The Navy is surging forward with plans to build a new, more lethal Littoral Combat Ship variant engineered with a host of new technologies, weapons and systems to begin procurement by 2019, service leaders announced Thursday.
The new Small Surface Combatant, or SSC, emerged as a result of recommendations to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel from a unit tasked with analyzing possibilities for a new LCS variant called the Small Surface Combatant Task Force.
"After rigorous review and analysis, today I accepted the Navy's recommendation to build a new Small Surface Combatant ship based on upgraded variants of the LCS. The new SSC will offer improvements in ship survivability and lethality, delivering enhanced naval combat performance at an affordable price," Hagel said in a written statement.
This past January, Hagel instructed the Navy that there would be no new contracts awarded for LCS production beyond 32 ships, instructing the Navy to consider a host of alternative proposals for the remaining 20 ships slated to complete the 52-ship program.
Hagel cited many criticisms of the LCS platform such as concerns that it lacked the lethality and survivability that it needed to complete its desired range of mission sets. As a result, he inspired the creation of the Small Surface Combatant Task Force which focused on identifying a new LCS design featuring vastly improved survivability.
The task force explored more than 192 different design concepts and consulted with fleet commanders, industry, surface warfare officers, engineers and program managers, among others.
"They did a remarkable job. It was very deliberate. It was very detailed and it was very analytical and informed," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert.
Instead of focusing of interchangeable sets of integrated technologies called mission packages like those used for the existing LCS, the new modified ship will simultaneously be configured for surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare, Greenert said.
"The Navy needs a Small Surface Combatant and this ship meets that need. The secretary directed us to bring forward with our 2017 budget proposal an acquisition plan to forward fit these capabilities into a 2019 timeframe," Greenert said.
Mine counter-measures mission packages will be handled by the regular LCS ships already in production.
"It will feature an improved air defense radar, air defense decoys, a new, more effective electronic warfare system, an over-the-horizon anti-ship missile, multi-function towed array sonar, torpedo defenses and additional armor protection," Hagel said.
The new ship will feature specially configured space armor designed to better protect the ship and its crew. In addition, the ship will have improved decoy systems to divert incoming enemy missions and an upgrade to a missile-interceptor ship defense system called SeaRAM.
The new ship will also be configured with what's called improved signature management, meaning technologies which make the vessel less detectable to enemy radar and less susceptible to enemy mines.
Alongside the new modifications, the ship will also incorporate many of the weapons systems and technologies currently on the LCS such as 30mm guns, a ship-launched Hellfire missile, 11m rigid inflatable boats and a 57mm gun.
Greenert also added that the Navy was directed to come up with a proposal to explore whether any of the additional survivability technologies could be retrofitted onto existing LCS ships or engineered into those entering production.
The new modifications will add about $65 to $70 million to the price of the ship, an increase which amounts to less than 20-percent of the overall cost of the ship, Navy officials said.
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