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Naval Forces 

Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops 


By Grace V. Jean 

The stakes could not be higher. When the Navy later this year picks a winner to build its littoral combat ship, no matter which contractor is selected, the decision will be seen as a turning point for the troubled program.

For the Navy, it will be a chance to prove it can acquire relatively affordable ships. When LCS was first conceived earlier this decade, it was supposed to cost $220 million, but the price tag eventually more than doubled. Now, with a new acquisition strategy, Navy officials are hopeful that they can carry the program through, and procure 66 ships during the next three decades.

For the shipbuilding industry, LCS also will offer an opportunity for redemption. The sector has been under intense pressure to help cut costs so the Navy can avert a precipitous decline in the size of its fleet.

The littoral combat ship is a fast shallow-draft warship that is designed to ply the near-shore seas and coastal waterways through which the Navy’s larger surface combatants cannot sail.
The Navy plans to spend more than $28 billion to build a 55-ship class of LCSs by 2035. A total of 66 will be procured in the next three decades to replace older hulls that will have retired from service during that time.

Two industry teams, one led by Lockheed Martin Corp. and the other by General Dynamics Corp., have each delivered to the Navy their versions of LCS. Lockheed Martin’s USS Freedom (LCS-1) class is based on a steel semi-planing monohull design, which was built by Marinette Marine Corp. in Marinette, Wis. General Dynamics’ USS Independence (LCS-2) class is based on an aluminum trimaran design, built by Austal USA, in Mobile, Ala. 

Sailors say they like both variants. The service originally intended to build the two designs concurrently. But because their price tags are too high for the Navy to afford both, officials must choose only one. National Defense spoke with representatives from both teams to learn about the two ships’ key characteristics. Following are highlights in a side-by-side comparison:

Hull design
Some sailors have nicknamed the USS Independence the “Klingon warship” because in their eyes the aluminum trimaran bears more resemblance to a futuristic sci-fi spaceship than a traditional naval vessel.

The trimaran concept is based on a long, slender main hull with two shorter side hulls, or amahs, that provide stability. Independence’s 419-foot hull is a derivative of a commercial high-speed trimaran ferry in operation in the Canary Islands. “When we looked at the LCS requirements and the high speed requirements, the trimaran became a solution,” said Gene Miller, LCS-2 program manager at General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. With a 104-foot beam and 15-foot draft, the design yields high-speed capability and spacious areas for the flight deck, hangar and mission bay, he added. It also provides more stability than traditional ship hulls, said Miller. “It gives you a great deal of flexibility in how you load out the ship or grow it over its 30-year service life.”

Those who have served aboard surface combatants say the USS Freedom has a familiar look and feel. It follows the basic contours of a Navy frigate, but its steel semi-planing monohull carves through the water differently. “Folks characterize us as having a traditional hull, but it is a little different under the waterline,” said Paul Lemmo, vice president of business development for Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems and Sensors, which is leading the LCS-1 program.

Freedom’s 378-foot hull is a hybrid derivative of two Fincantieri commercial ferries — the high-speed Jupiter class ferry in operation in the Mediterranean and Irish seas, and a ferry class based on the semi-planing monohull of the Destriero, an experimental vessel that set the transatlantic speed record of 55 knots in 1992.

Compared to the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate (FFG-7), Freedom is about 20 meters, or 60 feet, shorter. But it has a wider beam that provides more stability at higher sea states, said Lemmo. Unlike the frigate’s keel, which narrows in the back and draws a deeper draft, Freedom’s keel widens and its bottom flattens out as it progresses toward the stern. “That’s what gives it the semi-planing shallow draft,” and high speed, said Lemmo. Moreover a steel hull gives the ship more survivability and the ability to transit the crew safely from the fight, he said.

Propulsion plants
USS Independence has nine engines: two General Electric LM 2500 gas turbines, two MTU 8000 diesel engines, four electrical generators, and one dedicated diesel engine about the size of an electric generator to power the hydraulic pump for the retractable Azi thruster.

