The Navy is working to resolve concerns about the current littoral combat ship (LCS) program, which includes vessels that are known for their speed but have received criticism for their lack of firepower and lower level of armor, by calling for a new class of warships with amped up combat capabilities, including “sufficient weapons to defend itself.”
According to Loren Thompson, a Lexington Institute defense analyst, “The Navy has decided that speed is less important than having a warship with sufficient weapons to defend itself.”
This has led Navy officials to request concept proposals for a more capable, multi-mission ship design. The vessels would be slower than LCSs, as the increased firepower and armor would add a substantial amount of weight, the Navy hopes they will be more adept in combat scenarios, including attacking other ships, shooting down planes, and being able to handle submarines.
Shipbuilders are being asked to update existing designs to help speed up the acquisition process, as the Navy hopes to build 20 warships with the first two being procured in 2020 and 2021. Conceptual proposals must be submitted next month to meet the aggressive timetable.
Both large and small shipbuilders are expected to through their hats in the ring.
The request for proposals is a marker of the Navy’s attempt to increase the overall size of the fleet, as their current goal is to have 355 ships.
Lessons learned from the LCS program are expected to be addressed in the new designs. Initially, LCS vessels were supposed to be flexible, based on the presence of mission modules that could adjust the capabilities of the ship. But, the modules were delayed and the expense surrounding the once low-cost vessel grew.
Soon after, the Government Accountability Office began to question the survivability of the ships, prompting officials to consider seeking out more robust options.
ABC News reported that the new vessels also need to be affordable, so the Navy is not requesting new technologies in the designs.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the Navy intends to spend, at most, $950 million per ship, though Navy Spokesman Lt. Seth Clarke stated that the target is $800 million per vessel after the first is produced.