Congressional approval of Navy’s LCS plan is possible, says Jo Bonner

Congressional approval of a plan to buy littoral combat ships from Austal and Lockheed Martin will be “challenging but not impossible,” said U.S. Rep. Jo Bonner, R-Mobile. Getting Congress to approve the U.S. Navy’s plan to buy littoral combat ships from both Mobile-based Austal USA and Lockheed Martin will be “challenging but not impossible,”.

Approval of the Navy’s dual-buy plan would give each contractor a 10-ship contract estimated to be worth about $5 billion. Austal officials have said the company will double employment at its 1,800-worker shipyard on Mobile River if it wins the work. If Congress does not assent, the Navy will go back to a plan that picks one shipyard and one ship design. Bonner said he would do everything possible to fast-track the approval process, but said it might be an uphill battle.

“Congress will only have four weeks after it reconvenes on Nov. 15 to approve a dual buy before the LCS contract bids expire,” he said. “With an uncertain congressional schedule and in the absence of a defense authorization bill this year, it will be challenging but not impossible to secure approval.”

Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wisconsin, didn’t share Bonner’s worries. Lockheed’s ship would be built by Marinette Marine Corp. in Kohl’s home state. Kohl told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the switch to a dual buy is “a minor kind of change.” “And that’s why we don’t have any great concerns about it being done,” Kohl said.

The Navy had originally wanted to build littoral combat ships — modular warships that will operate close to shore — in two different shipyards, but abandoned that plan last year in an attempt to keep down costs.

The Navy said it resuscitated the dual-buy option because bids submitted by both shipyards had lowered the prices of the vessels. The dual buy is preferable because it would deliver new ships faster, support more jobs and sustain competition between the two manufacturers, the Navy said. Lockheed officials signaled their support for the proposal on Thursday.

“As a result of robust competition, the Navy will procure new ships at lower cost and introduce much-needed LCS capabilities into the fleet more quickly,” spokeswoman Kimberly Martinez said in an e-mail. “The block buy of ships also will provide stability to the industrial base, allowing industry to more confidently invest in this program and the professional workforce that supports it.”

Australia-based Austal Ltd., which owns Austal USA, saw its stock price jump nearly 20 percent Thursday morning before it suspended trading until Monday because of the news on LCS. The company said in a written release Thursday that it expects to comment further after it reviews the Navy’s proposal. 

Dan Murtaugh, Press-Register

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