- The Washington Times
Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Less than a year ago, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel stood on the deck of the futuristic warship USS Freedom and told the crew the cutter-size vessel fit perfectly with the Obama administration’s military tilt toward Asia and, thus, China.

Just seven months later, Mr. Hagel stood in the Pentagon press room and told reporters the $40 billion littoral combat ship is on the outs. It no longer fits with demands of the Asia Pacific.

In so many words, he said it is too small and lightly armed to compete with China’s expansive naval forces, which are challenging the rights of other countries to operate in international waters.

Mr. Hagel’s switch on Monday will be examined closely by lawmakers to determine what happened. But the swiftness with which the littoral combat ship fell from favor is remarkable.

In Singapore on June 2, Mr. Hagel told sailors: “You all are making history out here. I think you know that. What you represent to our country and our partnerships in the Asia Pacific I don’t think can be overstated. You are really defining a new era, a new era of partnerships, new ship, new capacities, new opportunities.”

Mr. Hagel talked of how he watched the littoral combat ship’s development and construction over a decade.

“I don’t know if anyone not only would have recognized but would have predicted what this was all going to be about, and eventually how we were going to put the first new combat ship out here that represented so much, and so much new capacity,” he said.

At a budget briefing Monday, Mr. Hagel’s praise had turned to second thoughts. He announced that he suspended the Pentagon’s procurement at 32 instead of a planned 52 ships.

He said he ordered the Navy to go back to the drawing board and design a more robust, frigate-size ship that can do more than sweep mines and track submarines. If the Navy devises it, it is to refit the littoral combat ships (LCS) already built.

“We need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and firepower to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific,” the defense secretary said.

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