Industry Officials Question Navy’s Approach To CHAMP Future Auxiliary Ships Program

Officials from several shipbuilding companies expressed concern Thursday that the Navy’s Common Hull Auxiliary Multi-mission Platform (CHAMP) effort to procure future auxiliary ships that would phase out legacy classes and encompass a wider range of requirements may be overlooking critical hull developments in industry.

Representatives from Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], General Dynamics [GD] NASSCO and Austal at a Marine Corps working group event expressed support for CHAMP but cautioned for a need to focus on advanced modularity and improved modernization methods for ships, including amphibious transport docks (LPDs) and Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), to meet future service and Marine requirements.

“We’ve done the concept design. The Navy’s done the concept design. It can be done. But we believe that there’s a better way to do it. From a Naval architecture perspective, there are some smarter ways to do it,” said Tom Wetherald, GD NASSCO’s director of Business Development.

CHAMP is intended to begin funding ships with a common hull configuration to meet a range of transport, cargo, and weapons systems requirements by fiscal year 2028.

Panelists at the Thursday event said addressing auxiliary ship configurations will be critical for the Marine Corp’s V-22 Opsrey tiltrotor requirements and the introduction of its new Amphibious Combat Vehicle on Navy ships.  

The Navy released an Request for Information (RFI) for CHAMP in May, and officials on Thursday said there are plans next to year to meet with senior leadership and discuss the program’s requirements.

“Today the Navy relies on an aging fleet of auxiliaries and sealift vessels built over several generations and approaching end of service life. An era of rapid technological advancement requires a different approach to capturing requirements and ensuring future flexibility. Evolving threats and future warfighting challenges require multi-mission ships that provide improved operational depth,” the Navy wrote in its RFI for CHAMP. “The Navy's new construction plan includes a domestic common-hull design to replace aging mission specific sealift and auxiliary designs to reduce life-cycle costs, leverage reconfigurable force packages and stabilize the industrial base.”

The officials speaking at the Marine Corps’ Seabasing Operational Advisory Group event argued that a better approach would be for the Navy to assess current developments in hull configurations and build requirements on existing technology, rather than planning to fit several mission objectives into one new hull.

“You get a better fit for specific requirements than you will by trying to take a range of requirements that aren’t very similar and trying to fit them into a giant hull. It’s kind of backwards,” said Larry Ryder, Austal’s senior director of Business Development.

Ryder said a more efficient path would be to adapt future Naval and Marine Corps auxiliary ship needs to areas with mature production lines, including his company’s work for the ongoing Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) ship program.

Jon Padfield, HII’s corporate director of Customer Affairs, said his company’s work on the USS Fort Lauderdale LPD-28 and USS Richard M. McCool Jr. LPD-29 has proven that a focus on effective modernization is critical to cutting costs and already reaching many of the goals the Navy is trying to accomplish with CHAMP.

LPD-28 required about 100 changes from the previous amphibious transport dock, with that number decreasing with the LPD-29, and further reducing to only a handful of changes with the LPD-30, according to Padfield.

“We have tried to become a little bit more proactive in our engagement with the fleet, with the resource sponsor, the requirements sponsor. We’re trying understand the threat assessments that are out there. There has been a hesitancy in the past to be able to bring industry in,” Padfield said, who believes more transparency on the changing threat landscape and mission requirements is an easier solution to solving shipbuilding issues.

Both Wetherald and Ryder agreed, adding that advancements in modularity and open architecture may present an easier solution for addressing future multi-mission ship challenges.

“The example of [Expeditionary Sea Base]-5 is that we’ve just added a deck that is almost the size of the center of this room and halfway up on the stanchions underneath the flight deck. And that’s set up for five [twenty-foot equivalent units], which is then set up to support sort of the last level of modularity, the containerized modularity,” Wetherald said. “Understanding and actually being able to execute modularity in the map framework, I think, will significantly speed the adoption of new capabilities into existing platforms.

Ryder said the Navy must be willing to take a slower look at requirements and embrace developments in advanced modularity, such as the work done to add ‘plug-and-play’ capabilities to the LCS and EPF.

“With the EPF one of the biggest challenges we’ve had is that we delivered 10 ships in six years, so it’s been hard to build lessons learned into the follow-up ships. By the time we get the feedback, we’re on on our way to building the seventh one in line,” Ryder said.

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