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Defense`s Feeds

The Super Hornets get a new stinger | MQ-9 Reaper gets a SAR upgrade | The Bradleys keep on rolling

Defense Industry Daily - 11 hours 13 min ago
Americas

  • The Navy is awarding an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract to Boeing. The $1.5 billion contract provides for the production of configuration sets and associated services in support of the life cycle upgrades of F/A-18A/B, C/D, E/F and EA-18G aircraft in support of the Navy and foreign military sales customers. The different versions of Super Hornets fighter aircraft are the backbone of naval aviation. They fulfill strike roles and can conduct tactical refueling sorties. Additionally, the EA-18G Growler has new electronics, and mounts special electronic warfare pods on the aircraft’s underwing instead of its 20mm canon. Boeing’s upgrade program is based on the Super Hornet Roadmap centered around 3 areas: doubling down on electronic advances, trying to improve flight performance in strike or air superiority roles, and improving the design’s radar signature. This contract combines purchases for the Navy ($1,18 billion) and various FMS customers ($333.8 million). Work will be performed in St. Louis, Missouri and China Lake, California, and is expected to be completed in June 2023.

  • The US Army is tapping BAE Systems Land & Armaments in support of its Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs). The $347 million fixed-price-incentive-fee contract sees for the production of up to 473 Bradley M2A4 and M7A4 vehicles, and for the procurement of authorized stockage list spares, and additional packages for legacy component repair. Introduced in the 1980s during the Reagan defense build-up, the Bradleys were a departure from the usual mold of lightly armed Armored Personnel Carriers. During Desert Storm the vehicles combination of firepower, mobility, and protection made them a valuable asset. The Bradleys’ high level of protection against anti-tank rockets has proven to be a significant plus, and operational readiness has reportedly exceeded 94%, during urban and cross-country missions that have covered more than 8 million miles. Work will be performed in York, Pennsylvania, with an estimated completion date of June 2019.

  • The Air Force is contracting General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems in support of its MQ-9 Reaper platform. The contract modification provides for the product ionization of the Lynx Block 20A synthetic aperture radar (SAR) configuration and is valued at $22 million. The new Lynx SAR is set to replace the current configuration of the system on the future MQ-9 Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft. The Reaper packs the same surveillance gear as the famous Predator but is more of a hunter-killer design. The Lynx radar is designed to meet the onboard challenges of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft systems environment, the it consumes minimal Size, Weight, and Power (SWAP) while delivering precision air-to-surface targeting accuracy and superb wide-area search capabilities. Lynx includes two spotlight and two stripmap SAR modes. Spotlight mode produces high-resolution imagery on a defined point. Stripmap mode mosaics multiple spot SAR images together to form one large image. Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by June 2020.

Middle East & Africa

  • The Israeli defense manufacturer BlueBird Aero Systems is currently promoting the newly developed cargo variant of its ThunderB UAV. The compact UAV is designed to offer long endurance and extended range capabilities similar to those offered by larger unmanned aircraft weighing 440 lb. The ThunderB is a high-wing UAV integrating a V-shaped tail and housing a gimballed payload unit in the forward section of its fuselage. The UAV lacks a landing gear as it is recovered using a parachute system. The old variant was able to carry up to 7.7 lb. of payload and was designed for ISTAR, SAR and commercial missions. According to Jane’s, the new variant can carry a cargo payload of up to 8.8 lb. in two capsules that can be fitted under the platform’s wings Once transported to its destination, the cargo is then dropped using an electro-mechanical mechanism, landing with a high degree of accuracy at the intended drop site. The cargo capsules can also be fitted with a parachute to prevent the payload from being damaged.

  • South African defense contractor Milkor will soon unveil its prototypes of the MN Centurion high-speed interceptor craft and MA 380 unmanned aerial system (UAS). The MN Centurion high-speed interceptor craft is a 39 ft. stepped hull, hydrofoil-assisted catamaran design with lightweight composite structure and a reduced radar signature. Designed and configured for multi-role operations, it is ideally suited for long endurance missions. The command and control bridge houses world class communications and surveillance equipment, along with its reduced radar signature hull, giving this craft the advantage for surveillance patrol, counter-piracy, and asset protection missions. The vessel can also be configured to operate as an unmanned surface vehicle (USV). The MA 380 has a low wing T-tail design with low-drag, low wing loading and retractable landing gear. It is equipped with optical imagery equipment providing real-time high definition, infrared and multispectral video data. The MA 380 has a big wingspan of 39 ft. A MALE platform, it has a maximum range of 1.242 miles and can reach a maximum speed of 136 mph/h. It features a maximum payload capacity of 176 lb. Both systems are expected to be shown at the Africa Aerospace and Defense Expo in September 2018.

Europe

  • The assembly of a F-35 Joint Strike Fighters is currently underway at Leonardo’s facility in Cameri, Italy. The fighter aircraft are destined for the Netherlands Air Force. The Netherlands is planning to assemble most of its F-35s at the line at Cameri in northern Italy, where Italian Air Force and Navy F-35s are already being assembled. Italy and the Netherlands are both Tier 2 partners in the multi-billion JSF program. The Italian Navy’s ITS Cavour aircraft carrier is expected to need at least 22 F-35Bs to replace its AV-8 Harrier fighters. The aircraft currently assembled in Cameri is the ninth of the Netherlands’ order of 37 F-35As. Italy is currently due to purchase 60 F-35 As and 30 F-35Bs.

  • Serbia’s Yugoimport company has recently unveiled the X-01 Strsljen VTOL UAV. The X-01 Strsljen is being developed by Serbian firm EDePro and is being marketed by Yugoimport. According to Airforce-Technology, the airframe of the Strsljen rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is built using carbon fiber, lightweight steel and aluminum materials. The rotorcraft takes-off vertically using a two-blade main rotor with a teetering head. The tubular skid landing gear is attached to the helicopter’s fuselage structure to facilitate safe landing even on hard surfaces. An integrated autopilot system is installed to provide stabilization and control for the helicopter in all axes. It will provide the UAV with the ability to fly in fully autonomous mode from take-off to landing. The unmanned helicopter is equipped with weapon pylons under the fuselage to carry air-to-surface weapons such as Spider anti-tank missiles and 12.7mm heavy machine gun.

Asia-Pacific

  • The Philippine Navy is set to conduct its first test fire of its Spike-ER surface-to-surface missile. The missiles are being fitted onto the Navy’s small MPACs (multi-purpose assault crafts). The Spike infantry system consists of a missile in its cannister, a tripod, a Command Launch Unit that contains the optics and firing system, and a battery. It can go from “off” to firing in less than 30 seconds, as the operator lays the cross hairs on the aim point using either the 10x day sight, or the clip-on thermal imaging night sight. The extended-range (8km) version, Spike-ER, also has a larger warhead. It is designed for mounting on light combat vehicles but can also be removed from a tripod. A bi-directional fiber-optic datalink provides Spike-ER with a fire and steer mode. The Philippine Navy’s Spike-ER missiles with its launchers and tracking systems were delivered to the Philippines from Israel last April.

Today’s Video

  • An Israeli F-16 drops the newly developed Rampage missile

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

The US Army’s Bradley Remanufacture Program

Defense Industry Daily - 11 hours 18 min ago

M3A3 Bradley CFV: Charge!
(click to view full)

In the 1970s, middle eastern wars demonstrated that tanks without infantry screens were vulnerable to infantry with anti-tank missiles. Unfortunately, armored personnel carriers were easy prey for enemy tanks, and sometimes had trouble just keeping up with friendly tanks like America’s 60+ ton, 50+ mph M1 Abrams. In response, the Americans rethought the armored personnel carrier, taking a page from the Soviet book. They created a more heavily armored, faster “Infantry Fighting Vehicle” named after WW2 General Omar “the soldier’s general” Bradley, and gave it an offensive punch of its own. M2/M3 tracked, armored IFVs can carry infantry – but they also have 25mm Bushmaster cannons, networked targeting sensors, and even TOW anti-armor or Stinger anti-aircraft missiles at their disposal.

Bradley puts on wear
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Even well-serviced vehicles must suffer the pangs of age and wear, however, and the pace of electronics breakthroughs is far faster than the Army’s vehicle replacement cycle. The US Army plans to keep its Bradley fleet for some time to come, and new technologies have made it wise to upgrade part of that fleet while renewing the vehicles. Hence the remanufacture program, which complements the restore-only RESET programs.

This free-to-view DII Spotlight article explains the differences between the Bradley variants involved, details the re-manufacture process, offers additional research sources, and covers associated contracts from FY 1999 to the present.

Bradley Variants and Sub-Variants: A Quick Guide Bradley Fighting Vehicles: Origins and History

M3A2 CFV: Ad-Dwr, Iraq
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Introduced in the 1980s during the Reagan defense build-up, the Bradleys were a departure from the usual mold of lightly armed Armored Personnel Carriers. They were heavily criticized for their expense, and accused of being both too heavy for rapid transport to crisis points and too lightly armored to hold their own against serious opposition. Even so, over 6,700 were produced. Most were for the US Army, but there was also a minor order on the side from the Saudis.

The Bradley IFV/CFV was finally thrust into battle during the 1991 Desert Storm campaign, where their combination of firepower, mobility, and protection made them a valuable asset, and largely laid the effectiveness controversies to rest. A widely upgraded fleet of Bradleys would reprise this role in Operation Iraqi Freedom, both during the deep in-country push that culminated in the “Thunder Run” into Baghdad, and during subsequent stabilization operations. The 2nd Battle of Fallujah also made heavy use of the Bradley, as documented in Staff Sgt. David Bellavia’s (retd.) excellent book “House to House: An Epic Memoir of War.”

