In an attempt to bring order to the Navys problem-plagued littoral combat ship (LCS) program, the Navy has announced that it will "down select" a winner from the two LCS designs. The selection, in fiscal year 2010, will determine which design and hence which firms will be responsible for the construction of a planned 51 additional frigate-size warships.
The LCS designs provide for a "seaframe" platform that can be fitted with modular mission "packages." The current packages are for anti-submarine warfare, mine countermeasures, and anti-surface craft. The packages would be shifted from ship to ship as necessary. Another set of modules is being contemplated; among the set are one to support special forces operations, a naval fire support module, and a medical-disaster relief module.
The first ship, the Lockheed Martin Freedom (LCS 1) built at Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, has been commissioned and the second, the General Dynamics Independence (LCS 2), is being fitted out at Mobile, Alabama. Each LCS team was been awarded a contract for a second ship.
The Navy had earlier cancelled contracts for the LCS 3 and 4 because of massive cost overruns and program delays with both designs. The Navys original goal of $220 million per shipwithout modular packageshas at least tripled. And, both designs are several years behind schedule.
Down-selecting to one design for the additional ships of a planned 55-ship program will be difficult and could be politically explosive. At down select, a single prime contractor and shipyard will be awarded a fixed-price incentive contract for up to ten ships with two ships in fiscal 2010 and options through fiscal 2014.
The LCS 1 has not yet been fully tested and is several months from her first operational deployment while the LCS 2 at this writing has yet to complete her builder's trials. Some observers believe that the selection decision will be "obvious" - the LCS 2, with a trimaran hull design, is much more complex and cost more than the LCS 1, a current estimate of more than $700 million compared to an estimate of $640 million for the LCS 1. Further, the LCS 2 has an aluminum hull and superstructure that some marine architects feel will not withstand open-ocean transits and high-speed operations as well as the steel-hull LCS 1 design.
The Navys announcement on 16 September of the down-select quoted Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus: "LCS is vital to our Navy's future. It must succeed."
"Both ships meet our operational requirements and we need LCS now to meet the warfighters' needs," said Admiral Gary Roughead, the Chief of Naval Operations. "Down selecting now will improve affordability and will allow us to build LCS at a realistic cost and not compromise critical warfighting capabilities."
Admiral Rougheads comments that both ships meet Navy needs are difficult to understand in view of the status of the two ships, and the fact that their mission modules have neither been fully installed nor tested in a shipboard environment.
The Navys announcement continued:
Based on proposals received this summer, it was not possible to execute the LCS program under the current acquisition strategy and given the expectation of constrained budgets.
The new LCS acquisition strategy improves affordability by competitively awarding a larger number of ships across several years to one source. The Navy will accomplish this goal by issuing a new fixed price incentive solicitation for a down select to one of the two designs beginning in fiscal 2010.
Still, this action by the Navy should contribute to stabilization of the LCS program and provide some control of the ship costs. As Secretary Mabus observed, the LCS program is vital to the Navys future. With a current fleet of some 285 ships and a (probably unachievable) goal of 313 ships, the LCS program will constitute a sizeable portion of the Navys future ship strength.
-- Norman Polmar