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Strategic Defense Guidance

Posted: December 12, 2014 1:58 PM

Modified LCS Selected for Follow-On Small Surface Combatant

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLINTGON, Va. — Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has approved an upgrade of the Navy’s littoral combat ship (LCS) designs to fill the role of the Small Surface Combatant (SSC).

In a Dec. 11 briefing to reporters at the Pentagon, ADM Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, and Sean J. Stackley, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, announced the selection and detailed the upgrades that will be made to both LCS designs to increase their offensive and defensive capabilities and survivability.

The existing Freedom- and Independence-class designs of LCS will be upgraded with an improved 3-D radar, electronic warfare system, decoy system and signature management (with an advanced degaussing system), and increased armor of selected spaces. The new ships will be fitted with an over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missile (SSM), 25mm chain guns, the Multi-Function Towed Array, and a torpedo defense and countermeasures system. The Freedom design will have its Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) System replaced with the SeaRAM system that already is on the Independence class.

Greenert said the SSM will be in the same class as a Harpoon Block II+ missile. The electronic warfare system is envisioned as “SEWIP-Lite,” he said, referring to the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program for larger warships.

The SSC will retain the option of using the LCS surface warfare (SUW) and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) mission packages. The SUW package includes the Mk50 gun system with the Mk46 30mm guns and the ship-launched Longbow Hellfire missile, as well as an MH-60 helicopter with Hellfire missiles, the MQ-8C Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle and two 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats. The ASW package will include a variable-depth sonar and MH-60R helicopter-launched ASW weapons, including torpedoes.

The SSC also will retain the Mk110 57mm gun. Stackley said that upgrading to a 76mm gun would have been of marginal benefit at increased cost.

The LCS mine-countermeasures (MCM) mission package will not be part of the SSC’s portfolio. Greenert said the MCM role will limited to the existing LCS designs.

He said it was too early in the program to determine whether the new ship will be called a frigate or some other designation.

Stackley said the ship also would be reduced in weight despite the addition of the new weapons and sensors by targeted weight reduction initiatives.

He said the Navy plans to procure 20 SSCs to complete the requirement for 52 small surface combatants. Production of 32 LCSs will continue as planned.

The Navy’s acquisition strategy will be presented to Frank Kendall, the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics by May 1. SSC design funding will be included in the 2016 budget request. The SSC program is scheduled to begin with the 2017 budget with procurement to begin in 2019 to succeed in stride the last of the LCS production.

Greenert said the requirement for the SSC has been validated in consultations with the geographic combatant and fleet commanders. He also said the SSC team looked at 18 U.S. and foreign ship designs, and 2,300 combat systems before it settled on a modified LCS as the right blend of capability and cost.

Greenert said that a vertical-launch system for missiles was considered for the SSC but rejected.

The SSC upgrades will add $60 million to $75 million to the cost of the ship, a less than 20 percent increase over the $360 million cost of an LCS plus $25 million to $28 million in government-furnished equipment.

Stackley said that the current competition between the LCS builders will be preserved but that the new systems for the SSC will be competed on a case-by-case basis. Most of the systems are in service on other platforms already. The SSC program also will include forward- and back-fitting some of the new systems to the LCS fleet.

“Back-fit is very doable,” he said. The Navy will provide to Kendall by May a detailed assessment of cost and feasibility of back-fits to LCS ships under contract.

“There absolutely will be competition,” he said.” That’s how we drive cost down.”

Stackley also said the mission packages of the LCSs and SSCs “are going to continue to evolve as the threat evolves. … The modular concept still has great value to the Navy.”

The speakers said they are still working on the details of the crew size but envision that any increase will be on the margin, with a possible increase in the ship’s crew but a decrease in mission package detachment personnel.

Stackley said that the applicable congressional committees have been notified of the SSC selection.

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