Today, many other nations employ IFVs, from older Russian BMP/BRDMs to modernized and up-gunned M113 APCs, to more modern options like BAE’s popular CV90 family and Germany’s new Puma IFV from KMW & Rheinmetall.

The Bradleys’ high level of protection against anti-tank rockets has proven to be a significant plus, and operational readiness has reportedly exceeded 94%, during urban and cross-country missions that have covered more than 8 million miles. Its major weakness is a 175 gallon fuel tank in the belly, which is typically protected only by aluminum armor, and can become a source of severe burns during land mine attacks. Unfortunately, the Bradleys are not being redesigned to carry fuel externally as part of the remanufacture and upgrade process. Instead, a number of Bradleys are receiving improved mine-resistant belly armor as a stopgap measure, plus BFSS that use a new, lower, fuel cell bladder

Bradley Family Variants

M6 Linebacker
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Bradley vehicles carry a crew of 3 (commander, gunner and driver), plus additional soldiers in some variants. Overall, the Bradleys fulfills 5 critical mission roles for the US Army’s Heavy Brigade Combat Teams: infantry fighting vehicle – carries 6-7 troops (M2); cavalry fighting vehicle – carries 2 scouts (M3); fire support vehicle (A3 BFIST or M7 BFIST based on A2-ODS); battle command vehicle; and engineer squad vehicle (EBFV, or M2A2-ODS-E).

The M-A3s are the most modern variants of the Bradley, with fully digitized computing, navigation, and communications equipment. On-board subsystem monitoring, diagnostics/ prognostics, and segregated electrical power are included in this upgrade, as are improved NBC (nuclear, biological, chemical) protection and the addition of a 7th troop seat in the M2A3 variant. The A3 then adds enhanced sensors including IBAS 2nd generation FLIR (thermal imaging) with significantly greater range. Armor Magazine’s March 2005 issue relates this story from Iraq:

“Staff Sergeant Brian Flading, a 19D Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran, remembers an incident when his platoon was mortared one night in Balad. With the new FLIR, the crew was able to see the enemy shooting the mortars. His crew sent rounds downrange within three seconds of the mortar shot…”

The US Army plans to have more than 2,000 total Bradley A3s in its future fleet. Most of those vehicles will be converted to that standard through the remanufacture process.

M-A2-ODS vehicles lack the full electronics, sensor set, and future upgradeability of the M-A3s; instead, they have their own set of off-the-shelf improvements over the base M-A2s that duplicate many of the A3 variants’ essential capabilities, without the cost of a full A3 upgrade. Many remanufactured vehicles are being brought to the “Operation Desert Storm – Situational Awareness” standard, from the base A2 or A2-ODS.

Navigation that allows ODS vehicles to maneuver with more modern variants is provided by the addition of PGS/POSNAV. For ODS – Situational Awareness vehicles, the new laser range-finder is integrated into both the new GPS system, and new FBCB2 (aka. “Blue Force Tracker”) equipment, significantly improving their ability to designate and hand off targets. Survivability gets a boost via the integration of Battlefield Combat Identification System and a Missile Countermeasure device, as well as applique reactive armor from the General Dynamics-RAFAEL partnership. Bench seats help the crew mount up and dismount faster. Finally, a 7th seat has been added to the ODS to support the 3×9 Mechanized Infantry Platoon organization.

M7 Bradley BFIST
(click to expand)

M6 Linebacker. This variant carried Stinger missiles and related sensors to serve as mobile short-range air defense for US armored formations, but for good or ill most Linebackers have been converted into M2A2-ODS vehicles under a February 2005 contract.

The M7 BFIST (Bradley FIre Support Team) is a variant of the M2A2-ODS Bradley. It is used as an artillery forward observer vehicle and laser designator, providing major improvements in first-round artillery accuracy on a platform whose mobility and survivability is the same as the armored maneuver units it rides in. BFIST’s performance during Operation Iraqi Freedom was reported to be impressive. The M7’s successor is simply referred to as the Bradley A3 FIST or A3 BFIST, and incorporates all Bradley M-A3 features in addition to its suite of advanced targeting sensors and electronics.

Beyond the listed variants, the Bradley Urban Survivability Kit (BUSK) III offers a useful set of bolt-on improvements: an Emergency Ramp Release (ERR) to get out of battle damaged vehicles; Bradley Fuel Cell Survivability (BFSS) which increases protection against land mine blasts by using a new, lower, fuel cell bladder; Bradley Advanced Survivability Seats-Driver (BASS-D) energy absorbing seats and foot rests; and a Turret Advanced Survivability System (TASS) that adds floor plates and energy-absorbing foot rests for the gunner and commander.

Bradley Remanufacture Program: Details & Contracts

M2A3 Bradley
(click to view full)

BAE Systems works through its Public Private Partnership with Red River Army Depot (RRAD) in Texas to remanufacture and upgrade these vehicles. Initial disassembly and subsystem rebuild is performed at RRAD. Further disassembly and structural modifications is performed by BAE Systems in Fayette County, PA, with some work done in Aiken, SC. Final assembly, integration and test is conducted at the BAE Systems facility in York, PA.

Unlike RESET programs, designed to replace all defective or worn parts and restore/service a vehicle back to pre-combat condition, remanufacture is a complete rebuild designed to return it to full “zero miles” condition, and install upgrades.

Unless otherwise specified, the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive and Armaments Command in Warren, MI manages the contract, and BAE Land Systems and Armaments is the recipient.

FY 2018

June 18/18: 473 new units The US Army is tapping BAE Systems Land & Armaments in support of its Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFVs). The $347 million fixed-price-incentive-fee contract sees for the production of up to 473 Bradley M2A4 and M7A4 vehicles, and for the procurement of authorized stockage list spares, and additional packages for legacy component repair. Introduced in the 1980s during the Reagan defense build-up, the Bradleys were a departure from the usual mold of lightly armed Armored Personnel Carriers. During Desert Storm the vehicles combination of firepower, mobility, and protection made them a valuable asset. The Bradleys’ high level of protection against anti-tank rockets has proven to be a significant plus, and operational readiness has reportedly exceeded 94%, during urban and cross-country missions that have covered more than 8 million miles. Work will be performed in York, Pennsylvania, with an estimated completion date of June 2019.

FY 2017

July 19/17: The US Army has awarded LOC Performance a $49.1 million contract modification to an existing order for Bradley Fighting Vehicle modification kits and installation. Under the terms of the deal, LOC will produce and supply 276 additional Bradley Engineering Change Proposal 1 kits and two sets of spare parts, which will be used to upgrade Bradley Fighting Vehicles weight-bearing systems and underbelly armor. Work will be conducted at Plymouth, Minn. with a completion date scheduled for April 30, 2019. The Engineering Change Proposal 1 installs heavy load-bearing tracks, torsion bars to restore ground clearance and improved underbelly armor on the Bradleys. This in turn improves the vehicle’s capability to handle the stress placed on its chassis caused by the installation of armor upgrades and Bradley Urban Survivability Kits.

FY 2013

 

March 21/13: CAV – IFV. BAE Systems Land & Armament LP, York, PA receives a $16.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to convert Bradley Reset Vehicles from M3A3 to M2A3 configuration. In other words, to change them from cavalry scout vehicles with a crew and 2 scouts, to infantry fighting vehicles that carry their crew + 7 soldiers.

Work will be performed in York, PA; Lemont Furnace, PA; and Aiken, SC; with an estimated completion date of Aug 29/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received by Army Contracting Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-10-G-0003).

FY 2011 – 2012

Orders, including BUSK urban warfare kits; Slow funding forces a furlough at York.

M2 & BUSK armor
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Aug 14/12: +353 various. BAE Systems in York, PA receives a $306.2 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to upgrade 353 Operation Desert Storm M2A2, M3A2 and M7 Bradley Fire Support Team vehicles to Operation Desert Storm Situational Awareness (ODS-SA) configurations. This production contract is the flip side of $340 million in funding to purchase upgrade materials, bringing the full contract total for the 353 vehicles to $646 million.

Work will begin in August 2012, with final delivery expected in April 2014, but the contract runs until May 30/14. The upgraded Bradleys will be provided to the Minnesota and Pennsylvania National Guard units, and to Combined Armed Battalions in the Kansas, South Carolina and Ohio National Guard units (W56HZV-10-G-0003). See also BAE Systems.

Aug 13/12: The furlough ends at BAE’s York, PA plant. Source: BAE personnel.

Furlough ends

May 10/12: A $68.7 million cost-reimbursement, no-fee contract modification to reset, and if necessary to convert, Bradley ODS vehicles to the ODS-SA standard. Subsequent conversations with BAE personnel reveal that it did not avert the planned furlough (vid. May 2/12 entry), and was just additional funding for parts due to delays in getting the main contract award. That award came through in August 2012.

Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of May 31/14. One bid was solicited, with one bid received (W56HZV-10-G-0003).

May 6/12: A $31.6 million firm-fixed-price contract modification will supply material and labor for Bradley ODS (Operation Desert Storm) vehicle conversions. This would appear to be the installation and labor bookend to the Dec 7/11 contract.

Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of Oct 31/12. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W56HZV-10-G-0003).

May 2/12: Layoff. BAE furloughs 210 employees from mid-July to Mid-August 2012, pending the release of more Bradley funds. Furloughed workers will be covered by their company benefits during the 30-day period, and can also choose to apply vacation time to this period and be paid. The firm expects to have everyone back by Aug 13/12. York Daily Record.

Furloughs at York

Dec 7/11: BAE US Combat Systems in York, PA receives a $30.4 million cost-no-fee and firm-fixed-price contract, to buy materials for 247 Bradley ODS-SA vehicles. It looks like this boosts the Oct 5/11 contract.

