WASHINGTON — The U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ship is less one ship as it is two completely different ships with a common mission set. The Navy is trying to walk some of that back.
LCS is a trimaran hull built by Austal USA in Alabama, and LCS is a monohull designed by Lockheed Martin and built by Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin. The ships’ systems are as different from each other as they are in appearance, with one of the main differences being the computer brain that runs the platform’s weapons and sensors — known as a combat management system.
That’s going to change, said Kitty Sutherland, the integrated combat systems deputy program manager for the LCS program.
“Our combat management system is being upgraded so they’ll be common across both variants,” Sutherland said. “That engineering has started in some small respect, but it really kicks off in FY2021, and by fiscal year 2023 we are working really hard … to make sure [we] get that installed on these ships.
“Doing this quickly is about getting combat capability to these ships faster and support the ships faster.”
The system will be based on a COMBATSS-21 system, which is an Aegis derivative. It will be integrated into the Common Source Library. The CSL is part of the surface Navy’s effort to have a common combat system across all its platforms
What the surface fleet wants is a single combat system that runs on every ship, and runs everything on the ship, and that doesn’t mind what hardware you are running so long as you have the computing power for it.
The goal here is that if a sailor who is trained on a big-deck amphibious ship transfers to a destroyer, no extra training will be necessary to run the equipment on the destroyer.
“That’s an imperative going forward — we have to get to one, integrated combat system,” Rear Adm. Ron Boxall, the former chief of naval operations’ director of surface warfare, said in a December 2018 interview at the Pentagon with Defense News.
The Common Source Library, developed for the Navy by Lockheed, begins moving the Navy down this path of a single, unified combat system. The vision for CSL is essentially the iOS of an iPhone: The Navy can use CSL to program applications that run sensors and weapons systems.
So, if the Navy has a new missile system it wants to run, the software application to run it will be designed to run off of the CSL — and ships with the CSL will be able to rapidly integrate it, just like downloading the latest navigation or gaming software for a smartphone.
In this specific case, if you integrate the LCS’s new Naval Strike Missile into COMBATSS-21, you should be able to integrate it rapidly anywhere in the fleet because the code will already be part of the common source library, even if you run a slightly different form of the combat system.
The Naval Strike Missile, currently on the Independence-variant LCS Gabrielle Giffords deployed in the Asia-Pacific, is headed for the Freedom variant in 2021, Sutherland said.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.