The House Armed Services subcommittee on seapower’s mark of the FY ’19 defense authorization bill authorizes three Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) and would push the Navy to procure the technical data rights to acquired frigate-class ships.

The subcommittee mark is recommending the full committee authorize three LCSs for FY ’19, while the Navy only requested one in the FY ’19 budget request.

An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter prepares to land on the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) off the coast of Southern California. Photo: U.S. Navy
An MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned helicopter prepares to land on the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) off the coast of Southern California.
Photo: U.S. Navy

The Navy’s requirement from the last force structure assessment is for 52 small surface combatants (SSCs) and the service previously planned to build 32 LCSs before building 20 frigates. The administration’s FY ’19 budget request included one LCS as the 32nd vessel.

A subcommittee staffer said they are trying to fill in the SSC role and it is not good to pause production lines between the LCS and FFG(X), potentially reducing the chance of favorable pricing in the FFG(X) competition.

The staffer would not specify if this means the Navy might procure fewer than 20 frigates, but said the Navy is re-examining its small surface combatant requirements.

Recently several members of Congress, particularly those with districts around the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin, have expressed concerns that without additional Freedom-variant LCS acquisition, the yard will lay off a large amount of its workforce, in turn damaging its future frigate FFG(X) bid (Defense Daily, April 19).

Separately, the mark also would require the Secretary of the Navy to procure technical data from offerors in the FFG(X) frigate program as part of the proposal for the vessel. The committee’s language notes the Secretary “shall ensure that the Government’s rights in technical data for any frigate class ship are sufficient to allow the Government to, by not later than the date on which funds are obligated for the last covered frigate, use the technical data to conduct a full and open competition for any subsequent procurement of a frigate class ship.”

The mark says procuring this data will allow the government to transition frigate-class combat systems to Government-Furnished Equipment (GFE) “to achieve open architecture and foster competition to modernize future systems.”

It also also requires the Secretary of the Navy to recompete the frigate-class procurement by the award of the 10th frigate at the latest, using the acquired technical data rights.

Committee staffers told reporters this does not mean they are assuming the Navy will conduct a block buy on the FFG(X), but “we expect a recompete to occur using the data rights that were required with the first frigate.”

The committee is agnostic on whether the Navy ultimately chooses multiple yards to build the future frigate. A staffer said the idea behind the technical data rights is to prevent where the Navy got locked in to two Littoral Combat Ship designs with two separate yards.

“If you look at destroyers, obviously a particular shipyard came up with that design originally. We now have two completely different companies building that exact same ship. So, shipbuilding being a fragile industrial base, it’s good for the Navy to be able to own as much as that tech data as they can,” and then the service can help “manage the industrial base by recompeting or giving that same design to a multiple shipyards. So that’s kind of the intent,” the staffer said.

The committee also thinks this is a timely requirement in the Navy’s frigate acquisition strategy. “It would have been inappropriate to act in FY ’20 on this similar issue,” the staffer added.

The mark would also direct the Comptroller General to conduct a review of the FFG(X) program and provide a report to the congressional defense committees by March 209 because it has “reported extensively” on the LCS program since 2005.

The report will include an analysis on conceptual design plans and activities to support advancement of multiple ship designs for planned open competition in FY ’20 and plans for the detail design and construction (DD&C) award including reviewing the implications of a possible Navy request for a block buy award.