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Government Critics: Navy littoral ship program not meeting expectations

Critics: Navy littoral ship program not meeting expectations

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The latest U.S. Navy littoral combat ship is set to sail into Milwaukee on Sunday, but critics of the program contend the $400 million vessels still have not met expectations.

The Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette 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 Corp. has delivered three of the ships to the Navy: USS Freedom, USS Fort Worth and the USS Milwaukee, which is expected to arrive Sunday in Milwaukee. Six more of the warships are in various stages of construction in Marinette, while a different version is being built in Mobile, Alabama.

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 (http://bit.ly/1NSWvFV ).

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.

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Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, http://www.jsonline.com

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