Despite concerns earlier in the year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act today — a bill that includes funding for three Littoral Combat Ships.
The passage was of particular concern to the region because Austal USA, which employs more than 4,000 in the Mobile area, is one of two defense contractors that produce the LCS, a newer class of shallow-water ships used in various capacities by the U.S. Navy.
Congressman Bradley Byrne has been an advocate for filling the Navy’s request for three ships to be built this year after changes to the Navy’s shipbuilding plan were previously considered. At one point, it looked as if none of the ships were going to be included in next year’s NDAA.
In February, outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered contract negotiations for LCS construction to be halted after 32 ships, giving the program a chance to be evaluated.
Byrne, a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, voted in support of the bipartisan bill that passed the House today.
“There is no greater responsibility of the federal government than providing for the national defense. Currently, our nation’s military men and women face a wide range of challenges around the globe,” Byrne said in press release. “I am especially pleased the NDAA authorizes funding for three Littoral Combat Ships, which is good news for the hardworking men and women at Austal shipyard in Mobile.”
Though the funding for the ships is authorized, the actual money won’t flow until the appropriations bill is passed. The Senate will also have pass it’s appropriations bill, and according to Byrne’s office, both bodies of Congress should be addressing their respective appropriations bills soon.
“I have made clear that any (House) appropriations bill should fully fund three ships, and I expect the House to consider an appropriations measure next week,” Byrne said.
Austal released a statement ahead of the vote thanking both the Navy and Congress for their continued support of the LCS program. Officials said the shipbuilder would be working with the Navy to “finalize the exact details of the Navy’s Acquisition Plan.”
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus threw his support behind the LCS program during a congressional Armed Services Committee meeting earlier in the year. When asked in March, Mabus said he didn’t know of another ship that could be produced as quickly and cheaply as the LCS, while continuing to meet the Navy’s needs.
According to Austal, the current cost of producing a single LCS is around $350 million — down significantly from the original cost of $750 million.
Other notable provisions in the bill include
· Authorize $521.3 billion in base discretionary spending for national defense;
· Reject President Obama’s request for a Base Closure and Realignment Commission
· Eliminate the “good soldier defense” in case of sexual assault in the military;
· Strengthen religious liberty protections for servicemembers
· Support our active duty troops with a military pay increase
· Encourage many reforms to the defense acquisition progress
· Prohibit the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United States.