The Navy has 24 Littoral Combat Ship deployments scheduled between 2019 and 2024, according to the service's top admiral.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told the Senate Armed Services Committee today about the deployments in response to questions from Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR).
"As soon as I got in as the chief of naval operations, I directed the commander of naval surfaces to take a look at that [LCS] program, rationalize it and make it look a lot more like a normal shipbuilding program and a ship operating program," Richardson said.
Further, CNO said that evaluation led to changes made this year "in the maintenance approach, changes in the blue-gold crewing, the way we are going to homeport these squadrons and forward deploy them."
The back and forth between CNO and Cotton comes two days after a shipbuilding hearing where Cotton pressed Vice Adm. William Merz, deputy chief of naval operations for warfare systems, on the same topic.
During that hearing, Merz said the Navy is "not concerned" about not deploying any of its Littoral Combat Ships in 2018, and that the service anticipated that would happen.
The Navy's LCS requirement is 32 ships, and roughly a third have been delivered so far. A typical deployment ratio is three to five ships deployed for each one that is not.
"This is really just math and there [are] going to be gaps that will fill in over time," Merz said in a response to a question from Cotton.
"We're not concerned about it. We're learning a lot about the maintenance of the ship. We're going to a dual-crew model over the next several years," Merz said. The gaps in deployments are "going to catch up over time as we fill in the rest of the class," he said.
Separately, several House and Senate lawmakers on April 16 sent Navy Secretary Richard Spencer a letter asking the service to alter its fiscal year 2018 and FY-19 LCS acquisition.
“Accordingly, we are concerned that the FY-18 [and] FY-19 LCS acquisition strategy unduly disadvantages the Freedom-variant industry team and will result in irreversible harm to the shipyard and supply chain workforces, in turn reducing competition in the next generation Frigate program," the letter said.
The Navy has been under fire from both Congress and industry for several months over the service's LCS acquisition strategy. Criticism that the strategy will not sufficiently support the industrial workforce has been a common complaint.
"Based on lowest-price rather than best-value, the acquisition strategy fails to take into account differences between the variants regarding capabilities, service-life and total life-cycle cost, among other aspects," the letter continues. "The acquisition strategy also fails to appropriately factor in the results of the Navy’s decision to award two Independence-variant ships in both FY-15 and FY-17 -- namely the production advantages -- and therefore price advantage -- accrued by that shipyard.”
Thirteen senators and congressmen signed the letter.
Navy acquisition officials have defended the strategy on several occasions and dispute the notion that the choice will threaten the future frigate competition.