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Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)

On 13 December 2015 Defense Secretary Ashton Carter approved cutting the US Navys Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program to a maximum of 40 vessels and using the money saved to build more F/A-18 Super Hornet jets. The secretary of defense directed the service to cap its buy at 40 ships and pick only one supplier. The directive also ordered the Navy to buy only one ship annually over the next four years, down from three per year. Carter sent a memo on 13 December 2015 to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to use savings from the LCS program cuts to buy more F/A-18 Super-Hornet and F-35 Lightning II aircraft, more SM-6 surface-to-air missiles as well as boost spending on the Virginia-class nuclear submarine.

On 29 December 2010 the Navy awarded Lockheed Martin Corp. and Austal USA each a fixed-price incentive contract for the design and construction of a 10 ship block-buy, for a total of 20 littoral combat ships from fiscal 2010 through fiscal 2015. The amount awarded to Lockheed Martin Corp. for fiscal 2010 littoral combat ships is $436,852,639. The amount awarded to Austal USA for the fiscal 2010 littoral combat ships is $432,069,883. Both contracts also include line items for nine additional ships, subject to Congressional appropriation of each year's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program requirements. When all 10 ships of each block buy are awarded, the value of the ship construction portion of the two contracts would be $3,620,625,192 for Lockheed Martin Corp., and $3,518,156,851 for Austal USA. The average cost of both variants including government-furnished equipment and margin for potential cost growth across the five year period is $440 million per ship. The pricing for these ships falls well below the escalated average Congressional cost cap of $538 million.

In September of 2009, Congress authorized the Navy to downselect between two LCS designs and award one industry team a contract to build up to 10 ships. But the Navy wanted to do a 10-ship buy with each ship builder, Austal USA in Mobile and Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, adding twenty LCS ships to the Navy's fleet.

A meeting of the Defense Acquisition Board paved the way for the Navy to award a $5 billion contract. The Navy postponed the meeting a few days to the DAB could consider new information received from the contractors, who submitted final offers with prices good until mid-December 2010. Under the November 2010 proposal, the Navy would split its buy equally each year between Lockheed and Austal USA. Two ships would be awarded under the FY2010 budget [which began October 2009] and two in FY2011 [which began October 2010], with four ships year each from FY2012 through FY2015. One key issue that will be put off appears to be the choice of combat system. Each team created its own system, with virtually no commonality between the two types. Under the new proposal, each team would continue to build ships with their original combat systems.

On 27 May 2004, the Department of Defense announced that Lockheed Martin Corporation - Maritime Systems & Sensors, Moorestown, N.J. ($46,501,821) and General Dynamics - Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine ($78,798,188) were each awarded contract options for final system design with options for detail design and construction of up to two Flight 0 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).

One of the designs, the Lockheed design, is a high-speed semi-planing monohull. The other, the General Dynamics design, is a slender, stabilized monohull, more commonly known as a trimaran. Each of these meet the performance requirements of the top-level requirements documents and achieve objective levels in several key performance parameters.

Both designs achieve sprint speeds of over 40 knots as well as long-range transit distances of over 3,500 miles. The sea frames of each design can accommodate the equipment and crews of the focus mission packages and effectively launch and recover and control the vehicles for extended periods of time in required sea states. The methods by which they launch and recover both aircraft and waterborne craft are different in the two designs, and the treatment of re-configurable internal volume in the two ships are quite different.

The Navy has discussed up to 60 ships, roughly up to $12 billion. Flight 0 would consist of at least twelve or possibly thirteen ships. A Lockheed-Martin Industry Team and a General Dynamics Industry team were each to initially build two ships with follow-on deliveries pending final acquisition strategy for the LCS program. As of mid-2006 the Navy wanted to procure 7 DDG-1000s, 19 CG(X)s, and 55 LCSs.

According to the DOT&E, the accelerated acquisition timeline for LCS left very little time to apply any lessons learned from the construction/operational testing of Flight 0 ships to Flight 1 hull and mission package designs. The two Flight 0 hulls were different designs and their construction schedules overlap. Hull #1 was to be delivered approximately nine months prior to hull #2. The final design of hull #3, the first Flight 1 ship, was to start a few months after delivery of hull #1 and prior to the delivery of hull #2.

