside from anti-surface systems to countermine systems to anti-submarine systems as the missions changed.

But a reorganization of the program in 2016 ordered by Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson and led by then-head of the Naval Surface Force Pacific Adm. Thomas Rowden changed each of the ships to single-mission ships, with the first few ships slated to be surface warfare variants.

But the warfare packages are still being developed under separate programs, leaving them as low-hanging fruit for cuts.

“The separation of the mission modules from specific LCS hull procurement does leave them more vulnerable to these type of programmatic cuts,” Callender said.

The whole issue is taking on increasing urgency as LCS builders Fincantieri in Marinette, Wisconsin, and Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama, begin pushing ships to the fleet by the handful each year. As of August, the Navy had 15 LCS vessels delivered, with 29 awarded and 11 in various stages of construction.

But as the development modules has devolved into a merry-go-round, where cuts beget delays that beget more cuts, the fix in which this puts the Navy becomes more real by the day.

The fleet needs the capabilities the LCS modules are supposed to deliver. For example, the Navy is slated to decommission its last Avenger-class minesweeper in the 2020s. This means the minesweeping package really can't suffer too many more delays without greatly increasing the threat posed to the Navy by cheap marine mines, leaving the fleet with only ad hoc solutions for combating them until the minesweeping package can be fielded in numbers.

And while there are other ships in the fleet such as the DDGs that can do anti-submarine and anti-surface missions, it's the minesweeping package that has Bryan McGrath, a retired destroyer skipper and consultant with The FerryBridge Group, worried.

“I'm concerned that there aren't enough MCM modules coming along fast enough, and I am concerned that there aren't enough LCS in the current plan (four on each coast) dedicated to the MCM mission,” he said. “I'd like to see the LCS plan re-evaluated and more of them devoted exclusively to MCM.”


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    Christina Mackenzie PARIS — Despite calls from French lawmakers for the nation's defense industry to receive extra financial support from the government to counter the negative effects of the coronavirus pandemic, the 2021 defense budget will remain unchanged. Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said last week that the 2021 defense budget — planned before the pandemic as part of the 2019-2025 military program law — represents “the third year in a row that we have followed the military program law to the letter: This is an unprecedented effort, with an additional €1.7 billion [U.S. $2 billion] or so every year.” She added that the armed forces since 2019 have had €18 billion more to spend than in 2017, noting that between 2019 and 2023, the military investment budget will total €110 billion, which is more than the €100 billion national recovery plan announced by the French government last month to support a suffering economy. 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In early June, the government revealed a series of recovery plans aimed at specific industries particularly hard hit by the pandemic. Though the defense sector was not the sole target of the €15 billion aeronautics recovery plan, it nevertheless benefits from the funds, given France's aeronautic giants — Airbus and Dassault Aviation — are active in both the civilian and military sectors, as are their two major suppliers, Safran and Thales. There are about 1,300 companies ranging from startups to major firms in the French aeronautics sector, and they employ approximately 300,000 people. The recovery plan is not aimed at the four major companies, but rather in helping their supply chain involved in specific projects, such as modernizing production tools, research and development efforts, and digital transformation. As a condition for receiving the government funds, the four large companies promised to “consider favorably” offers made by suppliers in France and within the European Union based on global cost, while also taking into account litigation risks, the reliability of after-sales services, the conformity of products and services, their societal and environmental responsibility, and their innovation. The Armed Forces Ministry is participating in the recovery plan by spending €832 million on five measures to ensure “an immediate workload for the whole sector.” The first measure was to anticipate an order for three A330 Phénix multirole tankers, a move enabling the Air and Space Force's two A340 aircraft to retire from service this year instead of in 2028, and its three A310 aircraft to retire in 2021 instead of 2023. The second measure is an order for a light surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft; the third is an early order for eight H225M Caracal helicopters for the Air and Space Force; and the fourth is for a naval airborne drone system (known by its French acronym SDAM) and an onboard mini-drone (SMDM). The fifth measure is for 12 helicopters (two EC-145s and 10 EC-160s) for the Gendarmerie and the civil security force. The ministry's contributions also include €300 million in subsidies for suppliers and subcontractors, as well as €1.5 billion spent over the next three years to support R&D and innovation. What are the defense funds going toward? Under the defense budget, the Army will procure: 12,000 HK416F assault rifles (and order another 12,000). Five Caiman helicopters (and order 21 light joint helicopters). 20 Jaguar armored vehicles; 157 Griffon armored vehicles; 80 renovated VBL light armored vehicles (and order another 120); and 1,000 VLTP light tactical multipurpose vehicles. 850 portable radios (and order 2,900); and 925 vehicle radios (and order 7,300). 200 MMP medium-range missiles and 75 firing posts. 10 SDT tactical drones. The Navy is procuring: A FREMM multimission frigate (and ordering an intervention and defense FDI frigate); and an upgraded light stealth frigate. A Caiman helicopter (and ordering eight HIL light joint helicopters). Three upgraded ATL2 patrol aircraft. Aster 30 missiles; F21 Artemis torpedoes; and four Exocet MM40 Block 3C anti-ship missiles (and ordering 45 Exocet kits). The Air & Space Force is acquiring: An Atlas A400M transport aircraft; three A330 Phénix multirole tankers; two upgraded C-130H transport aircraft; and 14 upgraded Mirage M2000D fighter aircraft. 14 Talios laser designation pods. 90 upgraded Scalp missiles. Six SCCOA 4 radars. Specifically for the space segment, a Musis/CSO satellite; 15 Syracuse IV ground stations; and one Ceres satellite system. The service is also ordering one HIL light joint helicopter; 367 MICA NG air-to-air missiles; 150 Mica NG training missiles; and 13 Syracuse IV ground stations. Two major programs for the service will also be launched in 2021: the Mentor training aircraft and the future combat air system demonstrator. https://www.defensenews.com/global/europe/2020/10/05/despite-pressure-from-lawmakers-and-pandemic-french-defense-budget-to-remain-unchanged/

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