Buying Two Littoral Combat Ship Designs Saves the Navy $600 Million, Official Says
“This is a good deal. It is the right thing to do,” said Rear Adm. Frank C. Pandolfe, director of the Navy’s surface warfare division. “That allows you to buy an extra LCS without raising the budget and to put additional monies to other programs that need it,” he added.
The littoral combat ship is the Navy’s newest warship. The service intends to buy a fleet of 55 LCS that can sail close to shore and carry mission packages to accomplish operations in anti-surface, anti-submarine, and counter mine warfare.
Congress in late December approved the Navy’s plan to award 10 warships each to Austal and Lockheed Martin Corp. The teams’ bids in September reflected a dramatic drop in cost. “They were $1.9 billion less than we expected or had budgeted for. That’s competition,” Pandolfe told the conference.
Proceeding with the dual buy instead of down selecting to one design as the Navy originally intended actually saved the service $1 billion, he said. But those savings were offset by some additional costs associated with buyingtwo very different ships, Pandolfe said. Lockheed Martin’s steel monohull is being built in Marinette, Wis., at Marinette Marine Corp. An aluminum trimaran is being constructed in Mobile, Ala., at Austal Shipbuilding. Both contractors have built two of their respective designs.
Sustaining 12 frames of each design requires disparate components and combat systems, additional simulation trainers and more spare parts. That all adds up to $300 million. Still, when subtracted from the $1 billion that the Navy is saving by going with the dual buy, that is still a financial gain for the service, he added. “More ships, a lower unit cost, out to the fleet faster, good for industry, good for Navy, good for taxpayers — what’s not to like here?” said Pandolfe.
Though the Navy has locked in prices for 10 more ships at each yard, the service is not obligated to buying the ships, Pandolfe said. “This isn’t a multi-year contract,” he pointed out. The Navy will sign a fresh contract each year with the builders, for two ships apiece through 2014. “They need to be on cost and on schedule,” he emphasized.
The latest developments mark a swift turnaround for the troubled littoral combat ship program, which not too long ago was facing verydifferent circumstances. Members of Congress have blasted Navy officials for cost and schedule overruns on the prototype ships. Now they expect to see 24 LCS in the fleet by 2019.
Critics have pointed out that while the hulls seem to be back on course, the mission packages are falling off track. Pandolfe wanted to set the record straight. “They are on track, progressing well and will deliver the capabilities we need on the timeline we need,” he said.
The Navy intends to buy 64 mission packages that will include weapon systems and robotic technologies. The equipment will come packaged inside shipping containers that can be brought on board and installed quickly on any of the ships. The Navy wants 24 anti-surface warfare packages, 24 counter mine warfare packages and 16 anti-submarine warfare packages. The one experiencing the most problems is mine warfare package. Its mission is to counter deep, shallow and tethered mines in the littoral waters without putting a sailor in the minefield. To do that, the Navy is assembling a suite of remotely operated technologies and sensors that will hunt and kill the threat.
A key technology, the remote mine hunting vehicle, a diesel-powered semi-submersible that will tow the AQS-20 sonar, is behind schedule.
“Reliability of the system is about 80 percent of where we need to be,” Pandolfe said. But he remains confident that the system will pull through. The rapid airborne mine clearance system, or RAMICS, a cannon designed to destroy mines floating below the surface in deep water, is not performing well in tests. Navy officials are looking to adapt the airborne mine neutralization system, which kills mines at the bottom of the ocean, for the mission. Preliminary testing is showing promise, and if it works, then the Navy may not need RAMICS, Pandolfe said.
“That would allow us to streamline the program, save money and go to a single kill vehicle,” he said. When the legacy mine sweeping force starts leaving the fleet in 2017, the Navy will be ready to introduce the LCS systems, he said.
On the surface warfare package, the planned "non-line-of-sight launch system" has been terminated. The Navy was leveraging the Army-led “missiles in a box” program as a surface-to-surface fire system to destroy small boats. After the Army canceled the NLOS program last year, the Navy conducted a six-month review of all available and pending missile systems. Officials said they are leaning toward the Griffin, a missile produced by Raytheon Co. “We have proposed to our leadership that we replace NLOS … with Griffin,” said Pandolfe. “That would allow us to get the weapon in the fleet on the timeline that NLOS would have arrived, keeping the package intact.”
When the last of the current frigates leaves the fleet in 2019, the Navy should have the surface packages ready to take over, Pandolfe said.
For the anti-submarine warfare package, the Navy in 2012 expects to receive from Thales a low frequency sonar under development for demonstration and testing purposes. The towed array will provide sailors with a mobile anti-submarine capability. In the meantime, officials are moving ahead with other sensors, including the multifunction towed array for passive detection and the lightweight tow for torpedo countermeasures and non-acoustic rounds. The intent is to be able to counter enemy diesel submarines in the littorals. “You shift capabilities of the ship from a stationary anti-submarine warfare buried-in system to an in-stride littoral and open-ocean capability when you need it. That puts sensors and sound sources in the fleet in numbers,” said Pandolfe.
The Navy plans to deploy the ships for 16 month tours. Crews will rotate on board for four-month deployments at sea. Three crews will rotate between two ships, and one of those ships will be under way at any given time. “That’s two to three times more forward presence per ship than the Navy gets out of major warships today,” Pandolfe said.
To ensure that the ships can execute all of these missions, the Navy is budgeting for its shore-based training infrastructure. The high-fidelity simulations will qualify sailors to set sail on missions. LCS sailors will spend four months training ashore. They will go to the waterfront and work for four months aboard a ship to get their sea legs back supporting 2nd Fleet and 3rd Fleet. Then they will fly to their assigned ship. That cycle is sustainable and will improve quality of life for sailors, Pandolfe said. It will allow the Navy to keep LCS ships forward deployed for much longer periods.
The Navy intends to deploy a 40-sailor core crew to operate the ship. The air detachment will have 23 sailors, and the mission packages will each come with 19 sailors. About 30 sailors per ship will be assigned as the shore detachment to keep maintenance going. Afloat sailors will do monthly maintenance, and shore support teams will perform quarterly maintenance.