Upon completion of LCS 1 and 2, Navy intended to conduct an operational assessment based on a variety of critical factors. Incorporating lessons learned from the operational assessment, Navy would hold a full and open competition to select a single design for procurement in FY10. Future seaframes will include a government-furnished, open architecture combat system. The LCS Program Office will be given the resources to provide intense oversight of these construction contracts, providing rapid and detailed visibility at every step.

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a small specialised variant of the DD(X) family of future surface combat ships. LCS complements, but does not replace, the capabilities of DD(X) and CG(X). The Littoral Combat Ship will take advantage of the newest generation hull form and will have modularity and scalability built in. It focuses on mission capabilities, affordability, and life cycle costs.

The LCS is an entirely new breed of U.S. Navy warship. A fast, agile, and networked surface combatant, LCS's modular, focused-mission design will provide Combatant Commanders the required warfighting capabilities and operational flexibility to ensure maritime dominance and access for the joint force. LCS will operate with focused-mission packages that deploy manned and unmanned vehicles to execute missions as assigned by Combatant Commanders.

LCS will also perform Special Operations Forces (SOF) support, high-speed transit, Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIO), Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), and Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection (AT/FP). While complementing capabilities of the Navy's larger multi-mission surface combatants, LCS will also be networked to share tactical information with other Navy aircraft, ships, submarines, and joint units.

Secretary of the Navy Gordon England described this new ship as "a small, fast, maneuverable, and relatively inexpensive member of the DD(X) family of ships, which began construction in FY 2005. The goal is to develop a platform that can be fielded in relatively large numbers to support a wide range of joint missions, with reconfigurable mission modules to assure access to the littorals for our Navy forces in the face of threats from surface craft, submarines, and mines."

LCS will transform naval operations in the littorals: The littoral battlespace requires focused capabilities in greater numbers to assure access against asymmetrical threats. The LCS is envisioned to be a networked, agile, stealthy surface combatant capable of defeating anti-access and asymmetric threats in the littorals. This relatively small, high-speed combatant will complement the U.S. Navy's Aegis Fleet, DD(X) and CG(X) by operating in environments where it is less desirable to employ larger, multi-mission ships. It will have the capability to deploy independently to overseas littoral regions, remain on station for extended periods of time either with a battle group or through a forward-basing arrangement and will be capable of underway replenishment. It will operate with Carrier Strike Groups, Surface Action Groups, in groups of other similar ships, or independently for diplomatic and presence missions. Additionally, it will have the capability to operate cooperatively with the U.S. Coast Guard and Allies.

LCS will be a "Network-Centric," Advanced Technology Ship: The LCS will rely heavily on manned and unmanned vehicles to execute assigned missions and operate as part of a netted, distributed force. In order to conduct successful combat operations in an adverse littoral environment, it will employ technologically advanced weapons, sensors, data fusion, C4ISR, hullform, propulsion, optimal manning concepts, smart control systems and self-defense systems.

LCS will be a Modular Ship. The platform will support mine warfare, anti-submarine warfare and anti-surface boat modules. The LCS concept is presently being defined and is envisioned to be an advanced hullform employing open systems architecture modules to undertake a number of missions and to reconfigure in response to changes in mission, threat, and technology.

Primary missions are those that ensure and enhance friendly force access to littoral areas. Access-focused missions include the following primary missions:

  • Anti-surface warfare (ASuW) against hostile small boats
  • Mine Counter Measures (MCM)
  • Littoral Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), and may include the following secondary missions
  • Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR)
  • Homeland Defense / Maritime Intercept
  • Special Operation Forces support
  • Logistic support for movement of personnel and supplies.

The mission packages are not included in the basic LCS ship cost, but are paid for separately. The ships were projected in early 2007 to cost between $300 million and $400 million.

There was initially some interest in LCS as a possible candidate for future U.S. Coast Guard applications as part of the service's Integrated Deepwater System, as well as potential export opportunities. LCS will be a "small, fast, affordable ship": Speed and agility will be critical for efficient and effective conduct of the littoral missions. The LCS must be capable of operating at low speeds for littoral mission operations, transit at economical speeds, and high-speed sprints, which may be necessary to avoid/prosecute a small boat or submarine threat, conduct intercept operations over the horizon, or for insertion or extraction missions.

The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) was designed to achieve a different naval warfare mission than the Coast Guard multi-mission Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). The LCS is designed as a sprinter. It has high speed and a short range, and is designed to take on various naval warfare mission modules. The concept of operations for the OPC is different. It isn't a sprinter. The Deepwater system delivers speed with its off-board vehicles (armed helo, VUAVs, LRI, and SRP). The OPC needs the ability to remain on station for extended periods of time and have a greater range than the LCS. Deepwater has partnered with the Navy in regards to the LCS to share useful information, identify risk mitigations to new technology, and to ensure commonality where it is practicable and cost effective.

