In Press: Talking Gene Taylor’s Big LCS Move in the Mobile Press-Register

by Craig Hooper on December 4, 2010

Yesterday I got to chat with the
Mobile Press-Register’s indefatigable reporter Dan Murtaugh about Congressman Gene Taylor’s (D-MS) change of heart about the LCS program. Frankly, I am delighted–Congressman Taylor, as an outgoing Congressman and confirmed LCS foe, had no real reason to promote the program. If he had done nothing, and allowed the Navy to pull the trigger on the downselect, I would have not thought the less of him.

Politics, you know.

But in the end, Gene Taylor surprised, sponsoring new legislation to get dual-buy language through the House and into the Senate:

The legislation represents a significant turnaround for Taylor, D-Bay St. Louis, a past critic of the LCS program. Taylor lost re-election to Republican Steven Palazzo and leaves office in January.

Taylor said his opposition had been based on cost overruns and delivery delays, but the new bids by Austal and Lockheed seem to alleviate those problems. Taylor said he’s seen the new prices, but can’t release them.

“It’s not the original $220 million the Navy had hoped these ships would be, but both prices are a heck of a lot better than the over-$700 million they had crept toward,” he said.

Taylor, Chairman of the Seapower Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee since 2006, said he would like to set the LCS program on a clear path before he leaves Congress. He said the program could help the Navy reach its long-term ship target.

“It’s a way to take a huge step toward a 313-ship Navy,” he said.

Taylor also credited Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley for pressuring bidders to cut costs.

Allowing both Austal and Lockheed to go forward would probably mean shipyards in his Mississippi district, including Northrop Grumman Corp.’s Pascagoula operations, could be locked out of the work. But Taylor said his objections to the LCS program had not been motivated by district concerns.

Note Taylor’s gracious rejection of parochialism (Though Northrop Grumman did just get another NSC Cutter contract earlier in the week…quid pro quo? Maybe?) and his shout-out to up-and-comer Sean Stackley. My reaction? Delight:

“Huge breakthrough,” said Craig Hooper, a San Francisco-based Navy analyst. “With Gene on board, I think this is a done deal.”

Don’t get me wrong, I like the LCS-2. I am concerned about the LCS-1 design and the industrial base that backs it up. But, then again, I think Bob Work’s plan to get two test LCS squadrons (with the JHSV, NSC Cutter and OPV Cutter backing the small-ship experiment up) is the appropriate way to proceed. By then the Navy will have a very good idea of what vessel it wants, and then they can go forward with the rest of the planned 50+ LCS fleet.

In the article, Loren Thompson–high-paid Lockheed Consultant that he is–was a bit more of a downer about this week’s developments:

Others were more cautious. Loren Thompson, a military analyst with the Lexington Institute in Virginia, said Taylor’s bill is a “promising development, but it’s still possible we end up back in a winner-take-all strategy.”

Stackley: The man behind the man behind the podium…

Wait…what?! We agree? Shocking! He’s right, of course, there’s no guarantee that Congress will act. But with Gene on board, then, well, the Congressman (with the help of Sean Stackley) has brought the LCS dual-buy back from the dead.

Don’t blame Loren for being a bit crabby about the progress….Loren probably still dreams of a Lockheed win on costs, followed by a nice, long contractual dispute–after all, more controversy means more Loren. And then, of course, Lockheed will need Loren and his media access more than ever!

Anyway…I’m far more delighted to see that Congressman Taylor is doing something that he should have done far earlier–become the Navy’s Congressional Statesman–instead of a parochial-minded attack-dog for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. (How I wish the Congressman pushed his Virginia Class SSBN(X) idea a little harder…)

Heck, we might even see Gene Taylor as a SECNAV sometime in the future–after Robert Work and Sean Stackley gets their chance, though–

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