Navy Gets its Holiday Wish and Buys Both LCS Classes

So it happened, late yesterday the Navy gave out a pair of $430 million contracts for Lockheed and Austal to start work on the first two ships of what should be a split buy of 20 Littoral Combat Ships from both companies.

The service is kicking off the dual buy with a $430 million, fixed-price contract to each company to build one apiece of their ships, followed by an option for both firms to build nine more ships through 2015 for a total of roughly $7.1 billion, according to a Navy announcement. Congress must appropriate cash for the remaining nine ships in each of those five years.

Lockheed makes the Freedom Class LCS while Austal USA makes the Independence Class vessel.

The sea service revealed its hopes to buy both classes of LCS last month, claiming that competition between Lockheed and Austal had resulted in both company’s bids being far lower than what the Navy had expected. Navy officials insist that the split buy will save $2.9 billion over the next five years and allow for the purchase of 10 ships from each class versus 19 of a single class as previously planned.

Money saved by the dual-buy will now be redirected into other shipbuilding programs, according to the Navy.

This leaves a couple of big questions. First, what happens if the Navy decides it wants to install a common combat suite aboard both classes of LCS someday? How much will such a retrofit cost?

Navy and Lockheed officials have so far worked to downplay concerns about this.

During a Senate hearing earlier this month to discuss the deal, Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top weapons buyer told lawmakers that the only potential upgrade to the two classes combat suites would be a roughly $20 million project to install new sensor systems since the weapons are the same on both classes.

“The current acquisition strategy does not call for the change-up of the combat system,” said Stackley during the Dec. 14 hearing. “However, on the sensor side, we have contemplated moving toward a common sensor. . . In total, the cost of bringing a new sensor, that’s common for LCS and with the rest of the fleet is about $20 million non-recurring and about $2 million a ship.”

He added the Navy “could consider” upgrading the ships’ software systems and digital control panels someday but that it has no estimate for what that would cost.

Total lifecycle costs for the ship are “on the order of $82-83 billion,” according to Stackley.

Yesterday, a Lockheed official said the Freedom Class ships are already fairly common with the rest of the fleet.

Paul Lemmo, vice president of Lockheed’s mission systems and sensors division told reporters during a Dec. 29 teleconference that the Lockheed ships come with the same command and control suite found on the sea service’s Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers.

“Certainly, for our part, we believe that we’ve offered a very cost effective solution from a combat systems standpoint,” said Lemmo.

Still, “we follow the Navy’s lead and if they would like us to move down that path we’d certainly be open to that,” said Lemmo, referring to the idea of building a common combat suite for the two ships.

There’s also the question of what’s happening with the ships’ mission modules which are supposedly not working out as planned.

One also has to wonder if this will set a precedent for the Air Force’s decade-long KC-X effort to replace its oldest KC-135 tankers? Will lawmakers use the Navy’s decision as ammo to try to force the air service into splitting the $35 billion, 179-plane KC-X buy between rivals EADS and Boeing?

The Air Force isn’t too keen on that idea, saying that splitting the KC-X buy would likely drive costs up because it would reduce the total number of tankers built by each company per year.

  • prometheusgonewild

    While weapon commonality is an issue, I actually think keeping as many hands in the pot will promote real competition. In the long run this may save us a great deal of money.
    Another consideration is, if we actually get into a big conflict, it is best we have more ship facilities up and running.
    If we fall behind on production ability, then get into a real fight, the war will go for years, not months.
    I may be preaching to the quire, but politicians never want to admit the next large conflict is coming…. I just hope this century has learned from the past one.
    But probably not…..

    • Chops

      From the continual reports of weapons’ purchases from other countries I think that we haven’t learned a thing from the wars of the 20th century -except be ready for the next one.

    • DualityOfMan

      If we want them to compete, we should pick the best one now. Because if we buy 20 and 10 are good, 10 bad, we’ve got 10 bad ships.

  • brian

    These ships are only supposed to last 15 years. They shouldn’t even care if they can be upgraded. I am only interested what the results will be from a trimaran hull from a regular one in actual operations. This will be telling if its worth adopting on a larger scale for other naval vassals.

  • Joe Schmoe


    Might as well burn the money just for the good video, better use than waste it on these money sinkers.

    I mean is the Navy just plain insane or are some guys getting serious kickbacks for these deals?

    • Greg

      Everyone is an expert huh?

      • Joe Schmoe

        Well then, let me repeat what I said last time:

        “The entire idea was stupid.

        Do you think it’s rational to put 700 million (!) dollar thin-hulled stealth boats next to shore where they can be freaking seen and shelled from?

        I mean dear god, a single guy with a 0.50 cal Barret and Raufoss rounds can put this ship out of commission (aim for the critical systems). God forbid there is a tank with HE shells.

        And the only armament this carries (assuming they even invent it) is a teeny cannon and (maybe) a missile system with the strength of 155mm shells, but in a very limited amount.

        Oh, and it carries a chopper.

        This is the golden example of military waste.”

      • steve

        Doesn’t really take an expert Greg. Were you really thinking that these two overpriced turkeys are what the navy needs? Experimentation is great, but the navy needs ships that can fight. After all, that is what a navy is (supposedly) for.

