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Navy “Assessing Alternatives” After Army Cancels NLOS-LS

On May 13, 2010, the Department of Defense announced that it authorized the Army to cancel the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS) and transition management responsibilities for system development and acquisition from the old Future Combat System (FCS) program – currently aligned under Program Executive Office – Integration (PEO I) – to the PEOs that already manage similar systems.

Referring to one of the “Capability Portfolio Reviews” being performed for the Vice Chief of Staff of the Army, the announcement read, in part, “The Precision Fires portfolio review examined the balance of high-end precision munitions and lower-end near-precision munitions. A detailed analysis of alternatives determined that the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (NLOS-LS) does not provide a cost-effective precision fire capability. The Army intends to pursue other capabilities to engage a moving target in all-weather conditions in order to fulfill the operational requirement defined for the NLOS-LS. As a result, the Army concluded NLOS-LS is no longer required; the Secretary of the Army recommended cancellation and the undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics approved and authorized the request.”

In addition to authorizing cancellation of NLOS-LS,  two other precision fire programs are to be cut back: “Additionally, analysis from the portfolio review concluded a reduction in the number of Excalibur and Accelerated Precision Mortar Initiative rounds was also warranted; the Secretary of the Army also recommended approval of these proposed reductions, which the Department approved as well.”

While the Army’s NLOS-LS program cancellation had been anticipated by some, one issue that has remained slightly clouded since mid-May involves impact on the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program.

Specifically, NLOS-LS had been identified as a major component of the LCS Surface Warfare (SUW) mission package. Specifically designed to defeat fast in-shore attack craft, the SUW Mission Package included NLOS-LS as well as 30 mm gun modules. The NLOS-LS medium range surface-to-surface missile module had been scheduled to begin at-sea testing in 2012.

Asked about the impact of the Army cancellation on the Navy plans, a spokesman for the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development & Acquisition responded, “The Navy is assessing a number of alternatives for the Non-Line-of-Sight Launch System (NLOS).  Some alternatives under consideration include proceeding with NLOS without Army participation, utilizing a combination of existing capabilities with surface to surface capability, other medium range surface to surface missile systems and increased airborne armaments.”

“All alternatives will be evaluated for capability, cost, ship impact, ability to meet schedule and benefits or drawbacks to other mission areas,” he stated, adding, “The Navy expects completion of this evaluation late summer 2010.”

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Scott Gourley is a former U.S. Army officer and the author of more than 1,500...

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-188">
    Armando J. Heredia

    It is classically ironic that the poster-child vessel for future combat systems modularity has been hung on it’s own petard. As far back as 2002, detractors and supporters of the LCS both stated that in order for Mission Modularity Framework to be successful, there had to be discipline in the design and deployment of said components. The fact that NLOS was embedded into the seaframe, rather than made a true modular part of the SuW Module, speaks volumes. Contrast that to competing designs like the Danish STANFLEX, and one begins to see how immature the LCS mission module framework really is.

    The Navy was so desparate to get NLOS working to the point that they accepted the launcher in late 2009 without a working all-up PAM round. This month an RFI has been opened by NAVSURWAR to solicit solutions to fit into the Medium Range SSM weapons bays. Time will tell if this is in fact a valid solicitation for more quickly deployed alternatives or will be used as a strawman argument to continue pouring money into a navalized NLOS.

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-189">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    As the old saying goes, we live in interesting times.

    Both LCS contenders have the space for another missile system on board. GD’s Multi Mission Combatant version of their LCS proposes VLS cells up to Mk. 41 size on either side of the deckhouse, and Lockheed Martin’s LCS version also has enough room for Mk. 41 VLS, though it would eat into hangar space. ESSM has an advertised anti-surface ship capability against small, low, fast-moving targets, and you could carry more of them than SM-2s, so we’ll see. Whatever missile becomes a candidate, system compatibility with existing radar and fire control would have to be looked at, too.

    Or the Navy could choose to take over NLOS, or adapt another existing missile.

    li class="comment even thread-even depth-1" id="comment-190">
    Armando J. Heredia

    HASC would like the Navy to take over the program – hence the immediate USD75M transfer from the moment the Army called it DOA. But that amount will not be enough to make the program whole. With this RFI potentially turning into a full-fledged acquisition, it might just bump the per-unit cost to what it would take to put another Burke into the water. We’re only about USD400M short off that mark. A couple of hundred mil here and there, and then you’re talking real money…

    Apart from selection of the replacement, the more vital question is how long will LCS operate without a fully functional SuW module? The platform cannot meet CONOPS as currently envisioned, as all three of the modules are behind schedule. The Navy appears caught with a bunch of oversized, but modern and stealthy gun boats through down-select. In the meantime, SECDEF wants to see more vessels retired earlier or on-time, so the Perrys don’t have much time left on clock…

    li class="comment odd alt thread-odd thread-alt depth-1" id="comment-191">
    Chuck Oldham (Editor)

    Remember when modular meant something like the Spruances? They got a lot of stick because they seemed underarmed by comparison with Soviet escorts, but those nice big spaces in the hull were great for dropping in the newest weapon systems.

    Modularity is great if what you’re dropping into those spaces works. If not, and especially if you’re space constrained, then you’ve limited your options.

    I know all the knocks against the Perrys, from poor hull condition to being manning-intensive, but I sure like what Australia did with theirs.