Naval Sea Systems Command has released the draft notice to industry to build a fleet of new landing ships for the Navy and Marine Corps.
The Landing Ship Medium (LSM) is billed as the “affordable shore-to-shore USMC maneuver capability,” according to a summary of the program reviewed by USNI News. The class of 18 to 35 LSMs – formerly known as the light amphibious warship – will ferry elements of the three Marine Littoral Regiments between isolated islands, reefs and atolls as part service’s shift to its modern campaign of island hopping.
The basic requirements were finalized earlier this year, Naval Sea Systems Command told USNI News.
Requirements for the ship call for an LSM capable of carrying at least 75 Marines, hauling 600 tons of equipment, and having an 8,000 square foot cargo area, a NAVSEA spokesperson told USNI News last week.
“Specific configuration details will be determined during the detailed design phase, but generally the ship will be less than 400 feet long, have a draft of less than 12 feet, an endurance speed of 14 knots, and roll on/roll off beaching capability,” reads the statement from NAVSEA.
According to an additional summary of the requirements reviewed by USNI News, the ship will have a light defense capability, – two 30mm guns and positions for six .50-caliber guns around the ship – a helicopter pad and a crew of about 70 sailors.
The idea is for the ship to move platoon-sized elements from the MLR under the Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations and Littoral Operations in a Contested Environment concepts that are part of the basis for Force Design 2030. The MLRs that the ships will service are designed for small units of Marines to create temporary outposts that can attack adversary ships using weapons like the Naval Strike Missile and the maritime variant of the Tomahawk fired from modified Joint Light Tactical Vehicles, and then move to different locations quickly.
In 2021, the Navy awarded five companies – Fincantieri, Austal USA, then-VT Halter Marine, Bollinger and TAI Engineers – a total of $7.5 million in study contracts, USNI News reported.
The service expects to award the final detail design and construction contract for the lead ship in early 2025, with the start of construction later that year, according to NAVSEA.
NAVSEA did not disclose an estimated cost per hull for the ships when asked by USNI News, saying the “estimated cost is acquisition sensitive.”
The Congressional Research Service has estimated from Navy budget documents that the LSMs could cost between $100 to 150 million a hull, USNI News previously reported.
Lt. Gen. Karsten Heckl told USNI News earlier this year that each MLR would need about nine LSMs to support the island hopping concept.
The initial program of record for the LSMs will be 18 – about half of what the Marines say they will ultimately need to support the three MLRs.
The draft request for proposal comes as the Navy and the Pentagon are weighing the path forward on its fleet of large amphibious warships.
The Department of the Navy in its latest fleet estimate called for 31 amphibious ships – 10 big-deck amphibs and 21 other ships similar to the San Antonio-class (LPD-17). But the service is on a “strategic pause” from buying amphibious warships while the Office of the Secretary of Defense evaluates a study assessing whether it can lower the cost of an LPD-17.