Defense Media Network

LCS Program Becomes a Tale of Two Seaframes

The recent LCS contract award means both the USS Freedom (LCS 1) and USS Independence (LCS 2) variants will continue to be built for the foreseeable future.

The two LCS shipbuilding teams are currently building their second ships with lessons learned from the lead ships incorporated into the designs. According to a Navy statement, “Both shipbuilders have significantly improved performance over their lead ships as a result of design stability and through improvements in facilities and production efficiencies.”

LCS 3 (Fort Worth), under construction at Marinette Marine in Marinette, Wisc., was recently launched on Dec. 4, 2010. LCS 4 (Coronado) is under construction – about 45 percent complete – at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala.

Both ships are expected to be delivered in 2012.

LCS 2 at speed

The littoral combat ship Independence (LCS 2) under way during builder’s trials. Photo courtesy of Dennis Griggs General Dynamics

The ships under contract represent the “seaframe.” The LCS modular design allows the seaframe to be tailored specifically for the mission at hand, as determined by the combatant commanders.

The combat capability resides in the mission packages for each of the focused missions of anti-submarine warfare, mine warfare and anti-surface warfare. Mission packages include mission modules, mission specialists and aviation detachments optimized for one of those roles.

Both the seaframes and mission modules began development and procurement at the same time, but delays in the seaframes have had an impact on the mission packages.

“Over time what happened was on the front end of the program the delay to the ship construction schedules caused, frankly, Congress to slow down the mission packages. We had gotten to a point where they’re out of sync,” said Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley at a Dec. 29 press briefing.

RAM firing aboard LCS

A Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) is launched from the littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) during a live-fire exercise. Freedom was participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2010, the world’s largest international maritime exercise. Both variants of the LCS use RAM for self-defense against aircraft and anti-ship missiles, LCS 1 through an 18-cell launcher tied into the ship’s combat system, and LCS 2 through the autonomous 11-cell SeaRAM unit. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early

Today there are mission detachments for each of the missions, and they have been testing their equipment and procedures for eventual deployment with LCS.

“We believe that the rate at which we’re procuring the mission packages is appropriate for the rate at which we’re procuring the ships. Then in the next couple of years we’re going through the operational testing for each of those mission packages with the two designs,” Stackley said.

Mission packages can be installed upon either seaframe.

Most recently, the first phase of shipboard mine countermeasure mission package (MCM MP) testing was completed aboard USS Independence (LCS 2), with the installation and removal of all the mission modules and systems, including removable mission equipment, so the Navy can continue to the next phase of developmental testing in 2011.

“I am extremely pleased with the outcome of this event,” said Capt. John Ailes, Littoral Combat Ship Mission Modules program manager. “The successful integration of the full MCM mission package on USS Independence gives us great confidence as we enter developmental testing.”

When the Navy decided at one point to select one of the seaframes, it also announced that it would decide on which of the two combat systems it would procure for the class. Presently, each variant has a different combat system. The Lockheed Martin variant features Combatts 21, based on its Aegis system. The General Dynamics team offered the Independence with a version of the Tacticos system.

30 mm gun firing aboard LCS 1

The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) fires one of its Mk-46 30mm chain guns during a live-fire exercise off the coast of Kauai, Hawaii. Freedom was participating in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2010, the world’s largest international maritime exercise. Both LCS variants use the same 30 mm and 57 mm gun systems. U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early

“We do have two different combat systems today, and that’s where we are in terms of we procured two of each design so that’s a starting point or a baseline for an assessment,” said Stackley. “An important consideration is we have the mission package and the combat system. So the mission package is common. When you talk about the combat system, now you’re getting down into a subset of the total ship system. Within the total ship system we break it down into a couple of different categories. You’ve got weapon sensors, and then command and decision are your principal categories. The weapon systems on these two different designs are largely common. Both have the same gun (57mm), both go into [the Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM)]. So weapon system side, very common.”

“Now you’re down to sensors and command and decision. On the sensor side we have in fact asked for options with these proposals to go to a common sensor and we’re evaluating those options, but at this point in time have not made a decision to incorporate that change,” Stackley said.

“On the command decision side, now you’re into software, displays, and processors,” he said. “They’re both designed to open standards, which provides tremendous flexibility for us going forward, but we don’t have a drive today to change C&D for either design.”

“In terms of the cost for maintaining two separate combat systems, that’s been looked at as early as 2006 and we’ve got subsequent data in terms of life cycle cost estimates that pretty much confirm that earlier assessment, and then another look this year prior to going forward, proposing a dual award. It all points towards about a one percent premium associated with those elements of the life cycle that are particular to the dual design. Those are things like software maintenance, configuration management, in-service engineering, and then the particulars associated with crew training in and around that,” Stackley said.

The Navy has already paid for a lot of the non-recurring costs associated with delivering the first two ships of each design, Stackley said. “That all traces back to the dollars that were described either in hearings or previous discussions with some of the professional staff regarding what’s the cost on the life cycle side. The cost on the life cycle side when you put into net present value so you can do an apples-to-apples comparison between procurement savings and then the added cost on the life cycle side is about $300 million in net present value.”


Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...