The industrial base that supports the amphibious transport dock (LPD) construction hopes Congress will help accelerate the follow-on LX(R) dock landing ship replacement program by two years, an idea first floated in the House Armed Services Committee last year.
As it stands now, the Navy intends to buy its first LX(R) in 2020 and then procure one a year beginning in 2022. Based on the timing of LPD-28, the final ship in the class, the industrial base believes Fiscal Year 2018 is the best time to begin the new LX(R) program, rather than waiting two more years. Through its advocacy group, the Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition, the suppliers wrote to Congress to ask for continued support in the FY 2017 budget to make this happen.
“As the House Armed Services Committee noted in its report accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for 2016, ‘[T]he optimum construction start for the LX(R) class of vessels is in fiscal year 2018 rather than the current Navy program of record of fiscal year 2020,’” according to the Feb. 4 letter AWIBC wrote to Congress.
“Accelerating and optimizing the start of LX(R) construction to 2018 will minimize the production gap between LPD 28 and the first LX(R) and strengthen the amphibious warship industrial base by leveraging the many advantages offered by a hot production line and supply chain. These advantages include acquisition and life cycle cost savings through production learning; batchbuying of material; mitigation of nonrecurring costs; and reuse of logistics support, training, maintenance, and outfitting products.”
The Navy’s FY 2017 budget request will be released Feb. 9 and will reveal more about the service’s plans for the LX(R) program. Last year, during FY 2016 budget negotiations, the House and Senate armed services committees added in money the Navy did not request to support an earlier start to the LX(R) program.
During a Feb. 4 AWIBC congressional forum in the Russell Senate Office Building, coalition chairman and Rolls Royce Vice President of Naval Marine Programs Brian Schires said that “we have spent millions of dollars training our employees, our craftsmen, our metallurgists, to do what they do today, and we have spent millions of dollars on our facilities to be able to perform and deliver as they are today. And if we have to shut down those facilities for a short period of time while we’re waiting for LX(R) to come online, it’s going to drive up cost, it’s going to interfere with quality and it’s going to delay the delivery.”
AWIBC is administered by public relations firm Powell Tate on behalf of Huntington Ingalls Industries.
An unspoken assumption in the drive for accelerated LX(R) funding is that the same industrial base currently working on the San Antonio-class LPDs– more than 2,000 companies total, Schires said– would move over to the LX(R) program. HII builds the LPDs at its Ingalls Shipbuilding yard in Pascagoula, Miss. The company, however, is not guaranteed the LX(R) contract – it will have to compete for the construction contract for the new ship program.
The Navy is finalizing its big-picture design efforts now – going through the LPD design, taking out features not necessary for the LX(R) mission, adding in new features where needed – and will hold a competition for contract design this spring, program officials have said. Only after that more detailed design is complete would the Navy host a competition for the ship construction, which is currently scheduled for FY 2020. It is unclear if that timeline could be bumped up if more funding were available for the program.