WASHINGTON — Today, a littoral combat ship can only receive surveillance data from one aircraft at a time. That is about to change due to new communications gear that will be fitted on LCS 25, 26 and 28, officials from L3 Technologies told Defense News.
The Navy has selected L3 to provide its Maritime Surface Terminal aboard Freedom-class LCS Marinette and Independence-class LCSs Mobile and Savannah, John Van Brabant, L3’s vice president of business development for Navy programs, said during an April 10 interview at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
L3 beat out competitor Cubic for the opportunity, and the company is moving into contract negotiations with Naval Air Systems Command with an award expected sometime this summer.
Like the T-Series Model S Surface Terminals — the L3-manufactured communications terminals for the first 24 LCS hulls — the Maritime Surface Terminal, or MST, operates on the Ku-band and allows Navy pilots of platforms like the MQ-4 Triton or MH-60S to share full-motion video and other data with the ship.
However, the MST is almost 700 pounds lighter than the older system and can transmit 45 megabits a second compared to 22 megabits, VanBrabant said.
It also has two data links instead of just one, meaning that up to two aircraft can share data at the same time, a departure from the current construct where aircraft have to take turns.
“What it does is give the ship’s captain … it extends their eyes and ears, frankly,” Van Brabant said. “Now they get a radar picture of the aircraft 120 miles away, and the radar is seeing another 80 miles that they’ve essentially extended their vision 200 miles.”
That will also help support the LCS’s manned-unmanned teaming construct, whereby MH-60S helicopters are paired with MQ-8 Fire Scout drones. The aircraft are intended to work together, with the Fire Scout passing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and targeting information to the MH-60 and back to the ship.
MST will allow both platforms to send full-motion video to the LCS at the same time.
Increasing the reach of ships has been a major goal of Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, who has said interoperability and networking will be a focus in future competitions.
“How do all these platforms work together?” Richardson said in 2017. “In the extreme, I’d want to network everything to everything.”
In 2016, the Navy awarded contracts to Lockheed Martin for the Freedom-class LCS Marinette and to Austal for Independence-class LCS Mobile. A contract for the Savannah followed in 2017.
Valerie Insinna is Defense News' air warfare reporter. She previously worked the Navy/congressional beats for Defense Daily, which followed almost three years as a staff writer for National Defense Magazine. Prior to that, she worked as an editorial assistant for the Tokyo Shimbun’s Washington bureau.