Congress Wants To Force Pentagon To Buy Ships Against Its Will

Rather than cut defense spending, lawmakers seek armaments the Defense Department does not need.


Lt. Jan Shultis / United States Navy

(Editor's Note: An earlier version of this post did not fully credit the original article written by Lauren Chadwick and R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity for Politico. The piece has been revised and we regret the error.)

Since its commission in November 2008, the Littoral Combat Ship has received a mixed reception. The Navy, select lawmakers, and the ship's producers—Austal USA and Lockheed Martin—have thrown support behind the ship, while the Pentagon has been more than critical toward produced models.

Voyages marred by "cracked hulls," technical failures, and rusting are only a selection of the ship's issues, according to Lauren Chadwick and R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity. Experts think it wouldn't fare well if attacked.

But, as Chadwick and Smith note in Politico, lawmakers want to build more of these ships, even though the Obama administration wants nothing to do with them:

A defense appropriations bill moving toward Senate approval in coming days or weeks directs that $475 million be spent by the Navy to procure an extra Littoral Combat Ship next year. The House of Representatives has already passed legislation ordering that $384 million be spent on the extra ship. So it's virtually certain to happen, a prospect that cheers the Navy greatly but has evoked dismay among the ships' many critics.

The extra spending is a direct repudiation of the secretary of defense, putting the Navy back on track with its original three-ship production schedule for 2017—and pushing the decision about the fate and total size of the LCS fleet off to the next president.

The Obama administration "strongly objects" to buying the extra ship, the White House said in a budget message to Congress on June 14. It said just two are needed now to preserve a competition that "ensures the best price for the taxpayer on the remaining ships" and that spending more would needlessly drain funds from other military priorities, including undersea, surface and aviation programs. Carter made clear at the time he cut back the program that there's no love lost between his office and the Navy's command, which he accused in a blunt letter of ignoring technical risks, neglecting warfighting needs and prioritizing warship "quantity over lethality."

The Pentagon could also be forced to buy an amphibious warship, four C-40 aircrafts, and a powerful new Coast Guard ship, Chadwick and Smith note. None of these vessels were requested by the Defense Department.

So why do lawmakers want them so badly? To satisfy their crony capitalist benefactors, of course:

The shipyards in question—Austal USA, in Mobile, Alabama, and Lockheed Martin's Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisconsin—reinforced this message with hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of lobbying from January to March 2016, according to reports they filed with the House and Senate clerks. Lockheed said it spent $3.65 million to lobby Congress on all issues between January and March, with an unspecified portion related to shipbuilding. Austal USA spent $189,096 lobbying just on the shipbuilding provisions in House and Senate defense appropriations bills.

Spending on fancy new warships should probably correspond to an actual public need for said warships.

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  1. Follow the money, then it will become clear.

  2. When my carrier was in drydock, the shipyard brought in a contractor to overhaul our fire pumps. The founding ceo of the company was in prison for defrauding the Navy on some earlier contracts this contractor had been given.

    When we got into the water and fired up the pumps, several of the pumps would not run. The contractor’s explanation was “we were paid to overhaul them, not to overhaul them and restore them to an operational state”.

    Our CO was reportedly ready to start keel-hauling people – but he didn’t decide who worked on the ship, the shipyard did in soncusltation with bean counters in San Diego. After getting a raise, the contracting firm got the pumps running again.

    1. Read up on the anthrax vaccine if you want some real outrage,

  3. To be fair, Congress should be the one that is fully in charge of what gets bought, when, and how, but you’d think they would listen when the Pentagon tells them please no more.

    1. Yeah. Buying unnecessary ships is bad, but the Pentagon shouldn’t have a will of its own. It serves congress and the president.

    2. In cases like these, sometimes Congress is right, and sometimes the Pentagon is right, and it’s not a no-brainer to tell which. An argument could be made that the Navy doesn’t want these ships because they’re not sexy blue-water ships, and Congress is telling them “these ships are useful and you ought to have them, even if they aren’t sexy.” An argument could also be made that Congress is forcing the Navy to buy some shoddy, unreliable ships, and the Navy is correct to object to this.

  4. Littoral Combat Ship? That’s an anagram of hot clitoral baptism. What is Congress trying to pull here?

    1. I am on board.

    2. I’m all for that!

        1. NO!

          *tries to think up juvenile jokes*

      1. +1 Hitchcock silhouette

  5. The US really should start building state of the art warships and then tow them out into open waters so they can blow them all up. Think of the stimulus.

    1. It could create a home for coral and fish.


  6. RE: Congress Wants To Force Pentagon To Buy Ships Against Its Will
    Rather than cut defense spending, lawmakers seek armaments the Defense Department does not need.

    What’s the problem here?
    So what our beloved ruling elitist filth and their clueless patrons, who probably haven’t spent day one in the US armed forces, wants to put their needless armaments in the DoD?
    Now who knows better about national defense?
    A bunch of military and naval career professionals, or a bunch of bureaucrats, politicians and their cronies?
    I think we all know the answer to that one.

  7. Republicans want to cut government spending.

    1. DoD should only be used for important national interests like diversity and free sex changes.

  8. Is the ship in the picture the Monitor or the Merrimac? I always get those two mixed up.

  9. Representatives Bradley Byrne (R?Ala.) and Reid Ribble (R?Wis.)

    2/4ths of the lamest superhero team ever.

