By Geoff Fein

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) last week questioned the top leadership of the Navy as to whether the evaluation criteria being used to select a winner in the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) competition is fair and adequately addresses the importance of fuel efficiency and lifecycle costs.

During a Navy budget hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sessions asked whether it made sense for the LCS request for proposals (RFP) to cap the scoring of all lifecycle costs, not just fuel use, at three percent.

"What if it becomes clear that the three percent factor for total lifetime cost that you’ve apparently capped in this RFP is not a fair evaluating of the lifetime energy costs? Will you be willing to re-evaluate it," he said.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the way the RFP is written, lifetime energy cost will be fully and fairly evaluated.

"We are considering everything that involves total ownership costs for each of those variants," he said.

Mobile, Ala.-based Austal USA, which is in Sessions’ home state, and General Dynamics [GD] Bath Iron Works of Maine are building an aluminum trimaran for their LCS bid.

Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Marinette Marine are building a semi-planing monohull for their bid.

Sessions, who has been a critic of the Navy’s LCS acquisition plan, reminded Mabus of comments the secretary made regarding the need to incorporate fuel efficiency into contract awards. "When you set up the criteria for the bid, don’t you think it should adequately reflect the lifetime fuel consumption costs of the vessels involved?"

Mabus said he believes the RFP does that.

"At this point in the RFP process, senator, we’re expecting bids in. And based on our view…of the analysis that we have done previous on the two ships that we have, and on the projected use of those ships, frankly it’s unclear if either has an advantage on energy consumption," Mabus said.

This was the second time in a week that the issue of fuel efficiency between the two LCS variants has surfaced.

Last week, Bill Pfister, vice president, external affairs for Austal USA, told attendees at the American Society of Naval Engineers Energy Futures Symposium in Arlington, Va., that the aluminum multi-hull variant of LCS is more fuel efficient than the competition(Defense Daily, Feb. 24).

The two industry teams received the RFP Jan. 26, and are expected to provide the Navy responses no later than March 29. The winner will be awarded a contract for up to 10 LCS over the future years defense plan. The Navy would build its fleet of 55 LCS based upon the winning design.

Sessions also questioned whether cost should be the only factor in deciding which variant of LCS to buy. Warfighter capability should also be adequately considered in the bid process, he added.

"Our major concern is for capability and value to the warfighter," Mabus said. "However, we have determined through the first two ships of each of these variants, that either will give us the capability that we need, and will give us high value for the warfighter."

Sessions said he was worried by the secretary’s remarks that either ship will provide the Navy the capability it needs.

"For example, the ship that would be built in Alabama can accommodate two helicopters. They can land without a tether. The other ship can only account for one, and that has to be tethered to bring the helicopter down," he said. "It has substantially more cargo space. It uses less fuel. It cruises. I think it was established with greater stability. So if the prices came in exactly the same, and one ship has greater potential, or even if one was slightly more expensive than the other one, should you not be sure to give some credit for that, rather than just say both meet minimum requirements? "

Both variants of LCS meet far more than minimum requirements, Mabus said. "They meet all our requirements, each one of the variants do.

"I think that both variants have shown that they meet not only minimum requirements, but all the requirements that the Navy has established for these ships. And both are excellent competitors."

Besides, neither team has submitted its bid yet, he noted.

In a statement to Defense Daily, Lockheed Martin said they are focused on responding to the RFP. The company added that comments made by Sessions about Freedom’s hangar and helicopter landing capability are inaccurate.

"The Lockheed Martin LCS design meets all Navy requirements. To date, USS Freedom has sailed more than 12,000 nautical miles, successfully completed sea trials, helicopter landings, weapons firings, small boat launch and recovery and Surface Warfare mission-package testing. Freedom’s design has proven to be sound and survivable," the company said. "Specifically, Lockheed Martin’s LCS features a hangar of more than 4,600 square feet, which accommodates two helicopters. A tether–or any other assistance–is not required to land helicopters on Lockheed Martin’s LCS."