New Amphibious Ship Requirements Coming Next Summer


NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy is currently working through the preliminary design of a new amphibious ship, the LX(R), and expects to release requirements next July, a service official said Nov 19. 
Key to the program will be driving down costs, including leveraging the design of the current LPD-17 class amphibious transport docks and commercial technologies, said Capt. Erik Ross, head of the Navy’s amphibious warfare branch during a speech at NDIA’s expeditionary warfare conference.

"The challenge that we face now is to ensure that the cost reduction initiatives and the partnerships that we already have with industry continues as we work our way through preliminary design and contract design,” he said.

Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Joseph Dunford, former Commandant Gen. James Amos and Sean Stackley, the Navy’s head of acquisition, signed a memorandum of understanding in October that a modified LPD hull, rather than a clean-sheet or existing foreign design, is the preferred way forward on the program. The LX(R) will replace the aging dock landing ships, more commonly called the LSD. 

That decision brings new implications to current talks between the Navy and Congress on the potential construction of an additional LPD-17 class ship, said Marine Corps Maj. Gen Robert Walsh, director of expeditionary warfare. The service may be able to use LPD-28 as a bridge ship between the current production line and LX(R), Walsh said. 

The Navy needs to explore how an LX(R) will improve the LSD in terms of independent operations, command and control, aviation and maintenance, as well as what efficiencies can be found in the LPD design, he told reporters. “How can you get a lot of the things from that LPD-17 hull form but at less cost? What are the things you can trade to maximize the capability?”

Congress has supported the construction of a 28th LPD and has appropriated about half of the necessary funding. However, it has to be affordable, said Thomas Dee, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for expeditionary programs and logistics management. 

In fiscal year 2013, Congress put aside about 10 percent of the cost of the vessel in a shipbuilding account, he said. House and Senate committees have appropriated as much as $800 million for the ship in 2015, but Stackley said earlier this year that he could not build the ship unless Congress found a way to appropriate the more than $1 billion sum remaining to completely fund the ship.

The Navy plans to release a request for proposals for LX(R) in fiscal year 2017, with delivery of the first ship in 2026, Ross said.

Because of the pressure to find a LSD-replacement that will be affordable enough to design and procure during a fiscally constrained time, the requirements development process for LX(R) has been entirely unlike anything Walsh has experienced, he said. The Navy has engaged defense companies — such as General Dynamics NASSCO and Huntington Ingalls Industries — to devise cost lowering strategies.

“We're so far ahead of the game,” he said.

One idea is to replace military specific technology with less expensive commercial products, Ross said. 

“The question is, 'do I need a coffee pot that's milspec?'" he asked. “That’s an extreme example. A better one is … do you need all of the valves and pumps and motors on the entire ship to be milspec, or can you just target them in the areas that need to be more survivable?”

Walsh said the Navy is also investigating whether commercial engines may be used on the LX(R) in lieu of the four military engines that power the LPD-17. 

Commercial products sometimes are less reliable and have a shorter lifespan than the military standard version, Ross said. For that reason, the Navy will have to weigh tradeoffs among reliability, cost and survivability and analyze the total ownership costs.

"There's only so much you can do potentially with regard to commercial specs and changes without driving more cost back into the design,” through operations and sustainment costs, he said. “You've got to do a lot of work to make sure it's right."

Backup and critical systems, such as those that support cooling and propulsion, will remain rugged and high-tech, he added.

Topics: Shipbuilding, Surface Ships

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