WASHINGTON — The head of U.S. Southern Command told Congress he needs littoral combat ships and more surveillance assets to monitor and counter increased Russian and Chinese activities in South America.
Speaking to a handful of senators of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Adm. Craig Faller said Russia and China are using all their tactics to deepen ties with allies in the Southern Hemisphere as well as handcuff current U.S. allies into bad economic deals.
“(In Venezuela) there are Russian troops, there are Russian contractors, they number in the hundreds … the full range of what you expect a foreign power to do to prop up their foreign power regime,” Faller said at one point.
Faller is the commandant of U.S. Southern Command.
A littoral combat ship is a relatively small surface vessel designed for operations near shore. According to the Navy, it is “envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats” near coasts and shorelines.
There are no such vessels in Faller’s command. He said he expects one by October, which he said would be used off the coast of Venezuela.
In June, the Navy deployed a littoral combat ship for the first time in 19 months. The USS Montgomery arrived in the Philippines at the start of July, the Navy confirmed then.
The littoral ship program has been beset with a range of complications and quality issues, including problems with radar systems, anti-ship missile self-defense capabilities, and no good backup for systems taken out by direct hits. A Pentagon report two years ago said neither variant of the littoral ships being developed “is survivable in high-intensity combat.”
Nevertheless, the need for close-to-shore capability is critical for the SOUTHCOM mission, Faller said Tuesday.
The USS Detroit, a new littoral combat ship, is undergoing maintenance and scheduled to join the U.S. 4th Fleet later this year. The 4th fleet has responsibility for the southern Atlantic Ocean region.
In lieu of littoral ships, the Navy is trying a new pairing for SOUTHCOM operations: a destroyer and an amphibious transport dock. The theory is to provide landing capabilities with offshore protection and firepower.