One of the primary, focused missions of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) will be littoral ASW. The LCS will be capable of carrying unmanned air, surface and undersea vehicles and other sensors that complement the substantial ASW capabilities planned for DD(X) and the follow on Advanced Cruiser (CG(X)). Revolutionary advances in propulsion, materials, and hull forms are being incorporated into transformational design concepts for the LCS. It will have superior speed, maneuverability, sea keeping, signature reduction and payload modularity to perform focused or special missions in the littorals.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert assured members of the Senate Armed Services (SASC) Committee 27 March 2014 on the survivability of the littoral combat ship (LCS). Alongside Secretary Ray Mabus the two defended the need for 52 small surface combatants in front of the SASC and in front of media following their testimony. The secretary emphasized how LCS costs have been driven down and Greenert responded to questions on LCS survivability.

"Survivability is a broader term than we're giving it credit for," said Greenert. "There are three elements to survivability." The three elements of survivability are: susceptibility, the ability for a ship to defend itself; vulnerability, the effects of an initial casualty on a ship; and lastly recoverability, the ability for a ship to conduct damage control, said the admiral.

Responding to U.S. Sen. Carl Levin and media, Greenert explained that LCS meets or exceeds the same standards of those elements of survivability and recoverability. He said the attributes of survivability in the LCS is comparable to frigates and better than the ships it is designed to replace such as mine countermeasures (MCM) and patrol craft (PC).

The defense budget proposal for 2015 cut the littoral combat ship (LCS) procurement from a planned 55 to 32 ships. The FY2015 budget request includes money to look at options for a future small surface combatant. Whether it's a frigate or an up-gunned LCS remains to be seen, but the Navy would re-look at would be done with additional ships beyond the 32 LCS that would be built.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said in a 24 February 2014 briefing: "I am concerned that the Navy is relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long-term goals for ship numbers. Therefore, no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward. With this decision, the LCS line will continue beyond our five-year budget plan with no interruptions.

"The LCS was designed to perform certain missions -- such as mine sweeping and anti-submarine warfare -- in a relatively permissive environment. But we need to closely examine whether the LCS has the independent protection and firepower to operate and survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific. If we were to build out the LCS program to 52 ships, as previously planned, it would represent one- sixth of our future 300-ship Navy. Given continued fiscal restraints, we must direct shipbuilding resources toward platforms that can operate in every region and along the full spectrum of conflict.

"Additionally, at my direction, the Navy will submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate. I've directed the Navy to consider a completely new design, existing ship designs, and a modified LCS. These proposals are due to me later this year in time to inform next year's budget submission."

The Department of Defense reduced the purchase of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) due to "frequent critical system failures" and being "unsurvivable" in combat. Policy changes were announced in January 2014 by Deputy Secretary of Defense Christine Fox after the Pentagon received its final fiscal year 2015 budget guidance from the White House. The Navy was initially supposed to purchase 52 LCSs, but due to technical problems and budget cuts the fleet will now receive only 32 warships. Three of them were already in use, and the fourth was due to commission in April 2014. An additional 20 were under construction or on order with the two contractors, Lockheed Martin and Austal USA.

On 11 December 2014, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that he had accepted the Navy's recommendation to build a new small surface combatant (SSC) ship based on upgraded variants of the LCS. The new SSC aims to offer improvements in ship lethality and survivability, delivering enhanced naval combat performance at an affordable price. Hagel directed the Navy to assume a total buy of 52 LSCs and SSCs, with the final number and mix dependent on future fleet requirements, final procurement costs, and overall Navy resources.

The more lethal and survivable SSC proposes to meet a broader set of missions across the range of military operations, and address the Navy's top war-fighting priorities. It will feature an improved air defense radar; air defense decoys; a new, more effective electronic warfare system; an over-the-horizon anti-ship missile; multi-function towed array sonar; torpedo defenses; and additional armor protection.

Production of the new SSC was slated to begin no later than fiscal year 2019, with no gap between production of the last LCS and the first SSC. A significant advantage to this approach is the ability to enhance naval combat performance by back-fitting select SSC improvements to the LCS fleet.

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