Modified Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) with more firepower and a design based on the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter were among the concepts passed along to the Navy on Thursday as the service seeks information intended to guide its requirements for a small surface combatant.
Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Austal USA, firms that provide separate variants of the LCS to the Navy, submitted a response by Thursday’s deadline to the requests for information (RFIs). They included improved versions of the LCS variants. General Dynamics’ [GD] Bath Iron Works yard also responded to the request but publicly revealed little detail, while Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] said it offered the National Security Cutter by adding “robust capabilities.”
The Navy last month asked industry to offer input on how the service could move forward with a small surface combatant after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel earlier this year scaled back the planned buys of the LCSs from 52 to 32 and instructed the Navy to look at alternate designs.
In the RFIs the Navy was seeking ideas based on existing or mature ship designs, including modifications to the LCS to make it more survivable and possibly carry more firepower. The Navy issued two RFIs, one that covers ship design and a second that covers possible systems, such as for combat, and their integration into the vessel.
The Navy allowed a relatively short amount of time for industry to respond because the service is due to come up with a plan for the small surface combatant by the end of July, leaving enough time to plan for the fiscal 2016 budget cycle.
Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the LCS Freedom variant along with partner Marinette Marine. Austal USA builds the Independence variant, which contains onboard computing and other systems provided by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems. Bath Iron Works would not comment on the specifics of its response to the RFI.
“I can confirm that General Dynamics Bath Iron Works submitted a response to the RFI,” said Jim DeMartini, a spokesman for Bath Iron Works, which currently builds two classes of Navy destroyers. “We are not providing further details.”
Lockheed Martin said its response leverages the investment already made in the Freedoms, and that its design is adaptable for upgrades and can be scaled to a larger ship. Joe North, vice president of Lockheed Martin littoral ship systems, said the options outlined also include surface-to-surface missiles, launchers and improved radar while keeping the ship unit cost below $700 million.
“The Lockheed Martin-led team’s Freedom-class LCS is an upgradable, revolutionary surface combatant that has proven its capabilities, and has been the basis for several mature designs that the team already developed for consideration by navies worldwide,” North said.
Terry O’Brien, vice president of business development and external affairs at Austal USA, said the company submitted a response to the Navy’s RFIs that is an improved version of Independence for anti-submarine warfare, including a towed sonar array and torpedoes. It would also add the vertically launched anti-submarine rocket (ASROC), and a “tremendous” aviation capability to support the MH-60 helicopter. The improvement to the surface capability includes a 76 mm gun as well as remotely operated smaller ones, a vertically launched surface-to-air missile as well as improved radar fire-and-engage capability.
Bill Glenn, a spokesman for Huntington Ingalls Industries, said its Ingalls Shipbuilding yard proposed a hull based on the National Security Cutter the firm is building for the U.S. Coast Guard. He called it a “high performance, proven hull and propulsion system that is a lethal, survivable and affordable design for the small surface combatant.”
“Adding robust capabilities to a hull form that does not require additional modifications provides a ship that can be introduced to the fleet quickly and affordably with very low risk,” he said.
The Independence and Freedom variants of the LCS utilize a modular design to accommodate swappable mission packages for surface warfare, anti-submarine warfare and mine countermeasures. They have limited air defense capability, and are dependent on larger vessels like cruisers and destroyers for protection from significant air threats.
The Navy has 24 Littoral Combat Ships either delivered or under contract, evenly split between the Lockheed Martin monohull variant and Austal USA’s trimaran vessel. The ships have faced harsh criticism, particularly on Capitol Hill, over questions about their ability to survive in future combat environments. Hagel expressed similar sentiment when he announced he was–for the time being–reducing the buys to 32.
John Burrow, the executive director of Marine Corps Systems Command heading the Navy’s task force leading the review for the small surface combatant due for completion by July 31, told reporters in April the Navy wants to see a broad range of responses to the RFIs. The RFIs will give “us a better idea … of what is technically feasible in the timeframes that we are talking about, and … give our team a good idea of what the risks are and to understand the cost associated with the systems and concepts they are going to be providing to us,” Burrow said.
The main capabilities the task force is looking at are air, surface and undersea warfare along with mine countermeasures, as well as speed, range and endurance, Burrow said.