The U.S. Navy plans to forward deploy eight Littoral Combat Ships to Bahrain to focus on surface warfare and mine clearing, a senior service official said recently.
Navy Undersecretary Robert Work said the LCSs will ultimately replace Cyclone-class patrol coastal ships and Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships operating with the U.S. Fifth Fleet based in Manama, Bahrain, but did not offer a timeframe for deploying the LCSs that are still in the early stages of procurement.
The LCSs are designed to carry three separate mission modules: surface warfare, mine countermeasures and anti-submarine warfare. The main missions for the Bahrain-deployed LCSs will be dealing with mines and fending off fast attack boats, Work said.
“The primary missions in the Gulf are counter mine and counter swarm,” he told reporters after speaking at an event hosted by the Cato Institute.
Later, Work issued a statement through a Navy spokesman saying the plans for Bahrain are still tentative and require the formal approval from the Pentagon, Congress and the host nation.
"Information regarding plans for forward station Littoral Combat Ships in Bahrain will be made available as it is finalized," he said.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert had previously disclosed plans to station LCSs in Bahrain but Work was the first to provide a number. Singapore and Bahrain are the only two countries the United States has publicly identified to host Littoral Combat Ships. Work said the Navy is exploring additional possibilities but did not name the countries.
The Navy plans to base four LCSs in Singapore, and the first ship of the class, the USS Freedom (LCS-1), is scheduled to go to the Southeast Asian nation on a temporary deployment next year.
Work offered a spirited defense of the troubled Littoral Combat Ship program, which has been under intense scrutiny over the cost of buying two variants in the class and questions of its survivability and relatively small size.
Lockheed Martin [LMT] along with partner Marinette Marine are building the Freedom variant, while a second group is based on the USS Independence (LCS-2) and are being built by Austal USA. The USS Freedom has received greater criticism following cracking that had to be repaired last year along with other problems, issues that recently resurfaced following a report by the watchdog group Project On Government Oversight (POGO) that detailed the structural damage.
Work said of the 62 issues raised by the POGO report, 25 of them were wrong, and the remaining problems have been fixed or already identified by the Navy. He also lashed out at critics of the program he said misunderstand the role of the ship in the Navy’s fleet or believe that only large surface combatants like destroyers and cruisers constitute a warship.
“People who don’t think (the LCS) is a warship are nuts,” he said.
The House of Representatives recently passed a defense policy bill that included language calling for an investigation into cracking and the other problems on the Freedom. Prior to passage, the Navy’s acquisition chief, Sean Stackley, sent a letter this week to a House supporter of the LCS program, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), saying the measure was raising old issues and would offer “little insight” to the current state of the program. Bartlett sits on the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower panel.
The Navy insists the program is getting on track as newer vessels are meeting cost and construction schedules.
“We’re very confident we’re on the right path here,” Work said. He pointed out that the first two ships were research and development ships and were intended to identify and resolve problems.