Work will be performed in York, PA with an estimated completion date of Oct 31/12. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received by the US Army’s Contracting Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-10-G-0003).

Oct 5/11: +245 ODS. A $270.8 million cost-no-fee contract will buy the materials and equipment needed to bring 245 Bradleys to the Operational Desert Storm Situational Awareness (ODS-SA) standard. Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of Dec 30/13. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W56HZV-10-G-0003).

Aug 25/11: BUSK. BAE Systems in York, PA receives a $23.8 million firm-fixed-price contract for Bradley Urban Survivability Kits. Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of March 9/12. One bid was solicited, with 1 bid received (W56HZV-10-G-0003)

April 25/11: BUSK. BAE Systems receives a $53.3 million contract to provide 3,034 Bradley Urban Survivability Kits III to outfit the Bradley Fighting Vehicles to the BUSK III configuration.

Work will be performed in York, PA with an estimated completion date of June 30/11. One bid was solicited with 1 bid received by the Army Contracting Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-05-D-0005).

March 22/11: Components. A $47.7 million cost-reimbursement, no-fee contract for M2A2 ODS-SA(Operation Desert Storm – Situational Awareness) components, to be used to convert Bradley Fighting Vehicles. Work will be performed in York, PA, with an estimated completion date of Oct 31/12. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-10-G-0003).

Nov 9/10: long-lead. A $250.1 million cost reimbursement – no fee contract. It covers long lead time materials to make up 247 M2/M3 Bradley Operation Desert Storm Situational Awareness (ODS-SA) conversion kits, with 202 used under the contract to convert vehicles from Bradley ODS to ODS-SA configurations, and the other 45 kept for future requirements. The main buy of ODS-SA kits and conversions is expected in April 2011.

Work is to be performed in York, PA, with an estimated contract completion date of Feb 28/12, but BAE Systems places the end of production work at September 2012. One bid was solicited with one bid received (W56HZV-10-G-0003). See also BAE release.

FY 2008 – 2010

Orders slow down.

M2A3 & squad
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April 1/10: Sub-contractors. L-3 Communications Combat Propulsion Systems in Muskegon, MI received a $16.1 million firm-price with incentive and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for 221 remanufactured Bradley transmissions, 2 control tests and incentive fee pool. Work is to be performed in Muskegon, MI (54%), and Texarkana, TX (46%) with an estimated completion date of Dec 31/13. For the order, 1 bid was solicited with 1 bid received by the US Army TACOM Contracting Center in Warren, MI (W56HZV-09-C-0098).

Sept 23/09: Sub-contractors. L-3 Communications Combat Propulsion Systems in Muskegon, MI received a $33.1 million firm-fixed-price with Incentive and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for 94 remanufactured Bradley transmissions and parts, 20 new Bradley transmissions, 87 repaired Bradley transmissions, 979 parts kits to rebuild Bradley transmissions, 20,000 hours of system technical support, and $5.2 million in management support.

Work is to be performed in Texarkana, TX (43%), Muskegon, MI (42%) and Huddersfield, UK (15%) with an estimated completion date of Dec 30/11. One bid solicited with one bid received by the U.S. Army TACOM LCMC in Warren, MI (W56HZV-09-C-0098).

April 6/09: Sub-contractors. Raytheon Network-Centric Systems in McKinney, TX announces $163.5 million worth of contracts from BAE for 822 advanced thermal sighting systems: a $123 million order for 620 Commander’s Independent Viewer block 1 units on Feb 20/09, and a $40.5 million award for 202 units on Feb 26/09. The systems will be installed on Bradley M-A3 vehicles.

Raytheon’s CIV is a 2nd-generation infrared vision system that provides the commander with a 360-degree battlefield view. It complements sub-systems like DRS’ IBAS (Improved Bradley Acquisition System), and has the same extended-range capabilities. By providing the commander and gunner with independent sights, it allows the vehicle to operate in “hunter-killer” mode, with the gunner engaging one target while the commander surveys the situation and queues up the next victim.

Sept 22/08: +326 various. BAE announces a a $742 million U.S. Army contract to remanufacture and upgrade 326 Bradley vehicles. The award exercises an option in the contract announced on July 8/08, and brings the total value of BAE Systems’ 2008 Bradley remanufacturing contracts to $1.3 billion for 578 vehicles.

Under this award, BAE Systems will remanufacture another 189 M2A3 IFVs (51 of which which will covert to M3A3 cavalry vehicles), 115 M3A3 cavalry vehicles, and 22 M3A3 Bradley Fire Support Team (BFIST) vehicles.

These Bradley vehicles will be equipped with improved armor designed to resist land mine attacks, Bradley Urban Survivability Kits, and several engineering changes designed to increase soldier survivability. The company will also provide more than 200 different types of spare parts in varying quantities. Work under the contract will begin immediately by the existing workforce, with deliveries ending in February 2011.

July 8/08: +252. BAE announces a $538 million U.S. Army contract to remanufacture 252 Bradley vehicles: 160 M2A3 vehicles, 60 M3A3 cavalry vehicles and 32 M3A3 Bradley Fire Support Team (BFIST) vehicles in conjunction with the Red River Army Depot. The company will also provide 200 different types of spare parts, in varying quantities.

Work under the contract will begin immediately, with deliveries ending in June 2010.

Sept 15/08: IED kits. BAE Systems announces an $11 million contract from the U.S. Army to purchase and install Improvised Explosive Device (IED) Mine Armor Kits on 433 Bradley Combat Systems vehicles. This award also includes the installation work for 116 kits previously purchased under this contract. When combined with previous awards, this modification brings the total contract value to $96 million for Bradley IED Mine Armor Kits.

Work under the contract will be conducted at various field installation sites with deliveries scheduled from December 2008 through March 2009.

March 31/08: Sub-contractors. L-3 Communications Corp. received a $20.8 million firm-fixed price contract for remanufactured Bradley Fighting Vehicle Systems transmissions. Work will be performed in Muskegon, MI and is expected to be complete by Aug 4/09. Web bids were solicited on Oct 17/07, and 1 bid was received by U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command in Warren, MI (W56HZV-08-C-0119).

FY 2005 – 2007

Heavy orders, as wars take their toll.

M2s, Sadr City
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July 23/07: +172 various. BAE announces a pair of contract modifications from the U.S. Army TACOM Life Cycle Management Command, totaling $411.7 million.

Under the first contract, BAE Systems will upgrade 172 Bradleys to the A3 baseline: 108 M2A2 Infantry Fighting Vehicles, 60 M3A2 Cavalry Fighting Vehicles and 4 M7 FIST Fire Support Team Vehicles. The second contract calls for BAE Systems to provide spare parts for Bradley A3 Combat Systems. Deliveries for both contracts are scheduled to begin in October 2009, and continue through February 2010.

These contracts, when combined with the $1.16 billion contract awarded in November 2006 for the remanufacture and upgrade of 610 Bradley Combat Systems, bring the total value of BAE Systems Bradley work to $3.9 billion for Fiscal Years 2005 – 2007. BAE Systems release.

Feb 14/07: +8 A3. The full delivery order amount of $16 million as part of a firm-fixed-price contract for the remanufacture and upgrade of 8 Vehicles to M2A3 standard, and return to 0 Mile Condition. Work will be performed in York, PA (60%), Fayette, PA (8%), Santa Clara, CA (28%), and Aiken, SC (4%), and is expected to be complete by May 31, 2009. This was a sole source contract initiated on Feb. 10, 2006 (W56HZV-05-G-0005). See also BAE Systems release.

Nov 27/06: +490 various. BAE Systems in York, PA receives the full delivery order amount of $1.01 billion as part of a firm-fixed-price contract to remanufacture of 490 total Bradleys into M2A3 Infantry Fighting Vehicle, M3A3 Cavalry Fighting Vehicle scouts, and A3 BFIST targeting and fire control vehicle configurations. Work will begin immediately, and will be performed in York, PA (60%), Fayette, PA (8%), Santa Clara, CA (28%), and Aiken, SC (4%). Deliveries are scheduled to begin in April 2008, and the contract is expected to be complete by May 31, 2009. This was a sole source contract initiated on Feb. 10, 2006 (W56HZV-05-G-0005).

Nov 27/06: +120 ODS. BAE Systems in York, PA receives the full delivery order amount of $118.7 million as part of a firm-fixed-price contract to remanufacture 120 total Bradleys to M2A2-ODS and M3A2-ODS configurations. Work will begin immediately, and will be performed in York, PA (60%), Fayette, PA (8%), Santa Clara, CA (28%), and Aiken, SC (4%), and is expected to be complete by May 31, 2009. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in April 2008, and the contract is expected to be complete by May 31, 2009. This was a sole source contract initiated on Feb. 10, 2006 (W56HZV-05-G-0005). See BAE release re: its Nov 27/06 contracts.

July 28/06: +96 various. The 2 orders announced on this day included full delivery order amounts of $192.6 million and $30.9 million [TL.= $223.5 million] as part of a firm-fixed-price contract for FY 2006 remanufacture and upgrade of Bradley vehicles. Work will be performed in York, PA (83%), Aiken, SC (5%), San Jose, CA (8%), and Fayette, PA (4%), and is expected to be complete by Dec. 31, 2008. This will be performed under a sole source contract initiated on May 17, 2006 (W56HZV-05-G-0005).

BAE Systems, in partnership with Red River Army Depot (RRAD), will remanufacture and upgrade a total of 96 vehicles whose final configurations will be: 57 Bradley A3 vehicles in infantry (M2A3) and cavalry (M3A3) configurations, 16 Bradley A3 Fire Support Team (FIST) vehicles, and 23 M7 BFIST vehicles based on the M2A2-ODS. See also BAE’s release.

