A top Navy official said the service is looking to get the next Large Surface Combatant (LSC) on contract by 2023 and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program’s dual crew model will give the Navy much more service time on deployment.

The LSC will be the successor to the Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 guided-missile destroyers.

Compared to a year ago when the service did not have an LCS plan or clarification on the frigate, “now we have a very clear goal to get a large surface combatant on contract in the ’23 to ’24 time frame,” Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, Director of Surface Warfare (N96), said in an October interview with the Surface Navy Association’s Surface SITREP newsletter.

Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, Director of Surface Warfare (N96). (Photo: U.S. Navy)
Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, Director of Surface Warfare (N96). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

He said Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson has been “very adamant” about getting an LSC that takes the DDG-51 Flight III capabilities and puts them in a new hull.

“We’re at the limit of what we can put on the DDG 51 hull. We want to take the capability that we like in the DDG Flight III and move it over to a new and larger hull so it’s got room and opportunity for growth,” Boxall said.

He noted the Navy is looking at the DDG-1000 integrated power system and if that is the kind of they want to use in the LSC or if some new technology makes more sense.

The DDG-51 Flight III primarily upgrades the destroyer’s radar and electric power generating abilities, letting it use the Raytheon [RTN] AN/SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar.

The Navy expects to build 10-12 DDG-51 Flight IIIs before moving to the future LSC.

This next LSC hull would have “the ability to be upgraded in stride, without these long, expensive modernization periods typically required for really top-end platforms,” Boxall said. He noted the Navy now has a requirement to upgrade in stride and has to adjust to do so.

Boxall argued the Navy needs to be able to update these kinds of assets more frequently, less dramatically and with less cost each time.

“Those are the things that we’re going to go to industry for. How do you do this? What’s the best way to do this? How do we balance survivability, modularity, cost–all those things.”

Boxall also noted that as the Navy works on the next small surface combatant, the FFG(X) frigate, it is trying to make it a common networked combatant. The service is particularly trying to give the frigate networking and sensing abilities common to the LSC and unmanned platforms.

The Navy awarded Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls Industreis [HII], Lockheed Martin [LMT], Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine, and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works [GD] each a conceptual design (CD) contract for the FFG(X) to help mature designs more quickly before down-selecting to a final winner (Defense Daily, Feb. 16).

The CD phase is expected to last through June 2019 before moving to a full and open detail design and construction (DD&C) competition and award in FY 2020.

The future USS Wichita (LCS-13) conducts acceptance trials in Lake Michigan in July 2018. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)
The future USS Wichita (LCS-13) conducts acceptance trials in Lake Michigan in July 2018. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

He also reiterated the Navy is hoping the frigate will cost around $800 million each (Defense Daily, Jan. 16). Boxall explained they are trying to keep uncertainty low, in part by using “a lot of government-furnished equipment with systems we know.”

While the Large Surface Combatant will have more advanced sensor and weapons capabilities, the LSC and the frigate will share a common combat system.

Boxall also touted the accomplishments of the LCS and how useful the blue-gold crewing concept will be.

While the Navy did not deploy any LCS in 2018, it has deployments scheduled in 2019. By 2030, the Navy expects over half of its deployed ships to be LCS and frigates.

Boxall noted in the 2018 LCS Review the service moved away from a fully modular ship exchanging modules depending on the combat mission, and instead will devote ships to surface, mine warfare, and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) divisions.

He said there is a strong demand signal for LCSs.

“I know that Maj.Gen. Coffman, my counterpart in N95, needs the mine warfare capability out there as quickly as possible.”

Boxall highlighted LCS crew training and the benefits of moving to a blue and gold crew concept.

“The whole beauty of this concept is that we have an always-ready crew to go, so we can sustain that crew in a forward-deployed status for a much higher operation availability. We’ll get a lot more time out of those ships on deployment than any platform we have right now – over twice as much.”

He added that LCS sailor navigation performance is “metrically much higher” that on any other platform. LCS sailors have the highest percent completed and satisfactory completed when going through Surface Warfare Office School (SWOS) training.

Likewise, Boxall touted the LCS 3D simulator, saying “it’s like a Hollywood set. If you’re standing there, it looks like you’re underway.”

He said LCS ship drivers are noticing “almost no difference” between the simulators and the real ship, with the Navy’s investment in 3D imaging and modeling of the whole ship paying off.

“They can sit down in that trainer, and literally report aboard their ships, ready to go. We still have them go aboard LCS and demonstrate their proficiency, but the training has made them very capable before they even get underway.”