With only about a month to respond to the U.S. Navy’s requests for information (RFIs) for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) –Next, the pressure is on the service and contractors to come up with the nation’s future small surface combatant.
Responding to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s mandate to come up with a more lethal and survivable LCS successor, the Navy has certainly made a great show of putting everything on the table for consideration.
But to be honest, that table is far from level -– it is quite slanted and there are going to be plenty of ideas, concepts and proposals that simply slide right off. That’s not a knock, necessarily, against the Navy -– it’s just an observation of the reality the service has to deal with.
In directing the Navy to make a ship that packs –- and takes -– a bigger punch, Hagel also wants the service to keep it affordable and he wants to avoid construction gaps.
So while the Navy’s RFI opens up LCS-Next to all kinds of possibilities, including foreign designs, the call to keep costs down and make it fit in current shipbuilding and fleet requirement scheduling makes it essentially impossible to consider any program that is not already in production. And lawmakers will make sure the program stays as domestic as possible.
That leaves the Navy with U.S. shipbuilding programs already in production, such as the steel monohull LCS 1 USS Freedom version being built by a Lockheed Martin-led team, the all-aluminum trimaran LCS 2 USS Independence model being built by the Austal USA team, or even a version of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter being constructed by Huntington Ingalls Industries.
While the cutter concept is intriguing, Navy officials dismissed a variant of the white hull a while ago for, among other things, not being combat-worthy. A course reversal at this time seems unlikely.
The most likely course the Navy will follow would be to award Lockheed and Austal contracts for modified LCS versions similar to the concepts both companies have developed for international markets. Essentially, some of the weaponry included in the mission module packages would become organic to the hulls. This would take away some of the modularity –- at the very moment the concept of quickly shifting missions via swappable modules is starting to take root with the U.S. Navy and even among international customers -– but help make the ships more of a force to be reckoned with on the open seas.
Taking that a step farther, one of the concepts being bandied about is the introduction of vertically launched guided missiles on the LCS template hulls. Some in the Navy have started to call this the LCSG –- like the DDG for destroyers or CG for cruisers.
Now that’s a ship that the surface warfare officer cadre can get behind. That’s the kind of ship that can do something, that can blow up things, and take better care of itself. At least that’s the thinking of the LCS brass now.
LCSG. Who would have thought?