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‘Financial malpractice’: Navy lambasted over plan to scrap ships; USS Fort Worth saved

The USS Fort Worth was commissioned in a ceremony in Galveston, Texas, in September 2012. (RON T. ENNIS/Star-Telegram/TNS)

The House Appropriations Committee approved a wide-ranging defense spending bill Wednesday that includes a provision stopping the U.S. Navy from decommissioning the USS Fort Worth and four other littoral combat ships.

U.S. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX), the ranking member of the committee and the ship’s sponsor, has led an effort to preserve the 10-year-old USS Fort Worth and entire Freedom class of the LCS.

Despite a bipartisan effort on that and other provisions, Granger and all Republicans voted against the $761.6 billion bill on a 32-26 party line vote, criticizing overall defense spending as too low.

Rep. Kay Granger gets a tour of the bridge of the USS Fort Worth from Commanders Randy Blankenship. (RON T. ENNIS/Star-Telegram/TNS)

Granger described the Navy’s proposal in March to decommission nine of the littoral combat ships as “completely misguided” and wasteful of tax dollars.

In a statement after the vote, Granger said House Democrats added provisions “that prevented me from supporting the bill in its current form” but that she would negotiate for a final bill “that provides our military with the resources it needs and funds the many important programs that ensure a strong national defense,” including the F-35 manufactured in Fort Worth.

The USS Fort Worth, commissioned in 2012, was built for $400 million by a team led by Lockheed Martin. In a compromise deal, the Navy will be permitted to proceed with the mothballing of four other Freedom-class LCS. The committee stipulated that it wants the Navy to study re-deploying the five ships it will retain and possibly selling the four decommissioned ships to partner nations.

Rep. Kay Granger and Commanders Randy Blankenship, left, and Warren Cupps applaud the arrival of the crew of the USS Fort Worth. (RON T. ENNIS/Star-Telegram/TNS)

The littoral combat ships are small, speedy warships — named littoral because they can patrol close to shore — but are not designed with the firepower the Navy says it needs from modern threats in the Pacific.

Granger and other committee members of both parties had brokered the deal before the markup of the defense bill Wednesday, but there was discussion of the future of the LCS during the meeting.

Rep. John Rutherford, a Florida Republican, introduced an amendment that would have prohibited the Navy from decommissioning any of the littoral ships. He withdrew it after making a point about wasting tax dollars by scrapping relatively new ships that were designed for 25 years of service.

“It is complete financial malpractice to scrap any of these ships that have barely begun their service life,” Rutherford said.

He said that the value of the ships, once they were updated, “is far greater than scrapping them.”

Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota, the chair of the defense subcommittee, said “the ships have functionality.” She said she was able to get the Navy to agree to step back from decommissioning five of the ships: the USS Fort Worth, USS Wichita, USS Billings, USS Indianapolis and USS St. Louis.

Granger said in March she had prevented the Navy from decommissioning the USS Fort Worth, USS Detroit and USS Little Rock just weeks before they were headed to the scrapheap.

But in the language agreed to Wednesday, the four ships that will be decommissioned are the USS Milwaukee, USS Detroit, USS Little Rock and USS Sioux City.

In the report language to the bill, the committee laid out how it sees the LCS: “The Committee is disappointed to see the list of vessels the Navy is requesting to decommission in fiscal year 2023, particularly the littoral combat ships that were commissioned in 2019 and 2020. The Committee understands that the proposed use of these vessels does not meet the Navy’s original intent. However, decommissioning them at this time is a waste of taxpayer funds.”

“Therefore, the Committee has included bill language that would restore the four ships that are only two to three years old and the USS Fort Worth. The Committee directs the Secretary of the Navy to provide a report to the congressional defense committees not later than 60 days after the enactment of this Act that would provide alternate uses for these vessels, such as missions in the Southern Command and Africa Command areas of responsibility. The report should also include any costs for additional components that are necessary to execute these missions.”


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