Home » Budget Industry » NAVSEA: Affordability Prompted Second Look at LX(R)


NAVSEA: Affordability Prompted Second Look at LX(R)

By:
USS New York (LPD-21) in 2012. US Navy Photo

USS New York (LPD-21) in 2012. US Navy Photo

The Navy’s second look at the requirements and design of its next amphibious warship is walking the line between capability and affordability, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command told reporters Thursday at NAVSEA’s temporary headquarters.

The next generation dock landing ship — LX(R) — is currently working its way through a second Analysis of Alternatives (AoA) process in what NAVSEA chief Vice Adm. William Hilarides calls, “the best ship design conversation we’ve had in a long time inside the government.”

As part of NAVSEA’s “question every requirement,” mantra, the organization is looking at other ways of meeting the requirements outside of the traditional scope of traditional amphibious shipbuilding.

“It’s really making people uncomfortable,” he said.

One example of an idea NAVSEA was using to meet requirement and cost threshold was to build the propulsion system of LX(R) to commercial standards and built an emergency drive system in the front of the ship to meet survivability requirements.

“Go build an armored box in the front, far away from the rest of the propulsion train that has a little eight knot outboard motor that you can lower down after that damage event and still meet the eight knot requirement,” Hilarides said.
“That’s the conversation that’s going on. It’s a very robust one. It’s right on that balance between technical excellence and judiciousness.”

That conversation is set against a tumultuous political climate.

LX(R)’s path forward has been a contentious issue between Congress, the Navy, the Marines and industry. A House proposal included in a current draft of the pending Fiscal Year 2015 defense bill would fund an additional 12th San Antonio-class (LPD-17) amphibious warship in order to keep builder Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) current construction line, “hot.” U.S. Marine Corps commandant Gen. James Amos has stated several times he supports a 12th LPD-17.

Though the Navy is considering variants of the San Antonio class in its AoA, it won’t directly replace the replace the aging Whidbey Island (LSD-41) and Harpers Ferry (LSD-49) landing ship docks with LPD-17s.

“An LPD-17 variant that’s built exactly like the current LPD-17 is off the table,” he said.
“It is unaffordable in the context of the ship we need to replace.”

In March, a collection of retired Marine generals — including former commandant Gen. James Conway and former U.S. Central Command commander Gen. James. Mattis — wrote a letter to Congress in support of a 12th ship as a bridge to LX(R).

However, buying too many more San Antonio-class (LPD-17) ships could leave the Navy and Marines short of its amphibious requirement for 33 ships — a mix of 11 LPD-17s , 11 aircraft centric landing helicopter docks or “big deck amphibs” and 11 of the LX(R), Hilarides said.

“If we buy four or five more [LPD-17s] and we’ll be seven or eight ships short because that’s all we can afford. If you look at the out years shipbuilding [budget],” Hilarides said.

“Doing that a bunch more will lead to a much smaller amphibious force than the nation needs.”

The 11th LPD-17 — Portland (LPD-27) — is estimated to cost around $2.1 billion. The Navy has said it wants to build a ship at about two thirds of the cost — or about $1.4 billion a ship, according to a May Congressional Research Service report.

The original AoA didn’t meet enough of the affordability requirements and was brought back into NAVSEA for a second go around to evaluate the requirements ahead of future design work.

“I would say at this point that we’re in the mode where we’re going to get the requirement right before we start design,” Hilarides said.

  • Rob C.

    Inflation is the real problem. It keep creeping up, causing the service to compromise designs they need for missions ahead. I wish there was away bring it down for the industry while still keep it affordable for armed services. LPD-17 Class has been too costly of design given its initial defects. More commerical based design will just put soldiers and sailors as risk.

  • 2IDSGT

    Start by purchasing the Mistrals that France is building for Russia. This would solve a number of immediate problems at once and provide some more time (perhaps ideas as well) for sorting out the amphib issue to our fiscal satisfaction.

    • Peter Devereau

      We’re not buying cars. Would you want your Army M1’s built by foreign manufacturers? Great for their shipyard workers to keep their skill sets but lousy for Americans Yardworkers who would lose their’s. No thank you. If you want to buy time then service life extension program (SLEP) our existing ships which will add 10-15 years of useful service life to each of them. That makes perfect sense and exactly what a lot of us Marines want to do.

