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U.S. navy secretary defends littoral combat ship program


10:19, May 12, 2013

SINGAPORE, May 11 (Xinhua) -- The United States Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus defended the littoral combat ship (LCS) program on Saturday as once a mess but now one of the best programs.

Speaking to reporters after a ceremony on board the first-in- class LCS Freedom, which has been on a maiden deployment to Singapore, Mabus reiterated that the ship is "going to be one of the important crucial platforms in the United States Navy in the future."

"This is an incredibly capable ship and I am very proud of this program. In terms of the budget, the price of the ship is coming down dramatically," he said.

Freedom arrived in Singapore on April 18 for its maiden eight- month deployment to the region, as part of a U.S. plan to deploy up to four littoral combat ships in Singapore.

Timothy Wilke, the ship's commanding officer, has said it is extremely agile, maneuverable and flexible.

The LCS platforms employ modular mission packages that can be configured for three separate purposes such as surface warfare, mine countermeasures, or anti-submarine warfare.

The U.S. Navy is also hoping for the lessons learned from the port visits and maiden deployment of Freedom to inform follow-on rotational deployments and the overall LCS program.

The littoral combat ships, bought from teams led by Lockheed Martin and Austal, have been subject to doubts and criticism from many, including some of the lawmakers, for its alleged weaknesses.

Bloomberg, citing a confidential Navy study, recently said that the report has found that the ships are too lightly armed, plans to swap equipment for different missions are impractical and the decision to build two versions complicates logistics and maintenance.

The warship experienced power failures recently while moving on its way from North America to Singapore. There were also news reports on its cyber vulnerabilities.

Mabus said that the LCS program is now one of the model programs of the U.S. Navy despite starting out as a "mess."

The U.S. Navy has ordered 24 littoral combat ships so far. Its latest 30-year shipbuilding plan submitted to the Congress on Friday projects buying 52 littoral combat ships by 2029.

Mabus said the cost of the variants of the ship, including the Freedom class and the Independent class, is coming down significantly.

While the cost of the first ship was a bit more than 430 million U.S. dollars, the price for the ten currently under contract is estimated to be around 350 million dollars.

Mabus also said that he was hoping for the allies and friends of the United States to "take a look at it."

"I think not so much for economics, but just for the capabilities of the ship, this is a terrific ship. This ship meets a lot of needs. I think it will be valuable to a lot of countries in the world, a lot of our friends and our allies," he said.

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