Remember the 1980s movie Top Gun with Tom Cruise? Remember the character played by Kelly McGillis (Tom Cruise’s love interest)—the high heeled, blonde haired woman who told all the Top Gun pilots what to do. That movie character was inspired by Christine Fox, who worked at the US Navy’s Top Gun Program for Naval Fighter Pilot training at the time. She had strong views then and strong opinions now…including views on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).
Over the last 30 years, Fox has worked her way up through the military bureaucracy and as of December, 2013, she has been appointed the Acting Deputy Secretary of Defense. In effect, she is currently the Chief Operating Officer of the entire United States Armed Forces.
Well, recently, she has publicly waded into the ongoing 20 year philosophical battle going on in the US Navy and Defense establishment over whether or not larger, more heavily armored vessels with more powerful weaponry are most required, or whether or not the future belongs to smaller, lightly armored vessels that can respond quickly, operate in the littoral environment and conduct focused missions with a variety of networked off-board systems.
On January 6, 2014, Fox issued a memo directing the US Navy to limit its overall buy of littoral combat ships to a total of 32 vessels, forgoing 20 more of the small, fast warships.
And, on February 11, after touring the first LCS, the USS Freedom, she said to the press that, “we need more ships with the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary.” (So, not the LCS).
But, not so fast…in a twist of fate, it was announced on February 7 that Fox is going to be replaced. Remember, she is currently the “Acting” Deputy Secretary of Defense.
Barack Obama has nominated a different person to take the job on a permanent basis, Robert O. Work.
And guess what?
Work is a very strong supporter of the Littoral Combat Ship Program. He’s even written a 60-page paper defending the vessels and explaining how he sees them fitting into modern naval operations. Work still has to be approved by Congress to take over the job and there are numerous Senators who have contrasting opinions on the philosophical direction that the US Navy needs to take. Those views will undoubtedly come up during Works’ confirmation hearings (which could take months, supposedly).
And whoever gets the job, it is worth noting that the position is Deputy Secretary of Defense; that individual still reports to the full Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel.
That’s bad news for LCS supporters then, because at a press briefing on Monday, February 24, 2014, Hagel announced that he basically concurred with Fox’s analysis and is even directing the Navy to consider completely new or modified designs.
But he doesn’t have the final say; Congress, in conjunction with the President, does.
And there are a significant number of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives who are in favor of the existing plan for building Littoral Combat Ships. They have already sent letters to Barack Obama about the issue. (Here’s one of the letters signed by all the Congressmen from Alabama, Republican and Democrat)
During this process, we will be following all these developments quite closely since almost anything related to the US Navy usually affects SSI clients. That is because the overwhelming majority of US Navy (and US Coast Guard) vessels are built using ShipConstructor software. That includes the America-Class Amphibious Assault Ships, Arleigh Burke Class Aegis Missile Destroyers, Independence and Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ships, Spearhead Class Joint High Speed Vessels, Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutters, Legend Class Maritime Security Cutters, the E-Craft Expeditionary Vessel and the Improved Navy Lighterage System.