FEBRUARY 4, 2016— When the Navy's FY 2017 budget request is unveiled it now seems certain that the FYDP (Future Years Defense Plan) Littoral Combat Ship procurement will be capped at 40 ships to provide money for increased spending on things like missiles and aircraft.
That plan was first revealed in a memo from Defense Secretary Ash Carter to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus that surfaced in December (see earlier story) and that generated immediate protests from Congressmen representing LCS shipbuilding constituencies.
In the memo, Carter told the Navy "reduce the planned LCS/FF procurement from 52 to 40, creating a 1-1-1-1-2 profile, for eight fewer ships in the FYDP, and then downselect to one variant by FY 2019."
Secretary Ash Carter is meeting this week with troops and defense community members around the country to preview the proposed defense budget.
Tuesday, at Naval Base San Diego in California, he toured USS Spruance, an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, and spoke with sailors from the Spruance and from USS Princeton, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser equipped for surface-to-air, surface-to-surface and anti-submarine warfare.
Congress makes the final budget decision, Carter told the sailors, "but we try to tell them what in our judgment … is the best use of the taxpayers' money to defend our country."
A substantial amount of the budget proposal is for the Navy, he added, "because of the centrality of the Navy to our strategy."Beginning with munitions, Carter said the sailors were the first to learn about a powerful new capability, secretly tested just last month, that builds on the existing SM-6 missile.
"You know the SM-6," Carter said. "You launch it from surface ships. It's a fantastic surface-to-air weapon, highly maneuverable aerodynamically, and can stop incoming ballistic and cruise missiles … in the atmosphere at a very low altitude."
He said the SM-6 will be modified so that in addition to providing missile defense it also can target enemy ships at sea at extended ranges.
"This is a new anti-ship mode … that can shoot down airborne threats, and now [the same missile] can attack and destroy a ship at long range," Carter said, calling it a potent new surface warfare capability.
The overall number of Navy ships will build to 308 from about 280 today, Carter said, but numbers alone are less important than the ships' capabilities and lethality, he added.
The department will buy nine new Virginia-class attack submarines over the next five years, the secretary said, adding an extra Virginia payload module and tripling the vessels' vertical launch tube strike capacity.
Carter said the Pentagon also will invest $600 million over the next five years in a new capability -- variable-size and -payload unmanned undersea vehicles.
Defense Department officials — and the Navy itself, Carter said — agreed that 40 littoral combat ships was a sufficient number.
Plans in 2002 called for more than 50, he said, but today the department must balance its shipbuilding investments among higher-end, more capable ships such as the Spruance and the Princeton.
He said that buying 40 littoral combat ships will allow the department over the next 10 years to put about $8 billion more into high-end capabilities, "and that is the right decision for us to make at this strategic turning point," he added.
On Aegis destroyers, the Pentagon will buy 10 new warships and modernize combat systems on 12 existing ships. For Navy aviation, the department will increase its purchase of fighters, to "more than we planned by dozens over the next five years," the secretary said: 13 more F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighters and 16 more F-18 Super Hornets than were planned.