      • 2IDSGT

        No one’s suggesting that we buy more than the two. They wouldn’t even fit that well in our force-structure anyways; but they could still be useful enough for less than $1bil apiece. Add the bonus of Putin not getting additional means to intimidate our allies and I think we come out on top wherein national interests are concerned.

        We’d just have to extract some guarantee from France that they wouldn’t be that stupid again.

        • Secundius

          Why should we buy any at all. France is known for building fine quality ships, especially Warships. Their work ethics are kind of out there, and I mean Way Out There. The only reason Russia is buying from France, is its cheaper for them to do so. When was the last time, anything of quality came off a Russian Shipyard. Their shipyards, like parts of their Navy is in the Crapper. That’s why India and China are buying Russian ships so cheaply.

        • Peter Devereau

          2ID well written about France even though it won’t happen and we totally agree on the bil price tags that benefit industry but kills our Fleet. Sec they do make good boats but Russia will know their operational characteristics as well as we will which puts our Sailors and Marines at a much higher risk. Also can they operate Ospreys?

          Given our track record we won’t see any new gators until 2030’s. We may very well have to use a concept they experimented with in the 80’s where they put a company landing team on a Nimitz. Tag on an LPD and LSD with two carrier strike groups and use the two Americas in sea control mode with an embarked landing force and we’ll have twelve operational groups to cover four ocean operating areas. It could work but again how many Ospreys will fit on a Nimitz with her carrier air wing already on board?

          • Secundius

            You can get a squadron of 10 aboard with no problems, but operate efficiently 5 would be a safe operational number.

          • Peter Devereau

            Mistral class looks pretty small to operate 10 V-22’s and 3-4 H-53’s. I could be wrong and it wouldn’t be the first time. H-46’s would have worked but they’re pretty extinct now.

          • Secundius

            I thought you were talking about the NIMITZ or FORD classes as add-on’s.

          • Peter Devereau

            A Nimitz Class can carry a reinforced Marine rifle company in company landing team (CoLT) configuration with a San Antonio and Whidbey Island carrying a stripped down version of the rest of the MEU. We’ll only have ten big deck gators trying to cover four ocean operating areas (Med, Indian, Westpac and South Lant starting in 2017. Ford Class has reduced berthing while Nimitz Class has room for another squadron. Use the squadron space for troop berthing which can be increased further if one of the helo squadrons is spread loaded on the cruiser and destroyer escorts. They experimented with it back in the eighties and it worked although it wasn’t desirable given they had enough gator big decks back then.

          • Secundius

            Under US Naval doctrine only 30% of the fleet as a whole, are deployed at any given time. Also the Navy in conjunction with the Marine Corps. are planing to deploy at least one squadron of F/AV-35B’s with every Aircraft Carrier Wing. Most likely to reinforce Marine Corps Amphibious Landings and possibly as rapid air deployment during port calls in suspected ports. And as I tried to post yesterday, before my DSL brownout period.

            The JUAN CARLOS I class LHD’s could serve as a complementary force too the AMERICA class LHD’s. Though
            lighter then the AMERICA class, its capabilities are very close to the AMERICA’s. And only cost around $700 million apiece. Plus it has the added bonus of being equipped with azipods propulsion system, and weighting approximately 30,000 tons each. Marine Complement would be around 1,000+ marines.

          • Peter Devereau

            F-35B’s will only deploy on AMERICA and TRIPOLI at squadron level. AV-8B’s are still in service with Wasp Class because the 35’s are so big and the V-22’s already eat up a lot of extra deck space due to their own much larger size. Rather than buying foreign I’d rather use Nimitz Class in lieu of big deck gator shortages. Much cheaper than new builds or foreign buys.

          • Secundius

            Sorry about last posting, I’m having slow DSL problems tonight for some reasons.

          • 2IDSGT

            Only one of the Mistral’s landing-spots has the strength/space to operate V-22s or CH-53s; and I have no idea if any of our regular landing craft would fit in the well-deck. That’s why I said they probably wouldn’t fit that well in our force-structure. That said, they’re so cheap that uses could probably still be found for these ships that wouldn’t waste our money. I’m thinking special operations sea-base or humanitarian relief.

