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House panel raises doubts over manning LCSs

Subcommittee also tries to save 3 cruisers from retirement

May. 15, 2012 - 06:47PM   |   Last Updated: May. 15, 2012 - 06:47PM  |  
The Independence (LCS 2) leads the Freedom (LCS 1 ) while operating off San Diego on May 2. A House subcomittee raised doubts on the Navy's plans to man its newest class of warships.
The Independence (LCS 2) leads the Freedom (LCS 1 ) while operating off San Diego on May 2. A House subcomittee raised doubts on the Navy's plans to man its newest class of warships. (Lt. Jan Shultis / U.S. Navy)

A key congressional subcommittee has questioned the manning plan for the Navy's newest class of warships and signaled that it will force the Navy to keep three of seven selected cruisers from an early retirement.

The subcommittee took issue with the manpower plan for littoral combat ships, in particular asking why the Navy has decided to send ensigns and first-term sailors to these smaller crews, after previously saying they didn't plan to do so. Lawmakers are concerned that junior sailors and ensigns assigned to LCSs won't get the training they need on a ship with minimal manning and limited opportunities for training.

"The committee is concerned that the current LCS manning model is unrealistic and that relying on temporary solutions such as berthing modules to accommodate additional crewmembers is both impractical and detrimental to the quality of life of the entire crew," the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee wrote in a report obtained by Navy Times. The report, which has not yet been publicly released, is to be considered at a markup Thursday.

Lawmakers were also concerned that the manning will rely too heavily on temporary berthing. They directed the Navy secretary to report back to them on the LCS manning, the training for junior crewmembers and the projected costs to accommodate more crew.

The latest plan calls for three crews for every two LCS hulls. Of the two ships, one will be deployed at any time, with crews rotating through the ships, a model similar to the hull swaps conducted by crews on coastal patrol and mine countermeasures ships.

A Navy spokeswoman declined to comment on the subcommittee mark, saying: "It would be in appropriate for us to comment on pending legislation."

The committee also proposed spending $506 million in fiscal 2013 to upgrade and maintain the cruisers Cowpens, Anzio and Vicksburg, which the Navy wanted to retire on March 31, 2013.

Navy officials have said the cruisers — all of which were commissioned in the 1990s — were slated for an early retirement due to budget pressure, explaining that these particular hulls were chosen because they did not have the expensive upgrades that gave other ships in the class ballistic-missile defense capability. But House lawmakers, concerned that the service is not maintaining enough warships to fulfill the Obama administration's Pacific-focused strategy, are moving to keep them in the fleet.

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