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Navy's littoral combat ship tests contractors' creativity.

The high-stakes competition to win the Navy's littoral combat ship contract could be summed up in two words: "tough requirements."

Each of the proposed hull designs vying for an LCS contract award scheduled for this fall has its own unique selling points, and they all claim to meet the Navy's need for a low-cost, fast, high-endurance, small surface combatant.

But comments from several shipbuilding experts and engineers suggest that the Navy's expectations--a ship with high speed and long range at a relative low price--may be unrealistic. In the world of shipbuilding, said one engineer, the conventional wisdom is that, "if you want speed, range and low cost, you can pick two, but it's very hard to get all three."

Conceptually, the Navy plans to deploy LCS as part of a carrier battle group. Capable of speeds of up to 40-50 knots, LCS would be the "first responder" vessel during a crisis, sprinting thousands of miles towards the coast, so it can detect and neutralize mines, hunt submarines and interdict potential terrorist gunboats.

Some Navy officials describe the LCS as an "anti anti-access" ship, that would help remove the obstacles that typically hamper naval operations in littoral areas, such as sea mines and enemy diesel submarines. The plan is to buy up to 60 ships during the next two decades.

The Navy asked contractors that their LCS designs not exceed $220 million per ship. A more desirable price tag would be $150 million, said Navy officials. A realistic price range, however, should be between $300 million and $350 million, according to AMI International, a naval analysis and consulting firm.

Guy Ames Stitt, president of AMI, said he is enthusiastic about the innovative designs being proposed for LCS and is hopeful that the program can help revive the U.S. shipbuilding industry. But he is skeptical about any company's ability to deliver every feature the Navy wants in LCS at the $220 million price. "LCS is a tough program," he said.

Stitt also is concerned about the Navy's acquisition strategy for LCS. Rather than buy the hull and the combat systems at the same time, the Navy has chosen to select the hull first and then develop the "mission modules," under a separate competition. That approach is risky, said Stitt, because its success is based on the notion that the winning design will be flexible enough to accommodate the mission modules later on.

"The teams claim they can plug and play anything," said Stitt. It is not dear how the Navy can be sure that the mission modules will work, he the mission modules have not yet been designed. "That is [a similar situation] as when Microsoft released Windows 98," he said. "After the third fix, then it began to work."

Given the LCS fast-track schedule--the Navy wants a ship in the water by 2007--there may not be enough time to go back to the drawing board if any problems arise during the operational testing phase. "I worry about that," Stitt said. "Rear Adm. Loren really needs to pay attention to that." Rear Adm. Donald P. Loren is the director of the Navy's surface ship branch, and oversees the LCS program requirements.

"There is a lot of focus on the hull and not enough on the systems and the mission modules," said Stitt. "I'm really concerned that the [contractor] teams are pushing their own unique systems. Loren is going to have a much harder time evaluating the system solutions than the hull."

The Navy is "taking a risky approach by segregating the system from the hull," he added.

Different modules, for example, would be inserted in the ship, depending on the missions--mine or submarine hunting, maritime interdiction or ferrying special operations troops.

The Navy should pay more attention to the mission packages, Stitt said, because they affect the way a crew operates at sea.

"Sailors have to be able to man these ships," he said. "Sea keeping and stability are crucial.

"If you add and remove systems and equipment, that changes the way the ship reacts in different sea states," he noted. In bad weather, for example, a good portion of the crew may get seasick. "You just can't easily change modules out. The idea sounds really great. But the implementation requires a lot more work." Module changes have been done on ships before, but on large vessels, where seasickness is not as big a factor as it would be on an LCS.

While the Navy's program executive office for ships is responsible for the construction of the hull, a different organization--the PEO for integrated warfare systems--will manage the mission module development and production.

"The trouble is that those modules are greatly going to impact the size and shape of the ship," Stitt said. Based on his experience in shipbuilding, he said, it does not make sense to select a ship if the mission systems development is disconnected from the hull-form design.

Asked which of the competing LCS designs he liked the best, Stitt said the best performer may be the concept proposed by the Lockheed Martin team. It is a semi-planing aluminum mono-hull, based on the Destriero class. The Destriero holds the trans-Atlantic speed record, averaging 53 knots.

Lockheed's team includes the naval engineering firm of Gibbs & Cox and two shipyards: Bollinger and Manitowoc Marine Group.

Stitt noted that the Destriero, although made in Italy, is based on a French design by CMN, a Normandy shipyard. "It's a fabulous design ... a phenomenal ship," he said.

In the quest for LCS, the Lockheed team is up against some formidable competition.

Only one other mono-hull has been proposed for LCS. It is a displacement mono-hull, a derivative of the Swedish Visby-class 270-foot stealthy corvette. Leading this proposal is Northrop Grumman Corp., with a team that includes the Swedish design firm Kockums, United Deferse LP, Band Lavis & Assoc. and Navatek.

