After authorizing construction of at least 20 littoral combat ships, the Navy may soon dramatically change course on its decade-long, multi-billion dollar experiment to build a relatively inexpensive surface combatant.
The LCS program has suffered severe criticism for being under-gunned and thin-skinned, outstripping cost estimates and experiencing performance issues on initial deployments. It has also enjoyed a dogged defense by both uniformed and civilian Navy officials.
But in April the Navy released two requests for information for technologies to improve LCS designs or replace them outright. The first asked for existing, mature design concepts for totally new ships. The second solicited systems and technologies at the component level that could be readily included in future ships.
Joe North, who heads littoral combat systems for Lockheed Martin, said, "I bet you it woke up the entire planet. I bet you every shipyard across Europe, which is very stagnant right now ... was ready to react ahead of that. The Navy probably got a lot delivered."
Lockheed is one of two incumbent producers of the LCS. It has contracts to build up to 10 of its traditional monohull Freedom-class ships to be included in a fleet with Austal USA's futuristic triple-hulled Independence-class vessels.
A report from the small surface combatant task force, that will review industry responses was due July 31. The document will outline alternatives to the service's ongoing littoral combat ship program, including modifying the two existing LCS designs or buying a new ship.
Because of the tight schedule, John Burrow, executive director of Marine Corps Systems Command and appointed task force director, was unavailable for comment. However, Burrow outlined the IZFI process during a recorded roundtable with reporters in April.
"Why are we going out to industry? We want to collect their ideas and thoughts that they certainly have because ... it will give us a better idea, I think, of what is technically feasible in the timeframes we are talking about," he said.
"It will give our team a good idea of what the risks are and help understand the cost associated with many of the systems and concepts that are going to be provided to us," he added.
The request for information, which has since been made public, states the Navy is "interested in market information pertinent to a future small surface combatant (including modified littoral combat ships)."
The Navy called for input from "experienced shipbuilders, ship design agents and large system integrators on how their ship design supports the roles...