WASHINGTON — If you haven’t heard, the manufacturing of the Littoral Combat Ship at the Austal USA facility has hit somewhat of speed bump.
The LCS-2 is built in Mobile, and Austil is responsible for employing roughly 4,000 residents in the region. Despite its benefits for the area, federal budget constraints could spell an end to the longterm contracts expected for the ships.
Back in February, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced a number of military cuts, one of which included unspecified cuts to the LCS program. Those undefined cuts have sent Mobile’s Congressional delegation scrambling — largely Rep. Bradley Byrne, and Sens. Jeff Sessions and Richard Shelby.
“The decision to cut the order of these ships could place the Navy’s procurement schedule back by a decade, further shrinking our Navy at a time when force projection remains an integral axis of the administration’s pivot to the Asia-Pacific,” Byrne said on the heels of the February Defense Department announcement. “Secretary Hagel’s announcement comes before any strategic review of defense capabilities and strategy has been completed, and makes this drastic change in requirement seem arbitrary and capricious in nature.”
The threat to downsize the Navy’s proposed LCS fleet is part of the larger downsizing of the U.S. military. Some in the pundit class and in the halls of Congress in Washington, D.C., believe these cuts have contributed to recent international aggression from bad actors like Russian President Vladimir Putin.
A little more than 6,000 miles away from Mobile is Sevastopol, now in Russia as Putin’s troops occupy territory that was once Ukraine. Additionally, based on some of Russia’s military maneuvers near a number of its borders, there could be more aggressive action to come.
Leaders in Ukraine, Moldova, Latvia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Georgia — which was the victim of Russian aggression in 2008 — are all on standby and wondering if or what Putin might do next.
Some of those nations have looked to the West for assistance. That assistance for the most part would be bolstered by the United States, given that most of the countries in Western Europe have relied on U.S. military might since the end of World War II. A hollowed-out U.S. military, however, limits any aid that could be lent to a country facing hostility from Putin’s Russia.
According a Washington Free Beacon report last month, the Obama administration is seeking to abolish two signature missile programs of the U.S. Navy, which experts say gave the United States an edge over the past several decades. Those include the Tomahawk missile program and the Hellfire missile program. The Tomahawk missile program is slated to be downsized under Obama’s fiscal year 2015 budget proposal and ultimately eliminated by fiscal year 2016, according to budget documents released by the Navy.
Also scheduled to be cut is the U.S. Air Force’s A-10 Warthog, a 1970s-era aircraft which has survived in the Air Force because of its close-air support capabilities.
But with Putin making waves in Eastern Europe, which diplomatic efforts have failed to deter, some of the power brokers in the nation’s capital could be rethinking these hard-hitting cuts to the Defense Department.
In a radio interview last week, the ranking Republican on the Senate Armed Services committee, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), connected U.S. defense spending to Putin’s actions in the Ukraine.
“Right now there are 80,000 Russian troops in Ukraine,” Inhofe said. “I just got back from Georgia. Georgia has said — and this is right before the Winter Olympics – they said that Putin is going to do the same thing in Georgia and all the rest of the countries. Right now in Moldova, in this Transnistria – I think you have probably been talking about that – there are 1,200 Russians over there. They are laughing at us because they know we don’t have the capability to send over – you know we might send over a few of our leftover F-22s to Poland or someplace like that.”
At some point, if Putin should decide to take another country, the United State might not respond with its own direct military action against Russia, but it could send military aid to threatened nations. Additionally, it would likely have its military on ready should Putin to decide to expand the borders of Russia even further.
With this need for military readiness, Defense Department cuts could be ill-advised and perhaps politically hazardous, even for Obama, who has shown a lack of interest and understanding in foreign policy, but a propensity for manipulating a situation for political gain.
Although it is hard to imagine a circumstance where the U.S. Navy would deploy the Littoral Combat Ship in this sort of theater, members of Congress, particularly Sessions, Shelby and now Byrne, aren’t going to stand by and allow some sort of military spending to be passed without their home district’s priorities, e.g. the Littoral Combat Ship.
Thus, in a big picture sense, Putin and any other bad actors in the world could somehow aid the survival of the LCS and other high-profile weapon systems under the threat of the knife.
Much of this will be determined in the upcoming midterm and presidential elections, as we’ll find out what sort of direction the two major political parties will go when it comes to determining the United States’ overall role in the world — whether it is to try to maintain its super-power status internationally or put a larger focus on domestic priorities with a smaller role abroad.