Lockheed Boosting Capabilities of Littoral Combat Ship
Photo: Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin is working on several littoral combat ship modernization efforts that will give the vessels increased lethality and survivability, a company executive said Nov. 15.
Joe DePietro, Lockheed’s vice president of small combatants and ship systems, said the Navy is currently investing heavily in LCS modernization and plans to spend about $1 billion during the future years defense program for related efforts.
Over the years, the littoral combat ship program has been dogged by controversy. Critics have questioned whether the platform would be able to survive and fight effectively in a battle against an advanced adversary.
The upgrades that Lockheed is performing will increase the ship’s firepower and survivability, DePietro said during a briefing with reporters ahead of the commissioning of the USS Sioux City. The vessel — which is being commissioned Nov. 17 in Annapolis, Maryland — is the 13th LCS to enter the fleet. It will be the sixth Lockheed-built Freedom variant in service. Lockheed builds the ships in Marinette, Wisconsin, with Fincantieri Marinette Marine. Austal USA manufactures the Independence-class variant of the littoral combat ship at its Mobile, Alabama, shipyard.
One area of interest is equipping vessels with a naval strike missile to boost their firepower, he noted.
“We're working on the design and integration for that,” DePietro said. “We're working on the modernization package to be able to put that into an in-service asset.”
The Navy awarded Raytheon and Kongsberg a contract for the missile over the summer. The USS Nantucket, or LCS 27, will be the first littoral combat ship designed by Lockheed to accommodate the weapon.
“It is up to the Navy on what ship they're going to target for a delivery,” DePietro said. “But [LCS 27] will be ready to receive it.”
Other modernization work includes the surface electronic warfare improvement program, or SEWIP block 2 effort. The technology has already been tested on LCS 1 Freedom, he said.
Additional upgrades include the integration of Raytheon’s SeaRAM anti-ship missile defense system and the Navy Multiband Terminal for more protected communications, he said.
Meanwhile, Lockheed is mulling over potential designs and features for the Navy’s future frigate program known as FFG(X), DePietro said.
The Navy has indicated that it plans to build a new class of 20 guided-missile frigates, with the first vessel procured in fiscal year 2020. The service has yet to determine the design of the platform, but it will "likely be larger in terms of displacement, more heavily armed, and more expensive to procure than the Navy’s littoral combat ships,” said a recent Congressional Research Service report titled, "Navy Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress."
Rather than clean-sheet designs, the Navy wants to use a “parent-design” approach, leveraging technology from other systems, noted the report, which was authored by CRS naval analyst Ronald O'Rourke.
In February, the service awarded five FFG(X) conceptual design contracts to Lockheed Martin, Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls Industries/Ingalls Shipbuilding, Fincantieri/Marinette Marine and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works.
Lockheed plans to leverage its work across various classes of ships for its design, DePietro said.
“We're certainly looking at a commonality across the fleet, so not just to be able to come from our parent design but also to incorporate things that are already [out there],” he said. DePietro noted that Lockheed integrates systems on a number of ships, such as destroyers, and can apply that technology to the FFG(X). “We're looking to pull the best of breed from the classes of ships that we are integrating with in order to pull those in for the capability that meet the frigate requirements,” he said.
Lockheed Martin will be able to meet the Navy’s schedule to procure the first frigate by fiscal year 2020, he added.
“The biggest thing that we're mindful of is the impact overall of the FY 20 award," DePietro said. "If you look at the Navy's proposed schedule, it has about a 21-month design phase in it, so the ship would not be going into production until about 21 months after that.”
That means that discussions about the implications of littoral combat ship procurement will remain relevant in fiscal years 2019 and 2020 with regard to the health of the industrial base and the workforce at the Marinette shipyard, he noted.