A remote minehunting system and an AN/AQS-20 mine hunting sonar are brought aboard the littoral combat ship Independence during developmental testing of the mine warfare mission module package. (Ron Newsome/US Navy)
WASHINGTON — A US House panel wants the Pentagon’s testing chief to sign off before the Navy can spend any fiscal 2015 funds to buy littoral combat ship mission modules.
The panel approved an amendment to its 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) offered by Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., that would block all funding for LCS mission modules until senior Pentagon and Navy officials deliver some assurances to lawmakers.
One would be to provide the Navy secretary’s plan for the program’s Milestone B costs, schedule and performance “for each increment.”
Another would be a certification by the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation (OT&E) “with respect to the total number for each module type that is required to perform all necessary operational testing.”
The OT&E office has in the past been critical of the LCS program. In its latest report, released in January, the office found “performance, reliability, and operator training deficiencies,” and other alleged problems with the mission packages.
LCS proponents say some of the office’s data is old and no longer applicable.
Plans from the armed services typically are not difficult hurdles for programs to scale; the OT&E sign-off might be more difficult.
Still, on Twitter, some LCS critics celebrated passage of Speier’s amendment as a victory.
Meantime, the GOP members of the panel shot down an amendment by Ranking Democrat Rep. Adam Smith of Washington. His measure was aimed at blocking a Republican plan, pushed by Seapower subcommittee Chairman Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., which passed seconds later, to halt a Navy proposal to retire 11 cruisers to save money.
Smith contended that Navy and Pentagon officials examined their needs and future budgetary realities and decided retiring 11 cruisers would be acceptable. What’s more, he said, doing so would, as the Navy wants, free up budget dollars later for new ships.
Republicans were not having it.
Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., panned Smith’s amendment, calling it “ridiculous.”
Wittman said fewer ships would not deliver major savings, and would hurt the sea service’s recruiting and retention efforts. That is because, he said, fewer ships will mean longer deployments and more unhappy sailors.
The cruiser debate featured the most in-depth discussion yet during the mark up about the military’s force structure.
Smith and Democrats argued a larger fleet is not necessarily a more ready fleet; Republicans argued a larger fleet, by definition, is more ready.
No resolution to that debate was reached.
The panel also shot down an amendment from Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., that would have slapped additional funding restrictions on the LCS program. She claimed lawmakers have failed to carry out ample oversight of the program, which has had cost overruns and testing issues.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., called Duckworth’s amendment “courageous,” saying it was a “tough” one to bring up in the mostly pro-military committee. She noted Duckworth last year offered a similarly “tough” measure that would have restricted the often-troubled F-35 program’s funding.
“I’m just trying to fulfill my oversight responsibilities,” Duckworth said when describing the amendment.
She did not ask for a recorded vote after the measure failed via a voice vote. ■