June 27/05: +533. See BAE’s June 27, 2005 release covering all of the remanufacturing work announced on DefenseLINK June 23, 2005. DID also covered this set. Over $1.1 billion worth of contracts encompassed:

  • 450 older Bradleys remanufactured to Bradley A3 status – the total value of this delivery order also incorporates 55 vehicles and $71.5 million awarded in March, 2005.

  • 50 vehicles remanufactured to Bradley A2-ODS status, plus kits to convert 100 more vehicles to the A2-ODS configuration.

  • 33 vehicles remanufactured to Bradley Fire Support Team (BFIST) vehicles

  • Spares for Bradley A3 vehicles (not noted below, as not part of the remanufacture program)

  • BAE Systems will also provide 120 Commander’s Independent Viewers for 120 Bradley vehicles ordered under a contract modification.

June 23/05: A3. United Defense LP (now part of BAE Systems) in York, PA receives a delivery order amount of $896.4 million as part of a $967.9 million firm-fixed-price contract for the remanufacture of Bradley A3 vehicles. Work will be performed in York, PA (83%), San Jose, CA (8%), Aiken, SC (5%), and Fayette, PA (4%), and is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2008. This was a sole source contract initiated on March 1, 2005 (W56HZV-05-G-0005).

June 23/05: ODS. United Defense LP (now part of BAE Systems) in York, PA receives the full delivery order amount of $78.4 million as part of a firm-fixed-price contract for the remanufacture of M-A2 Operation Desert Storm vehicles and conversion kits. Work will be performed in York, PA (83%), San Jose, CA (8%), Aiken, SC (5%), and Fayette, PA (4%), and is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2008. This was a sole source contract initiated on March 1, 2005 (W56HZV-05-G-0005).

June 23/05: M7 BFIST. United Defense LP (now part of BAE Systems) in York, PA receives the full delivery order amount of $31.4 million as part of a firm-fixed-price contract for the remanufacture of M7 Bradley Fire Support Team Vehicles. Work will be performed in York, PA (83%), San Jose, CA (8%), Aiken, SC (5%), and Fayette, PA (4%), and is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2008. This was a sole source contract initiated on March 1, 2005 (W56HZV-05-G-0005).

June 23/05: Components. United Defense LP (now part of BAE Systems) in York, PA receives a $30.6 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for the commander’s independent viewers. Work will be performed in York, PA (83%), San Jose, CA (8%), Aiken, SC (5%), and Fayette, PA (4%), and is expected to be complete by Jan. 31, 2008. This was a sole source contract initiated on March 1, 2005 (DAAE07-01-C-M016).

FY 1999 – 2004

123 vehicles – but this list may not be exhaustive.

M2A3 & squad, Iraq
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Sept 24/99: +53. United Defense LP (now part of BAE Systems) in York, PA receives a $43.8 million modification to cost-plus-fixed-fee contract DAAE07-96-C-X036, to acquire the effort necessary to remanufacture/ convert 53 Bradley Fighting Vehicles from an M3A0 configuration to an M3A2-ODS configuration. Work will be performed in York, PA and is expected to be complete by Nov. 30, 2001.

Dec 21/98: +70. United Defense LP (now part of BAE Systems) in York, PA receives a $114.6 million modification to a firm-fixed-price contract for the remanufacture of 27 M2A2 vehicles to the upgraded M2A3 configuration, remanufacture of 43 M3A2 vehicles to the upgraded M3A3 configuration, and the purchase of material/support for 3 M2A3 vehicles (the price for an option to build these three vehicles is not included in this contract action). Work will be performed in York, PA and is expected to be complete by March 31, 2001. This is a sole source contract initiated on Jan. 30, 1998 (DAAE07-96-C-X036).

Additional Readings & Sources

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

MQ-9 Reaper: Unfettered for Export

Defense Industry Daily - 11 hours 20 min ago

Reaper, ready…
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The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator. Until you look at the tail. Or its size. Or its weapons. It’s called “Reaper” for a reason: while it packs the same surveillance gear, it’s much more of a hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV).

The Reaper UCAV will play a significant role in the future USAF, even though its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. Given these high-end capabilities and expenses, one may not have expected the MQ-9 to enjoy better export success than its famous cousin. Nevertheless, that’s what appears to be happening. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy. Several other countries are expressing interest, and the steady addition of new payloads are expanding the Reaper’s advantage over competitors…

The MQ-9 Reaper, and its Little Brothers

MQ-1 landing –
1 Hellfire fired?
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The MQ-9 Reaper was once called “Predator B,” but it is only loosely based on the famous MQ-1 Predator drone. The Reaper is 36 feet long, with a 66 foot wingspan that can be modified to 88 feet. Its maximum gross takeoff weight is a whopping 10,500 pounds, carrying up to 4,000 pounds of fuel, 850 pounds of internal/ sensor payload, and another 3,000 pounds on its wings. Its 6 pylons can carry heavier reconnaissance payloads, as well as an impressive array of weapons including GPS-guided JDAM family bombs, Paveway laser-guided bombs, Sidewinder missiles for air-air self defense or ground strike use, and other MIL STD 1760 compatible weapons, in addition to the Hellfire anti-armor missiles carried by the Predator. The Reaper becomes the equivalent of a close air support fighter with less situational awareness, lower speed, and less survivability if seen – but much, much longer on-station time.

The MQ-1A/B Predator. This UAV is flown by the USAF and Italy. It’s 27 feet long, with a 55 foot wingspan. Maximum gross takeoff weight is 2,3000 pounds, and it can carry 625 pounds of fuel, 450 pounds of internal payload (sensors), and another 300 pounds on its wings for up to 2 AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles or equivalent loads. Its service ceiling is 25,000 feet, which can keep it well above the 10,000-15,000 ceiling above which most guns are ineffective. The piston engine is a Rotax 914 turbo that runs on aviation fuel, and pushes the Predator at a slow speed of 120 KTAS. It’s controlled by UHF/VHF radio signals.

US Army MQ-1C ER/MP. The Gray Eagle looks a lot like the Predator but is a little bit bigger, can carry more weapons, and has an engine that can run on the same “heavy fuel” that fills up the Army’s land vehicles. It’s 28 feet long, with a 56 foot wingspan and a service ceiling of 29,000 feet. Maximum gross takeoff weight is 3,200 pounds, carrying up to 600 pounds of fuel, 575 pounds of internal payload (sensors, plus a communications relay), and another 500 pounds on its wings. This doubles weapon capacity, to 4 AGM-114 Hellfire anti-armor missiles or equivalent loads.The piston engine is a Thielert 135hp that runs on heavy fuel or higher-grade aviation fuel, and gives it a slightly faster speed of 135 KTAS. The Improved Gray Eagle substitutes a higher-power Lycoming DL-120 engine, while adding fuel and payload.

The USAF also had an MQ-1B Block X/ YMQ-1C project to develop a Predator system that would run on heavy fuel and carry up to 4 Hellfires. They canceled it, and their Predator buys in general, in favor of the MQ-9 Reaper.

MQ-1 vs. MQ-9
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The MQ-9 Reaper. This UAV is far more of a fighter substitute or close-air support complement than other UAVs. Larger than its companion MQ-1 UAVs, its reinforced wings give it far greater weapons carrying capacity of 3,000 pounds. Since most manned jet fighters aren’t carrying that many precision weapons for close support missions over Iraq and Afghanistan, that limit lets the MQ-9 fulfill close-air support roles in most low-intensity conflicts.

Its service ceiling is reportedly 50,000 feet unless it’s fully loaded, which can make a lurking Reaper very difficult to find from the ground. That wouldn’t have been useful to UAVs like the Predator, given the Hellfire missile’s range. On the other hand, the ability to drop GPS and laser-guided bombs makes precision high altitude Reaper strikes perfectly plausible. As one might expect, the MQ-9 Reaper’s default sensor package is more capable than the MQ-1 family’s; it includes General Atomics’ AN/APY-8 Lynx I ground-looking radar, and Raytheon’s MTS-B (AN/AAS-52) surveillance and targeting turret.

The engine is a Honeywell TPE 331-10T, which pushes it along at a rather speedier clip of 240 knots. Not exactly an F-16, or even an A-10, but the Reaper’s extra speed does get it to the problem area faster than a Predator could. A total fatigue limit of 20,000 safe fight hours is about double that of a life-extended F-16, and around 20% higher than an EMB-314/ A-29 Super Tucano counter-insurgency turboprop. The flip side is that UAVs have about twice as many accidents as manned fighters.

Horsham AS brief

Reaper ER. This upgrade adds stronger landing gear, a pair of “wet” hardpoints that can handle a pair of fuel tanks, and a stretched 88′ wingspan that includes the ability to carry fuel in the wings. The standard Reaper is configured for 30 hours in surveillance mode, and roughly 23 hours if armed with Hellfire missiles. General Atomics believes the ER model will raise that to 42 hours for ISR and 35 hours with the Hellfire.

Block 5. The latest MQ-9 version is the Block 1+, soon to be known as Block 5. Improvements focus on 3 areas: power capacity, payload capacity, and communications capacity. Power is improved via a new high-capacity starter generator, and an upgraded electrical system whose new backup generator can support all flight critical functions with a triple redundancy. Payload is improved using new trailing arm heavyweight landing gear (TA-MLG), and a weapons kit upgrade from BRU-15 [PDF] bomb release units to ITT Exelis’ BRU-71/A [PDF]. Finally, communications upgrades include encrypted datalinks, bandwodth improvements, upgraded software to allow the 2-person aircrew to operate all onboard systems, and dual ARC-210 VHF/UHF radios with wingtip antennas that allow simultaneous communications between multiple air-to-air and air-to-ground parties.

