By Geoff Fein

Mobile, Ala.-based Austal USA and Maine’s Bath Iron Works (BIW), a division of General Dynamics [GD], have agreed to part ways enabling Austal to act as prime contractor in the upcoming bid for 10 Navy Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).

General Dynamics’ Advanced Information Systems, which is currently the systems integrator for the program, will now subcontract to Austal USA, as it currently does in the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV) program, providing open architecture systems that deliver better, faster and more affordable capability, according to Austal USA.

General Dynamics and Austal USA built the USS Independence (LCS-2) and are building the Coronado (LCS-4). BIW will continue to act as prime contractor for Coronado, which is due for completion in 2012.

In the event that Austal USA is awarded the Fiscal Year ’10 LCS contract, it will continue to act as prime contractor for future LCS bids, the company said.

The Navy is awaiting industry responses to the LCS request for proposals, which were delivered to the two competing teams on Jan. 26.

Austal and General Dynamics built an all-aluminum trimaran.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Marinette Marine are building a semi-planing monohull. The team delivered the USS Freedom (LCS-1) to the Navy in November 2008. The companies are currently building the Fort Worth (LCS-3).

The Navy is expected to award the contract for two LCSs, including options for an additional eight vessels, by the end of FY ’10.

“Working with BIW, whom we hold in the highest regard as one of the best surface naval shipbuilders in the world, has enabled us to achieve a level of maturity and experience to be a Prime Shipbuilder of US Naval Combatants, and we are ready to take on this new leadership role in the LCS program,” Joe Rella, Austal USA President and Chief Operating Officer, said.

The decision by Austal USA and BIW also opens up the possibility of BIW bidding on the five ship LCS competition slated for FY ’12. If Austal USA is awarded the contract for the first 10 LCS, the company would be unable to bid for the additional five ships in FY ’12, Austal USA said..

The Austal-designed and built Independence was delivered to the Navy Jan. 18.

As prime contractor, Austal was awarded the construction contract for the first 103-meter JHSV, the Department of Defense’s next generation multi-use platform, in November 2008, with options for nine additional vessels expected to be exercised between FY ’09 and FY ’13, the company reported, Austal added.

Austal received authorization from the Navy to start construction on JHSV-1 in December 2009 after completing the rigorous design in a 12-month period. On Jan. 28, Austal was instructed by the Navy to move forward with the construction contract for the second and third JHSVs, as part of a total 10-ship program potentially worth over $1.6 billion.