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Northrop Considers Bid for U.S. Navy’s LCS
Northrop Grumman is examining both competing Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) designs with an eye to possibly bidding as a second-source shipyard to build the small, fast warships for the U.S. Navy, the company’s top shipbuilder said Wednesday.
“We’re interested, we’re looking at both programs,” Mike Petters, head of Northrop Grumman shipbuilding, told Congress towards the end of a shipbuilding hearing before the House Armed Services seapower subcommittee. “We are doing evaluations of our fit on either program,” he said.
The statement was thought to be the first time Northrop has publicly expressed interest in returning to the LCS program as a shipbuilder since the company lost out in the early stages of the competition. A different sector of Northrop manages the integration of the program’s mission packages.
Northrop already builds more different kinds of ships for the Navy than any other shipbuilder, including all of the service’s aircraft carriers and amphibious ships, half its submarines and about half of its surface warships.
Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics are competing for the LCS downselect, expected to take place early this summer. At stake is an initial award for 10 ships. Another competition – the one being considered by Northrop – will be held for a second-source supplier to build a batch of five ships.
Four ships already have been built or are under construction. The plans are to buy a 55-ship LCS force.
Petters and David Heebner, head of General Dynamics’ shipyards, appeared together before the seapower subcommittee. The executives each said that the current Navy shipbuilding plan does not have enough ships to sustain the six shipyards run by Northrop and GD.
A case in point, each executive said, is the DDG 51 destroyer program in which both companies take part. The program, which has been in place for more than 20 years, saw each company gaining ever-increasing efficiencies in building the ships. But a restart of the program might not see those same efficiencies, the shipbuilders warned.
“I don’t know how the Navy expects us to maintain two competitive yards,” Heebner said. “Let us compete for the ships,” rather than share in the construction.
“There’s not sufficient volume in the [shipbuilding] plan today to have a healthy competition,” Petters said. “If the expectation is we can achieve what we did before, I would agree with my compatriot that volume is not sufficient to warrant that.”
By CHRISTOPHER P. CAVAS