SOCOM. US Special Operations Command (SOCOM) flies the MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1 Predators. Both are referred to as Medium Altitude Long Endurance Tactical (MALET) platforms, and the 160th SOAR added the MQ-1C Gray Eagle in November 2013. If SOCOM has to bring the MALET down to hammer a target, they fly in enhanced variants with improved video transmission, infrared modifications, signals intelligence payloads, and “delivery of low collateral damage weapons.” The latter presumably includes precision mini-missile options like Raytheon’s Griffin, and precision glide bombs like Northrop Grumman’s GBU-44 Viper Strike and Lockheed Martin’s Scorpion, all of which allow a single Hellfire rail or weapon station to carry multiple weapons. SOCOM does want the Reaper to be more transportable, though, for quick delivery and use in theater.

Other. General Atomics’ Mariner/ Guardian maritime surveillance variant and FAA-certified high-altitude Altair research UAV are both derived from the MQ-9 Reaper. So, too, is NASA’s Ikhana.

Program Highlights

A basic MQ-9 Reaper system consists of 4 UAVs, each with a Raytheon MTS-B day/night surveillance and targeting turret, General Atomics AN/APY-8 Lynx ground-looking SAR/GMTI radar, and satellite communications equipment; Weapon kits with integrated hardpoints for certified weapons; 1 Ground Control System; and Ground Data Terminals.

Operational squadrons will also have appropriate support equipment, simulator and training devices, and Readiness Spares Packages (RSP) on hand. A lot of support is still handled by contractors, but some is being moved inside the military.

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The average flyaway cost of an MQ-9 is between $17-21 million, based on FY 2015 budget documents. Note that flyaway cost subtotals also include shares of Ground Control Stations (GCS), Ground Data Terminals (GDTs), and Predator Primary Satellite Links (PPSLs), which means that buying different numbers of ancillary systems or UAVs changes the cost number from year to year.

Export buyers will incur higher costs, as the few UAVs they buy need the entire set of back-end infrastructure and support systems. Co-location with the USAF or Britain in a satellite-linked operations center can help defray the biggest expenses, but costs will still be far higher than they would be for a USAF purchase.

American budget totals reflect the number of individual UAVs purchased, though each year is also buying the other equipment needed to make the Reapers work, and making long lead-time buys for the following year. Note that both RDT&E funding and procurement funding beyond FY 2015 reflect the USAF only, and don’t include the minor contributions of US SOCOM.

A complete timeline of the MQ-9 program, including export sales and requests, and planned milestones:

Competitors & Prospects

USAF on UAV futures

The MQ-9 has few competitors at the moment. Other UCAVs like the US Navy’s X-47 UCAS-D, the European nEUROn project, and Britain’s Taranis all focused on the stealthy fighter replacement role, and conventional UAVs optimized for surveillance rather than strike, Serious competition would involve existing UAVs that begin integrating and proving a variety of weapon sets, and have the capacity to carry a substantial payload. The challenge is that many of those UAVs will hit limits to payload carriage or endurance before they can match the Reaper, or run afoul of the 300 mile range/ 500 pound ordnance limit embedded in the Missile Technology Control Regime treaty.

The BAE Mantis/ Telemos UAV, whose twin pusher-propeller design and T-tail make it look like the unmanned offspring of an A-10 “Warthog” and Argentina’s IA 58 Pucara counter-insurgency aircraft, was well positioned to compete. Instead, it was sidelined by lack of funding and commitment from Britain and France. Israel has UAVs in a similar size class (Heron-TP, Hermes 900, Dominator), but they don’t routinely carry weapons, and heaven’t been exported as armed UAVs. Italy and the UAE are building Piaggio’s fast Hammerhead P.1HH, but the MCTR cripples its payload, and plans to arm the UAV remain distant. The UAE touts their Yabhon United 40 Block 5, but it needs to be inducted and proven in operational service. China has begun to export its Wing Loong armed UAV, but its peer comparison is the MQ-1 Predator.

That’s the good news for General Atomics. The bad news is that is that MQ-9 export approval beyond NATO and similarly close allies seems unlikely. MQ-9s are currently in service with the USAF, Britain (10), France (2), and Italy (4). The Netherlands has committed to buy 4, but hasn’t placed a contract yet. Poland is also said to be considering a purchase, and Germany was a strong export candidate before its current government backed off buying any drones at all. Note that even within this group, Britain has been the only country allowed to arm their Reapers.

Future Planning & Developments

MQ-9 Block 5
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As of March 2013, the USAF intends to fulfill the MQ-9 Increment One CPD requirements with a final UAS configuration consisting of the MQ-9 Block 5 UAV with OFP 904.6, and the Block 30 GCS. The program will be reducing or deferring 12 required block 5 capabilities related to aircraft endurance, radar performance, and reliability, and other areas. The UAV’s core OFP flight software has been a development issue, and DOT&E expects further delays, along with added risks because cyber-vulnerabilities haven’t been heavily tested.

AFOTEC hoped to conduct formal operational testing of the final MQ-9 Increment One UAS in late 2014, but the addition of manufacturing issues has pushed things back to early 2016.

“Increment II” upgrades beyond the MQ-9 Block 5 were slated to include GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb integration, Automatic take-off and landing, Deicing, and National Airspace certification for flights in American civil airspace. At present, those upgrades languish in an unfunded limbo.

Contracts & Key Events, 2005 SDD – Present

MQ-9, Kandahar
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Some support contracts are common to the MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper fleet. They are not covered here. Britain’s MQ-9 Reaper program has its own DID Spotlight article, but its items are reproduced here as well.

Unless otherwise indicated, all contracts are managed by Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, where the 658th AESS/PK is the Predator Contracting Group. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. of Poway, CA (near San Diego, north of MCAS Miramar) is the contractor. Note that, for whatever reason, many USAF orders don’t seem to be announced through standard channels. See budgets, above, for a clearer sense of the numbers involved.

FY 2014 – 2018

 

Afghan Pre-Flight
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June 18/18: New SAR for Block 5  The Air Force is contracting General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems in support of its MQ-9 Reaper platform. The contract modification provides for the product ionization of the Lynx Block 20A synthetic aperture radar (SAR) configuration and is valued at $22 million. The new Lynx SAR is set to replace the current configuration of the system on the future MQ-9 Block 5 remotely piloted aircraft. The Reaper packs the same surveillance gear as the famous Predator but is more of a hunter-killer design. The Lynx radar is designed to meet the onboard challenges of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft systems environment, the it consumes minimal Size, Weight, and Power (SWAP) while delivering precision air-to-surface targeting accuracy and superb wide-area search capabilities. Lynx includes two spotlight and two stripmap SAR modes. Spotlight mode produces high-resolution imagery on a defined point. Stripmap mode mosaics multiple spot SAR images together to form one large image. Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by June 2020.

May 18/18: Block 5 continues General Atomics is being tapped to retrofit the MQ-9 system. The firm-fixed-price, fixed-price-incentive, and cost-plus-fixed-fee contract is valued at $206 million and provides for retrofitting 122 MQ-9 Block 5 aircraft. The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” has been called the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV). This UAV is far more of a fighter substitute or close-air support complement than other UAVs. The latest MQ-9 version is the Block 5, formerly known as Block 1+. Improvements focus on 3 areas: power capacity, payload capacity, and communications capacity. Power is improved via a new high-capacity starter generator, and an upgraded electrical system whose new backup generator can support all flight critical functions with a triple redundancy. Payload is improved using new trailing arm heavyweight landing gear, a weapons kit and communications upgrade. Work will be performed at Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by June 20, 2024.

April 30/18: Engine Spares General Atomics has received a US Air Force (USAF) contract modification for spare engines used on the MQ-9 Reaper drones. According to the Pentagon statement released Thursday, April 26, the order calls for the production of an undefined number of spare engines and engine shipping containers at a cost of $36.6 million. Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by May 31, 2020.

April 02/18: Production orders General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. has been awarded a contract for the production of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft. The contract is valued at over $295 million. Work will be performed in Poway, California, and is scheduled for completion by July 2021. The MQ-9 Reaper UAV, once called “Predator B,” is somewhat similar to the famous Predator, but with a strong hunter-killer design. Some have called it the first fielded Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV). The Reaper is a major asset for the US Air Force, its capability set makes the MQ-9 considerably more expensive than MQ-1 Predators. MQ-9 operators currently include the USA and Britain, who use it in hunter-killer mode, and Italy.

March 14/18: Maintenance & Support URS Federal Technical Services landed a $961 million contract Friday, March 9, for maintenance and support of the US Air Force’s unmanned aircraft fleet. According the agreement, the Maryland-based firm will cover support for MQ-1 Predator, MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft and covers an indefinite amount of organizational-level maintenance as well as support of the aircrafts’ launch and recovery activities, as well as their combat and training capability. Work will take place at locations worldwide with a scheduled completion time set for June 30, 2019.

March 12/18: USAF seeks AAM capability As the MQ-1 Predator officially leaves active duty with the US Air Force, the service announced its intentions to equip its replacement—the MQ-9 Reaper—with an air-to-air missile capability. The first steps in the effort has seen the Reaper’s manufacturer General Atomics tasked with developing the Reaper Air-to-Air Missile (RAAM) Aviation Simulation (AVSIM), however, no additional details on requested capabilities have been given. To date, the Reaper has been employed for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) and strike missions only, and the inclusion of air-to-air combat in its mission set would represent a significant expansion of its capabilities.

