By PAUL D. SHINKMAN
In this photo taken May 2, 2012, and released by U.S. Navy, the Littoral Combat Ship USS Independence (LCS 2) arrives in her home port of San Diego, marking the completion of her maiden voyage.
The sequester may have prevented the U.S. Navy from sending ships to foreign waters, but it hasn’t stopped the Pentagon from building them.
The Department of Defense announced Monday two contracts worth almost $1.4 billion to build four new ships for the Navy. These multi-purpose crafts, called Littoral Combat Ships, have been embraced by the Navy as new “vanilla platforms” that can accommodate a variety of missions, including mine-sweeping, anti-submarine warfare or land attacks.
The news comes weeks after the Pentagon said the threat of sequestration and other budget woes prevented the Navy from steaming a second aircraft carrier group to the Persian Gulf to bolster the U.S. military presence in the Middle East.
Lockheed Martin in Baltimore and Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., have both been granted contracts over $680 million to construct two Littoral Combat Ships each, according to a Pentagon media release.
The military’s FY13 base budget allocated more than $1.7 billion for four Littoral Combat Ships. The appropriations bill released by the House on Monday matches that number.
“Sequester will and is affecting how [the Department of Defense] does business, but that doesn’t mean that DoD will stop doing business,” says Russell Rumbaugh, a defense budget expert at the Stimson Center.
The amount spent on the two contracts accounts for just over 77 percent of the line item budget for these ships. Even if the automatic across-the-board cuts remove 7.8 percent from the Navy’s Procurement budget, it would still have about 15 percent of that left for this fiscal year.
Plans to deploy the USS Harry S. Truman to the Persian Gulf in February were scrapped. The Navy asked then-Secretary Leon Panetta to delay the deployments due to “budget uncertainty,” according to Pentagon spokesman George Little, which was reported by the Associated Press.