By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON, Wis. — The military industrial complex has found an unexpected ally in U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.
Baldwin, who previously sponsored legislation that would prevent taxes collected from people opposed to war from being spent for military purposes, is now nearing victory in her fight to purchase additional military ships widely criticized as wasteful and unproven.
“I have fought for this defense program because it employs thousands of hardworking Wisconsinites and positively impacts not only the local community but has a ripple effect across the state,” said Baldwin in a statement Friday.
Sen. Tammy Baldwin, once an opponent of the U.S. military budget, fought to include extra military ships in this year’s budget.
Baldwin didn’t respond to Wisconsin Reporter’s request for comment.
Littoral Combat Ships were designed to replace the existing naval fleet for minesweeping, anti-submarine warfare and close-to-shore combat. In 2004, the Navy awarded contracts for two different LCS designs. One went to Lockheed Martin, whose LCSs are developed in Marinette, Wisconsin, and the other to General Dynamics, whose ships are built in Mobile, Alabama.
The Navy and President Obama requested three LCSs to be built in fiscal year 2015, but the House Armed Services Committee passed its version of the $496 billion National Defense Authorization Act with orders for just two LCSs.
Baldwin successfully urged her colleagues on the Senate Armed Services Committee to support three ships along with advanced funding for additional ships “to keep our shipyards and suppliers whole.”
The Navy originally ordered 52 LCSs to be built by 2020, but the program has been riddled with cost overruns and questions of effectiveness since its inception.
For example, the Navy said the ships would cost about $220 million each, but its 2015 budget requests three ships at $1.43 billion, an average of about $476 million per ship.
The Government Accountability Office recommended that Congress consider restricting funding for additional LCS until the Navy completed technical studies that demonstrate if the ships’ design is even useful for its stated purposes.
“(The Navy) still does not know how well the ships will perform their missions, how well its unique crewing and maintenance concepts will work, or how much it will cost to equip and support the ship,” Paul Francis from the GAO testified before the House Armed Services Committee in July 2013.
“We continue to believe that the acquisition approach for this program, with large quantities of ships and modules being bought ahead of key test events is risky, especially for a new class of ship, like LCS,” he said.
Earlier this year, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel essentially cancelled future LCS production, saying “no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward” and that the Navy must submit alternatives “to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.”
While Baldwin called for more funding for LCSs, supposedly more “hawkish” members of Congress pushed for even more cuts than Hagel.
“The list of how the LCS program has failed is ironic and, given the amount of taxpayers’ investment to date, shameful. In LCS, we have, one, a supposed warship that apparently can’t survive a hostile combat environment; two, a program chosen for affordability that doubled in cost since inception and is subject to the risk of further cost growth as testing continues; three, a ‘revolutionary’ design that somehow has managed to be inferior to what came before it on important performance measures; and four, a system designed for flexibility that cannot successfully demonstrate its most important warfighting functions,” said Sen. John McCain, R – Arizona, a member of the Senate Armed Services committee, on the floor of the Senate in April.
McCain said procurement should stop at 24 instead of 32 LCSs. The Navy hasn’t yet announced a strategy to procure the remaining LCSs in future years.
The full Senate will vote on the NDAA, which Baldwin had voted against 11 consecutive times in the House prior to becoming a senator. She supported the NDAA last year.
The Senate and House must then reconcile the two bills before sending a final version to Obama.
Contact Ryan Ekvall at email@example.com, 608-257-1382 or follow him on Twitter @Nockian.