Magazine article National Defense

Fleet Expansion Hinges on Littoral Combat Ship

Magazine article National Defense

Fleet Expansion Hinges on Littoral Combat Ship

Article excerpt

THE NAVY TOOK ITS NEW warship, the littoral combat ship, from concept to reality in record speed. The service, however, may take years to define the vessel's future missions and develop its various weapon systems.

The first of the LCS vessels, the USS Freedom, already is in the water. Three others are in varied stages of construction. And all this happened in a relatively short four years, officials point out.

Designed for operations in the shallow seas and coastal waters, the littoral combat ship will carry interchangeable "mission modules," each of which will be customized for different operations, such as mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare and surface warfare.

The mine warfare module, particularly, is in high demand. "Frankly, we can't get it fast enough," says James Thomsen, program executive officer for littoral and mine warfare. Technologies that are part of that mission package, such as a remote mine hunting system, an airborne mine neutralization system and a sonar mine detecting set, are undergoing tests.

The LCS contractors - Lockheed Martin Corp. and General Dynamics - are building two hull designs. Lockheed's is a steel semi-planing hull design, and General Dynamics' is an aluminum trimaran.

Officials are exploring the possibility of going to one hull, but that decision will not be made until 2009, says Rear Adm. Mark Buzby, deputy director of the Navy's surface warfare division.

That means 15 ships will be built before the Navy determines whether it will keep both designs. "Until we get both ships in the water and both ships operating, we're all sort of guessing," says Buzby. "Both on paper have strong attributes and they have some drawbacks."

The cost of building the LCS hull has grown from $220 million to $270 million. But the average cost of the mission modules has dropped, from $180 million to $70 million.

The Navy is saying each ship will reguire 1.5 mission modules, so the total amounts average out to about $400 million per ship, says Robert Work, naval analyst with the Center for Budgetary and Strategic Studies.

The ship was made to appeal to foreign navies as well. Both Saudi Arabia and Israel have expressed interest in acguiring the LCS for their navies.

The Navy is on track to buy 55 of these ships, says Buzby. But Work predicts the Navy will build more, especially if foreign navies purchase the LCS.

The strict timelines make the LCS challenging, says Fred P. Moosally, president of Lockheed Martin maritime systems and sensors. "It's a program you have to manage very carefully," he says.

By 2015, Buzby predicts the Navy will have 30 littoral combat ships in the water and may have many other mission modules in production. …

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