The two ships vying to become the prototype for a new U.S. Navy fleet of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) have, according to top Navy officials, virtually the same combat capability. "Both ships meet the requirements" has been a mantra for officials testifying to Congress and speaking to the media.
But the Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics teams have fielded ships that take very different approaches to fulfilling the basic LCS requirements for a fast, smallish ship able to provide basic combatant services while taking on specialized equipment to carry out focused missions.
The most obvious differences - such as the single steel hull and aluminum superstructure of Lockheed's vessel versus the GD all-aluminum trimaran - are well known. But of dozens of distinctions large and small, it is not always clear that one is superior.
Choosing between features often could come down to a matter of taste, or even culture. A surface warrior who grew up on Aegis ships, for example, might prefer the single combat information center (CIC) and combat system of Lockheed's LCS 1, which in some ways harkens back to its bigger brother systems on Aegis cruisers and destroyers.
Sailors who aren't so wedded to Aegis concepts might feel more comfortable with the two-CIC layout of GD's LCS 2, where one installation supports the ship and another setup two decks below handles the mission detachment's needs.
When the Navy chooses one design this summer to serve as the basis for at least 51 more ships, the decision will be made largely on price.
Neither the Navy nor the industry teams have revealed the prices being offered, but it is clear there is much more to choose from than simply the procurement cost.
We have had the good fortune to have ridden both ships, albeit in the early stages of their careers, and even from a nonoperator standpoint, a number of differences can be noted.
Here is a selection of comparisons between the two ships based on observation. One key caveat - these are prototype ships in every way, in design, concept and operation, and whichever design prevails, future ships can be expected to be further developed and modernized.
1: LCS 1 has three mission bay areas totaling 6,400 square feet, the smallest of which is really more of a storage room. The main operational bays are a wet bay, or "waterborne mission zone," with openings to the sea on the starboard quarter and through the stern doors; and a dry bay, dubbed a "reconfigurable space." A bulkhead with roller doors is placed between the bays, enabling darkened waterborne operations in one while repairs can take place in the other.
2: The design's outstanding feature is a single, very large, 15,200-square-foot mission bay, able to store at least two complete mission modules and possibly more, depending on the configuration. The space is about 80 feet wide (six car lanes), reflecting the ship's origin as a commercial vehicle ferry. The space is not fitted with fire doors and cannot be closed off into sections. The greater height of the bay over the waterline provides for a drier environment.
1: Features a 5,200-square-foot flight deck, bigger than any other surface combatant now in service. The deck is about 19 feet above water - more likely to get wet with sea spray.
2: Its 7,300-square-foot flight deck is considerably bigger than LCS 1.
With a height above the waterline of 36 feet, the deck should be relatively dry.
1: An overhead transfer system based on a commercial container handling system is installed. It is fitted with a stern ramp so that waterborne craft can leave and enter the ship directly. The stern ramp was used by an embarked 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boat on the recent deployment, and at least one captured drug runner was brought aboard using the ramp. The side door system features an overhead, extendable gantry to raise and lower watercraft.
2: Uses a cargo container mobile transport by Mobicon to move equipment around the mission bay. Stern door opens high over the water and features a twin-boom expandable crane (TBEC). The side door is a vehicle ramp, hinged on the bottom. A single hydraulic system powers the stern doors, side ramp, TBEC crane and a crane in the hangar.
1: Although it's the smaller ship, LCS 1 has the bigger hangar, at 4,680 square feet.
2: Smaller than LCS 1, at 3,500 square feet.
1: Fitted with three damage control repair stations, all on the second deck. Firefighting equipment fitted throughout the ship. Fire cladding hidden behind bulkhead panels.
2: Fitted with two damage control repair stations, both on the port side, at the forward and back ends of the mission bay; seven DC lockers are placed throughout the ship. Exposed fire cladding throughout the ship, called Superwool, seems less than robust. Most of the cladding is attached to bulkheads with long nails, some of which were loose.
The ships have similar engineering control systems. Although both ships were first said to have very cramped machinery spaces, they felt no more cramped than on a number of other ships.