  • Mastro

    I’m not as negative as some- I believe the Navy is experimenting bit here. The Trimarane design is just too interesting to pass up- even if the aluminum hull has problems.

    They did it with the Brooke/Garcia classes and did it with the first aircraft carriers.

    Th sticking point is the cost…

  • Chops

    I have a stupid idea–how about upgrading the sensors,comms, and software, so that they interface with the rest of the fleet before they build the ships–or is it cheaper to wait till they build it then charge another 20mil. 2yrs. after it’s in service and take it out of service to do it when we may need it during a crisis?

  • Musson

    You guys sound like someone took away your Battleships.

    “Those dang carriers can never stand up to ships of the line!”

  • Justin H

    Glad to see they went down from $600Million to $400Million.

    • steve

      Same here, and another 150-200million off would get them to somewhere near reasonable IMO.

  • Robert Colt

    I am kind of the fence on this design or i should say designs.

    The ships are suppose to be designed to do multi-missions with module that suppose to be fitted prior to its mission. Support sea, anti-submarine, etc.

    However, their aluminum design makes me nervous. I served and follow defense developments. This design highly vunerable to ship fire if it should take damage from enemy fire that get through its anti-missile defenses.

    To me, I believe and the think Navy is trying rush something to production to keep the ship yards busy. The high-speed catamaran impressed the Navy, such as the Westpac Express. I think that part of reason why their trying get type of ships into commission.

    Wish the design and production would keep sky rocketing and keep the Navy building what it needs and wants to construct. LSC is stop gap as far I’m concern. Burke DDGs are only major Surface Combantant in mass-production. Their not suppose to be operating close to the shore like a old time Battleship. LCS despite being under armed and ill-equipped to handle the Fast Attack Craft, is only thing we have in pipe line that survived to get into production.

    • Joe Schmoe

      So it is better for the American taxpayer to waste money on an extremely flawed project rather than to cut our losses and make a ship actually suited to a combat enviroment?

  • joneys

    great – two types o little crappy ships rather than just one. The chicomms are building carriers and F-22 like fighter and we are building this junk. Welcome to barry obamas plan to cut America down to size…

  • Rick

    This is what you call a “Dumb and Dumber” decision! The only way they can top this stupid-ness is to NOT build a new frigate, then ADM Rughead’s new name will be ADM Dumber-er.

  • Tad

    I think these would be good vessels for the Coast Guard. Perhaps after the Deepwater fiasco they will consider these.

  • STemplar

    Be nice if something else worked, was on time or on budget in the program. I suppose they float, that’s something…..

    • Rick

      They won’t float very long when the shooting starts :-O

  • Musson

    Multi-mission small ships have always been an essential part of Naval warfare. Gunboats, PT Boats and Destroyer Escorts have all served with distinction.

    There is a need for something bigger than an Elco 80′ and smaller than a Destroyer. Especially since today’s Destroyers are the size Cruisers used to be.

    • Rick

      yes but these “little” ships are bigger than frigates and most frigate have 3″ or 5″ guns, AAW and ASurW weapons AND helos AND good radar and ESM AND they are build tough AND they have redundancy AND….

      these “little” ships have nothing

  • Lance

    Well if China has ts new Anti fleet missiles then a Newer stealth ship may be the need to counter it.

  • ziv

    Rick, this ship isn’t going to be doing work a Burke is needed for. The 57 mm can fire up to 220 shots a minute and can be used against both surface and air targets. Plus the ability to move at over 40 knots is huge. Plus LCS-2 can project a mechanized company+ to a basic harbor. The ferry function won’t be used often, but you can bet the marines are looking into it in the Pacific, where the HSV catamrans can carry the better part of a battalion and more than 600 tons of cargo and marines. The LCS will develop over the next few years and eventually they will find a replacement for the NLOS, though that is a huge cluster-f*** to overcome.

  • Krotch ScroteGuzzle

    How exactly is this a “waste of money” when the ships are built here in the US and the money goes straight into the economy? Buying an off the shelf design from Europe or Australia, as some suggest, would be an actual waste of money.

  • Justin H

    The cost per ship? Just $450 million, at least $200 million below the cost of each of the four prototypes. But to get those low, low prices, the ships will be built to commercial, rather than military, structural standards — meaning they’re lighter and less blast- and fire-resistant. Indeed, the Navy does not plan to subject the LCS to traditional blast-testing, “due to the damage that would be sustained by the ship,” the Congressional Research Service points out. – DangerRoom

    Are we really that cheap now, that we have to build warship to commercial structural standards?! If something is 3-4 times overbudget though, CANCEL IT!

  • leesea

    Wrong about construction standards. Both LCS are built to BOTH Naval Vessel Rules and ABS High Speed Naval Craft Code. The insertion of NVR post facto in the first four ship designs is said to increased their build costs.
    The LSC are lighter because the USN specified a high speed ship which consequently requires less hull weight to go fast.. Danger Room doesn’t know much about naval ship building.

    LSC program is not going to be cancelled, it might in 5 or 10 years be truncated.