Construction of new U.S. amphibious warships is still on pause despite a small business solicitation indicating the Navy was preparing to enter a multi-year deal for San Antonio-class ships, USNI News has learned.
Last week, contract portal SAM.gov posted a long lead contract that indicated the Navy was moving ahead with a multi-year contract with HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding to build three Flight II San Antonios.
“The Naval Sea Systems Command intends to issue solicitation to [Ingalls] for Long Lead Time Material (LLTM) and Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) of the LPD 33-35 Amphibious Transport Dock Ships,” reads the document.
The post goes on to say the Flight II ships are designated to fill the requirement for the next-generation amphibious warship LX(R) to replace the Whidbey Island/Harpers Ferry (LSD-41/49) classes amphibious warships that are now leaving the fleet.
“The LX(R) requirement that was developed to replace the retiring LSD 41/49 Class amphibious ships will be fulfilled with a SAN ANTONIO Class Flight II. LPD 30 is designated as the lead ship and LPD 33-35 are follow-on Flight II ships,” reads the solicitation.
However, in a statement to USNI News, the Navy said it wasn’t preparing to issue a multi-year contract for new San Antonios.
The notice “is related to the NDAA language from [Fiscal Year] 2023 that provides the Navy authority to investigate multi-ship procurement of amphibs. This pre-solicitation is the first step in fact-finding,” reads a statement from the service.
Two defense officials confirmed to USNI News that the Navy-dubbed “strategic pause” for new amphibious warship construction was still on.
The Navy did not include any new San Antonio-class warships as part of its Fiscal Year 2024 budget submission despite a Congressional requirement for the service to maintain a fleet of 31 amphibious ships.
“We have to have the inventory not less than 31 [ships]. To me, that’s a combination of old and new. We cannot decommission a critical element without having a replacement in our hand,” former Marine Corps commandant Gen. David Berger said earlier this year.
“We can’t do that, or else, back to risk … we’re not going to have the tools or it’s not going to be available. So the decommissioning of the LSDs to me is directly tied to the inventory as fast as we can procure and field.”
In its Fiscal Year 2023 legislation, Congress appropriated and authorized $250 million in advanced procurement money for that ship, but in March, a Navy official told USNI News the service plans to hold that contract for the duration of the pause.
The Navy and the Office of the Secretary of Defense are in the midst of a study to determine if the San Antonio Flight IIs are the most cost-effective large amphibious ship for the U.S. The Navy and Marines conducted a similar study in the last several years to derive the Flight II requirements.