WASHINGTON ― House appropriators ripped a proposal to decommission four littoral combat ships contained in President Joe Biden’s Pentagon budget request for next year as “a misuse of taxpayer funds.”
The House Appropriations Committee’s report on its defense spending bill, released Monday ahead of its Tuesday markup, offered new details on its many tweaks to Biden’s budget request, and some criticism. The bill, if passed into law, would block three of the four ship retirements.
The proposed bill would add $915 million for Navy shipbuilding for a total of $23.5 billon for eight new ships ― including shifting $1.5 billion to fund a second Arleigh Burke-class destroyer not included in Biden’s budget request. The bill signaled its approval for a follow-on, multiyear contract for the ship class.
The bill also includes a provision to block the retirement of three of the four littoral combat ships the administration asked to retire ― the Fort Worth, the Detroit and the Little Rock ― and it directs the Navy to report to Congress on plans and missions for the ships in its budget request next year. It would allow the Navy to retire the LCS Coronado.
“The Committee is disappointed that the Navy has planned to decommission two ships, the USS Detroit and the USS Little Rock, that are five and four years old, respectively,” the panel’s report read.
The Navy’s budget director said during the service’s budget rollout in February that the cost of upgrading and repairing the first four littoral combat ships is too high and that it’s better to decommission them.
Navy officials argued the ships ― intended to serve as fast and nimble vessels capable of morphing into a minesweeper, antisubmarine platforms or ship-killers ― were less relevant for competition with Russia and China.
Though the class has been plagued by reliability problems and escalating operating costs, Capitol Hill pushed back at the Navy’s initial proposal in 2019 to decommission the first four littoral combat ships, all designated research and development hulls for testing and training missions stateside.
Congress is allowing the LCS 1 and LCS 2 to be decommissioned ― and now LCS 3 (the Fort Worth) and LCS 4 (the Coronado) are back on the Navy’s hit list.
Why lawmakers would be willing to let go of the Coronado when they are working to save three other hulls wasn’t made explicit. While the Freedom variants of the LCS have been suffering engineering challenges, the Coronado belongs to the Independence class, which hasn’t faced the same engineering and reliability issues.
The report also said the panel is “dismayed” by the Navy’s decision to remove a projected Arleigh Burke-class destroyer from its budget. The Navy had again removed a major ship procurement from its budget request and then placed it first on its unfunded priority list ― after leaving a Virginia-class submarine out of last year’s budget request.
“This represents a troubling trend of underfunding ship acquisition programs and then requesting the removed ship as the highest priority on the unfunded priority list,” the report reads.
The Biden administration’s omission of the second destroyer was controversial on Capitol Hill because without it the Navy cannot meet its obligation under multiyear contracts with both Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works. Those contracts call for each of the companies to build one ship in fiscal 2022.
Not only does such a move harm “the already fragile domestic shipbuilding industrial base,” the report read, but the Navy had already delayed the detail design and construction schedule of the planned follow-on program to FY26 at the earliest.
“The Committee believes that a follow-on multi-year procurement contract beginning in fiscal year 2023 may be a prudent plan to ensure a smooth shipbuilding manufacturing and design industrial base transition from the DDG–51 to the follow-on large surface combatant.” the report read.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.
Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs, and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.