With the LCS Fort Worth in back, U.S. Navy Admiral Gary Roughead (left) talks with Chuck Goddard, president and CEO of Marinette Marine Corp., Wednesday in Marinette. Jim LaCosse, LCS program manager, is in back. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
With the LCS Fort Worth in back, U.S. Navy Admiral Gary Roughead (left) talks with Chuck Goddard, president and CEO of Marinette Marine Corp., Wednesday in Marinette. Jim LaCosse, LCS program manager, is in back. EagleHerald/Rick Gebhard
MARINETTE - Littoral Combat Ships, like the ones now being built at Marinette Marine Corp., will play an integral role in the future of the U.S. Navy. That was the message conveyed by Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of U.S. Naval Operations, during his visit to Marinette Marine Wednesday afternoon.

He had plenty of other positive things to say about the LCS program, which in past months had fallen under increased technical and budgetary scrutiny.

Roughead actually began his day at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala. As a proponent of both LCS variants - the one being built by Marinette Marine, and the one built by Austal - the Admiral likely delivered a similar message at the Alabama shipyard.

In Marinette, Roughead first toured the LCS-3 Fort Worth, which is in the Menominee River and 95 percent complete. Then he spoke to the media about why he considers the LCS program such a big part of the Navy's future plans.

"One of the things that is important to me is that we maintain the capability that the nation needs in its navy," He said. "The LCS is critical to that capability. We also need the capacity and the numbers that we're building in LCS. That's the driver that gets us the floor of at least 313 ships that we're going to need to meet all of the requirements that we have."

The Navy's goal of a 313-ship fleet includes plans for 55 LCS. So far, Marinette Marine and Austal have delivered one apiece, with each shipyard slated to deliver at least 11 more - provided Congress continues funding the program, that is.

Roughead said that he's very comfortable with the state of the program right now.

"We need LCS," he said. "We need them on time, on cost. We need to get them out and to the regions that are important to us to be able to operate, and we're going to continue to find ourselves out there in the future. LCS is perfect for the environment that we'll see in the coming decades."

The Admiral explained how the Littoral Combat Ship will be the ship best acclimated to a changing world and changing threats - much of  which will take place in the (shallow coastal water) littorals.

"We have long believed in the navy that the area around the littorals of the continents will continue to become important," Roughead said. "Because that's where the populations are pressing to - that's where the mega cities are going to be developing. And it's in that area that you're probably going to see tension and friction and where you may see the illegal use of the oceans take place ...

"This ship is perfect for operating in that environment. That's what it was designed for. It has all the attributes to be able to do that."

If Congress and the Department of Defense share Roughead's outlook, it would seem illogical to cut funding to the LCS program. And at this point, the LCS program at Marinette Marine remains full speed ahead.

"You get encouraged when you see him (Roughead) talk about the priority that this program is for the Navy, and it shows that the best thing we can do is continue to perform and not give them an excuse to make a cut," said Marinette Marine President and CEO Chuck Goddard.

"I firmly believe that as long as we continue to build these on schedule and on cost, that they'll continue to fund us and exercise the options on the contract. So that's what we need to do and that's what we're gonna go do."

The CEO reaffirmed plans to double Marinette Marine's workforce to keep pace with Navy demand for the ships.

According to Goddard, Marinette Marine currently employs about 1,100 workers (roughly 700 hourly and 400 salaried).

"Over the next 11⁄2 to 2 years, we're going to double that number," he said. "We're hiring at 35 to 50 a month now for the union workers - so we're right on track doing that."