17 April 2015

Tight Suchedule for US Frigate Acquisition

17 April 2015

The upgraded version of the LCS-1 Freedom class (image : USNavy)

The decision to modify the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) to become a frigate means that industry has a short timeframe in which to develop a design for the US Navy.

It is also expected that the new frigate will each cost about $100 million more than the LCS multi-buy unit, up from earlier industry estimates of $75 million. It is expected that the frigate will cost upwards of $600 million per unit in FY19 when construction is due to start.

Speaking at Sea-Air-Space 2015, Frigate programme manager, Capt Dan Brintzinghoffer said PMS 515 has been working with staff from the Chief of Naval Operations over the past two months to work out what the requirements differences are going to be between the first 32 LCS ships and the remaining 20 frigates.

The upgraded version of the LCS-1 Freedom class (image : USNavy)

He said that the timeframe to run a competition is very tight: ‘You have to be ready with a technical data package and the request for proposal has to be detailed enough in the FY17 timeframe to be able to give to industry to come back with either modifications, changes, questions and then be able to proceed.’

In reality, Brintzinghoffer said that there is just 18-20 months to pick and choose what the designs are going to look like. The navy has to have very well defined requirements set and systems selection completed to allow the GD/Austal and LM/Marinette teams to do the detailed design and meet the FY19 construction timeline.

By introducing the frigate as an LCS flight upgrade rather than a new acquisition means that the process can be speeded up.

Original LCS-1 Freedom class, displacement: 3,000 tonnes full load and 115 m in length with endurance 21 days, max speed 47 knots and range 6,500 km at 18 knots (photo : DID)

‘This is not a new start because of the option that was chosen to make a modified LCS the solution for the remaining 20 ships we were able to go ahead and use the existing acquisition and requirements documentation in order to keep the process moving,’ he said.

The reason for continuing with a modified LCS is to keep a hot production line that will reduce the costs of the frigate manufacture but also because Brintzinghoffer said that competition between the two industrial teams has brought LCS costs down – which is why they will run a competition for the frigate. However the acquisition strategy is not set so it is unclear if the 20 frigates will be sourced from one team or both.

To be classified as a frigate means the ship needs to have a multi-mission role and will therefore have permanently fitted anti-submarine (ASW) and surface warfare (SuW) systems, some taken from the existing LCS mission packages (MPs) other capabilities new – such as an over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missile.

Original LCS-1 Freedom class (image : shipbucket)

‘We are working through the process right now of selecting what the requirements are for that missile and how we are going about procuring that missile,’ Brintzinghoffer said.

‘In order to meet the timeline to keep the hot production line moving, which is what makes the ships affordable, we can’t go off and have a five-year development programme, so the intent is to take things that already at a very high technology readiness level and then do the integration of those onto a platform.

‘So in reality a relatively small level of effort compared to doing a missile development programme – that is not the intent it is to lay out the requirements, see what is out there that meets those and make the selection,’ he added.

LCS International Content (image : DID)

There are set of design changes to go through as part of a detailed design of the frigate, the number of missiles are yet to be decided but Brintzinghoffer wants as many as possible that the weight of the ship will allow. Using Harpoon as a baseline he is confident that more the four missiles can be added.

Some modular capability will remain on the frigates. The Hellfire Longbow missile on the existing LCS SUW MP will be modular along with the variable depth sonar that is part of the existing ASW MP. It will be a capability that can be added to the frigate to increase its ASW capability and join the permanently fitted torpedo defence system and multifunction towed array sonar.

The navy wants to avoid major modifications as this will drive the cost up and cause timeline lags that will also increase the cost of the ship. But there will have to be changes to reduce the weight and allow the new systems to be fitted.

LCS with Israeli content (image : DID)

Brintzinghoffer said there are already some weight allowances because the frigate will not have the Mine Countermeasures (MCM) equipment such as the RMMV and supporting equipment such as cranes, which will save 25t already.

‘There are a lot of those opportunities there are reduceability things that we can do. We can modify the way the hull is laid out in terms of where structure is set so we can remove weight and make it cheaper to produce because it requires less man hours, so we are taking advantages of all of those,’ he added.


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