The Navy is in the early phases of a new study designed to explore alternative proposals for the Littoral Combat Ship formally requested last week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, Navy officials said.
The study will explore the realm of the possible regarding potential new platforms for LCS and modifications to existing LCS ships, per guidance from Hagel. It will be headed by Naval Sea Systems Command, or NAVSEA, and the Navy’s requirements community for surface warfare.
The current study is beginning to look at a range of options, including adding more armament and weaponry to the LCS, or designing a new platform able to accommodate more armor, weapons and vertical launch tubes for missiles, service officials said.
The alternative proposals for LCS were requested by Hagel on the heels of the announcement that the Pentagon would reduce the planned fleet of LCS ships from 52 to 32. Echoing some of the criticisms of LCS made by lawmakers, analysts and Navy officials,
Hagel questioned whether the existing LCS is survivable enough for combat.
“We need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and fire power to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies,” he said Feb.24.
Hagel has directed the Navy to provide these alternative proposals within a year.
“We must direct shipbuilding efforts toward ships that can operate in every region and along the full spectrum of conflict. At my direction the Navy will submit alternative proposals for a surface combatant consistent with the capabilities of a frigate. New ship designs and a modified LCS- proposal are due at this time next year to inform budget submissions,” Hagel said.
Referred to as a small surface combatant, the new platform or modified LCS is not yet known, a Navy official said.
The study is also looking at existing foreign variants of the LCS, some of which are larger and configured differently than U.S. versions.
“All of the things that are out there will be part of the market place of ideas,” a Navy official said.
The mission of LCS is a fundamental focus of the study, because the alternative proposals could lead to specs for a new, heavier and larger ship that is more heavily armed and closer to a frigate.
Or, the Navy could build upon the mine and submarine hunting technologies built onto the current LCS platform. In fact, the alternative proposal effort may seek to combine these attributes into a single ship.
“Not every ship can do everything, so what are the missions we want to focus on?” a Navy official said.
Speed is another key consideration of the study. The existing LCS can reach 40-knots, however if modifications add armor and weaponry, then that would slow the ship down.
Most Navy frigates are a heavier and longer than each of the LCS variants, the USS Freedom and the USS Independence. Frigates, many of them made of a steel hull and aluminum superstructures, can hit speeds of 30-knots and are not as fast as the LCS.
“We’re looking at the options. All the options are on the table as we begin to decide and tailor what it is we might need for this requirement,” another Navy official said.
The LCS mission module concept may be preserved for the alternative proposals, service officials said. As currently configured, the LCS has three different integrated sets or suites of technologies for surface warfare, mine-hunting and anti-submarine missions.
Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, Deputy Chief of Naval Operation for Integration of Capabilities and Resources, recently said the Navy will work on alternative proposals for the ship in light of guidance from Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.
“I view this as a chance for the Navy to re-engage on what’s important to us on the last part of the class. We know we need mine hunting, we know we need ASW (anti-submarine warfare), we know we need a few of what’s called the surface warfare module – but what do we really need? We are going to go back and take a hard look and respond to the Secretary of Defense in the fall,” said Mulloy.
The LCS class consists of two variants, the Freedom and Independence - designed and built by two industry teams, respectively led by Lockheed Martin and an Austal USA-led team. Contracts were awarded to Lockheed Martin and Austal USA on December 29, 2010, for the construction of up to 10 ships each.
So far, the first three LCS ships have been commissioned and the fourth, the USS Coronado, is slated for commissioning in April of this year, Naval Sea Systems Command officials said.
LCS 5 and 6 launched in December of last year, and ships 7 through 16 are in some stage of production, Leonard added. The Navy plans to wind up delivering 4 LCS ships per year.