By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS
WASHINGTON — Senior US Navy leaders have made their final presentations to the Pentagon’s top leadership on their choice for a small surface combatant (SSC), and a decision by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on what sort of ship to build after the littoral combat ship (LCS) could come soon.
“The secretary took another meeting by Navy leaders during the last week of October,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday. “The purpose of the meeting was to review the Navy’s recommendation for the way forward. The secretary expressed his gratitude for the hard work and analysis that went into forming that recommendation and assured Navy leadership that he would be rendering a decision in the very near future.”
Asked to confirm if Hagel now had all the information he needed to render a decision, Kirby added, “we do not anticipate that he requires more at this point.”
The future course of the LCS program has been in doubt since February, when Hagel directed the Navy to develop a more heavily armed warship — the SSC — to succeed the politically troubled LCS. A decision on the form of the SSC is to be made, Hagel directed, in time “to inform” the 2016 budget submission, due to be sent to Congress in February 2015.
The Navy presented its initial findings to Hagel on Oct. 6 in a meeting attended by Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work; Frank Kendall, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics; and Jamie Morin, the director of cost assessment and program evaluation.
Unusually, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation Michael Gilmore also was in attendance. Gilmore has long been a critic of the LCS program, particularly regarding survivability issues, and has heavily influenced Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., expected to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee when the new Congress is seated.
Meanwhile, the LCS program itself is moving forward. The Fort Worth is to leave San Diego later this month to begin a 16-month Western Pacific deployment — the second such LCS cruise. The Freedom-class LCS Detroit, of the Lockheed Martin variant, was launched Oct. 18, and another ship, the Independence-class Montgomery, will be christened Saturday at Austal USA.
The Navy expects to double the number of ships in service during 2015 when four more ships are delivered, bringing the active total to eight.
Twenty-four LCSs are either in service, under construction or on contract. Another eight ships are expected to be ordered based on existing designs. The switchover to the SSC, Hagel has directed, is to begin no later than the 33rd ship to be ordered.
It’s expected the Navy will call the ships something other than LCSs or SSCs — perhaps light frigates or corvettes.