Located towards the bow of the ship, the Azi thruster is similar to a 600-kilowatt outboard motor that is able to drop below the ship’s keel and rotate 360 degrees, explained Miller. It acts like a steerable bow thruster and provides sailors with precision maneuvering capabilities. It also can function as a survivable, take-home power method. “If you lost all four primary shaft lines, you could operate the ship at about 5 knots on the thruster and be able get out of harm’s way,” he said.
The engines power four water jets in the stern of the main hull — two Wartsila 160 gas turbine water jets, and two Wartsila 150 diesel water jets. Each is steerable and together they offer a great deal of maneuverability, even in primary propulsion, Miller said. They are all reversible to stop the ship quickly, he added.

Sailors who have driven the ship say that she handles like a jet ski.

Independence’s hull design is fuel efficient, and the ship can travel 4,500 nautical miles — the distance from Norfolk, Va. to Lisbon, Portugal — on a single tank, depending on the speed, said Miller.

USS Freedom has eight engines: two gas turbines, two diesel engines and four diesel generators. She may not have a bow thruster, said Lemmo, but she boasts a large machinery space to house the two Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbine engines — the largest marine gas turbines in any navy. Producing 36 megawatts each, they are the most powerful gas turbines ever installed on a Navy ship. Along with the two Fairbanks Morse diesel engines, the combined diesel and gas turbine system provides sailors options for cruising efficiently at low speeds and for sprinting at high speeds. Freedom’s range is greater than 3,500 nautical miles at cruise speed.

“At low speed, less than 18 knots, you want to run on diesel engines because they’re economical. They don’t waste a lot of fuel,” explained Lemmo. “Ninety percent of the operation of the ship is going to be at lower speeds. You run on diesels. When we want to go fast is when we kick in the gas turbines. And when we run all four engines together in that combined mode, we can do well over 40 knots.”

The four 750-kilowatt Fincantieri Isotta Fraschini diesel generators run a three-megawatt electrical power plant.  

All that engine power drives four Rolls-Royce Kamewa water jets. The two outerboard water jets are fixed in place while the two central water jets are steerable.

On her transit from Wisconsin to Norfolk, Va., the ship was able to dock unassisted, without tugs. “She can essentially walk herself parallel to the pier,” he said. Under Cmdr. Don Gabrielson, Freedom’s first commanding officer, the ship’s crew made a zero-radius turn in 90 seconds. “When was the last time you saw a football field go 60 miles an hour and then turn on a dime?” he asked.

Lockheed also opted to ruggedize the engines. “We chose to shock-harden the main propulsion system to allow the ship to survive the fight and be able to transit home and continue to do her mission,” said Lemmo.

USS Independence’s permanent berthing is configured for 76 crewmembers. The berths are spacious with full sit-up capability and plenty of headroom, General Dynamics officials said. To boost the capacity to 100 crewmembers, the double berths could be replaced by triple berths without any issues, said Miller.

Officials also said that habitability modules could be brought on board and located in the mission bay if more people needed to be accommodated on the ship.

USS Freedom has permanent berthing for 75 crewmembers. Berthing spaces are two racks high with enough room for sailors to sit up. The largest berthing space configuration on the ship accommodates eight sailors. Officers are housed two to a space. Berthing is easily expandable, said Lemmo.

“If the Navy decided to have more than 75 sailors on the ship at one time, it would be a minor change to increase the berthing to 100,” he said.

For Freedom’s deployment to counter narcotics trafficking in the Eastern Pacific and Caribbean, the Navy is bringing on board two 12-person berthing modules to house the team of maritime security sailors who will conduct visit, board, search-and-seizure operations.


The offensive capability of both ships centers around the 57mm gun. Both carry the MK 36 “super rapid bloom off-board countermeasures” chaff-and-decoy launcher and have mounts on deck for .50-caliber machine guns. The ships also have compartments that will accommodate the weapon modules from the surface warfare mission package. The three modules consist of two 30mm guns and the non line-of-sight missile launcher.

Aboard USS Freedom, those three weapon modules will plug into stations that are located above the hangar, said Lemmo. The ship also carries a 21-missile rolling airframe launcher that is made by Raytheon. It is the same system that is deployed aboard the Navy’s amphibious-class ships, Lockheed Martin officials said. The ship’s primary radar is the TRS 3D air search radar which is made by EADS.

The anti-surface system aboard Independence is Raytheon’s SeaRAM missile launcher, said Chris Montferret, director of business development for ships and surface Navy programs at General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems. SeaRAM combines the Phalanx radar capability with a rolling airframe missile launcher.

The Independence has three weapons module zones, one located on the bow just aft of the gun and one each on the port and starboard sides, to accommodate the additional offensive capabilities brought onboard with the surface warfare mission packages.

Because of the trimaran’s space capacity, the ship carries a large magazine for supplying weapons to all the off-board vehicles including the aviation detachment. “It’s in a good location to feed both the flight deck and the mission bay,” said Miller. 

The ship also relies on the Sea Giraffe radar system, which can track both air and surface targets, said Dave Markham, business area director for GD-AIS’s core business integration area. Sweden, Canada, Australia, United Arab Emirates and Poland are among the 23 international navies that utilize the system, which has the ability to detect air targets coming in at low altitudes, he said.

Flight decks
At 7,300 square feet in size, the flight deck of USS Independence is the largest of any surface combatant in the Navy’s current fleet, said Miller. Its area is about 60 percent of a football field, which makes it closer in size to the flight deck of an amphibious transport dock ship.

There is enough space for two SH-60 Seahawk helicopters to conduct near-concurrent operations. Both can be on deck at the same time, with rotors fully extended, ready to go. General Dynamics officials claim that the flight deck has the footprint and structural strength to support the heavy-lift CH-53 Super Stallion helicopter, though the Navy has no requirement for that aircraft aboard the LCS. A Navy spokesperson said that neither LCS variant has the capability to support CH-53 operations.

The flight deck sits about 35 feet above the waterline, which means that the aviation detachment will not encounter sea spray issues in rough seas. “If you talk to any aviator, that’s a tremendous advantage for a guy in a helicopter trying to land on a dot in the middle of the ocean. It gives them a lot more security in terms of ability to land the helicopters,” said Montferret.

To move the helicopters, sailors use a free-deck handling system called MANTIS (multiple aircraft nosegear and tailgear integrated system). “It means that we have the ability to accommodate a range of aircraft without being locked into a specific fixed-track system like most other surface combatants,” said Miller.

USS Freedom’s flight deck is 5,200 square feet in size. “LCS is one-third the size of a regular ship, but it has one and a half times the size of their flight decks,” said Lemmo. Helicopters can land day and night without restrictions.

Officials pointed out that the flight deck was classified with the highest wind envelope over the flight deck of any surface combatant. ”It basically says we can land a helo with up to a 55-knot relative wind over the deck,” said Lemmo. “That gives the pilots a great envelope with which to operate this vessel. They’ve been very pleased with the flight deck procedures.”

The flight deck sits 20 feet above the waterline, which is important for the helicopters flying in, he added. “You want to be as high as you can off the waterline,” he said.

Another design feature that is not always present on ships with aviation capability is that the helicopter control tower looks right over the flight deck, officials said.

Crews use the Trigon traversing system, which consists of pulleys, to tow the helicopter in and out of the hangar.

“Our competitor likes to tout their flight deck,” said Lockheed Martin’s Lemmo. Freedom may have a smaller flight deck, but she has a larger hangar, with an area of 4,680 square feet. It can accommodate two H-60s. The Navy intends to keep one H-60 helicopter and three robotic helicopters — the Fire Scout vertical take-off unmanned aerial vehicle — in the hangar. With that configuration, sailors can also store the aviation detachment’s 20x8x8 shipping containers called conex boxes in the hangar. An onboard crane system can stack them, if necessary. The crane can also assist in helicopter maintenance if, for example, crews needed to change out the engines, said Lemmo.

An elevator drops below deck into the mission bay to bring up weapons and other items that might be stored beneath the hangar.

Independence’s hangar is about 3,500 square feet in size, and it can store two H-60 helicopters side by side in individual bays. Each of the two bays have separate roller doors so that sailors can move the helicopters in and out of the hangar at any time, without any shuffling, said Miller. The space can also store and maintain one H-60 and three Fire Scouts.  

An elevator platform drops down into the mission bay to allow sailors to transport the Fire Scouts back and forth to the flight deck.

Mission bays
On the Independence, the primary access to the mission bay is through a roll-on/roll-off ramp on the aft end of the ship on the starboard side. When locked into a horizontal position, the ramp could also be used as a loading platform onto which equipment and cargo could be landed via pier side or temporary crane, said Miller. The opening is large enough and the ramp sturdy enough for ground vehicles, he added.

The mission bay is a cavernous space about 15 feet tall and more than 90 feet wide — the width of a six-lane highway. The bay extends about half the length of the ship. Other than two rows of stanchions running down the center for structural reasons, the area is wide open for the mission packages, said Miller.

Each of the mission packages comprises a certain number of individual modules that contain systems and equipment. They are stored inside conex boxes.

“There’s enough deck area that there’s no reason to stack conex boxes and have difficulty accessing them. You could just lay them out all over the deck,” Miller said. 

The ship is required to carry only one mission package, but officials said that the mission bay can handle two packages without any stacking. “We have that kind of volume, where you can bring double the mission package and not have a volume issue in our mission bay,” said Montferret.

The team has completed design layouts for all the mission package configurations, but sailors are not locked into arranging the modules in any set fashion in the mission bay, Miller added.
Freedom’s 6,400 square-foot mission bay is divided into three areas: the waterborne mission zone, reconfigurable compartment one, and reconfigurable compartment two.

The waterborne mission zone at the stern end of the ship is the largest of the three bays. It is designed for wet operations because the stern doors open to launch watercraft, including 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats and 40-foot high speed boats, down a ramp directly into the water.

A large watertight door leads to the next area called reconfigurable compartment one. In this secondary bay, crews can store watercraft, the various unmanned vehicles and sensors, and mission module containers.

A doorway half the height of that space leads to reconfigurable compartment two. Though the area is half the height of the two previous bays, it can hold mission module containers, gear and equipment.

Launch-and-recovery systems
Each of the mission packages contains an array of unmanned vehicles and sensors that will deploy from the ship. The aircraft will take off from the flight deck. But the waterborne systems must be launched and recovered via more complicated methods below deck.  

USS Freedom has two launch-and-recovery points: a side-launch area on the starboard side that requires a crane, and a stern ramp that lowers out of the mission bay. Because the mission bay is three feet above the waterline, both methods provide safe and efficient egress and ingress of those vehicles for the crew, said Lemmo. “That is absolutely critical. You’re not launching and recovering at the pier. You’re doing it at sea where the mission is being conducted.”

The ramp is a big discriminator for the ship, said Lemmo. When the ramp doors open up in the back, the boats can slide into the water and they can drive back up onto the ramp when they’re back from their mission. “We don’t have to use the crane to take the large boats in and out,” he said. 

When the ramp drops down, water fills it up about halfway to make it easy for the boats to glide right on out, he explained. The two middle water jets shut off and the ship will run only on the outboard jets when boats are being launched or recovered.

“Almost all other surface combatants have to handle boats alongside the ship when they’re at sea,” said Rob Taylor, a retired Navy captain who now works for Lockheed Martin on the LCS program. Sailors on those ships have to lower the boat on hooks, and the crew has to come down the ladder to board it.

On Freedom, boats can exit through the stern doors, fully loaded with the crew ready for combat. “Whether you’re doing boardings or the SEALs are operating, this is hands down the best way to go,” said Taylor.

Sailors will use the three-axis overhead crane system to get the boat on the ramp. The crew and equipment will load up and when they are ready to deploy, the stern doors open, the ramp drops, and away they go, said Lemmo. The process takes about two minutes.

Taylor, who conducted boarding operations off other Navy ships, said that is a vast improvement. “It would take a good 15 minutes from the time you said ‘go,’ to man up the boat, get the boat to the water, get the crew in the boat and the equipment and go out,” in a safe manner, he said.

On an average surface combatant, at least eight sailors are needed to help put a boat into the water. “You need guys manning winches, manning the lines, handling the boat once it’s in the water … supervisory people, communicators, it’s quite a cast of people,” said Taylor.

By contrast, Lockheed officials said, the Freedom requires only three operators to launch and recover boats via the stern ramp. “If you only have a crew of 75, it doesn’t take the whole crew to go through the evolution. That’s important,” said Lemmo. Ships that don’t have an integrated stern ramp and door and use cranes for launch and recovery are likely to require additional personnel.

For vessels unable to launch off the ramp, the three-axis overhead crane system extends overboard to launch and recover vehicles such as the remote mine hunting system, a snorkeling unmanned surface vehicle with fins. The same crane system operates in the side-launch area, where the doors slide open like a van. It can carry and store boats in any of the two larger compartments because the crane travels right through the bulkhead, officials said.

Independence’s watercraft launch-and-recovery system is called TBEC, twin boom extensible crane. This large overhead crane located at the aft end of the mission bay extends through a stern door, out behind the ship. Sailors then raise and lower to the waterline the watercraft, which sit in cradles that are attached to the crane. The twin boom aspect means that sailors will not end up with a single point lift on the watercraft. The entire system is designed to operate in sea state.

“The reason we went with this approach is because the Navy’s watercraft requirements were fairly diverse,” said Miller. The service expects to deploy a variety of watercraft including 7-meter rigid hull-inflatable boats, SEAL delivery vehicles, a remote mine hunting vehicle and the AQS-20 towed array sensor. A traditional approach would have one launch-and-recovery system for each watercraft. “The approach we took was designed to be able to operate any watercraft that was in the Navy’s current specification and give you flexibility to operate one that might be developed in the future, off the same basic system,” said Miller.

One of the big advantages of TBEC is that it allows crews to conduct launch-and-recovery operations high above the waterline. The mission bay, depending on the loading condition of the ship, is between 15 feet to 20 feet off the waterline.

“There’s no risk of water coming into the mission bay while we’re doing launch-and-recovery ops, because we stay well above waterline,” said Montferret.

Returning watercraft can be recovered in one of two ways. One system allows sailors to tow the cradle about 100 feet astern the ship. After the craft latches on, it would be hauled in and lifted up. The other option is to recover the vessel right beneath the crane, astern the ship.

Bridge, combat systems and mission control centers
On most Navy ships, the bridge and the command center are located in separate areas. Aboard Independence, the two are co-located on the bridge to facilitate communications and operations of the vessel, General Dynamics officials said. “We combined the bridge and the command center into something called the integrated command center, where you have combat fighting capability right on the bridge as well as the ability to drive the ship,” said Montferret.

There is a separate command center for the mission package crew, which is called integrated command center two, or ICC-2.

The design of Independence’s bridge console takes its cue from the bay window shape of the space. The console wraps around the two main operators seated in front of the central windows. “It’s like an aircraft control console for the main ship control functions,” said Miller. A number of video displays are embedded in the console and several also hang overhead to give the sailors immediate access to the information that they need while operating the ship. “The windows are very large on the bridge so you have good visibility versus traditional surface combatants,” Miller added.

Directly behind the bridge console is the integrated command center. Operators sit facing the bow of the ship at five individual consoles. Each one has three displays, a keyboard, trackball and joystick. The consoles are tied into the ship’s core mission system, which includes the combat system and the sea frame control system.

“We have capability to put data up on almost any monitor on the ship,” said Montferret. That reduces the number of consoles and watch standers that the Navy has to have because the data can be readily displayed anywhere on the ship, officials said. “All of our data rides on the network, and the crew can be in their quarters in some instances and log on through a laptop to gain access to some of that data without having to run to the bridge to a dedicated system,” said Montferret. 

Operators at the five ICC consoles can pull up information on the propulsion plant or electrical generation plant and quickly reconfigure their screen to look at the radar or navigational display, or one of the pictures coming out of forward-looking electro-optical infrared detectors on the front of the ship. They can also take that information and move it onto the two large overhead flat panel displays in the ICC.

When the ship was out on trials conducting different exercises, the workstations frequently demonstrated the capability. It was not unusual to see two operators working on three stations dedicated to looking at the engineering plant and minutes later, reconfiguring the workstations for other operators tasked with new missions, officials said.

“That’s the benefit of the architecture that we have for the core mission system, which gives you tremendous flexibility to move the data around, move the displays around and really fight the ship and control the ship from multiple locations,” said Markham. 

The mission package control center, or ICC-2, is also tied into the network. “There’s data-sharing that goes on back and forth between mission package capability and core mission system up on the bridge,” said Montferret.

Anything that sailors want to do from the bridge can be accomplished from the ICC-2. But the primary function of the mission package control center is to operate and monitor the unmanned systems. Markham said that sailors have the ability to control two UAVs simultaneously in operation on station, plus two more simultaneously in transit.

On Freedom, the bridge and the command center are still separate entities. But the mission package control center is blended with the command center into a single integrated mission control center.

“Our concept was that we’d have the core watch standing team here in the center of the room,” said Lemmo, pointing to a schematic of Freedom. The core watch team handles the ship’s combat systems. The mission package watch standing team would work at consoles along the perimeter of the room. “They’re going to be able to collaborate with the core watch standers,” he said.
The core combat system is called COMBATSS-21, which integrates open architecture components from the Aegis combat system with a ruggedized commercial-off-the-shelf computing environment.

“What that commonality gives us is the ability to cross-deck sailors,” said Lemmo. The combat systems have a common look and feel to them, with displays and symbology that sailors will have encountered on other Navy ships. “We think that’s a real training asset for the fleet to have that commonality. And it also provides interoperability between LCS and the rest of the fleet,” he said.
Aboard Freedom, sailors can use their laptops and plug into the local area network to access the classified or unclassified networks and data on the ship.

“This ship is probably the most automated ship in the Navy today, even though it’s only 3,000 tons,” said Lemmo. “We have over 8,000 points on the ship that get monitored” by computer systems that report on the systems’ status. Everything from fire alarms and flooding alarms, to oil pressure and temperatures can be displayed on monitors throughout the ship. By contrast, an Arleigh Burke DDG-51 class destroyer has 2,500 remote monitoring points.

“Everything can be controlled from the bridge, and you can drive the ship from elsewhere in the ship,” said Lemmo. On either side of the bridge, there are “bridge wings” that extend out. A condensed ship control station on each wing allows a sailor to drive the ship during docking.

Freedom’s bridge configuration follows a traditional naval vessel layout. In the wide, triangular space, a long control station console runs along the windows. Behind the helmsman controls, the engineering officer sits at a smaller console to monitor the hull, mechanical and engineering aspects of the ship.

Marketing Strategy
Both teams claim that they have the best solution for the Navy.

“We think we have a balanced solution here that gives the Navy capability across all requirements, including affordability of the ship,” said Lemmo of the Lockheed Martin team. He points out that USS Freedom is being deployed. 

“We believe this is a very producible design,” Lemmo said. “Being a steel monohull, it’s a ship that most shipyards in this country can build, and we’re proving that now with mid-tier shipyards like Marinette and Bollinger ... First-tier yards that have built surface combatants can build steel monohulls. They’re easy to build, the welding skills are readily available throughout the country, and that makes the ship very producible.”

It is also affordable to maintain, he added. The ship can pull into any repair yard around the world and encounter a work force with the necessary skills to maintain the ship. “It’s a familiar hull form and material that they’re used to working with,” he said. 

USS Independence was commissioned in December.

“We certainly feel very good and very bullish about the performance of our system and what we’ve been able to demonstrate to the Navy through both builder’s trials and acceptance trials,” said Markham of the General Dynamics team. “The system performed very well and we’re very confident in the future performance of the system,” he said. 

By the numbers, the Independence offers up capacity.

“Volume, flight deck, stability and sea keeping and fuel efficiency both from a range and life cycle cost perspective, those are some of the really big advantages that we can get out of this trimaran,” said Miller.  There are many requirements for LCS and size is only one aspect of it, Freedom’s team counters. “When it comes to room and ability to carry weight, we meet the requirement. While another one may exceed that, we meet it,” said Lemmo. “People talk about carrying a lot to the fight. That’s important, but you also have to be able to deploy it,” he pointed out. “We would argue that we have really good launch-and-recovery system and overall design of the hull that puts watercraft at the waterline. It’s a much better solution.”
But because Independence has yet to deploy, the General Dynamics team believes that the capacity of the ship coupled with the functional architecture of the ship will provide the Navy with an asset that it can use in ways that no one has thought of yet.

At a news conference during the Surface Navy Association annual symposium in Arlington, Va., a reporter asked Rear Adm. James A. Murdoch, program manager for the Littoral Combat Ship program, which design he liked best.

”I like them both,” he said while chuckling. “They’re like my two kids — completely different.”
He said both designs meet the Navy’s requirements. But the Navy can’t afford to buy both. So it will have to pick one, under the acquisition strategy that was announced last year.

According to a request for proposals released in January, the Navy intends to choose one design and award the winner a fixed-price incentive contract to build two ships this year with options to produce eight more ships through 2014. The winner also will supply combat systems for up to five additional ships that would be built by a second source. Under the acquisition strategy that Navy officials unveiled last fall, the Navy will open the competition in 2012 for a second source to build the selected design.

“I think the LCS downselect plan is a good example of the cost control measures that we are implementing in order to build a right size Navy for the future,” said Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in remarks at the symposium.

Proposals are due back from companies at the end of the month and a decision will be made by the Navy later this year, said Monica McCoy, a spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command.

“I think what we’re going to see is a more robust competition than one might first assume,” said Joe Carnevale, senior defense advisor to the Shipbuilders Council of America.

Shipyards will be clamoring for a piece of the pie, he added. “The support within the Navy for the LCS program has been consistent and continuous. No one in the Navy speaks publicly on the fleet without mentioning LCS and how important it is and how upbeat people are about the program,” he said. 

Cost realism will play a large role in the evaluation process and the Navy will likely focus on acquisition costs and not take into account life cycle costs for the ships, said Carnevale, a retired rear admiral and a former director for surface combatants. “They’ll assign teams to do evaluations, they’ll crunch numbers in a big matrix, and then they’ll look at it and see where they come out,” he said.

There may be more fleet players on the evaluation teams than normal because sailors have had opportunities to operate both ships. Freedom, which was commissioned in 2008, has had a head start in the fleet on Independence. But that may not necessarily give the monohull an edge in the competition.

“I think in some ways it’s an advantage, and in other ways, it’s a disadvantage because you get to operate it and like it, but you also get to see some of the warts,” said Carnevale.

Murdoch told reporters he did not believe that General Dynamics was at a disadvantage because USS Independence was commissioned a year and a half after Lockheed’s ship. Past shipbuilding programs made acquisition decisions based on paper designs, he said. The Navy already has much more information about the LCS designs than has been the case in other shipbuilding programs.

“For a couple of reasons, we don’t really think that the Navy can afford the time and money to interrupt production and go through an extensive test program on both of these ships,” he said.

At the same news conference, LCS-1 blue crew commanding officer Cmdr. Kris Doyle, was asked to comment on the Navy’s decision to downselect to one design.

Although she admitted she’s biased toward LCS-1 because that is the ship with which she’s familiar, Doyle said, no matter which design is selected, LCS will change the culture of the Navy.

“Yes, the machine is important. It provides the technology, the speed, the modularity, the automation to free the sailors to be more than anything they’ve ever been on board a ship,” she said. The advanced technology in LCS “unleashes their potential,” she said. “The program is about the future of the United State sailor and how exciting and invigorating it is to come to work and learn something new.”

Industry analysts are still not convinced that the Navy can truly bring competition into this program. “I predict that if the winning team does a good job of building this ship, then the service never will go to a second source,” said Loren Thompson, chief executive officer of The Lexington Institute. “They will try to save money by staying with one source,” he told the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and expeditionary forces subcommittee at a hearing in late January.

The Navy’s new 30-year shipbuilding plan shows the service buying two LCS in 2010, two in 2011, three in 2012, four in 2013, four in 2014 and four in 2015. But after that the procurement numbers drop back down to two per year and occasionally one per year beginning in 2020.        

