The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) wants to Navy to get a move on with amphibious shipbuilding, with its seapower subcommittee including in its portion of the defense authorization bill an additional $856 million to either accelerate the next generation amphibious ship program or to build another San Antonio-class (LPD 17) amphibious transport dock. Either prospect is good news for Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] Ingalls Shipbuilding, the maker of the San Antonio-class and one of the competitors for the new LX(R) class amphibs, a company official said.

“We are interested in building more LPD-like ships for the United States Navy, and keeping this production line going is the best way to do that, we feel. So we’re ready,” said Kari Wilkinson, LPD 26 program manager and soon to be Ingalls’ vice president of program management.

The USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) during acceptance trials.  Photo by Lance Davis/HII
The USS John P. Murtha (LPD 26) during acceptance trials. Photo by Lance Davis/HII

Earlier this month, Ingalls wrapped up acceptance trials on the USS John P. Murtha (LPD-26) ahead of a scheduled delivery to the Navy on May 13, Wilkinson told Defense Daily in an April 25 interview. Coming right up behind that is the christening of LPD-27 just weeks afterward.

The company also was recently awarded $200 million advanced procurement funding for LPD 28, the final ship in the LPD 17-class program of record. The Navy in 2014 decided to use the San Antonio as the basis for the LX(R) class, which Ingalls and General Dynamics [GD] NASSCO are competing to build.  LPD-28—and presumably LPD-29, if the Navy decides to procure it—would incorporate design changes meant to transition the San Antonio-class to the less expensive LX(R).

“We’re very interested in accelerating” LPD-28, Wilkinson said. Starting construction at the end of 2017 or early 2018 would be the sweet spot in terms of moving from LPD-27 to -28 without any break in production. “We are actively engaged and we want to pull that as far to the left as possible. The more LPD-28 looks like an LPD, the better for us and for the Navy from an affordability perspective.”

Contract negotiations on LPD-28 are ongoing, but the Navy believes it can significantly push down the cost of the ship. The total cost of LPD-28 is $1.793 billion budgeted across fiscal years 2013, 2015 and 2016, while the total cost of LPD-27 is $2.079 billion in fiscal 2012 procurement dollars. The cost targets for LX(R) have not been released by the service, and are currently under review by the Joint Requirements Oversight Council.

Some of the changes under consideration for LPD-28 include reducing the size of the deck house and moving from a composite mast to a traditional mast, said Matt Leonard, a Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman. The composite Advanced Enclosed Mast/Sensor production facility shut down after the mast for LPD-27 was built, necessitating an alternative.

LPD-28 will also be equipped with a wider variety of commercial, off-the shelf equipment where the service can meet requirements without needing a milspec item, further driving down cost. The ship could be outfitted with commercial air conditioning fan coil units and electric motors, panels and switchboards for non-vital systems, while commercial roller curtain doors could be used in helicopter hangars, he said.

The LX(R) program is currently under competition, with both NASSCO and Ingalls as potential builders. However, should Ingalls win, the Navy wants to ensure there can be a smooth transition from the company’s production of the San Antonio-class to the new class of amphibs.

During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top acquisition official said the service could further accelerate the LX(R) program if provided more funding, awarding a contract in fiscal year 2019 instead of 2020, the current plan.

If enacted into law, the additional $856 million proposed by the HASC seapower subcommittee could move that even further to the left, to the final quarter of fiscal 2018, committee staff said. The Navy could also opt to use that funding to begin procuring LPD-29.

Meanwhile, LPD-27 is in the middle of its system integration effort, and its test program is ramping up ahead of its christening on May 21, Wilkinson said.

“We’ve rolled our test team from 26 to 27,” she said. “The same guys that brought the systems online and tested them on 26 are now clearly focused on that in 27, so we have that repeatability and that’s certainly where we see the biggest dividends across the program in terms of learning curve.”

During acceptance trials for LPD-26, the USS John P. Murtha performed more than 200 test events, including a detect-to-engage exercise, a full power run and anchor handling, propulsion systems and ballast/deballast demonstrations, she said.