January 31/18: Contracts-Software General Atomics has been awarded a USAF contract for software development on the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Valued at $49.3 million, the agreement provides for software development, in addition to sustaining the current MQ-9 Reaper force operated by the Air Force Special Operations Command and Air Combat Command units. Work to take place at Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by January 31, 2020. Fiscal 2017 and 2018 research and development funds in the amount of $9,864,489 are being obligated at the time of the award.

January 9/18: Reaper Block 5 Kits General Atomics received Wednesday, a $14.1 million USAF contract to supply MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 kits to the service, that will include extended-range kits, beyond-line-of-sight kits and Barrett Asymmetrical Digital Datalink Computer Routers. Work will be performed in Poway, California, with an expected completion date of February 21, 2021. The upgrade comes as the USAF starts to phase out the older MQ-1 Predator drone from service, and the kits will go towards upgrading earlier versions of the Reaper to the most modern Block 5 configuration—which gives the UAVs increased electrical power, secure communications, auto land, increased gross takeoff weight, weapons growth, and streamlined payload integration capabilities.

December 8/17: Contracts-Integration-Munitions The GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb (SDB) is set to become part of the MQ-9 Reaper hunter-killer UAV’s arsenal, after the US Department of Defense (DoD) awarded the drone’s manufacturer—General Atomics—a $17.4 million US Air Force contract to integrate the munition on the platform. The award stated that this will be done by using a universal armament interface on a dual carriage system. Work will take place at the firm’s Poway, California facility, with an expected completion scheduled for November 27, 2021. Weapons already integrated on the Reaper include the AGM-114 Hellfire missile, the 500-pound laser-guided GBU-12 Paveway II bomb, and GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM), and the SBD will offer its operators the ability to carry four 250-pound bombs with a range of 40 nautical miles, with the bomb’s small size reducing collateral damage and would allow the Reaper to achieve more kills or attack strikes per mission.

September 07/17: French MQ-9 Reapers UAVs in Mali will soon be armed. Six Reapers, scheduled for delivery in 2019, will come armed with Hellfire missiles while the six remaining unarmed UAVs will be armed by 2020. France currently has five unarmed Reaper reconnaissance drones positioned in Niger’s capital Niamey to support its 4,000-strong Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in Africa, and one in France. The armed drones are expected to offer a quick-response to Islamist militants operating in the Sahara region.

August 24/17: General Atomics has flown its MQ-9B SkyGuardian Remotely Piloted Aircraft through unrestricted US airspace for the first time. The August 16 flight saw the aircraft fly for one hour and 45 minutes from Laguna Airfield at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., through National Airspace, to the company’s Gray Butte Flight Operations facility near Palmdale, Calif. A GA statement hailed the SkyGuardian as the first “RPA system of its kind with a design-assurance level compliant with international type-certification standards, and can therefore be integrated more easily than legacy RPAs into civil airspace operations around the world.”

July 4/17: The latest version of the MQ-9 Reaper, the Block 5 variant, flew its first successful combat mission, June 23, 2017. The 16-hour flight was in support of Operation Inherent Resolve—the US operation against the Islamic State positions in Iraq and Syria—and the UAV dropped a GBU-38 JDAM munition during the mission in addition to two Hellfires. Upgrades found on the Block 5 variant include an improved electrical and communications systems which provides better software and hardware upgrades for future operations, an a new Block 30 cockpit that required different training for the aircrews.

May 30/17: General Atomics’ new MQ-9B SkyGuardian UAV has set a new flight endurance record by topping 48 hours in the air. The new variant of the Predator B broke the record during a flight at Yuma Proving Grounds, Ariz., while carrying 6,065 pounds of internal fuel. It flew between 25,000 and 35,000 feet for the duration of the mission and landed 48.2 hours later. The previous endurance record was held by Predator XP, which flew 46.1 hours in February 2015.

May 19/17: The USAF has awarded a $400 million contract to General Atomics for the production and delivery of 36 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. The contract comes from acquisition funds already appropriated sole-source acquisition funds from Fiscal 2016. Work will take place at Poway, California, and is expected to be complete by Aug. 31, 2020. The Reaper, the larger and more heavily successor to the MQ-1 Predator, the UAV boasts a cruise speed of 230 mph, a flight ceiling up to 50,000 feet, and a range of 1150 miles, and can carry a payload of up to 3750 lbs. Munitions integrated include the Hellfire laser-guided missiles, GBU-12 Paveway bombs, and GPS-guided GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munitions.

May 9/17: GKN Aerospace will produce and provide a new fuel bladder system for the first production model of General Atomic’s Predator B MQ-9B UAV, scheduled for 2018. An agreement signed between the two firms has a full potential value of $15 million when it enters service with NATO’s UAV airworthiness Requirements. According to GKN, the fuel bladder system will be made in a vacuum forming process using poly-urethane material for shapes that better fit available space on the aircraft airframe.

May 8/17: A MQ-9 Reaper UAV has dropped a GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition (JDAM) at a range in Nevada, USA for the first time. By adding the JDAM to the UAV’s arsenal, operators will have a greater opportunity to track targets in bad weather as it utilizes a GPS-guidance system instead of the laser-guided munitions that are currently used, like the AGM-114 Hellfire and GBU-12. The JDAM is also liked by aircrews as it takes ten minutes less to load when compared to the GBU-12, taking 20 minutes to load instead of 30.

March 28/17: A number of US senators have come together in a bipartisan effort to pressure the Trump administration into approving two key defense deals with India. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Mark Warner, D-Va urged Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in joint letters to approve co-production of Lockheed Martin’s F-16 in India and to approve the export of General Atomics’ Guardian, a nonlethal maritime version of the MQ-9 Reaper. Speaking on the F-16 negotiations, the letters stated that a successful deal “will increase interoperability with a key partner and a dominant power in South Asia, build India’s capacity to counter threats from the north, and balance China’s growing military capability in the Pacific,” while on the Guardian UAV deal, the men warned that a failure to go through with the sale “will not only have implications for regional security in the Asia-Pacific, but could also significantly impact the MQ-9 production line and put thousands of US manufacturing jobs at risk.”

February 28/17: Competitor Wing Loong II. China has received their largest foreign order for the indigenous next-generation Wing Loong II UAV. However, the report did not disclose the identity of the buyer or the size of the order. Beijing has been driving to increase their market share of the military drone market at the expense of US and Israeli products, by offering lower-cost technology to customers and a willingness to sell to governments to which Western states will not sell. The Wing Loong II’s predecessor is marketed for $1 million, while the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper, to which it has sometimes been compared, is priced at around $30 million.

January 11/17: General Atomics will provide MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to the Spanish government, following a $53 million contract award by the USAF. The order is an adjustment to an existing basic ordering agreement between the United States and Spain. In 2015, Madrid selected the Reaper over the Heron TP to perform homeland security, counter-insurgency, and counter-terrorism operations. The procurement is expected to cost some $181 million over five years.

January 6/17: General Atomics has been contracted by the US government to provide MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to Spain. The $56 million is an adjustment to an existing basic ordering agreement between Washington and Madrid and work is expected to be complete by January 31, 2019. Last February, Spain ordered four aircraft and associated control stations from General Atomics, in what the company says represents one complete Reaper system. The total value of Spain’s Reaper package, along with associated support and equipment, could reach as much as $243 million.

December 6/16: Contracts have been signed between General Atomics and the UK government to develop new UAVs. The company will equip existing drone technology into new remotely piloted aircraft for the RAF, in a deal worth $127 million. 20 Protector UAVs will be developed under the program and will replace the current fleet of 10 MQ-9 Reapers.

October 28/16: It’s been reported that the US military is using bases in Tunisia to conduct surveillance drone operations against Islamic State militants in Libya with unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. However Tunisian sources have denied that the drones have been in Libyan airspace and instead are being used for training Tunisian forces and protecting the country’s borders. Following attacks by jihadists in a popular vacation destination in 2015, Washington has given more than $250 million in security assistance to Tunisia while the UK has provided personnel to train Tunisian forces.

September 30/16: Building is underway by the US military of a $100 million facility for the use of MQ-9 Reaper operations in the region. The news comes less than a year after the announcement was made that Reaper and Predator bases in Ethiopia and Djibouti would be closed. MQ-9s operated from East African bases are used primarily for missions against Islamic insurgents such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and AQAP in Yemen.

August 24/16: General Atomics has been contracted by the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) to develop a laser tracking system for the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Valued at $9.6 million, the contract will set the company to design, build and test in the lab key laser subsystems to demonstrate precision tracking. Furthermore, the company will develop and demonstrate an MQ-9 flight representative laser system with the beam train optics required to upgrade a multi-spectral targeting system for use as an active tracking sensor.

August 19/16: General Atomics is to provide 30 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs to the USAF. The $370.9 million contract will be completed by May 31, 2019.

August 8/16: MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots are to undergo a fifteen-day course in electric warfare missions. The USAF program will see pilots gain training so that they can continue to operate their UAV when under electronic attack such as jamming of their satellite uplinks. Once completed, they will be known as Electronic Combat Officers.

June 27/16: India has issued a Letter of Request (LoR) to the US government over the potential purchase of 22 General Atomics Guardians, a maritime patrol variant of the MQ-9 Predator B. A letter of acceptance from the US will follow later in the year which will trigger the commencement of price negotiations over the UAVs with a final contract to be signed sometime in 2017-18. It is unclear, however, whether the Indian Navy will acquire the non-weaponized Guardian variant – featuring intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities – the weaponized one, or both.

June 3/16: MQ-9 UAVs operated by the Italian Air Force are to be fitted with General Atomics integrated Rafael RecceLite reconnaissance pod. Flight testing will be carried out in early 2017 at Amendola Air Base, Italy. The company believes that the adoption of the system “could lead to similar efforts with other NATO customers that operate MQ-9.”

