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Navy Goes International for LCS Radar

Update at 1700 CDT – The post has been updated to make clear that the SAAB radar has been selected only for the Austal USA version of the LCS.

The U.S. Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is a small combatant designed to fight close in to shore. It will carry out a series of different missions including anti-piracy operations, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), surveillance and reconnaissance and sanction enforcement. It is unique to the U.S. Navy at this time in that two very different designs with the same basic capability are being built from two contractors This is to allow rapid production.

LCS construction is being carried out by Lockheed Martin (LMT) teamed with Marinette Marine Corp. of Wisconsin as well as Austal USA, a subsidiary of Australian company Austal. The Navy has ordered 9 of the ships so far split between the two teams.

The Navy announced this week that it has decided to install the Sea Giraffe AMB radar onto the Austal USA version of the LCS. This system is manufactured by SAAB’s (SAABB) American subsidiary. The “Agile Multi-Beam” radar provides air and surface surveillance capabilities and is used to generate a three dimensional picture of the area to support operations. It has already been installed on a variety of combatants in use with countries like Sweden, Canada and Australia.

No value for the contract was given.

The first two, LCS 1, USS Freedom, and LCS 2, USS Independence, have already been completed.

The Navy had gone back and forth on the acquisition strategy for the ship due to concerns about price and schedule after the first two were put on contract. The original plan to use the two sources was ended and there was discussion of ordering batches of ten to a single producer at a time. After the proposals were received for the first contract from Lockheed and Austal the prices were so good the Navy went back to ordering from two suppliers.

Late last year the Navy gave contracts for ten ships each to the two companies.

The LCS remain controversial due to their size, weapon suite and capabilities. The Navy seems committed to the program and has begun large scale production. The decision to use the Sea Giraffe also highlights their commitment. It is uncommon for a non-American system to be ordered like this. The standard U.S. Navy radar and combat system, the AEGIS Weapon System, is much too large for the LCS and buying an existing system like this should save time and schedule.

As with all new classes of ships once they have been in service for a few years, worked out their kinks and demonstrated their capabilities they will be accepted and should be a valuable addition.

Due to the concerns about future shipbuilding budgets and capabilities the LCS if it really is built in the numbers proposed will make up a decent portion of the U.S. surface fleet by mid-Century. Ships last a long time and can receive incremental upgrades as technology progresses and that is what will happen with this class.

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Latest CRA Allows Navy to Use Multiple Sources for LCS

In the on again off again tale of the Navy’s new small combatant Congress approved the revised acquisition strategy of using multiple sources for the next twenty ships. In the latest Continuing Resolution Authority (CRA) passed by Congress Tuesday and signed by President Obama the Navy is given permission to buy ten Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) from Lockheed Martin (LMT) and Austal America (ASB:AU).

Lockheed will team with Marinette Marine Corp. of Michigan while Austal originally worked with General Dynamics (GD) for the first four LCS but for this round of bidding submitted their own. General Dynamics had decided that for future contracts they might bid by themselves.

Ten days ago the Navy had asked the two bidders to extend their prices while asking Congress for this change in strategy from the plan to buy the next batch of LCS from a sole source. The prices offered were so good that the Navy had decided to try and return to the original LCS acquisition strategy of multiple sources.

Because the plan is to buy fifty or more of the ships the idea of having two or more builders of the small ship would maximize the number being delivered. While the two hull designs are very dissimilar the overall combat load out is the same. The LCS will be optimized for fighting close to shore and be able to carry different equipment so that it may carry out missions such as mine sweeping, anti-piracy as well as fighting other ships and submarines.

The decision is a boon to the U.S. ship building industry as it guarantees work at least for the next few years to two yards rather then one.

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