            Wouldn’t worry about what the Russians know of Mistral any more than I worry about what they know of any other widely exported system.

          • Peter Devereau

            Mistral class is very impressive for what she’s designed for and she can carry two LCAC’s. However she’s so small she only carries 450 embarked troops which includes whatever air assets are assigned. That cuts it down to half landing force and half air unit. V-22’s and H-53’s give landing force it’s legs so without them they’d have to use H-1’s or H-60’s which are good birds but very limited in capability. Even H-46’s could land places they couldn’t so it’s really not worth all the effort or expense.

          • Secundius

            Spain’s JUAN CARLOS I class LHD, would be a better design choice, over
            France’s MISTRAL class. At least the JUAN CARLOS I class can support a Marine Corps F/AV-35B Lightning II’s squadron of 8 aircrafts.

          • Secundius

            I think the Russian’s plan to use their ship’s as Rapid Reactionary Force Vessels. 450 troop is comparable in size too a well trained Commando Force or “Spetsnaz” Fighting Force. I can’t see them putting fighters on their, because of relatively small size. But they could deploy Mi-28N Havoc or their Ka-52 Alligator attack helicopters on them. It looks like the Russian’s are feeling their oats, too.

  • Secundius

    I don’t see the SAN ANTONIO operating independently. It has no offensive capabilities at all, with the possible exception being the Marine deployed aboard, or its M777’s or M198’s 155mm Towed Howitzers of which it only has 4. I can’t wheeling up the howitzers to the aft flight deck and using them in a shore bombardment role. The combined recoil alone would damage the flight deck. The only way too use effectively is to deploy them with the New AMERICA class LHD’s, as a Marine Corps support element. You might be able to use them as an Independent Reactionary Force, where shore bombardment isn’t a requirement.

    • Peter Devereau

      Gators are landing force carriers, not offensive vessels. They require destroyers for anti air/anti submarine support as well as naval gunfire (NGF). However there is unused space aboard LPD-17’s that with certain modifications could be used for say the old 8″/55 Mk 71 MCLWG concept or something similar. 5″ was great for WWII but ineffective today so it comes down to how many 8″ round a 17 could carry. Given everything is now over the horizon assaults NGF rounds would have to be rocket assisted which 8″ could do more effectively than 5″. However the 17’S would still only be supporting tin can NGF because that’s part of DDG-51’s mission. In today’s world 17’s always operate with 51’s so these two platforms can handle many missions working in tandem.

      • Secundius

        The test in question, was performed on a WW2 GEARING class Destroyer. That would explain limited munitions storage space.

        • Peter Devereau

          Navy was ready to install MCLWG on BURKE’s in the early nineties which is where the 200 round count comes from. However the meataxe cutbacks of that era and political maneuvering killed it because it required further R&D funding and the total rounds carried was considered too low. Many Surface Warriors and Marines wanted it real bad. Doesn’t have to be the same system but we sure need something like it just as bad now. Sure wish we would stop reinventing the wheel.

  • Peter Devereau

    The Corps has been forced into a 33 ship gator fleet when it’s been requesting 38 all along which breaks down to 36 operational and 2 in the yards. West Africa is going hot again which will require at least three ARG/MEU’s to patrol. Given it takes four to cover an ocean operating area 36 operational won’t be enough given we already patrol the Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Western Pacific. To make matters even worse R&D will once again add every bell and whistle over prolonged periods which will cause long delays and outrageous costs that shouldn’t happen. SLEP the LSD fleet and be done with it because we won’t see any new LSD’s until the 2030’s and they’ll cost so much we’ll only build two or three units.

  • Secundius

    You know the DD-1000, ZUMWALT class Destroyers. Their twin 6.1-inch “Shot Locker” magazines only 308 rounds a piece. with 90 of those rounds being specialized rounds, in each magazine.

    • Peter Devereau

      Not too shabby but with only three hulls in the water how effective are they really going to be? Sure would have been better to have at least fourteen with two in the yards and twelve operational.