In the negotiated conference version of the fiscal year (FY) 2019 defense authorization bill, House and Senate members agreed to authorize the fourth Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier, three Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), and advanced procurement funds for LPD Flight II San Antonio-class amphibious dock transport ships.

The fourth Ford-class carrier, CVN-81, is expected to be the second carrier in a possible two-carrier buy the Navy is considering with shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding [HII] to save up to $1.6 billion in commercially furnished equipment funding and decrease ship centers (Defense Daily, April 13).

In March, the Navy released a request for proposals (RFP) to HII to help define the actual potential cost savings in such a scheme (Defense Daily, March 19).

The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) underway on its own power for the first time during its builder's sea trials in April 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy).
The USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) underway on its own power for the first time during its builder’s sea trials in April 2017. (Photo: U.S. Navy).

The House-passed FY ’19 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) authorized CVN-81 as early procurement for the possible two-carrier buy while the Senate’s version did not (Defense Daily, May 25). This conference result follows the House model approving of CVN-81 and says it can be procured as an addition to the contract covering CVN-80.

Senate negotiators also added an amendment requiring the Secretary of Defense to certify to the congressional defense committees that this two-carrier buy will result in “significant savings compared to the total anticipated costs of carrying out the program through annual contracts within 30 days before entry into the contract.

The conference report highlighted if the Navy intends to pursue the two-ship procurement of CVN-80 and 81 “the conferees expect that entering into such contract would be based on rigorous analysis with a sound business case and substantial savings.”

However, the conferees said they were disappointed the Navy did not provide information from its discussions with HII and results from the RFP to the defense committees “to enable fulsome consideration of the associated required legislative authorities” during development of the NDAA.

Relatedly, the Senate negotiators receded to a House NDAA provision ensuring full ship shock trials are incorporated in the construction of CVN-81.

Separately, the conference authorized three LCSs, as approved in the House version. The Senate version originally authorized the administration’s request of just one final LCS at $576 million (Defense Daily, May 25).

Meanwhile the House-passed defense appropriations bill funds three LCSs but its Senate counterpart still sticks to one. The difference will have to be worked out in the eventual defense appropriations conference.

The Navy plans to transition to build 20 new guided-missile frigates, FFG(X) once LCS procurement is finished. The service’s last force structure assessment (FSA) planned for 32 LCSs, then 20 frigates, to reach 52 total small surface combatants in the future 355-ship fleet (Defense Daily, Dec. 16, 2016). The single LCS the administration requested would be the 33rd vessel because in the FY ’18 budget Congress funded three ships, one more than requested. 

The House NDAA required the Secretary of the Navy to procure the technical data rights from the eventual winner of the frigate competition. This provision was meant to allow the government to transition the frigate combat systems to Government-Furnished Equipment (GFE) to achieve open architecture and promote competition to modernize systems (Defense Daily, April 25).

Acquiring the data rights would also allow the Navy to recompete the frigate after the first 10 ships, the House Armed Services committee argued during the bill’s original markup.

The future USS Wichita (LCS-13) conducts acceptance trials in Lake Michigan in July 2018. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)
The future USS Wichita (LCS-13) conducts acceptance trials in Lake Michigan in July 2018. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The conference report said the Senate receded to this provision but added an amendment that removes “the requirement for the Secretary of the Navy to ensure that the government’s technical data rights are sufficient to allow for specified follow-on activities and clarify the conditions under which technical data shall be provided to the government.”

The report noted the intent of the conferees is to obtain sufficient technical data to ensure the Navy will have “the option to compete the winning frigate design in the future for production by at least one additional shipbuilder,” if the Navy’s objective merits such an expansion. They do not intend for the winning offeror to provide data beyond what is needed for a single-design multiple-ship acquisition strategy.

The conferees argued the Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 destroyer and Ticonderoga-class CG-47 cruisers show benefits to using two shipbuilders for the same ship design.

Earlier this year House authorizers recoiled at only buying one LCS for fears that pausing production as one of the two LCS shipyards would lead to layoffs that would reduce the change of favorable pricing in the frigate competition (Defense Daily, April 25). If the Navy considers building the FFG(X) at two shipyards, that may also allay the concerns of members of Congress from districts around the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin and Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala.

The conferees also compromised on multi-year procurement authority for the LPD Flight II San Antonio-class amphibious dock transport ships.  The House authorized $150 million for this early work, the Senate added $650 million, and the conference settled on $500 million.

The Huntington Ingalls Industries’ LPD Flight II was the winner of the LX(R) amphibious transport dock replacement program. It is planned to be a new class of amphibious ships that will replace the old Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry-class (LCD-41/49) amphibious ships  (Defense Daily, April 12).

The Navy awarded HII a $1.4 billion detail design and construction (DD&C) contract for LPD-29, the 13th and final Flight I LPD in February. The service expects LPD-29 to be delivered by 2023 (Defense Daily, Feb. 20).

Thereafter, LPD-30 will be the lead ship in the Flight II class. The Navy expects to eventually have 13 ships of each flight.

LPDs are built at HII’s Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard.