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National Defense > Blog > Posts > Navy Looking for Fresh Thinking on Future Warships
Navy Looking for Fresh Thinking on Future Warships
By Sandra I. Erwin




It took the Navy more than 10 years to design and start building its littoral combat ships. The warship that would succeed the LCS — dubbed "small surface combatant" — might be in the fleet within just five years.

The Navy took the first step toward that goal April 30 when it issued two "requests for information" on ship technologies and designs that could be applied to the future combatant. Proposals are due May 22.

A team of naval warfare and ship technology experts — led by John Burrow, executive director of the Marine Corps Systems Command — has until July 31 to evaluate suggestions and decide which ideas merit further consideration.

The message to the industry is "tell us what you think," Burrow told reporters April 30.

Burrow's group was stood up in March following marching orders from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The secretary told the Navy to truncate LCS orders from 52 to 32 ships. The littoral combat ship had come under relentless criticism after Pentagon testers concluded it lacked sufficient firepower to survive in heavy combat.

The process by which the Navy will go about selecting a new, more lethal ship is being compressed into just a few months. Funding to kick start the program would be requested in the fiscal year 2016 budget. If all goes as planned, a new ship could be in production as early as fiscal year 2019.

Giving shipbuilders and weapons contractors just 21 days to respond to the RFI is reasonable, Burrow said. "These are ideas that industry should already have, with supporting information."

The Navy will consider how industry proposals fit into "capability concepts" such as air, surface, undersea and mine warfare, said Burrow.

At the same time that Burrow's team sifts through industry white papers, it will also solicit input from fleet sailors in Virginia and Hawaii. Sailors will be asked to offer their views on what "capabilities and missions" they would want for small surface combatants, Burrow said.

The RFI does not specify "requirements" in the traditional sense, he said. In Defense Department procurement programs, defining requirements usually is the first step that gets the program rolling. Burrow said he was only asked to provide "design alternatives" that could satisfy a future requirement for a small surface combatant.

After the task force submits its recommendations, Navy and Defense Department officials will take over and determine whether the suggested ship designs and technologies are adequate and affordable.

Cost overruns — from initial estimates of $220 million per ship to more than $700 million — nearly sank the LCS in its earlier days, so the Navy is likely to place extraordinary focus on the cost estimates for the new combatant. If a new ship is deemed unaffordable, the Navy might consider upgrading existing LCS vessels with offensive and defensive weapons and sensors.

Burrow cautioned that the compressed schedule does not mean the Navy is bypassing proper acquisition methods. "We're not building a ship in four months or designing a ship in four months," he said. His group will separate the wheat from the chaff and narrow down the choices for the Navy. 

"There's a lot of complexity and interactions in making those decisions," he said. "Our job is to inform that, and to provide information we have confidence in." The task force does not have the authority to decide whether a particular ship is affordable but it will provide detailed cost data, said Burrow.

Two RFIs were issued. One asks for design concepts, which could be existing ships or ships that could be built using "mature" components and technologies. The other request is for weapons systems and other components that could be integrated into existing hulls.  

"We want industry to tell us what is technically feasible ... To help us understand performance, risk and cost." The shipbuilding industry "has been thinking about this problem for some time," said Burrow. "I'm sure they have some good ideas."

The Navy expects that current LCS builders will want to stay in the game and propose improved, more survivable versions of current designs. The option of continuing to buy modified versions of current LCS hulls is on the table, said Burrow. One of the designs, the Freedom class, is made by Lockheed Martin and Marinette Marine Corp. The other, the Independence class, is made by Austal and General Dynamics Corp.


Credit: The littoral combat ships USS Independence (LCS 2), left, and USS Coronado (LCS 4) are underway in the Pacific Ocean. (Navy photo)

Comments

Re: Navy Looking for Fresh Thinking on Future Warships

"The RFI does not specify requirements" because the USN seems to have no idea (at least not that they will share publicly) about what role the LCS or future SSC will fill. Putting the Cart before the Horse doesn't even begin to describe how ass backwards this is.
@uss_fallujah at 5/5/2014 10:03 AM

Re: Navy Looking for Fresh Thinking on Future Warships

I have long wondered why the Navy hasn't looked into the concept of a defensive system which could probably be retro-fitted onto the LCS's.  It would consist of a system similar to a system which was researched back during Reagan's SDI program, namely the "brilliant pebbles" concept of missile defense.  The idea was to have thousands of mini-satellites, the size of a basketball hovering in orbit which could be controlled and targeted towards an ICBM threat.  Let's say we had a kill percentage of 90%, by targeting the ICBM with a single mini-satellite, by using 20 mini-satellites, we would raise the kill ratio drastically. 

Fast-forward to today, and our fleets are facing the array of carrier killers that China and Russia have developed.   If we were to create a similar system for the carriers or any ship, where they kept a fleet of smaller drones airborn at all times, ready to target and destroy the new hypersonic missiles using drone-based tracking abilities, proximity fuses, and a self awareness network of drones, working in unison.  The fleet could have a "swarm" of these drones airborn which could act as a wall of metal if necessary to protect from incoming threats.  If a sufficient number of drones were airborne, when a sunburn missile did its final phase of a vertical strike on a carrier, there would be enough drones to move into its path and detonate their proximity fuses.  The fleet of drones would re-orient themselves after an attack to make up for the destroyed drones.  There could be several layers of these drones, which would increase the kill ratio.  A system of this type would be devastating to sea-skimming missiles and any other surface threats.

A system of lighting, which would be flown on top of the ship could be used to command the drones when there is suspected radio hacking attempts.  For example a system of 8 colored (or even specific non-visual "lights" of very specific bandwidths) would be used to an "optically" communicate specific commands to the drones.  With 8 lights there would be 255 commands that could be issued by simple on and off states.  The drones would visually check the ship born lights and use the commands given to avoid being hacked by someone jamming the radio signal.   A thermally based signalling system could also be used to communicate with the drones in cases of fog or other conditions where they are not able to view the optical systems.   IFF systems could be used to not attack our outgoing missiles and "friendlies". 

A similar concept could also be used to perform sub-surface defense of the fleet by keeping enough specialized killer drones at various levels to destroy any subsurface or small surface threats, specifically the cavitating torpedoes which can reach near sonic speeds.  A subsurface system and the airborne system could also be used to defend against small, high speed gunboats as well.

I have worked out solutions to the weaknesses I can think of, of such a drone system, which could be used in conjunction with other existing CIWS's to add more layers to the current system.
Kevin at 5/5/2014 5:19 PM

Re: Navy Looking for Fresh Thinking on Future Warships

I am not sure what the LCS could actually do.  It's more heavily armed than the current minesweepers, yes, but could it sweep mines now?  I take it doesn't even have the minesweeping modules installed and operational yet.

It could, and have been used as a drug interdiction chaser, and armed with 57mm gun, 30mm cannons, SH-60R, and SeaRAM, would be aptly fit to chase down drug-smuggling Go-Fast boats. 

And yet there are still covered bays for Mission Modules.  I am surprised not much attempt has been made by the USN to install some other forms of armament on them, be it ESSM VLAs, SSN MAC tubes, regular VLAs, or other equipment and gear.  So far, those covers, especially on the Independence-class (after the 57mm), remain closed and covered.  There was talk of uparming them with a 76mm gun, but the media didn't follow through on if that was just talk or a real serious plan.

So far, the media has not listed or really reported on what the LCSs have done or could do.  So far they just seem to be Go-Fast gunboats and not even minesweepers, ASW ships, or LCSs; they're more like Coast Guard patrol boats that seem most effective against small to medium unarmed illegal speedboats (and one doesn't need a large ship as the LCS for that kind of mission).
Peter at 5/7/2014 9:15 PM

Re: Navy Looking for Fresh Thinking on Future Warships

Time to bring back the arsenal ship concept. A converted heli-carrier that uses the large flat deck for hundreds of VLS cells carrying a wide variety of strike weapons from cruise missiles to ATK's proposed intermediate range global strike missile. The deck could house so many missiles you could have a full suite of air and ballistic defense missiles as well.

As China pushes us further away from the mainland with their extensive ballistic missile inventory we need a way to strike back - or strike first - very quickly and without putting, initially at least, a fighter plane at risk. 
bobbymike at 5/8/2014 2:22 AM

Re: Navy Looking for Fresh Thinking on Future Warships

Why couldn't the LCS ships use either the evolved sea sparrow or AIM-120D for air defense, NCADE missiles for anti-missile, and JASSM for anti-ship/surface attack? The missiles could be mounted in MK41 VLS strike cells. This would provide the LCS with a robust defense and attack capability of up to 64 missiles. AESA radar could be fitted to the ship for targeting.
Edward Randall at 5/10/2014 4:49 PM

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