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Littoral Combat Ships Backed by House Defense Panel

May 21 (Bloomberg) -- A House defense panel has agreed with the U.S. Navy’s request to buy four additional Littoral Combat Ships in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

The House Armed Services Committee’s seapower panel endorsed continued production of two ships each of versions made by Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal Ltd.

The $37 billion program to buy 52 vessels continues to face questions about its mission, cost, vulnerability and manning. A confidential Navy study, obtained this month by Bloomberg News, found that the ships, intended for missions close to shore, are too lightly armed, that plans to swap equipment for different missions are impractical and that the decision to build two versions complicates logistics and maintenance.

The subcommittee released an outline of its proposal for the naval elements of the annual defense authorization bill today, 24 hours before meeting to approve it, as is the practice of the armed services panels. The full committee is scheduled to act on the subcommittee proposal June 5.

While the panel didn’t release specifics on each program, the chairman, Representative Randy Forbes, a Virginia Republican, cited the combat ship as among the vessels included, in an e-mailed statement.

A steel-hulled version of the Littoral Combat Ship is being made in Marinette, Wisconsin, by a team led by Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed, while an aluminum trimaran is being built in Mobile, Alabama, by the group led by Henderson, Australia-based Austal.

Failure to resolve issues raised in the confidential study will result in “ships that are ill-suited to execute” warfighting needs, Rear Admiral Samuel Perez wrote in the March 2012 report.

Officials led by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said this month that changes in the ship already are under way to resolve the shortcomings cited by Perez. While the Littoral Combat Ship started out as a “mess,” it has “become one of our best-performing programs,” Mabus told the House defense appropriations subcommittee on May 7.

To contact the reporter on this story: Tony Capaccio in Washington at acapaccio@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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