Director of Expeditionary Warfare Maj. Gen. Robert Walsh said at the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium that the Navy and Marine Corps’ plan for its LX(R) amphibious dock landing ship fits nicely into the services’ vision for its future surface navy.

Several Navy officials spoke of the need to have an adequate number of ships in the fleet–even without all the bells and whistles program managers might want. With funding flat or declining, instead of outfitting new ships with all the latest and greatest technologies and buying fewer of them, the Navy is advocating a larger fleet based on today’s existing designs and systems–for now. Additional offensive capabilities or self-protection could be added later as needed and as budgets allow, they argued in discussing their “distributed lethality” concept for the fleet.

Congress has made clear it wants to buy a 12th LPD, like the USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19) above, even though the ship is no longer in the Navy's long-term plans. Lawmakers provided advance procurement funding in past budgets and are set to provide as much as $800 million to begin incrementally funding the ship in fiscal year 2015, but Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley said he would not put the ship on contract without the full $2 billion accounted for. Photo by U.S. Navy.
The Navy and Marine Corps will use a derivative of the LPD-17 class ships, like the one above, for the LSD replacement LX(R) program. Photo by U.S. Navy.

Walsh said the concept did not influence the decision to use an LPD-17 derivative as the LX(R)–the same hull design as the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock, but without many of the expensive systems that the LSD-replacement will not need for its mission set. But the decision does fit in nicely with what the Navy is trying to achieve.

Walsh explained in a presentation at the conference: “the secretary of the Navy, [acquisition chief Sean] Stackley, the commandant and the [chief of naval operations] went through the analysis of alternatives, looked at that, and we looked at this and said, ‘hey we really like that ship. That ship’s a good ship, we like it, and we want to be able to continue to buy that ship,’” they said of the LPD-17 class. “But the ship at that time was unaffordable, so we did those cost-reduction initiatives, came together to try to figure out how we’re going to do that, to get that ship down under cost. And I think we’re on a good track to be able to do that. I think when you get it out in the fleet and the sailors have that, I think it’s going to be a great ship to be able to be right there side by side with our LPD-17s.”

Walsh said that for now he was wary of anyone trying to add more capabilities to his LX(R) design. “I’ve got cost caps,” he repeated.

“I’m not looking for a lot of great ideas, I’m trying to keep that ship under cost so we can get it out there and deploy it,” he told Defense Daily after his speech. “Down the road, plug and play, payloads and platforms, add something on, that’s great. But I don’t want to lose the program by making the cost run up. And that’s one of the advantages of the LPD-17 derivative–we’re not on a clean-sheet design where the requirements can just go crazy and run out of control.”