Lockheed Martin Predicts International Sales of Littoral Combat Ship
The first international sale of Lockheed Martin’s Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship could occur in less than a year, the company’s program manager said.
"There's two potential customers out there that have money budgeted for the ships,” said Joe North, Lockheed’s vice president of littoral ship systems, during a April 4 media roundtable. Interested buyers must go through the lengthy foreign military sales process, which may drag out the purchase, North said. He would not disclose the potential customers.
Lockheed Martin is eager to promote its international LCS variant, called the multi-mission combat ship. The company was dealt a harsh blow in February when Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced plans to cut the total U.S. buy of LCS from 52 to 32 — a 10-ship loss for Lockheed, which is one of the two shipbuilders for the program.
The Navy was told to design a “capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate,” to supplement the LCS, Hagel said.
A small surface combatant task force led by John Burrow, executive director of the Marine Corps Systems Command, will evaluate the Navy’s options, including new and existing designs as well as a modified LCS. The group will deliver its findings in July to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Sean Stackley, the service’s top acquisition official.
Depending on the Navy’s needs, Lockheed could offer the multi-mission combat ship for that requirement. The vessel could be anywhere from 295 feet to 460 feet, North said. The ship could be outfitted with a version of the Aegis combat system.
While international customers are interested in LCS mission packages for mine countermeasures, anti-submarine warfare or surface warfare, they are less interested in being able to switch out that equipment, North said. Instead, these customers see more value in buying a smaller number of ships with equipment permanently installed on it.
“They also aren't as interested in speed,” he said. “Now I can dial speed up with the size of the turbines and the size of the of the diesels. ... On average, we're seeing countries that are looking for anywhere from about 28 knots to 35 knots.” By comparison, the U.S. Navy has a requirement of 40 knots.
The Japanese navy is also looking at the LCS, although it would probably design its own ship, he said.
The planned cuts to the LCS program had a domino effect on the purchase of MH-60R helicopters intended for deployment on the ship. Navy officials announced plans to end helicopter production and cancel its final order in 2016.
Under the original deal, the Navy would have procured 300 of the aircraft through 2018. The Romeo fleet would be 29 short of that if the Navy does not reverse its decision. Cancelation of the 2016 order would either slow production or cause it to end before 2018, said Mike Fralen, director of MH-60R business development.
So far, 185 MH-60R aircraft have been delivered, Fralen said. Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. manufactures the airframe for all MH-60 Seahawk variants, while Lockheed developed the mission and sensor systems for the Romeo version.
Australia and Denmark currently are the only international customers, with contracts for 24 and nine aircraft respectively. But neither of those extends production past 2018.
Lockheed executives are hopeful that additional sales to foreign militaries could help extend production. At least five other countries are interested in purchasing the Romeo, Fralen said. “We are in dialogue with all of them,” he said.