Efforts to increase the United States naval fleet to 355 ships have received bipartisan support, but there is some disagreement about how to reach that number, as well as about the quality of some of the ships that would get us there.
The controversial Littoral Combat Ship, which is the Navy's newest class of warship, has been one source of such disagreement. Both Democrats and Republicans have criticized the ships as unreliable and cost ineffective, citing incidents of engine failure or non-combat related structural damage, and have called for either an end to or reduction of the program.
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, offered an amendment to this year's National Defense Authorization Act, which would shift funds away from a third LCS to an account for munitions shortfalls.
The amendment failed to pass, in part because other members see continuing the LCS program as necessary to reach a 355-ship Navy.
"One of the things that we've been trying to push for in our [Sea Power] subcommittee is to take all the seven shipyards in America, and there are only seven that make ships for Navy, and get them up to maximum production, otherwise you don't get there," Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Ala., told the Washington Examiner.
He continued, "You've got to be thinking, how do I keep the shipyards at maximum production, maximum efficiency, both to hit the number you're trying to hit, and to keep your costs down. So everybody agrees that you have to have production lines that are as hot as you can make them."
Byrne represents Alabama's first district, which includes the coastal city of Mobile, where Austal USA manufactures the LCS. He defended the LCS program as critical for maintaining a steady shipbuilding workforce. Ceasing or even reducing in the LCS program, Byrne argued, would be like turning off a labor spigot.
"If you lay off shipyard workers, they are going to get other jobs. In this economy, they are hunting for people like them. They are going to get other jobs. Then we say 'Hey, come back,' and they will say 'No, I've already got a job over here.' Then we have to go through the process to recruit and train new workers," which Byrne said costs dollars and time.
The NDAA, as passed by the House Armed Services Committee, includes funding for three littoral combat ships.