Lockheed Martin's proposed LCS 33 features a vertical launch system mounted forward. (Lockheed Martin illustration)
WASHINGTON — The task force working to come up with ideas for the US Navy’s small surface combatant (SSC) got a major data download Thursday, as industry submitted their proposals for modified or entirely new designs.
Both builders of littoral combat ships — Lockheed Martin and Austal USA — submitted ideas to modify their designs. Huntington Ingalls proposed frigate variants of its national security cutter design. And at least one outlier, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, put in a bid.
Companies were also invited to come up with ideas for the ship’s combat system. In separate proposals, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems (GD AIS) described systems and components to equip the SSC.
The submissions were in response to two requests for information (RFIs) issued in April by the task force — a unit stood up in March to provide recommendations to Navy leadership by the end of July on potential alternatives to the current LCS designs.
The fast track was apparent in the size restrictions put on the RFIs — the ship RFI was limited to 25 pages, the combat systems response to 15 pages. RFIs typically run into many hundreds of pages.
The limited responses reflect the goals of the task force.
“We’re not going to have time for them to go through and do a [new] design,” John Burrow, head of the task force, told reporters on April 30. “We’re asking for existing designs and mature design concepts,” he said, and “systems and technologies at the component level.”
The responses were submitted to Naval Sea Systems Command, which will process and forward them to the task force. It’s not yet clear how many respondents were garnered by each RFI.
Lockheed was perhaps in the best position to respond, having spent several years aggressively proposing various versions of its 118-meter-long Freedom-class LCS to potential foreign customers. Joe North, head of the company’s LCS programs, said a similar approach was used in its responses.
“We submitted a range of designs, tied to the price of each, tied to the earliest we would be able to get those upgrades into the ships,” he said on Friday. The company’s proposals included upgrading littoral combat ships as early as ships in the 2015 program.
“We need a better electronic warfare system,” North said as an example. “I could put that into the 2015-16-17 ships if they wanted. And they could spiral their upgrades as they want.”
Lockheed’s proposals focus on ships larger than the current LCS.
“We tied affordability to what we were doing, and we kind of found a sweet spot at 125 meters,” North said. Larger ships, up to 140 meters, would add range.
The proposals include incorporating vertical launch systems able to launch Standard SM-2 missiles. Lockheed can get an SM-2 launcher into the current 118-meter version, North noted, but a larger ship would be needed to install the bigger SM-6 model coming into service.
“SM-6 can go on the 125-meter and 140-meter,” he said, “and probably a SPY-1F [Aegis] radar or a derivative of [Raytheon’s] air missile defense radar [AMDR] if you want the full capability of the SM-6.”
The company included versions of its current COMBATSS-21 combat management system in responding to both RFIs. The system is a derivative of the Aegis combat system and uses a common code library.
Austal USA, builder of the Independence class LCS, also sent in bids.
“Austal has submitted a strong response,” company spokesman Terry O’Brien said on Thursday. “We are very excited to be involved in this process.”
Improvements over the Independence design, O’Brien said, include a towed array sonar, torpedoes, vertical launch anti-submarine rockets “and a tremendous aviation capability to support the MH-60 helicopter.” As with Lockheed, a vertical launch system able to launch Standard missiles and a 76mm gun in place of existing 57mm guns are included.
O’Brien said in April that Austal’s approach to modifying its LCS was not to scale it up, but rather to work with improved configurations, replacing areas currently reserved for interchangeable mission modules with permanently-installed systems. “Austal’s SSC incorporates significant offensive and defensive capability to support higher-end missions with the existing sea frame,” he said, adding that the is able to take either Aegis or AMDR radars.
It was not clear what combat system Austal USA is proposing. The company currently installs a system from GD AIS, based on the Thales Tacticos combat management system. “We can handle any other systems that can be chosen,” O’Brien said. “The Navy asked to provide that flexibility and we’re able to do that in our current hull form.
The Navy is known to have problems with the GD AIS system, but the company is still working on improvements. General Dynamics confirmed on Thursday that GD AIS submitted a response to the combat systems RFI, but would provide no further details.
Huntington Ingalls, as expected, also put in its bid. The company has been working to develop larger and more heavily-armed versions of the NSC — again, aimed primarily at foreign markets, but now focused on US Navy requirements.
“Ingalls has submitted an RFI response using a high performance, proven hull and propulsion system that is a lethal, survivable and affordable design for the small surface combatant,” spokesman Bill Glenn said. “Adding robust capabilities to a hull form that does not require additional modifications provides a ship that can be introduced to the fleet quickly and affordably with very low risk.”
General Dynamics Bath Iron Works also confirmed it submitted a response to the ship RFI, but spokesman Jim DeMartini declined to provide further details. The Maine shipbuilder is not building a small combatant, but is focused on construction of Arleigh Burke Aegis destroyers and larger Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers.
Bath, however, submitted a design for the US Coast Guard’s offshore patrol cutter that was one of three chosen this year for further development. The award, however, is under protest, with a decision expected in early June.
Raytheon, which makes components used by virtually every US Navy warship, also responded to the combat systems RFI.
“We believe we’ve provided a range of options and compelling solutions for their consideration,” said Raytheon spokeswoman Carolyn Beaudry. “The combination of our large system integrator expertise and depth of knowledge, from sensor to effector, allowed us to provide the full range of affordable, scalable solutions that meet SSC mission requirements, adaptable to any ship design.”
The SSC task force also is busy conducting workshops in fleet concentration areas to gather waterfront views. While the Navy would provide few details, members already have visited Norfolk, Virginia, and Pearl Harbor.
Submission of the RFIs, said Lt. Robert Myers, a Navy spokesman at the Pentagon, “completed an important step in the process that will inform the task force of industry designs and systems that will be considered in developing small surface combatant alternatives.
“Access to current market information,” he added, “is important in assessing feasibility and risk as the [task force] develops and evaluates ship design concepts, alternatives and acquisition plans.” ■