WASHINGTON, D.C. — Whereas a high sprint speed was a driving factor in designing the Littoral Combat Ship, the follow-on frigate will instead be optimized for lethality and survivability, the Navy’s frigate program manager said Thursday.
As the LCS program transitions to a multimission frigate, the 40-knot sprint speed requirement will go away to allow for more armor, more weapons, an over-the-horizon missile and full-time anti-torpedo protection, Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer said at an American Society for Naval Engineers event.
This change, he said, is a recognition of simple physics.
“If we don’t change anything [in the hull design] and add a lot of weight, they’re not going to go as fast as they do today,” he said, noting that a total redesign to maintain the high speed is out of the question.
“It’s acknowledging the reality of physics: it’s heavier, it’s not going to go as fast, and it’s no longer a requirement they have to design to.”
Instead, he said the frigate will be more lethal, more survivable, and will be able to conduct surface warfare and ant-submarine warfare simultaneously, whereas the LCS had to choose only one mission package to work with at any given time.
The frigate will take the basic LCS designs – likely keeping both hull variants – and add extra armor. It will have a torpedo decoy, variable depth sonar and multi-function towed array permanently onboard, rather than included in a part-time mission package for LCS; will deploy two 7-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats rather than the 11-meter RHIBs on the LCS surface warfare package; and will retain the Mk 50 30mm guns rather converting to the more common 25mm gun. The ship will be upgunned with a SeaRAM anti-ship missile system, a ship-launched Hellfire missile system and an over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missile system that will be competitively contracted. A common combat system, the Lockheed Martin Combat Management System Component Based Total Ship System – 21st Century (COMBATSS-21), will manage those weapons.
Among the challenges of turning the LCS – which performs either surface warfare, mine countermeasures or anti-submarine warfare at a time through single-mission packages of equipment – into a multimission ship is command and control. Brintzinghoffer said the combat information center will need more and possibly different consoles to accommodate hunting a submarine and firing a missile at a surface target at the same time, for example.
Brintzinghoffer said he was also given the challenge of reducing lifecycle costs, in addition to creating a multimission ships with greater survivability and lethality.
“One of the ways you do that is by inserting commonality, so where we can … we’re going to make [the two frigate variants] the same, and we’re in the process of going through trade studies to figure out what exactly that means system by system, box by box.”
As a result, Brintzinghoffer said he expects much more government-furnished equipment on the frigates compared to the LCS, where prime contractors Lockheed Martin and Austal USA were given leeway to outfit the ship as they saw fit so long as the final ship design met certain mission-based requirements.
The captain noted, though, that commonality could come in many forms. The two frigate designs may be common with each other to reduce costs for the program, but there are also lifecycle savings opportunities by creating commonality between the LCS and the frigate, or the frigate and other classes of surface combatants.
“The key for us is to strike the balance between the performance of the system, the cost of the system – in some cases we’re going to change to something that’s more expensive, or make a change that costs money in order to save in the long-run – and this is our opportunity to do that.”
Brintzinghoffer told USNI News after his presentation that for each change his office looks to make – whether it is intended to increase capability, create commonality or save money through efficiencies – the program conducts “a cost-based analysis that will tell you if you implement a change and it costs $5, how quickly will you get a return on your investment. And that’s what we’re balancing against, added capability versus when will you get a return on your investment.”
One idea is to use LED lighting instead of fluorescent light bulbs, which Brintzinghoffer said will cost a little more upfront but begin to save money quickly – the Navy won’t have to buy replacement bulbs or store them on ships, and there won’t be any manpower costs associated with changing burnt-out bulbs.
For ideas that change the overall capability of the ship, Brintzinghoffer said he has to get approval from the resource sponsor, the surface warfare directorate on the chief of naval operations’ staff (OPNAV N96). For changes that do not affect warfighting capability, such as the LED lighting, Brintzinghoffer gets the final say in the cost-benefit analysis.
After the program office completes these studies and finalizes its preliminary design, Brintzinghoffer said during his presentation that he expects to release a request for proposals for ship construction in late calendar year 2017, and the contracts will be awarded in fiscal year 2019. Contracts for the over-the-horizon missile and other pieces of GFE will be handled separately, and he said the Navy does not yet have a timeline for those acquisition projects.