Passing the amphibious ship Rushmore, the new littoral combat ship Coronado arrives for the first time at its homeport of San Diego. (US Navy)
WASHINGTON — Under orders to reexamine the Littoral Combat Ship program and begin the process of evaluating possible new designs, Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of naval operations, said Monday he was preparing to stand up a new task force to provide him with recommendations.
The effort is in response to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel’s direction to begin consideration of a more heavily-armed and survivable small surface combatant, with recommendations to be in hand in time to guide 2016 budget formulations.
The new task force will supersede the LCS Council, a group of high-ranking officers assembled in August 2012 to help guide the program. Under the guidance of the director of the Navy Staff, Vice Adm. Richard Hunt, the council issued directives and gave the program a new high-profile emphasis.
But its actions largely fell out of sight after Hunt’s retirement last summer, and his successor, Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, never spoke publicly in a council role. She has since moved on to a deputy CNO position, and has been nominated to become the vice chief of naval operations.
Hagel announced Feb. 24 he was capping buys of the LCS in its current form at 32 ships, 20 short of the previously-planned total of 52. In its place, he said, he is seeking, “a capable and lethal small surface combatant, generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate. I’ve directed the Navy to consider a completely new design, existing ship designs, and a modified LCS.”
Greenert, speaking to reporters at the Pentagon on Monday, said he would issue a memo “shortly” that would describe the makeup of the new task force. He did not reveal what office would be leading the effort.
“There will be people in the [Naval Sea Systems Command] end of this, people in the requirements end,” he said.
“We’re going to kind of look at it like the Marine Corps did their amphibious combat vehicle recently,” the CNO added. “They got some real good integration and systems engineers to take a look at it. You can start with naval architects, but how does it come together? Those are the people who have to be key to this, in addition to capabilities.”
Greenert noted that “the LCS Council was always meant to be temporary. I’m getting ready to step it down. It’s not gone yet, but stay tuned.”
Meanwhile, the LCS program moved forward with the announcement on Monday of contract awards to build four more ships.
Lockheed Martin received $699 million for two Freedom-class ships, numbered LCS 17 and LCS 19. Austal USA got $684 million for LCS 18 and LCS 20 of the Independence class.
The prices had been determined in block-buy arrangements with each primary contractor agreed upon in December 2010.
LCS 17 has been named Indianapolis, but names have not been announced for the other ships.
All four ships were funded in 2014, and are the seventh and eighth ships in each primary contractor’s 10-ship block buy. Three of the four remaining block buy ships are being requested in the 2015 budget, although is not yet clear which contractor will get two ships and which gets one in the new three-per-year LCS buying scheme.
Announcement of the contracts marks the fourth straight year LCS contract awards have been announced in March.
Also on Monday, Coronado, the fourth LCS and second Independence-class ship, arrived for the first time at its homeport of San Diego, where it will be commissioned on April 5.