Navy Could Accelerate LX(R) to 2019 Start, Industry’s 2018 Request Not Feasible

April 7, 2016 4:58 PM
San Antonio-class amphib Portland launches at Ingalss Shipbuilding on Saturday. HII Photo
San Antonio-class amphib Portland launches at Ingalls Shipbuilding on Saturday. HII Photo

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Navy could pull the first LX(R) dock landing ship replacement up a year, from Fiscal Year 2020 to 2019, to address vendor needs, but it could not buy the ship in 2018 as an industrial base coalition has requested, the service’s acquisition chief said Wednesday in a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing.

The first LX(R) is slated to be an FY 2020 ship, and advance procurement funding in the current FY 2016 budget will allow the start of construction to effectively be bumped up, since the Navy can begin buying material and doing some design work now instead of waiting until after the 2020 contract award. The AP funding does not change the start date from 2020 but would accelerate delivery to the fleet by about a year.

SASC seapower subcommittee chairman Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) asked if the committee could do even more to accelerate the start of the ship, and while Stackley said that more advance procurement money to buy materials wouldn’t affect the timeline, “the critical path today is the design leading to a competitive award.”

Accelerating contract design, if additional funding were put into the FY 2017 budget going through Congress now, would allow the Navy to buy the ship in 2019, Stackley said.

“We believe we can support a 2019 contract award, and with the advance procurement it would allow us to then double down on the acceleration,” he told Wicker.
“So the AP in ’16 would provide one year’s acceleration. The design would support a second year’s acceleration. The challenge becomes the budget.”

Stackley said that if lawmakers wanted the ship to be procured in 2019, they would have to discuss ways to find either full funding or incremental funding for the ship without hurting other Navy shipbuilding priorities that year.

Asked after the hearing if any action by Congress or the Navy could support a 2018 start, which is what the Amphibious Warship Industrial Base Coalition requested in February, Stackley said no. The design would not be mature enough that early on to issue a request for proposals that Ingalls Industries and General Dynamics NASSCO could bid on, he said.

However, he noted that the Navy understands industry’s needs as they shift to the LX(R) from the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock (LPD-17) on which the LX(R) design is based. Rather than using the advance procurement funding to buy the biggest ship components, or those with the longest lead times, Stackley said the Navy is “surveying the vendor base to identify any potential breakage that would occur to make sure that we’re first addressing those issues between now and when the LX(R) starts.”

He said any gap between LPD and LX(R) would be most felt at the vendor level, not the prime contractor, and he hoped to ensure that vendors would see as continuous a flow of work as possible.

“If Ingalls were to win the competition,” Stackley said – an outcome that is not guaranteed, but many expect that Ingalls Shipbuilding will ultimately win the LX(R) contract and continue its hot LPD production line – “and we were not able to further accelerate the LX(R), there would not be the overlap that you want in a shipbuilding program to retain efficiencies, to retain the skilled workforce,” he said, which is why he would like to work with lawmakers to find funding for early design work and even a 2019 construction contract award.

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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