[caption id="attachment_97" align="alignleft" width="300"] The USS Freedom (LCS-1) on deployment last year. Photo: U.S. Navy[/caption] The Navy’s program executive officer for the Littoral Combat Ships, Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, believes the overall attitude toward the vessels has grown more positive over the last year as the program continues to overcome hurdles, and with the recent extended deployment of the first ship. The eight-month deployment of the USS Freedom (LCS-1) to Singapore last year, coupled with the program proving out its viability and operational concept, has helped diminish some of the “trepidation” that existed only a year ago, Antonio said in an interview with Defense Daily at his Washington Navy Yard office. “This year was a different attitude,” Antonio said, referring to the mood about the ship during the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference that took place Jan. 14-16 just outside Washington. The Navy is planning the second deployment of an LCS, the USS Forth Worth (LCS-3), for a roughly 16-month deployment to Southeast Asia toward the end of this year. The Fort Worth is the second ship of the Freedom variant. Antonio said he does not expect an Independence variant of the LCS to go on a long overseas deployment until at least 2015. The first of the Independence vessels, the USS Independence (LCS-2), is deeply involved in the development of the mine countermeasure mission package, one of three swappable packages being designed for the ships along with surface and anti-submarine warfare. The mine mission set will undergo initial operation test and evaluation aboard the LCS-2 in the Gulf of Mexico in 2015 ahead of plans to declare initial operational capability for the mission package later that year, he said. The deployment of Freedom has allowed the Navy to test the ship to examine performance and introduce any required changes to future variants. Antonio said even though an Independence variant will not be going on a prolonged voyage in the near term, the Navy will still be able to adequately evaluate the variant through short deployments and while it is underway for the mine countermeasures mission. “We are going to find out a lot about the ship because it will be underway quite a bit supporting the testing,” he said. Despite the progress the LCS is making, the program’s future remains in question. The Office of Secretary of Defense has reportedly instructed the Navy to reduce the planned total buy of the ships from 52 to 32. The Navy has refused to directly address the story first reported by Defense News last week, other than saying it remains committed to building 52 LCSs. Antonio also would not discuss the reports nor speculate on the class’s future. Emphasizing that he was speaking generally about shipbuilding programs–and not the LCS, Antonio said numbers below the planned amount could lead to higher per unit costs, a loss of efficiencies and curtail the ability to capitalize on learning curves. “In general in shipbuilding–in general–whenever quantities change and whenever there is perturbations to programs of record it introduces churn, and in the shipbuilding world in order to maximize the learning curve effects of additional units costing an incremental amount less for the exact same level of work–the process likes stability,” he said. “The system, the process, doesn’t like churn,” he said. Naval Sea Systems Command plans to fund the construction of the next four LCSs by the end of March, Antonio said. It will be for two of each variant and for hull numbers 17-20 under a block buy with Lockheed Martin [LMT], the prime for the Freedom vessels, and Austal USA, the builder of the Independence variant.