Unlike the semi-planing mono-hull proposed by Lockheed, the Visby-class is made of composite material, a drastic departure from the traditional materials used in U.S. shipbuilding today.

"The Visby has great performance," said Stitt. But a composite hull raises "construction issues," because U.S. shipyards have lacked the infrastructure to work with advanced materials, he noted. Northrop Grumman, however, is better positioned to take this on than any other U.S. ship builder, he said. It currently operates a composite-ship yard in Gulfport, Miss., and has conducted research on composites for years.

Also competing in the LCS program is a hybrid caramaran air-cushion ship designed by Textron Marine & Land Systems, partnered with EDO Corporation.

Company officials said the HCAC combines features of both the catamaran and the surface-effect ship. When operating as a catamaran (off the air cushion) on diesel engines, the ship is more efficient at cruising speeds of 18-20 knots. As an SES (on the air cushion), it can exceed 50 knots.

Both the catamaran and the SES hull-forms have been around for a long time, even though the Navy never managed to incorporate them into the fleet. If LCS comes to fruition, it would be the Navy's first 50-knot ship, noted retired Rear Adm. Joe Carnevale, a career ship architect. Carnevale, who is working with the Textron team, said the HCAC gives the Navy a flexible design that can be adapted to various missions and burns considerably less fuel than high-performance mono-hull ships.

Textron's ship is made of an aluminum alloy currently used in the Coast Guard's motor lifeboats. These high-endurance boats perform daring rescue operations in 20-foot breaking seas and are known for their ability to survive a complete roll over.

Stitt noted that Textron's advanced aluminum production lines give the company an edge in manufacturing technology, but he views the surface-effect ship as a "high-risk" design that the Navy may not be willing to take. "My fear is the stability of the ship at certain speeds and weights," Stitt said.

He expressed similar concerns about the trimaran concept proposed by General Dynamics Bath Iron works, partnered with Boeing, Austal USA and BAE Systems. The trimaran is a novel design based on the British RV Triton, a 295-foot steel hull. Stitt's assessment is that the trimaran is an innovative concept but "needs more work."

Also offering an SES ship is Raytheon, which leads a team that includes the naval design firm of J.J. McMullen & Assoc., Atlantic Marine, Goodrich and Umoe Mandal The design is derived from the Norwegian Skjold, a 154-foot composite ship.

Composite ships are desirable for many reasons, such as the fact that they don't require painting, said Chris B. McKesson, a ship architect at J.J. McMullen. He said the SES hull-form "gives the best balance" needed to meet the Navy's ambitious requirement for a small ship that can carry a substantial amount of payload, at high speeds and over long distances.

Surface-effect ships were introduced to the U.S. Navy more than three decades ago, but the Navy never got around to buying them. The Coast Guard employed SES ships in the 1970s to interdict drug runners.

Stitt said the Skjold design is impressive, despite some risk. "Scandinavian countries have been notorious for taking on new hull-forms and proving them out."

Regardless of which ship is selected for the LCS, the program has huge industrial implications for the U.S. shipbuilding sector, because it could help invigorate a market that has been in decline for decades, Stitt said. The Navy, in Iris opinion, should make an effort to make LCS "marketable" to foreign navies.

"The U.S. Navy is going to have to be more like the Europeans," who aggressively promote their ships around the world. In recent months, said Stitt, "I have been in South America and the Philippines: everyone is excited about LCS."

As the project moves forward, the Navy should help the winning shipbuilders sell their designs, said Stitt. The contractors, not the Navy, should own the designs, so they can more easily be sold to foreign navies. U.S. shipyards need more export tales to keep their prices competitive, he added.

RELATED ARTICLE: Appropriators worry about DD-X price tag.

Congressional appropriators recently expressed concern that the Navy's next-generation DD-X destroyer may price itself out of the market.

Appropriation staffers who attended a DD-X briefing on Capitol Hill last month told Northrop Grumman and Navy officials that the would like to see definitive cost estimates on the program before they can commit long-term funding.

At the briefing sponsored by the Lexington Institute, DD-X Program Manager Capt. Charles H. Goddard, explained that the lead ship, scheduled to be completed by 2005, will carry a steep price tag--about $2.5 billion-because it must cover the so-called "non-recurring" research and development costs. Once the ships are in production, the price of each vessel will be much lower, he said, depending on the final configuration and requirements.

During the next three years, Northrop Grumman Ship Systems will build and test 10 "engineering design models" that will represent each of the DD-X key technologies, said Philip Dur, president of the company. He said he is optimistic about the program's future and that, from a design perspective, the "hull form, displacement and baseline configuration are stable."--Sandra I. Erwin
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Author:Erwin, Sandra I.
Publication:National Defense
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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