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This is priceless.  Pun intended.  Meanwhile the Deficit Commission is putting its final touches on a plan to control government spending.  Chuck

Dec. 2, 2010 – 8:46 p.m.

Navy Plan for Littoral Ships Is Winning Support, Despite Lack of Price Tag

By John M. Donnelly, CQ Staff

Lawmakers are suddenly voicing new support for a Navy plan to acquire cutting-edge warships, despite continuing apprehension about not being given enough information or time to consider it.

Just weeks after senior Defense appropriators expressed strong reservations about approving the purchase of 20 Littoral Combat Ships because they had not been told the exact price, some of those same members, and others, are now backing the revised Navy proposal.

As a result, Congress could be poised to authorize the Navy to sign billions of dollars of contracts for new ships that have had a troubled history of cost growth, without knowing precisely how many dollars are involved. Senior members have belatedly accepted the Navy’s explanation that there is a good reason for withholding the precise price, and they say they are moving forward largely on trust.

Ultimately, the Navy wants to deploy 55 of the ships, which are meant for operations close to shore. But the Pentagon has yet to report to Congress the full projected cost of that fleet, as it typically does for major acquisition programs.

Taylor, Akin Change Course

The two lawmakers who have swallowed their misgivings hardest and now back the plan are Gene Taylor, D-Miss., chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces, and Todd Akin of Missouri, the top Republican on the subcommittee.

Taylor, who two weeks ago said, “I don’t sign a contract unless I see the price,” now has drafted a bill to authorize the plan. And Akin, who said last month that the Navy’s proposal smacked of a “hustle,” is now a cosponsor of Taylor’s measure.

Taylor, who lost his re-election bid, was not available by press time to explain his change of heart. But Akin said the Navy has won over lawmakers by contending that, whatever the price of the vessels, they will be cheaper than under a previous plan, enabling a purchase of an extra ship — 20, instead of 19 — by fiscal 2015.

“If that’s true, and the Navy’s comfortable with the ships, then it’s a hard case to say you’re against that,” Akin said.

He added, however, that lawmakers are agreeing to the plan largely “on faith, trusting that the Navy’s analysis of this thing is legitimate.”

In other interviews this week, several other senior members expressed support for the Navy’s plan, though in some cases it was grudging because of the dearth of information about the ships.

The supporters now include Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich.; Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California, the top Republican on House Armed Services and its presumed chairman in the next Congress; Norm Dicks, D-Wash., chairman of the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee; and C.W. Bill Young of Florida, the panel’s ranking Republican and a contender to chair it next year.

Competitive Concerns Cited

The Navy is asking Congress to authorize by Dec. 14 a block purchase of 20 ships —with 10 built by each of two different suppliers. Once those ships are built, the Navy could hold a competition for future purchases, though it might not.

That is a change from the earlier plan to select a single builder for 10 ships and then definitely hold another competition for the next order.

If Congress does not act by Dec. 14, the Navy has said, then the bid prices — whatever they are — will not hold.

The Navy said the reason the exact bid costs are being kept confidential, even from Congress, is that if lawmakers do not approve the two-shipyard plan, the service will have to select a single company. As a result, there is still a live competition and prices must be kept private.

The Navy has shared only a range of prices with lawmakers, to give them a rough idea. But even that approximation is not being shared with the press or public.

Despite the uncertainty about the ship’s price, Taylor said last month that he expects each vessel to cost around $700 million — more than double the original estimate.

Legislation May Be Needed

The Littoral Combat Ship is smaller, lighter, faster, more automated and less expensive than most Navy combat vessels. The ship will be outfitted with different, modular sets of equipment depending on the mission at hand — be it fighting submarines, countering mines or combating small boats near shorelines.

Two different versions have been designed, one built at Austal USA in Alabama and the other at Marinette Marine in Wisconsin. Each yard has delivered one ship and is building another.

Legislation appears to be necessary to authorize the new plan, because the fiscal 2010 defense authorization law (PL 111-84) approved a buy of only 10 ships, not 20.

The fiscal 2011 defense authorization bill (S 3454, HR 5136) is unlikely to be ready by Dec. 14, if it clears at all.

A version of this article appeared in the Dec. 3, 2010 print issue of CQ Today

Source: CQ Today Online News

Phi Beta Iota: None of the “deciders” have any clue what they are doing–the Navy cannot come up with a coherent global acquisition plan; the Office of the Secretary of Defense has no idea how to orchestrate all the elements of the tone-deaf military, and Congress is going through the motions on oversight.  The Marine Corps has not been thoughtful nor decisive in pointing out the abject and unaffordable aspects of this ill-fated “concept.”  This will be a total disaster.

Articles on all the bad in this nonsense

For an alternative approach to governance, an alternative approach to national security strategy, and a coherent approach to naval power in the 21st Century, see below

Virtual Cabinet at Huffington Post

2001 Threats, Strategy, and Force Structure: An Alternative Paradigm for National Security

2008 U.S. Naval Power in the 21st Century

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