  10. Serious question: Is this thing the A-10 of the Navy (useful, but leadership doesn’t want to admit to being a “brown water” Navy) or the F-35 of the Navy (a useless pork project that will never meet the needs of the service)?

    1. F-35

      1. And to expanf on that, Carter is wrong about emphasizing ‘quality’ over quantity, but the LCS really provides neither. What we need is a new, real frigate to cover the numbers gap with billion $ ‘destroyers.’

        1. What is the “frigate” platform in modern navy parlance? A fast, manueverable platform with slightly less punch than a capital ship? Like the old cruisers?

          1. The right answer is a frigate is a frigate, i.e. a light class warship that is smaller and cheaper than a destroyer but capable of fleet operations with capital munitions. We used to have them (OHP class).

            Given that today’s destroyers are really cruisers a modern frigate would probably be similar in class to a traditional destroyer.

            1. But the littoral ship didn’t originally have the capability to engage with such weapons, right?

    2. Agree with your general thinking, but I think the better comparison would use the M1 tank (which was hampered by delays and cost overruns but has turned out to be a great platform) rather than the A10 which really didn’t have any developmental issues and is still a top performer, but one which the brass wants gone in order to free up money for a shinier new toy.

    3. The LCS is an Osprey. An expensive platform in search of a mission.

      1. The Osprey does have some utility. The LCS is more like the navy using the Osprey for the next COD (Carrier Onboard Delivery) plane, where the vertical requirement is useless (carriers! Big fucking flat top! Arresting wires and catapults!) and it loses range and load because of that vertical capability.

        The LCS is a joke. It was supposed to be modular (they could load different palettes for different missions), cheap (because automation yields small crew), flexible (because modules). The cheapness went away during builds, and the crew size shot up because there weren’t enough sailors to man it, and now they are hot bunking I believe because there isn’t room for all the extra crew they discovered were necessary. The modules were the usual gold-plated affair, too damned expensive to afford very many, and took too long to swap, so flexibility is down the drain.

        They have a miserable core weapons suite (because modularity was supposed to take care of that) and miserable damage control (crew size and automation).

        They are jokes.

        1. It is oft referred to as the Little Crappy Ship for a reason.

  11. It would be a lot easier to pick sides if the Pentagon wasn’t itself dirty with the stains of waste, cronyism and political correctness.

  12. Well, assuming that’s a pic of one of the ships in question, I gotta say – it’s a good LOOKING boat.

    So….there’s that.

    1. You have very different ideas about the aesthetics of boat design than I do.

  13. So, the Pentagon wants one thing, there are multiple factions pro and con in the service actually affected, the manufacturer says its product is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and has its local Congress-critters on board.

    Sounds like business as usual. Sounds, in fact, pretty much like the way the system is supposed to operate.

    Efficiency is not, and should not be, a legitimate gal of representative government. Efficient governments tend to be top-down in structure and operate on terror.

    The question isn’t “Is Congress forcing the Pentagon to buy a system it doesn’t want” but “Is Congress right to be forcing the Pentagon to buy THIS system it doesn’t want.”.

    History is rife with examples both ways.

    1. The question is, as always, “what are the voters going to do about it” and the answer is, generally, “nothing”.

    2. Sounds, in fact, pretty much like the way the system is supposed to operate…Efficiency is not, and should not be, a legitimate gal of representative government. Efficient governments tend to be top-down in structure and operate on terror.


      Where are the threats to the U.S.? ISIS, for one. Cybersecurity. Port security. We have a problem with radicalized Allah-botherers who show up on FBI radar after being welcomed into the U.S. with open arms, but then are left to go about their business of blowing up and shooting Americans. We have a problem with incompetent illiterates, hired for their “diversity”, who can’t spell the name of a suspected terrorist the same way twice, running databases that don’t integrate with each other on ancient equipment. Our entire airport security system is a rent-seeking project that hires morons who barely graduated high school and like the feel of having AUTHORITAH well beyond anything they’ve earned.

      Is a $400 million shitty excuse for a warship going to be successful against any of these threats? No.

  14. Look, if you’re going to buy these hulks, you need to buy batches of three ships –

    One to drive around and blow shit up.

    One to drive around and blow shit up when the other one is in the shop.

    One to strip for parts.

  15. Oh, come on, it’ll goose GDP, and that’s all we care about.

    1. Stimulus spending! IOW, our growth chart is an ourobouros.

  16. The LCS is an Osprey.


    1. Considering the MHC’s (Osprey Class Minehunters) were train wrecks, it’s apropos.

  17. Gubment: this product doesn’t live up to expectations and is potentially a death trap for those operating it. Let’s only buy 75% of what we were originally thinking.

  18. Well, now I know that “littoral” means “the part of the ocean close to shore,” so there’s that.

    From the descriptions, I’m getting the idea that the project is designed with not quite enough equipment in any category to do a good job on any type of mission, including defending itself.

  19. The Obama administration “strongly objects” to buying the extra ship, the White House said in a budget message to Congress on June 14.

    Darn. If only President Pen-and-Phone had some sort of ability to stop the enactment of bills he objects to!

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