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Flexibility and Affordability In an Age of Austerity

Joe North
Vice President of Littoral Ship Systems,
Lockheed Martin Mission Systems and Sensors


In late September, the newly appointed Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert gave his sailing directions to the U.S. Navy, outlining the mission and guiding principles that will support his vision over the next 10 to 15 years. That vision includes new technologies, such as unmanned systems, remote sensors and autonomous vehicles. But it also includes the Navy’s larger assets, with a strong commitment to “sustain our fleet capability through effective maintenance, timely modernization and sustained production of proven ships and aircraft.”

In this new era of austerity, where programs are being delayed or scaled back dramatically, this part of Greenert’s vision could prove challenging. With deep budget cuts looming, the Navy and other military branches might not receive the necessary resources to acquire new platforms and modernize the fleet. Despite the doom and gloom, this is also a time of opportunity. As operational concepts are redefined within this cost-conscious framework, industry can help the government maximize use of its existing assets.

One of those assets is the littoral combat ship (LCS), a platform the Navy has ordered 20 of so far, with eventual plans to acquire a total of 55 ships. The two prime contractors, Lockheed Martin and Austal USA, have each secured orders for four ships, with options for eight more each, totaling 24. Both companies have already delivered the first-in-class vessels, USS Freedom and USS Independence.

How is the LCS platform unlike ships of the past? The first difference is in flexibility. Both the Lockheed and Austal ships use interchangeable mission packages, which include plug-and-play systems, to achieve mission requirements. Whether the craft is being deployed to perform surface, anti-submarine or mine warfare, it can be reconfigured quickly from nearly any port in the world. As missions and threats evolve, new warfighting capabilities can be affordably inserted using open architecture design interfaces on the ship and in the mission packages.

Another difference is accessibility. With a draft of about 13 feet, the LCS platform will be able to access twice as many ports as other warships. This means the ship can be located anywhere globally, receive new orders, stop in a nearby port and get reconfigured in less than two days for the next mission.

In theater, the LCS can act as a hub, tying together sea, air and land assets. There are distinct advantages—strategically and economically—for military forces that will use LCSs, as the platform can be integrated with several programs of record already proven in operational environments. The LCS is interoperable with air support, including MH-60R, P-3 and MQ-8 Fire Scout.

If we further explore the anti-submarine warfare mission package example, here’s a potential scenario illustrating how it will work in theater. Imagine a nation is attacked in a conflict over contested land, and they pick up intelligence indicating a submarine threat is imminent. An LCS might receive orders to interdict, and the ship would be reconfigured for anti-submarine warfare and deployed in a matter of days. Once in position, the LCS would use its offboard assets—including an MH-60R, which carries an active dipping sonar, sonobuoys and heavyweight torpedoes—to neutralize the threat.

The approach Lockheed has taken with the LCS supports the Navy’s mission of protecting maritime freedom and aligns with Navy’s leadership goals. We understand the demands of budget cuts, and we think the LCS, which is already in the arsenal, demonstrates our focus on affordability. We’re doing this by looking across our portfolio, taking what’s already been developed and including proven capabilities where they are most valuable. By delivering our commitments and integrating proven programs, including the modularity to quickly integrate and deploy future mission packages, we support the Navy and the challenges it faces, affordably and effectively.

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