May 5/16: An upgrade to automate takeoff and landing of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs is being pursued by the USAF, making training Reaper pilots easier and allowing access to more runways. A similar upgrade already exists on US Army MQ-1C Grey Eagles. According to General Atomics’ senior director of strategic development, Chris Pehrson, the air force tried last year to shift money from other accounts to begin implementing the automatic takeoff and landing system, but the request was denied by Congress.

April 28/16: After numerous delays in its maiden flight which occurred last week amid much excitement from manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), the X-2 stealth demonstrator will have a year long test campaign involving around 50 flights. With the maiden flight described as “ordinary” by Hirofumi Doi, manager of Japan’s Future Fighter Program at the defence ministry’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA), future testing will help ATLA gather data on advanced fighter technologies such as stealth, thrust vectoring, data links, and other areas. Depending on this data, flight testing of the X-2 could easily be extended, leading the way for a potentially busy period for the demonstrator.

March 22/16: The USAF and Honeywell are investigating a still-undetermined problem with the starter-generator on the MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 version’s Honeywell turboprop engine. Seventeen MQ-9 crashes have been avoided since last April, however, thanks to a backup electrical system that has been installed as a safeguard, which allows for the aircraft to fly for another ten hours. Since the UAV’s first flight, the USAF have lost dozens during missions, at a cost of $20-25 million per aircraft. This has intensified in 2015, as the steeping up of anti-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Africa saw 10 MQ-9 and 10 MQ-1 crashes in that last year alone.

February 19/16: General Atomics has received a contract to provide four unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs and two Block 30 ground control stations to Spain. While Madrid may seek to arm the UAVs in future, it requires authorization from the US government before it can do so. However, this may not be too much of an issue, as both the UK and Italy have already been granted permission to arm their fleets with precision guided missiles such as the AGM-114 Hellfire. While the initial foreign sales notice posted by the US in October cites the cost of the hardware at $80 million, the total cost of procurement, training and logistical support could see that cost more in the region of $243 million.

January 21/16: A second MQ-9 Reaper UAV system will be delivered to France by October 2017 after the US DoD announced contracts on Tuesday. Work and delivery of the system is set to cost $47.7 million and will be carried out by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. The awarding of the contract follows the December order of a third batch of Reaper systems by France set for delivery in 2019. France has been operating the UAVs on missions on the African continent, primarily in the Sahel-Saharan region. The MQ-9s will most likely continue to be operated until a pan-European UAV development project is completed which will see a drone developed jointly by France, Germany and Italy.

December 28/15: After two decades, General Atomics will cease production of the RQ-1 Predator UAV after the final two were delivered to the Italian Air Force. While not officially confirmed, it is believed that the Italians operate nine RQ-1s for intelligence gathering. Furthermore, they have procured six of the RQ-1’s successor, the MQ-9 Reaper which have recently been approved by the US government to carry weapons. The aircraft are primarily utilized by the Italians over the Mediterranean Sea and in support of NATO operations.

November 6/15: The State Department has approved a Foreign Military Sale contract to weaponize the Italian Air Force’s fleet of MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. The DSCA request included AGM-114R2 Hellfire II missiles, JDAM guided bombs and launchers, with the possible deal estimated to value $129.6 million. General Atomics will be the prime contractor for the potential sale, the US government having relaxed export restrictions in February, with the weaponization of the Italian Reapers representing the second international customer to operate armed MQ-9s. The Royal Air Force is the sole weaponized operator outside of the US.

November 4/15: Spain’s cabinet has approved a proposed acquisition of four MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs from the US, following State Department approval of a DSCA request by the country’s Defense Ministry in October. The $177 million procurement saw the General Atomics design – favored by the Spanish Air Force – beat off competition from Israel Aerospace Industries’ Heron TP. The contract’s value will be spread over a multi-year contract until 2020, with Spanish firm SENER acting as General Atomics’ partner. Elsewhere in Europe, the Netherlands also requested four of the same aircraft in February, with the United Kingdom operating armed Reapers.

October 30/15: The deputy head of the Air Force ISR wants to counteract a shortfall in MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper operators by compressing the current two-person arrangement into a single role. The conversion would require changes to the system’s ground station, with Air Force officials keen to maximise manpower efficiency in the face of high drop-out rates for drone pilots.

October 8/15: The State Department has given the green light to Spain acquiring four MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs, through a potential acquisition valued at $243 million along with auxiliary equipment and services. The Spanish Defence Ministry set aside money in its 2016 budget for the four UAVs, which it reportedly opted to sole-source from manufacturer General Atomics. The Reapers will be used exclusively for ISR, with the United Kingdom the only nation currently operating armed Reapers outside of the US, with the Netherlands also requesting four MQ-9s in February. Spain’s proposed sale will now be referred to Congress for approval.

September 28/15: General Atomics has unveiled a new capability for its MQ-9B Guardian maritime UAV, presenting a sonobuoy capability along with other modifications to the Royal Navy in a bid to market the Guardian as an unmanned maritime patrol aircraft to supplement the likely procurement of a manned maritime patrol aircraft. Calls from industry for the UK’s Defence Ministry to run a competition for its future maritime patrol aircraft are growing louder, with Northrop Grumman thought to be considering an offer of their RQ-4C Triton as another unmanned option in addition to the Guardian.

August 7/15: Spain has decided to buy four unarmed MQ-9 Reaper UAVs, along with two ground stations. The fifth European country to purchase the Reaper, the Spanish defense ministry has allocated $186.9 million for the acquisition. The United Kingdom, France and Italy operate the Reaper, with the Netherlands requesting four in February.

August 5/15: The Air Force’s Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) has recommended adding new sensors, weapons and countermeasures to MQ-9 Reaper and RQ-4 Global Hawk UAVs to increase survivability and lethality in contested airspace. The SAB is also pushing for Manned-Unmanned Teaming, something already baked into the latest iteration of the AH-64E Block III Apache, with tests in June demonstrating the helicopter operating alongside a MQ-1C Gray Eagle, with the UAV assisting in target-painting and surveillance. A full report on the topic – ‘Enhanced Utility of Unmanned Air Vehicles In Contested and Denied Environments’ – will be published in December.

June 5/15: The UK and France are exploring the possibility of collaborating for Reaper UAV training, logistics and support services. The British operate ten of the aircraft, with these all deployed on operations over Iraq, with France taking delivery of a third Reaper at the end of May, with twelve set to be delivered by 2019.

May 21/15: General Atomics was awarded a production contract for eight additional MQ-9 Reaper Block 5 UAVs on Wednesday, with this $72.1 million contract following a similar $279.1 million order for 24 of the aircraft last month.

July 2/14: Germany. The whole subject of UAVs remains very contentious along left-right lines (q.v. Nov 14/13), as a long Defence Committee hearing on June 30/14 demonstrated once again. But German Defence Minister Dr. Ursula von der Leyen [CDU] has now stated her support for buying UAVs that can carry weapons, on the condition that the German Bundestag would vote to send them on any foreign missions, and decide whether they should be armed.

That would seemingly favor the MQ-9 in the short term, but she stated her satisfaction with the current leasing program for Heron-1 UAVs, which can be continued without sparking a divisive armed UAV debate in the Bundestag. Over the longer term, she also spoke in favour of developing “a European armed drone.” The NSA remains the political gift that keeps on giving to non-American defense sector competitors:

“Once again, the NSA affair has made it clear to me what it means to lie dormant through 10 to 15 years of technological development and suddenly face the bitter reality of how dependent one is on others…. Europe needs the capabilities of a reconnaissance drone so it is not permanently dependent on others.”

The challenge is that European partners want a UAV that can carry weapons, so Germany probably needs to accept that in order to find partners. Time will tell. Source: Euractiv, “German defence minister backs ‘European armed drone'”.

June 26/14: Upgrades. General Atomics – Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $15.3 million firm-fixed-price sole-source contract for the MQ-9 Fuel Bladder Retrofit Kits, Time Compliance Technical Orders (TCTO) and initial spares. The certified O-level TCTOs enable the removal of existing Aero Tech Labs fuel bladders, and enable the installation of the new fuel bladders on MQ-9 Reaper Block 1 aircraft. GA-ASI will also update existing technical orders and manuals, and deliver initial retrofit spares. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2012 & 2013 USAF aircraft budgets.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 6/17. USAF Life Cycle Management Center’s, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0071).

May 9/14: Australia. Air Marshal Geoff Brown tells Fairfax Media that he’d like to see Australia buy some MQ-9s. Australia has trialed MQ-9s in a maritime border patrol role (q.v. May-September 2006). Their military intends to move ahead with the jet-powered MQ-4C Global Hawk derivative that won the US Navy BAMS competition, but an MQ-9 fleet bought to support the Army would likely find itself on call to support Coast Guard duties as well. That could be done with standard equipment, as Italy has done (q.v. Jan 15/14), or via additional buys to obtain SeaVue radars like the MQ-9 Guardians operated by US Customs (q.v. Dec 7/09). Brown:

“I’m a great fan of capabilities that have a very multi-role aspect to them, and I think Predator-Reaper does have that… I think the combination of a good ISR platform that’s weaponized is a pretty legitimate weapon system for Australia…. I’d love to have [MQ-4C] Triton tomorrow… I’d certainly like to have Predator-Reaper capability as well, and I’d like to bring [our rented fleet of IAI’s] Heron back so we build on those skills that we’ve got.”

He’s thinking in terms of the next 5 years, and the place to set that in motion would be the coming Force Structure Review. Sources: Sydney Morning Herald, “Air Force wants to buy deadly Reaper drones”.

