Navy Wants Both Versions Of Littoral Ship Class

The Navy wants to put off a decision about which of two cutting-edge designs to choose for its latest vessel class, the littoral combat ship, slated to be stationed in San Diego.
The first of the two designs, a shallow-draft ship called the Freedom, is already at San Diego Naval Base. Its builder is Lockheed Martin Corp., using shipyards in Wisconsin.
The competing model, an aluminum three-hulled trimaran called the Independence, is still in trials on the East Coast. Its maker is the American division of Australia’s Austal Ltd., with manufacturing in Alabama.
Navy officials said Wednesday that the service wants to order 10 of each version.
The reasons: To get more ships built faster, to stabilize the nation’s industrial ship-building base and to keep competition going between the two manufacturing firms, said Navy spokeswoman Lt. Courtney Hillson. Having two versions also ups the chances for sales to foreign militaries, she said.
Previously, the Navy was expected to choose one or the other in the near future — called a “down select” in military parlance.
“Effective competition between the industry bidders has led the Navy, separate from the ongoing down select process, to engage with key Defense Committee members and their staff as well as industry on whether awarding each bidder a 10-ship block buy merits congressional authorization,” said a statement released by Pentagon officials.
Hillson said she had no information about the suggestion, first reported on the Navy Times website Wednesday, that the Navy will now split the envisioned 55-ship littoral class between the Pacific and Atlantic coasts — a departure from the current plan to base them all in San Diego.
“If the path proves infeasible, we will proceed to down select in accordance with the terms of the current solicitation. Either approach will ensure the Navy procures affordably priced ships,” the Navy statement said.
Defense analyst John Pike of said the Navy is probably responding to budget and political pressures.
“Part of the decision must be that neither design proved so superior to the other as to require putting all the Navy’s eggs in that basket,” Pike said.
“The Navy will need all the help it can get in future budget battles, and better to have two contractors supporting your program than to have just one,” he said. “You could neck down to one design built at two yards, but there would be a lot of subcontractors in a lot of Congressional districts who would be left standing when the music stopped.”
The littoral class of ships is intended to operate nimbly at high speeds in coastal waters, where the Navy expects to see much of its future threat from enemies lacking traditional navies.
The Freedom is a high-tech ship that can do several kinds of missions and is designed to have interchangeable sets of gear, based on the need at hand, such as an anti-submarine mission or a anti-mine assignment.
The littoral ship class has faced criticism this year for not delivering on its expected abilities.
An August report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office said the Navy would be challenged to build the first four littoral vessels on budget and on time.
It also pointed out problems with developing “mission packages” – the interchangeable sets of gear — that worked as requested.
“Challenges developing mission packages have delayed the timely fielding of promised capabilities, limiting the ships’ utility to the fleet during initial deployments,” the GAO said.
“Until mission packages are proven, the Navy risks investing in a fleet of ships that does not deliver promised capability,” it concluded.

Jeanette Steele San Diego Tribune

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