The much derided littoral combat ship program is here to stay, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus announced Thursday, and it's getting an upgrade: a name change.
Going forward, new Freedom- and Independence-class ships will be christened under the frigate designation that's more suited to the ship's missions, Mabus said in a speech at the annual Surface Navy Association symposium outside Washington, D.C.
"We are going to change the hull designation of the LCS class ships to FF," Mabus said, as frigates have been designated. "It will still be the same ship, the same program of record, just with an appropriate and traditional name."
The change will take the tarnished LCS designation out of the lexicon, but it will also settle a matter of tradition that Mabus said has been on his mind recently.
"We've started designating ships with some interesting acronyms that seem to have come out of the Pentagon instead of our naval traditions," he said.
Ships like the joint high speed vessel (JHSV), the mobile landing platform (MLP) and the afloat forward staging base (AFSB) all buck Navy tradition, where the first letter in an acronym describes what kind of ship it is.
For instance, CVN denotes a nuclear-powered carrier. Similarly, the 'L' in a designation connotes an amphibious ship.
"It's not an L-class ship. I hear 'L,' I think amphib. Everybody else does," he said. "And I have to spend a good deal of my time explaining what littoral is."
Mabus said the remaining ships on the LCS building plan will be designated FF, and he's deciding whether to rename the current ships with another acronym.
The announcement comes days after Kauffman, the Navy's last Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, left Norfolk for its final underway. That ship fell under the FFG acronym, for guided-missile frigate.
While the LCS program has been thought of as a replacement for the frigate fleet, the littoral part didn't square up with the frigate's role as a small surface combatant.
The LCS can do the job, Mabus told reporters after his speech.
"They don't look like traditional Navy ships sometimes, and I think that's one of the issues that traditionalists have, but if you look at the missions — if you look at what a frigate is supposed to be able to do — that's what this ship does," he said.
Describing it as a "fast" frigate could refer to its top speed or a smaller crew size, down from the 17 officers and 198 enlisted on the FFG.
Boosting the fleet
Beyond the frigate news, Mabus' speech to thesurface warfare officers and industry members focused on shipbuilding and the service's track record through his five years in office.
"I've lost track of the number of times people have come up to me and told me that our fleet is shrinking," he said.
It's simply not true, he continued. The fleet shrunk from 316 ships in 2001 to 278 in 2008, he said. In the five years before he came in, he added, 27 ships were put under contract.
Since he took the helm in 2010, he said, 70 more have been put on the books. Among the achievements he cited were buying two fast-attack submarines and two destroyers a year, as well as commissioning the amphibious assault ship America; the next America-class ship is to be procured in fiscal 2017.
Lessons have been learned, he said, from the construction of Ford, the next-generation flattop whose revolutionary systems have also led to huge cost overruns; the Ford is estimated to cost $13 billion.
"It's pretty clear that CVN 78 is a prime example of how not to build a ship," Mabus said. "We started designing it while we were building it, too much technology that was not proven trying to be pushed into the ship."
However, they've reined in the program, bringing both Ford and its successor, Kennedy, within congressional spending caps.
Despite the looming threat of budget cuts, which could come as soon as October, Mabus said, it's important to keep the momentum going.
"Even as we deal with the possible impacts of sequester, now is not the time to give up on the progress we've made with our shipbuilding," he said. "I don't believe we ought to pay for one Navy ship with another."