Small Business Opportunity – Navy Small Combatant Effort Cranks Up

Original Article – Defense News

WASHINGTON — The US Navy ended nearly a year of speculation on Dec. 11 about what form the new small surface combatant would take with the announcement that it would move ahead with variants of both littoral combat ship designs.

But that was only the beginning of a process to turn those ideas into a formal ship development and procurement program. Now, the holidays are over, and the service is getting to work.

“We’re standing up a program office for the small surface combatant,” Sean Stackley, the Navy’s top acquisition official, told reporters Jan. 7. “The program office for the small surface combatant will be inside the program office for LCS,” working under Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, the LCS program executive at Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA).

No date has been set to start up the effort. “But we’re working it, it’s high priority,” he said.

“We’ve gone from ‘here’s the concept,’ now we have to go through the formal requirements review board … to define requirements in terms of updating the capabilities document,” Stackley explained.

“We’ve got go through systems selections. We’ve said we’re going to have an over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missile, now we have to go through and define the specific requirements to lead to a system selection that will then lead to the technical data packages,” he said.

The acquisition strategy for the new ship — dubbed the modified LCS — is still in development.

“I would just say we’re working the details,” Stackley said. The document, about 80 pages long, will “lay out everything from the terms and conditions you’re going to put into contracts, how you’re going to compete it, what your small business plan is, all the details.”

Those details won’t be ready in time for the fiscal 2016 budget submission, due to be sent to Congress Feb. 2. But documents included in the budget, he said, will “lay out the years we’re going to procure the ships. It’ll have content in terms of the capabilities of the ships, the dollars that go against it, things of that nature.”

The Navy is not formally calling the new ship a small surface combatant, although that was the term used by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in February when he ordered the service to choose a new ship “generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate” to follow the LCS. Stackley and Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, called the new ship a modified LCS in their Dec. 11 press briefing on the decision.

Now, when using the term small surface combatant, Stackley said. “That’s lower-case letters — small surface combatant. That’s not a nomenclature.”

The “modified” term isn’t yet official either. “The term ‘modified LCS’ was to distinguish that surface combatant from some other existing design, from a new design,” he explained. Discussions are ongoing, he said, about what the new ship will be called.

What About the Missile?

The Navy has specified that the new ships will have an “over the horizon” surface-to-surface missile, but there is a great variety of such missiles on the world market, and it’s unclear what the service is looking for.

The LCS Coronado conducted a one-time, one-shot test last fall of the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile — a relatively large and sophisticated weapon with a range of more than 100 miles — but the service has downplayed the test.

Vice Adm. Tom Rowden, commander of Naval Surface Forces, noted in an interview that there were two major elements.

“The first thing it demonstrated is that I can go from a standing start to shooting a hundred and thirty mile surface missile off a ship in six months,” Rowden said on Jan. 5. “The idea started when I was doing an LCS war game up in the Naval War College last March. They said, ‘Hey, we’re going to play a hundred and thirty mile, surface-to-surface missile with the capabilities of a Naval Strike Missile.’ I said to myself, ‘I wonder if I can go do that.’ So I came back down and lo and behold, six months later, we’re conducting an engagement off of that ship.”

The tactical relevance of the test wasn’t necessarily tied to the LCS, Rowden noted.

“I can take that launcher and, while it was a non-tactical launcher, I could put that launcher on anything. I can put it on a Military Sealift Command ship, I can put it on the littoral combat ship, I can put that launcher anywhere. And I can start to then further distribute the lethality. I’m not saying we’ve got any plans to do it. But what I’m saying is that if everybody’s got a hundred and thirty mile anti-surface missile, all of a sudden, if you’re the adversary, you’ve got a hell of a problem.”

When a reporter pointed out that LCS lacks a sophisticated, long-range fire control system to conduct 100-mile engagements, Rowden demurred.

“I think that’s a good point of debate,” he said. “With the sensor on the ship today, I think it would be tough. However, I think that with the development of some of the unmanned aircraft that we have, extending the surveillance area of those ships, I think that is a relatively simple thing to do. If we have the ability to operate drones that are relatively difficult to detect and that extend the sensor range, then I think it’s definitely possible to have an organic capability on any of our ships with respect to extending that sensor range and then consummating that engagement at the appropriate time.”

NAVSEA is working on integrating the relatively short-range Longbow Hellfire missile system onto the LCS. But Rowden’s vision extends further out.

“Hellfire Longbow certainly does extend the range of those ships out to not an insignificant distance,” he said. “It provides a good self-defense capability for the littoral combat ships and a more robust ability for the LCS to defend ships it’s in escort with. But again, I think that’s a defensive position. And where I think we need to take total combat ships is getting them really into the offensive game.”

The Naval Strike Missile itself isn’t necessarily the answer, he cautioned. “But certainly, a survivable, hundred-and-thirty-mile missile that allows us to complicate the problem that our adversaries are going to have to deal with.”

A lengthy, drawn-out competition or development program isn’t necessary either, Rowden said.

“If it’s available, affordable and capable, why wouldn’t we try to incorporate that?”

Email: ccavas@defensenews.com.