Additional reporting by Sandra I. Erwin

Reader Comments

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

The program is indefensible because the module packages around which it is being built are ineffective if not outright non-existent in defending the hull as the mission.
NLOS-LS is gone and Griffin is only a 3.5 mile system. The MQ-8 and A-160 are gone which means you have no persistent ISR beyond the 1hr ability of the too few HH-60.
The MCM UUV is so bad they had to decouple it from the program.
The VDS sonar was still giving multipath return problems last I heard, despite being 'optimized' for inshore work.
The SUW package guns cannot deal with AShM and automatically put the ship at co-range risk with threats armed with ATGW (AT-4/5 and Milan have all been encountered on PCIs of the
The 57mm is a bit better with the 3P rounds but doesn't have the optronics or radar to reliably hit small skimmers. It also cannot provide inshore NGS to any distance beyond the surf zone.
The ships are designed as shallow draft vessels which means if you add back the SPY-1D and ESSM or Standard capability to provide a -margin- of SSM and S2A defense, they will become even poorer handling in high seas due to topweight issues.
Yet Sea RAM alone _will not_ handle all threats, not least because the lack of a 60km NLOS means you are reducing your **offensive** posture to the level where any return fire becomes an inner zone reaction rather than a layered defense. See the INS Hanit for what happens then.
People also forget that when Vincennes got their IFF interrogator range gate stuck on that F-4 while the SPY-1 skin painted a 747 in climbout, the reason for their task saturation was that they were already -successfully- prosecuting a Pasdaran 'swarm' of boghammars.
And the Iranians could not get past the 5", Standard SSM, SH-60 and Harpoon multizonal layers which means that despite being 15 knots slower than an LCS, the CG-49 could protect her withers and save being hamstrung by these wolves of the sea.
The LCS program office should not pretend that speed alone makes up for total system integration as the teeth of the fight. It does not. It never has. It never will.
And if you cannot survive the inshore fight, your ability to deliver (but _not_ support) a large compliment of SpecWar across the beach is meaningless. Not least because the Navy Specwar community already rejected the PC-1 Cyclone class as 'too big and cumbersome' for their mission set.
I cannot believe someone who is _Navy_ is so politically compromised by his love of his 'kids' that he fails to put known tactical considerations as saving living souls, first. Second rank naval services have to put up with a sub-optimum weapon system mix because they cannot afford the first team, pro-league, package. This is just cheap naval engineering looking to create 51 ships of a suicide class.

KPl. on 05/08/2013 at 11:58

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

Nice comparison. I wish the trimaran were steel hulled though. Regardless, I think it's a better, more stable design, more economical design, with a greater growth margin. Which, by the way, I'd start to utilize by adding 4-8 Harpoon II SSMs, and at least 4, if not 6 torpedo tubes.

Garrt Anthony Johnson on 06/21/2010 at 22:02

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

This is a 3000 ton patrol boat. It can only perform one mission at a time, and lacks sufficient means to protect itself. This prohgram should be cancelled.

John on 06/20/2010 at 14:39

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

I think our country needs ships like this to keep in front of the comp.

billy hunter on 03/15/2010 at 01:27

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

Yes, trade the high speed for more weaponry. What our Navy really needs are diesel electric frigates.

Carlton on 03/08/2010 at 17:36

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

A great comprehensive review of the LCS program and the two type of ships involved. But, I still don't understand the need for an LCS type ship, especially when the first ones cost about $600 a piece. For that kind of money, one could build 4-5 Cyclone class patrol ships.

At about 2,800 tons, these ships lack Harpoon anti-ship missiles and torpedo tubes as standard equipment and mount a paltry 57-mm main gun. Most ships with her displacement carry a 76-mm main gun and ESSM for air defense.

Scrap the LCS and build a replacement for the Perry-class frigates. It won't have the same speed, but it'll be better armed.

Walter Collins on 03/02/2010 at 23:05

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

Neil MacIntyre is entirely correct. He should know since both of us helped build her. Hey Neil been to the Cove lately, I really miss Menominee/Marinett.

Jim Brown on 02/25/2010 at 03:11

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

Technological miracles! I had command of two destroyers, both WWII editions. What a dramatic change !! Good luck !! I wish I could ride one ... and command one !!

George Pillow on 02/22/2010 at 20:06

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

Under the section titled Propulsion Plants, it states that on the USS Freedom "The two outerboard water jets are fixed in place while the two central water jets are steerable." This is not true, the outboard jets are steerable and the inboard jets are fixed. I noticed that on another website, bloggers were proposing that the Freedom would lose steering when launching small boats and sighting and providing links to this article.

Neil MacIntyre on 02/22/2010 at 09:25

Re: Builders of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Pull Out All the Stops

Wow, quite the comparative article.

Mauibrad on 02/17/2010 at 03:42

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