Critics: Navy littoral ship program not meeting expectations
The latest U.S. Navy littoral combat ship was set to sail into Milwaukee Nov. 15, but critics of the program contend the $400 million vessels still have not met expectations.
The Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, Wisc., employs about 2,000 people building the ships designed for a variety of missions, including combat in shallow, coastal waters. The latest of the warships is scheduled to be commissioned Nov. 21 on Milwaukee’s lakefront.
Through Marinette, defense contractor Lockheed Martin has delivered three of the ships to the Navy: USS Freedom, USS Fort Worth and the USS Milwaukee, which was expected to arrive Nov. 15 in Milwaukee. Six more of the warships are in various stages of construction in Marinette, while a different version is being built in Mobile, Ala.
Critics argue that the 380-foot ships haven’t lived up to promises in some key areas, such as the ability to quickly swap out combat modules for missions that include searching for underwater mines and engaging in battle with other ships, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
The interchangeable modules are supposed to make the ships more versatile, with each version tailored for a specific purpose, such as mine sweeping or hunting submarines. The original goal was to be able to change the modules in 72 hours.
But in practice, the “plug and play” concept isn’t working, said Dakota Wood, senior research fellow for defense programs at the conservative Heritage Foundation.
“It was an idea that, I think, is not supported by current technology. The practicality of doing this seems a bridge too far,” Wood said.
The Journal Sentinel reported that Navy officials didn’t answer questions for the newspaper’s story. The Pentagon announced in December that the Navy would upgrade the program and build a more lethal fighting vessel that could better survive today’s volatile security threats.
Norman Polmar, another naval expert critical of the littoral combat ship program, said the program was an interesting concept that was poorly executed. He criticized the delays in developing the mission modules and what he said were shortcomings in the ships’ weapons.
“The problem is the ships’ capabilities are virtually nil. The Navy was just stupid in the way they executed the program,” Polmar said.
The next version of the ships will go into production in about 2019, for 20 vessels. The new version will be less reliant on the interchangeable combat modules and is slated to have improved defense systems and air surveillance radar, and more powerful weapons, including surface-to-surface missiles. AP
Army orders 12 Mississippi-made helicopters
The U.S. Army has exercised $65.8 million in contract options for 12 UH-72A Lakota helicopters and associated mission equipment packages from Airbus Defense and Space in Columbus, Miss.
Since 2006, Airbus has delivered almost 350 Lakotas to the Army and Navy and for foreign military sales customers.
The UH-72A is used for a broad range of active Army and Army National Guard missions, including training, search and rescue, medical evacuation, border security, command and control, VIP transport and general utility.
The Clarion-Ledger reports the 12 aircraft on this latest contract option will be delivered starting in August of 2017, configured for the Army as initial entry rotary-wing trainers. This year the Army has fielded more than 50 Lakotas to Fort Rucker, Alabama, in preparation for the UH-72A’s formal introduction into the training curriculum in early fiscal year 2016.
The Army’s ultimate plans call for an initial-entry rotary wing training fleet of 187 Lakotas, made up of a mix of new deliveries and already in-service aircraft reconfigured for the training mission.
Airbus Helicopters CEO Chris Emerson said that almost half the employees who build the Lakota in Columbus are military veterans. Some still fly the aircraft as part of their service in the National Guard, he added.
“Everyone on that production line takes a great amount of pride in their unbroken record of delivering on their commitments, and we hope they’ll be building Lakotas for many years to come.”
The twin-engine UH-72A is known for its power, stability, and agility. Its glass cockpit is compatible with night vision goggles. It has the lowest cost to buy, own and operate of any U.S. military helicopter in production, Airbus said.
Opened in 2004, Airbus’ 325,000-square-foot Columbus facility also produces the AS350 B2/B3 AStar commercial helicopter. AP