The final decision on the 20-hull follow up to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fleet by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will be made soon, the Chief of Naval Operations said during a defense conference in California over the weekend.
“The Secretary is very close to a decision,” Adm. Jonathan Greenert said in an interview with news service Reuters during Reagan National Defense Forum at the Ronald Reagan presidential library.
“It was our endeavor to provide an option which would provide a more lethal ship, one that is more survivable, with capabilities that can be back fit, and as much as feasible, not interrupt production.”
Greenert told Reuters following the decision he expected an announcement after the decision and an outline of the way ahead.
Navy officials contacted by USNI News on Monday declined to comment on Greenert’s statements to Reuters.
Pentagon leadership issued a memo in January directing the Navy to replace the last 20 of the planned 52 LCS with frigate-like ships with more firepower than the current Flight 0 Lockheed Martin Freedom-class and Austal USA Independence-class variant.
The service was tasked to examine up gunning the two Flight 0 variants currently in production, a new design or foreign variants and present options to Pentagon leadership.
Several sources have confirmed to USNI News that the results of the so-called Small Surface Combatant (SSC) taskforce has been internalized by the service and a recommended path forward has been proffered, but the recommendation has been one of the most closely held secrets in Navy acquisition hid in a swirl of non-disclosure agreements.
However, Greenert’s comments on not interrupting production suggest the recommendation could be based on one or both of the Flight 0 LCS variants.
The capabilities of the current LCS designs have come under consistent criticism in and outside the Navy but the final cost of the ships — averaging less than $500 million a hull — has also been considered an acquisition success by the service.
Given the importance the service has placed on maintaining on the shipbuilding industrial base, it’s highly likely whatever the SSC decision the Navy recommends it would take pains to preserve the Austal and Lockheed shipyards in Alabama and Wisconsin.
USNI News understands the primary difference between the current crop of LCS and the SSC will be the inclusion of a 3D air defense radar, some type of offensive anti-air missile and perhaps an over-the-horizon anti-surface missile — which both Austal and Lockheed have included in offerings for foreign military sales (FMS).
However it will be up to Hagel to approve the final plan and that consultation has been pushed back several times due primarily to the ongoing security crisis in Iraq and Syria with the advancement of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
The service has previously said the SSC decision will be folded into the Department of the Navy’s (DoN) Fiscal Year 2016 budget submission, due out early next year.