A Navy official said while the Light Amphibious Warship (LAW) concept aims to stay under $150 million per ship this threshold could still be tossed aside based on the requirements.

“We’re trying to buy the ship within the budget, but we’re also looking at what are the range of possibilities for different types of technologies, different survivability…aspects, what does that cost, how does that get into design and we’re doing tradeoffs in terms of capability for requirements,” Tom Rivers, Executive Director for Amphibious, Auxiliary and Sealift at Program Executive Office, Ships, said on Feb. 10 during a virtual National Defense Industrial Association conference.

Rivers said the personnel who do the wargamer studies determine how a given LAW concept plays within the bigger picture “and then they give us feedback in terms of thumbs up or ‘Hey, we need to tweak this here and there.”

“So while $150 [million per ship] is our target goal, that is still being decided in terms of what the capabilities are and what the requirements are. At the end, if the determination is the requirements are needed no matter what, then the budget will get adjusted to what those requirements are,” he added.

Sailors operate a rigid-hull inflatable boat during training from the amphibious transport dock ship USS Mesa Verde (LPD-19). (U.S. Navy photo by Seaman Phylicia A. Hanson/Released)

According to a December Congressional Research Service (CRS) report, a Navy briefing to CRS said the service estimates the first LAW will cost about $156 million to procure and follow-on vessels will cost about $130 million each.

The report also said the Navy’s basic preference is to have one shipyard build all planned 24 to 35 LAWs, but it is open to using multiple yards to build ships of the same design if that allows the program to be implemented cheaper and/or more quickly.

The cost has already increased over initial concepts.

As part of the LAW Request for Information published in 2020 earlier in the process, the Navy told an industry Q&A it intends to buy up to 30 vessels that should cost “several-digit millions” but also under $100 million each (Defense Daily, May 6, 2020).

Last August, Rivers said the Navy was willing to pay more upfront for the LAW class if that is offset by lower sustainment costs over the vessels’ lifetimes, like equipment that does not require a lot of operator action to maintain that then allows lower manning (Defense Daily, Aug. 9, 2021).

This month, Rivers also underscored the Navy’s interactions with industry thus far have helped reduce risk and informed the Navy.

He noted the Navy conducted LAW feasibility studies early on in the process and is now going into preliminary design-type efforts.

“So the initial thought process is based upon parent designs that are already out there in the world today, again, to reduce our risks. So there were many different designs that were proposed. Most of them met the overall requirements, so they were kind of successful in that regard.”

Rivers said the Navy has downselected from an undisclosed initial number of interested shipyards and designs to a still undisclosed lower number of shipyards “to further refine those concepts, but those concepts are all still meeting the current requirements.”

He said that as new requirements for the LAW are generated by the Pentagon, Rivers’ office at Naval Sea Systems Command is sharing those with the interested contractors “so they can see what we’re thinking about, how it evolves over time and then they can kind of build that in.”

Rivers said the shipyards in turn come back to him and explain what small or large impacts new requirements have on their configuration “and then we take that into consideration into the final requirements.”

He said this back and forth plays into both the objective and threshold range of designs.

“Because that helps us define, with these different parent designs, what is the art of the possible. And we’re looking to make sure we have our minimum requirements; we’re also trying to see what’s the maximum capability we can get for the amount of money we can afford to procure.”

The LAW is expected to be 200 to 400 feet long, transport up to 75 Marines up to 3,000-4,000 miles, weigh 3,000-4,000 tons, carry 8,000-10,000 square feet of cargo and support the Marine Littoral Regiment, Capt. Scot Searles, program manager of PMS 317 Amphibious Assault and Connectors, said during a separate panel at the NDIA event on Feb. 10.

Searles also said the service is trying to pull as many unmanned and autonomous features into the requirements as feasible.

“Mostly, what our interest for LAW is that it’s going to be a very lightly manned ship, the idea is to not have a huge crew. We have a goal right now of I think we’re at 59 for the crew. And we think that’s too many, we would like it to be less but we know from our previous forays as a Navy into lightly crewed ships that it’s challenging for those small crews.”

Searles namechecked the idea of not having a manned engine room on the LAW as a way to minimize crewing. However, he said these capabilities will require industry and the government doing a better job “in what we’re providing and actually putting our money where our mouth is, investing the equipment up front, investing in the technologies that will enable those things, and then we need to go put them on our ships.”

In 2020 the Navy first issued a Request for Information (RFI) for the preliminary design for the LAW to conduct market research and get industry feedback (Defense Daily, Oct. 19, 2020).

Last year, Marine Maj. Gen. Tracy King, director of Expeditionary Warfare (OPNAV N95), said the Navy was planning to begin research, development, test and evaluation within one year and buy the first LAW by late fiscal year 2022 (Defense Daily, Jan. 14, 2021).

Later last year, Vice Adm. James Kilby, then-Deputy Chief of Naval Operation for Warfighting Requirements & Capabilities, said the Navy used the example of the Constellation-class frigate program to use parent designs and industry consultation to develop the requirements and a design faster than in the past (Defense Daily, Feb. 5, 2021).