Lockheed Martin [LMT] is working on a modular Aegis combat system prototype that will make it easier for the Navy to swap out older equipment and install the most recent version, a company executive said May 12.

One of the biggest challenges in modernizing destroyers or cruisers with new Aegis systems is the time it takes to replace the old displays, computers and consoles with new ones—about 26 weeks, said Jim Sheridan, Lockheed Martin’s director of U.S. Navy Aegis programs. Yet another 26 weeks are needed to test the new version, meaning that vessels are sidelined for at least a year.  

“While the ship comes out after that long duration with significantly more capability, it’s very difficult for the U.S. Navy to commit to do more than two of those per year because the ships are offline for essentially a year,” he said in a briefing to reporters ahead of the Sea Air Space conference this week. “So we, in partnership with the Navy, are looking for ways to do that faster in the future and build the ships with modernization in mind at the time of its construction.”

Aegis BMD Photo: Missile Defense Agency
Aegis BMD
Photo: Missile Defense Agency

Lockheed Martin in February tested a prototype of an Aegis modular equipment unit, or MEU, aboard the Navy’s Self Defense Test Ship in Port Hueneme, Calif. The MEUs consist of equipment—including cooling and cabling—that is encased inside an individual cabinet mounted on top of skid, making it easier to quickly install on a ship or replace with a newer model.

“We did a pilot installation of a modular equipment unit out there onboard that ship, filmed it, had the Navy there,” he said. “It shows how something that previously took days to weeks to install happens in a matter of like an hour.”

Sheridan said he’d like to see the modular units whittle down the 26-week industrial timeframe to about 10 weeks.

“It’s not yet a program of record, but I know there’s been some desire to start cutting some of that in in the Flight III destroyer timeframe,” he said. Late last month, the Navy released a presolicitation notice for the first Flight III DDG 51, which will likely be awarded to General Dynamics [GD] Bath Iron Works.

“I think what we’re struggling with is this ship has really got to build new construction with modularity in mind. It’s hard to backfit modularity because of the way the ships are constructed,” he said.