Austal USA -- the defense firm that makes one of the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship variants -- fired back at critics who worry the new ship is too lightly armed for combat.
"I know there is a lot of clamoring out there for up-arming the LCS right away. We can do it," said Craig Hooper, an Austal USA vice president.
As the Navy's newest class of ship, LCS is designed for multiple missions such as anti-submarine warfare and counter-mine operations.
But some in the Pentagon doubt that lightweight LCS design can survive in a real combat situation, J. Michael Gilmore, the Defense Department's director of operational test and evaluation, wrote in a January report.
The LCS is armed with 57mm naval gun and an 11-missile launcher for the rolling airframe missile, or RAM, which is intended to knock out incoming anti-ship cruise missiles. It's also armed with .50 caliber machine guns.
The LCS class consists of two variants. The first of the USS Freedom variants was delivered in September 2008, and the first USS Independence variant was delivered in December 2009. Lockheed Martin makes the mono-hulled Freedom ships. Austal USA builds the aluminum trimaran-hulled Independence ships.
Austal USA officials said that its Independence-class variant of LCS has the flexibility to take larger weapons such as vertical launch systems and a larger gun. "You want Harpoon [anti-ship missiles]? I can give you eight to 16. You want VLS, 75mm gun? OK we can do it," Hooper said Monday at the Navy League's Sea Air Space Symposium at National Harbor, Md.
"We can make a ship that looks and fights just like any other cruiser out there, but is that the right path? If we hand over all the available margin on LCS to legacy weapons … do we risk losing the opportunity to exploit the changes that are coming in the war at sea?"
The Navy is on the cusp of a new age of surface warfare, Hooper said, citing a recent research effort by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency.
DARPA is working on a program to use Independence variants of LCS as "platforms for medium altitude, long-endurance, fixed-wing unmanned aircraft for strike and ISR missions," Hooper said. "This is a sign of what is to come -- energy weapons, rail guns, unmanned craft. Embrace this. The future is in flexible platforms that capable of quickly and cost-effectively integrating new payloads. That's what my two ships can do."
But any weapons changes on the horizon for LCS won't happen until the Navy revises its requirements for its newest vessels, said Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden, director of Surface Warfare.
"I'm the keeper of the keys for requirements," Rowden said. "And I am here to tell you that LCS meets the requirements."