Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) today questioned Chief of Naval Operations John Richardson and Marine Commandant Robert Neller on the preparedness and deployment of Littoral Combat Ships and maintaining standards at Marine Corps Infantry Officer Course. Click here
Senator Cotton: Mr. Chairman, and thank you gentlemen. Admiral Richardson, I want to discuss the Littoral Combat Ship and what I view as some concerning news. According to a U.S. Naval Institute story published this week, the Navy will not deploy an LCS in 2018. Eleven LCS ships have been delivered to the Navy as of today, but we will have none deploy. Two days ago, at a Sea Power hearing, Admiral Merz testified, quote, “The typical deployment model is three to five ships to one to keep one deployed. So this is really just math. There’s going to be gaps that will fill in over time, we’re not concerned about that.” End quote. However, in September, just eight months ago, the commander of Naval Surface Forces in the Pacific Fleet said that you can maintain three to four Littoral Combat Ships deployed when you take on the Blue-Gold crew system. What is the answer here to the actual deployment ratio?
Admiral Richardson: Sir, I’ll tell you, as you know, the Littoral Combat Ship has been a program that has been through some troubled times. And I would say that in the past we probably pushed that ship out forward deployed a little bit ahead of its time before the system and the program had stabilized and we’d done the appropriate testing and gain the confidence. As soon as I got in as the Chief of Naval Operations, I directed the commander of Naval Surface Forces to take a look at that program, rationalize it, and make it look a lot more like a normal ship-building program and a ship-operating program. So, this is what led to changes in the maintenance approach, changes in the Blue-Gold crewing, the way that we are going to homeport these squadrons and forward deploy them. 2018 is really a reflection of that shift. And so, it is, starting in 2019, we’re going to start forward deploying those. They’ll be sustainable, they’ll be more lethal by virtue of the enhancements we’re putting on those Littoral Combat Ships. We have 24 deployments planned, between ‘19 and ‘24, and so it really, ’18, is a reset year to get maintenance and manning in place so that we can deploy this in a sustainable fashion.
Senator Cotton: So, starting in 2019 then, which of those ratios will be correct? Will we be able to keep three out of four ships deployed or one fifth to one third of those ships deployed?
Admiral Richardson: Sir, I’ll tell you there’s a little bit more to the math if I could get back to you for the record on exactly how that ratio works out. I’ll be happy to show you the way this all manifests itself.
Senator Cotton: I would appreciate that for the record.
Admiral Richardson: Yes sir.
Senator Cotton: There’s a second question I want to ask is well. Even by Admiral Merz’s statement of one fifth to one third of ships deployed we should still have two or three LCS ships deployed this year. I think you may have just answered that question though by saying this is a reset year to try to get to your future model?
Admiral Richardson: This is part of that plan, that Surface Forces put together.
Senator Cotton: We spent $6 billion now on these ships. I think the taxpayer deserves to have them out performing their job.
Admiral Richardson: Could not agree more with that, sir.
Senator Cotton: I hope that’s the case starting next year. General Neller, I want to speak to you about some changes in foot march standards at the Infantry Officer Course. It was recently changed from requiring infantry officers to pass five out of six evaluated foot marches to only three evaluated foot marches. I find that a little worrisome given that the overall physical fitness testing standards have increased for everyone, to include enlisted Marines, which means we may be lowering standards for our infantry leaders, compared to our enlisted Marines on something that is, I would say, a pretty core competency for an infantry leader. I assume you would agree with that?
General Neller: Sir, there was a change because we, we looked back at what was going on at Infantry Officer Course. There’s nine foot moves during the course of that curriculum. At one time there was, you had to pass five of six to graduate. A couple of those six we could not relate them to events in the training requirements manual for infantry. So, I got a group of my senior infantry leaders together and I said, “OK, you know, why are we doing what we’re doing?” A couple of them, the one in particular, an event I thought that the load was, I wouldn’t think I would ever have anybody do that. So they came back to me and they said, “Look these are the three that equate.” We’re still doing all of them. They’re still all done, they’re all still a part of the overall evaluation.
Senator Cotton: But fewer are being evaluated.
General Neller: They are all evaluated. They’re all evaluated and overall as the performance of that officer to, to graduate from that course. But the three, three of three now, to include the one with the heaviest load and the time and duration, those three all have to be passed in order for an officer to, to graduate from that course.
Senator Cotton: Let me just read you a statement from General Bohm, the commanding officer of the Marine Corps Training Command. He said, quote, “The principal driver behind us making modifications to the course, it was not about lowering attrition, it was about making students more successful to complete the course.” I don’t really understand the difference between lowering attrition and making students more successful to complete the course. Both of those sound like you’re tailoring the standards not to the mission but to the graduation rates that you have at the course.
General Neller: I’m not going to speak for General Bohm but my view is, when I was approached with this, I said this is what we can equate to training and requirements manual for the infantry, these are the three that we should evaluate as, as go or no-go for a graduate from the course, and that’s what we did.
Senator Cotton: Thank you. My time’s expired.