Woah, so the U.S. Navy wants to buy both classes of Littoral Combat Ship in equal numbers for a total of 20 ships, double the planned by of 10 Hulls, according to my former colleague Chris Cavas' latest piece over at Defense News.
The Navy, convinced that the competition has driven down the cost for the ships, is asking Congress for permission to award each team contracts for 10 ships, for a total of 20 new LCS hulls.
"We're engaging with key committee members, their staff and industry on whether awarding a 10-ship block buy to each team merits congressional authorization," Capt. Cate Mueller, a spokeswoman for the Navy's acquisition department, said Nov. 3.Still, if this plan to convince the current lame-duck Congress to allow the sea-service to buy both Lockheed Martin's Freedom-class and Austal USA's Independence-class designs doesn't work, the Navy will go back to its original plan: awarding a contract for ten ships to one of the two competitors.
But Mueller cautioned that the move does not mean the effort to pick only one design has been put aside.Can't make up your mind, well, buy both!
"The Navy's LCS is on track for a down-select decision. We have not stopped the current solicitation," she said. "If the [dual-award] path doesn't prove feasible and we don't get the congressional authorization, we will proceed to down-select in accordance with the terms of the current solicitation."
"The Navy sees either approach procures affordably priced ships," she said.
Congress - which has yet to produce a defense bill for 2011 - will need to act quickly, as the contract offers and prices put on the table by each industry team expire after Dec. 14. If the LCS contracts aren't awarded by then, a new round of contract offers would need to be made, possibly pushing a decision into late winter or early spring.
Under the proposal, the Navy would split its buy equally each year between Lockheed and Austal USA. Two ships would be awarded under the 2010 budget and two in 2011, with four ships year each from 2012 through 2015. One key issue that will be put off appears to be the choice of combat system. Each team created its own system, with virtually no commonality between the two types. Under the proposal, each team would continue to build ships with their original combat systems.But wait a second, isn't there a push to streamline big weapon fleets? Not exactly.
Planners for years have seen the designs as mutually supportive - one of the reasons that the Navy, until the fall of 2009, planned to buy both types.-- John Reed