Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], a builder of surface combatants and submarines, is pitching the Navy with the possibility of continuing production of LPD-17 amphibious transport dock ships as a platform for ballistic missile defense, company executives recently said.

The Navy has plans to build 12 of the San Antonio-class amphibious warships, and has contracted HII for 11 of the ships with a decision on the 12th still pending. HII executives believe that when the currently planned production run ends, more of them could be built for fielding missile defense capabilities. The 11th LPD-17 is schedule for delivery in 2017.

Ingalls Shipbuilding President Irwin Edenzon, who oversees yards in Avondale, La,. and Pascagoula, Miss.,  said the Navy would benefit from a stabilized production line if it wanted to continue building the ships for a different mission.

“We believe that the LPD design provides the Navy with the volume, the weight capacity, the basic infrastructure that will allow the ship to keep pace with the Navy’s changing missions over the next 40 years, do the mission that they have to do today well, and also give them the ability to have that ship change over time,” Edenzon told reporters on the sidelines of the Surface Navy Association (SNA) symposium last week.

Edenzon said such an approach would be in line with the vision of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, who in a published article last summer prioritized the development of payloads and simple platforms, or “trucks,” to deliver the capabilities.

Edenzon said that an LPD hull loaded with a BMD capability could alleviate the burden on destroyers and cruisers outfitted for BMD, but also might be needed to other missions.

“We believe that his approach, not dissimilar to a boomer submarine versus and attack submarine, says that I’m not going to tie up destroyer assets for long periods of time to perform a BMD mission, (instead) I’m going to tie up a much smaller number of assets that have considerable flexibility,” he said.

He said the LPD would have the space and powering requirements to support missile defense and the Navy’s planned new radar, the Air Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), which is planned to be installed on Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) destroyers.

Edenzon said there are already weapons and sensors available that could be fitted into the LPD hull.

“We think this is an alternative, a different way of satisfying mission requirements,” he said.

The Navy, however, has started focusing on developing ships that could carry out multiple missions rather than singular mission vessels, a notion it promotes with the Littoral Combat Ships, which are designed to carry swappable missions packages for surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures.

“We have to get away from building single missions ships,” Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, the commander of Naval Surface Forces and Pacific Fleet, told an audience at SNA.

Edenzon said the Navy would fulfill a goal of developing common hulls for carrying out a variety of different missions. Edenzon said HII has been in discussions with the Navy about the possibility as well as with defense contractors who would supply the weapons and sensor systems to see how the concept would play out.

“We’re in the beginning stages of this. What we are trying to figure out now is: Does anybody like our idea? That’s the stage we’re in right now,” Edenzon said.

“We’ve gotten the point where have confidence that this is a pretty good concept,” he added.