On January 29th, the U.S. Navy fired the naval officer (a captain),
who was program manager for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. Two weeks
earlier, the navy had halted work on construction of the third LCS ship. This
one is being built by Lockheed-Martin, as was the first one. The
Lockheed-Martin design was supposed to cost about $200 million per ship. But
now the manufacturer says it may cost more than twice that. This is a serious
are actually two different LCS designs. One is a semi-planning monohull from Lockheed-Martin.
The other is a trimaran from General Dynamics. LCS 2 was laid down in late
2005. These are essentially prototypes, and serial procurement will probably
not begin before 2008, when initial design flaws will have been worked out. One
of the two designs may be selected for the rest of the LCS class, or, perhaps,
there will be two sub-types. Ultimately, the Navy hopes to have between 50 and
60 LCSs by the middle of the next decade.
LCS is sort of replacing the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates. These are
4.100 ton ships that would cost about $100 million to build today. The big
difference between the frigates and LCS is the greater use of automation in the
LCS (reducing crew size to 75, versus 300 in the frigates) and larger engines
(giving the LCS a speed of about 90 kilometers an hour, versus 50 for the
frigates.) The LCS also has a large "cargo hold" designed to hold different
"mission packages" of equipment and weapons.
Littoral Combat Ship is, simultaneously, revolutionary, and a throwback. The
final LCS design is to displace about 3,000 tons, with a full load draft of
under ten feet, permitting access to very shallow coastal waters, as well as
rivers. This is where most naval operations have taken place in the past
generation. Max range is 2,700 kilometers. Built using commercial "smartship"
technologies, which greatly reduce personnel requirements, the LCS is expected
to require a crew of about 50 in basic configuration, but will have
accommodations for about 75 personnel. The ship is designed for a variety of
interchangeable modules, which will allow the ships to be quickly reconfigured
for various specialized missions. Crews will also be modularized, so that
specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules.
navy is not happy with the performance of American ship builders. Costs are
rising sharply, quality is down and the admirals can't get satisfactory answers
from the manufacturers. For example, the new class of destroyers, the DDG-1000
class destroyers have also faced ballooning costs, up to as much as $3 billion
per ship, as opposed to planned costs of $800 million. The current Arleigh
Burke-class destroyers only cost $1 billion each.
first of the new Ford-class (CVN-21) aircraft carriers will cost at least $13
billion (including R&D for the entire class). The current Nimitz-class
carriers cost $4.5 billion each. Both classes also require an air wing (48-50
fighters, plus airborne early-warning planes, electronic warfare aircraft, and
anti-submarine helicopters), which costs another $3.5 billion.
navy wants some straight answers, and has gotten shipbuilders attention by
halting work on the LCS and demanding answers.