1: Features two Rolls-Royce MT-30 gas turbines, larger than most GTs fitted in the fleet, and two diesels.
2: Fitted with two General Electric LM2500 gas turbines - the fleet standard - and four diesels. The machinery spaces take up most of the lower center hull.
Seems to be about equal - about 46 knots in ideal conditions with a light load.
Ride Both ships were exceptionally smooth at high speed (44 to 46 knots) in ideal sea conditions at light load. Both rolled and pitched at lower speeds (18 knots and lower) and need active fin stabilization.
1: Digs in its bow in tight turns at high speeds. There were problems early in its delivery voyage with water getting into the anchor hawsepipe, which will be redesigned.
2: The automated ship-handling system needed calibration to avoid cavitation when shifting speeds.
Command and Control
1: Fitted with a standard CIC, dubbed a Mission Control Center, amidships and below decks. The CIC had underused space with room to grow, but more equipment could turn it into a cramped space.
2: Has an unusual two-CIC configuration. Interior Communication Center (ICC) 1, focused on ship operations, is installed at the rear of the pilothouse, separable from the bridge by a curtain. A mission-centered ICC 2 is placed two decks down and aft from the bridge, just forward of the mission bay. The split approach could create command-and-control problems, particularly in determining the proper station at all times for the commanding officer.
Combat Suite and Network
Both ships feature a local area computer network allowing laptop connections throughout the ship.
1: The Lockheed Martin COMBATSS-21 combat system features about 60 percent commonality with Aegis systems, including software.
2: The system built by General Dynamics' Advanced Information Systems features mostly USN-unique systems Bridge and Navigation Both bridges feature similar triangular, three-position layouts with interchangeable navigation stations at the front. The ships have similar ship control and autopilot systems, and both helms use a joystick. Both bridges feature very large windows and in general have excellent visibility forward.
1: The three watch positions are officer of the deck (OOD), junior officer of the deck (JOOD) and the engineering watch. The triangular piece of steel in the center of the bridge windows is a visual impediment and will be modified with a more slender post.
2: The three watch positions are OOD, JOOD and a tactical awareness coordinator. A major difference is the placement of ICC1 at the rear of the pilothouse. The engineering watch, by a readiness control officer, is maintained in ICC1. Because there are no bridge wings, signal halyards are accessible via a large roll-down window at the back of either side of the pilothouse, which includes a steel-cabinet flag bag.
The very narrow bow, which drops down forward of the 57mm bow gun, is not visible from the bridge.
1: Has no bow thruster - an impediment when moving through the Welland Canal in Canada on the ship's delivery voyage but, according to the crew, not a problem in general, where the water jets provide better steering ability than a standard screw-and-rudder configuration.
Traditional bridge wings are fitted with ship controls.
2: Has enclosed line-handling areas fore and aft. Has no bridge wings a real problem when docking or undocking in tight areas; installing more cameras will help but probably not cure the urge to stick one's head out to see what is happening. The wide 104-foot beam is a navigational challenge in tight harbors and makes nesting more difficult. Fitted with a drop-down forward auxiliary propulsion unit, which was inoperative on its first voyage.
All staterooms in both ships have their own head and shower. Both have an appreciably larger number of heads throughout, particularly near work stations.
1: Larger staterooms throughout. The largest eight-man enlisted space could easily accommodate more sailors.
2: Smaller staterooms with less room to expand the number of crew berths.
Both designs depend heavily on multiple video camera installations throughout the ship - a key feature in a minimally manned configuration.
Because of their high speed, both ships are intended to be operated with fewer personnel topside.
1: Generally feels more spacious and has generous room below decks with wider passageways. Several visitors who have been to sea aboard both ships said LCS 1 "feels more like a Navy ship," with more familiar fittings and layout.
2: Despite the vast mission bay and flight deck, LCS 2 feels tighter inside, with most crew living and work spaces placed in a pyramidal citadel under the bridge. Seems to have lesser room for growth. The quick-response boat deck aft is cramped.