Procurement: Sea Fighter Seeks a Back Door


June 27, 2007: An aggressive defense manufacturer is using massive political contributions to get Congress to force the U.S. Navy to adopt a new type of warship. L-3 Communications Corporation, the manufacturer of the experimental Sea Fighter wants to reverse a navy decision to not put the L-3 ship, "Sea Fighter," into service.

It was two years ago that the U.S. Navy officially took possession of the first of an experimental ship called "Sea Fighter" (FSF-1). This ship was built as an experimental ship, to test out a number of new technologies. The sea trials were successful, and the manufacturer pressured the navy to put it into production. L-3 had a case. Sea Fighter took only twenty months to build, and cost only $50 million. Sea Fighter was designed to operate as part of the "brown water (coastal)" force the navy is developing. A larger brown water force would get the navy more involved with the war on terror. The navy has largely been left out of that conflict, because of their earlier emphasis on carriers and nuclear subs. Despite the usefulness of carrier aviation in Afghanistan, the navy hasn't had a lot to do since September 11, 2001. The army is getting most of the work, and a growing proportion of the defense budget. With the cost of traditional warships skyrocketing, the LCS (3,000 ton, $250 million Littoral Combat Ship) and the "Sea Fighter" look a lot more attractive. New destroyers will cost $2.5 billion each. That gets you ten LCSs, or fifty "Sea Fighters."

But the navy considers the "Sea Fighter" too small (it's 262 feet long and displaces 950 tons) to be useful. The navy has already built and used small patrol boats, and found UAVs and maritime patrol air aircraft more effective and cheaper for what Sea Fighter would do. What's happening here is a blatant example of a contractor lobbying Congress to get a new system adopted, even when the military doesn't want it. This is nothing new. The defense budget has long been a victim of such scams, and this sort of thing has been going on for thousands of years. Don't expect it to disappear any time soon.




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