April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report. For the MQ-9:

“Program costs decreased $1,451.8 million (-10.9%) from $13,318.2 million to $11,866.4 million, due primarily to a quantity decrease of 58 aircraft from 401 to 343 (-$962.1 million), associated schedule, engineering, and estimating allocations (+$66.9 million), and areduction of initial spares and support equipment related to the decrease in quantity (-$432.9 million). There were additional decreases for the removal of the Airborne Signals Intelligence payload 2C (ASIP 2C) requirement (-$280.1 million) and sequestration reductions (-$142.5 million). These decreases were partially offset by increases for a warfighter requirement for extended range retrofits and communications requirements (+$138.9 million) and the addition of production line shut down costs that were not previously estimated (+$132.7 million).”

Program cuts

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. The MQ-9 Block 5’s manufacturing issues include “delinquencies in completing technical data, software delays, and fuel tank issues”; the latter were severe enough that they required production line changes and fleet retrofits. As a result, deliveries were slowed, operational testing had to move back from October 2014 to January 2016, and Block 5 software won’t be fully fielded until March 2016. Meanwhile,

“As of December 2013, 21 Block 1 aircraft have been produced, but are still awaiting the necessary software capability upgrades before they can be delivered. Until these software upgrades are complete, aircraft are only being delivered based on urgent needs. According to program officials, the program has developed an aircraft delivery recovery plan that should allow deliveries to be back on track by April 2014.”

Since more than half of the planned fleet will have been manufactured before a “Full Rate Production Decision” is made, the Pentagon has decided to have an “in-process review” in February 2016 instead.

March 26/14: Weapons. An MQ-9 successfully finishes December 2013 – January 2014 tests at US Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake, CA, firing MBDA’s dual-mode radar/laser Brimstone missile against a variety of targets. The Brimstone is similar to the Reaper’s regular laser-guided AGM-114 Hellfire, with a slightly longer range, a fire-and-forget radar seeker, a “man in the loop” feature, and the ability to deploy on fast jets. Consolidating on the Brimstone would let the RAF use a single weapon type for short-range light strike.

The test was a cooperative effort between Britain and the United States (q,v, May 3/13), and all of the RAF’s primary and secondary trial objectives were met. Brimstone isn’t formally integrated onto the MQ-9, but it looks as if that’s about to change. Sources: MBDA, “MBDA’s Brimstone Demonstrates its Precision Low Collateral Capability from Reaper”.

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The US military slowly files its budget documents, detailing planned spending from FY 2014 – 2019. The FY 2015 request supports the procurement of 12 MQ-9 UAVs and 12 fixed ground control stations, while funding MQ-9 Extended Range fleet modifications. Deliveries out to 2019 are being cut, but the budget isn’t changing that much because of required investments in spare parts, support infrastructure, and technical data rights.

There are currently 143 MQ-9 aircraft in USAF inventory, with an estimated designed service life of 20,000 hours each. For comparison purpose, that’s about double the total lifespan of an F-16 with life-extension refits, and slightly longer than a manned Super Tucano turboprop’s ~16-18,000 hours.

Near-term upgrades include new Linux processors, high definition monitors, and ergonomic improvements. Future planned upgrades include integrating improved human-machine interfaces, open systems architecture, improved crew habitability, and multiple aircraft control. Future GCS configurations will leverage the Unmanned Aerospace System (UAS) Command and Control (C2) Initiative (UCI) government-owned open system standard to enable improved capabilities for situational awareness and multi-mission management monitoring and oversight.

Feb 24/14: Budgets. Chuck Hagel’s FY 2015 pre-budget briefing explains that cutbacks are on the way for the drone fleet, but perhaps not the Reapers:

“The Air Force will slow the growth in its arsenal of armed unmanned systems that, while effective against insurgents and terrorists, cannot operate in the face of enemy aircraft and modern air defenses. Instead of increasing to a force of 65 around-the-clock combat air patrols of Predator and Reaper aircraft, the Air Force will grow to 55, still a significant increase. Given the continued drawdown in Afghanistan, this level of coverage will be sufficient to meet our requirements, and we would still be able to surge to an unprecedented 71 combat air patrols under this plan. DoD will continue buying the more capable Reapers until we have an all-Reaper fleet.

If sequestration-level cuts are re-imposed in 2016 and beyond, however, the Air Force would need to make far more significant cuts to force structure and modernization. The Air Force would have to retire 80 more aircraft, including the entire KC-10 tanker fleet and the Global Hawk Block 40 fleet, as well as slow down purchases of the Joint Strike Fighter – resulting in 24 fewer F-35s purchased through Fiscal Year 2019 – and sustain ten fewer Predator and Reaper 24-hour combat air patrols [DID: down to 45]. The Air Force would also have to take deep cuts to flying hours, which would prevent a return to adequate readiness levels.”

Sources: US DoD, “Remarks By Secretary Of Defense Chuck Hagel FY 2015 Budget Preview Pentagon Press Briefing Room Monday, February 24, 2014”.

Feb 5/14: Bandwidth innovation. The USAF touts changes they’ve made to the MQ-9 Reaper, allowing it to relay data through inclined orbit satellites that have become slightly unstable. The satellites’ wobble cuts their leasing costs sharply, so UAVs can cut operating costs by integrating updated satellite location data with software to point their receivers, and having procedures to manage the associated situations. The USAF has successfully tested exactly this kind of system on the MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAVs.

The Jan 28/14 DOT&E report gave the MQ-9 program both barrels for what it saw as lack of organization, and a development culture that pursued off-record efforts at the expense of their planned capabilities. Announcements like this one, and the Feb 5/14 AFSOC report, remind us that less-planned but potentially significant enhancements can add up to important steps forward. Read “I.O. Satellites for UAVs? USAF Reaping Savings” for full coverage.

Feb 5/14: 38 ER conversions. A maximum $117.3 million unfinalized contract will finance conversions to create 38 MQ-9 Extended Range UAVs, with larger wings and more fuel.

$41.5 million committed immediately, using a combination of FY 2013-2014 RDT&E budgets, and the FY 2014 aircraft budget. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by July 7/16. USAF Lifecycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0118).

MQ-9 ER conversions begin

Feb 5/14: AFSOC Support. A $166 million delivery order for “Lead-off Hitter AFSOC MQ-9 Software Line,” which will provide MQ-9 software engineering support for the AFSOC fleet of MQ-9 unmanned aerial systems. In an interesting note about some of the changes underway, the FY 2013 DOT&E report mentioned that:

“AFSOC demonstrated the successful transmission of encrypted, high-definition full motion video from the RPA to remote video terminal-equipped ground units in support of urgent AFSOC capabilities needs. AFOTEC will conduct formal evaluation of full motion video transmission during FOT&E of the MQ-9 Increment One system.”

Work will be performed in Poway, Calif., and is expected to be completed by Feb. 6, 2015. Fiscal 2013 research and development funds in the amount of $2,063,006 are being obligated at time of award. Air Force Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0114).

Jan 28/14: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2013 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The MQ-9 is included, and the report paints the program as a mess, getting UAVs out the door but tripping over itself elsewhere thanks to the lack of an Integrated Master Schedule, inability to prioritize or meet timelines, and only limited Information Assurance cyber-testing.

The result of these failings, in conjunction with “competing schedule priorities for non-program of record capabilities,” is that the program formally acknowledged an Acquisition Program Baseline (APB) breach in May 2013 and said they couldn’t meet the program of record schedule. The Increment 1/ Block 5 system can’t undergo Full OT&E in FY 2014 as planned, and integration of the GBU-38 JDAM was postponed. Indeed:

“Development, operational testing, and fielding of Increment One program of record capabilities will likely experience continued delays until the program is able to better prioritize and control maturation of these capabilities in accordance with a predictable schedule. Ongoing schedule challenges, combined with RPA production emphasis, increase the likelihood that the MQ-9 UAS will complete the delivery of all planned MQ-9 RPAs under low-rate initial production. FOT&E of the Increment One UAS configuration, originally planned for 2013, will likely be delayed several years beyond FY14.”

Jan 22/14: EW. General Atomics and Northrop Grumman conduct the 2nd USMC demonstration of MQ-9s as electronic warfare platforms (q.v. Aug 13/13), using NGC’s Pandora low-power, wideband electronic warfare pod. They tested Pandora’s compatibility with the Reaper’s avionics and command and control architecture, including control of the Pandora pod’s operations, and tested the entire system’s integration into a Marine Command and Control (C2) network.

A Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (CEWCC) located at MCAS Yuma ran the pod and UAV, which supported a large aircraft strike package that included EA-6B Prowler jamming aircraft. General Atomics sees this as an important way to broaden the Reaper’s usefulness, in order to keep it from budget cuts (q.v. Jan 2/14). Sources: GA-ASI, “GA-ASI and Northrop Grumman Showcase Additional Unmanned Electronic Attack Capabilities in Second USMC Exercise”.

Jan 15/14: UAV SAR. General Atomics touts the use of its MQ-1 and MQ-9 UAVs in search and rescue scenarios, which will become much easier once civil airspace rules are changed to provide clear requirements for UAVs.

MQ-9 UAVs were used in New Mexico to find missing kayyakers in April 2012, and MQ-1s and MQ-9s were both used in October 2013 to find a missing German mountain biker who was stranded and injured in the Lincoln National Forest. Interestingly, their main role was to search less-likely areas, ensuring that they were covered while allowing humans to search the most likely areas.

The Italian jobs were a bit different, because they were conducted under Operation Mare Nostrum (“our ocean,” also colloquial Roman for the Mediterranean), which aims to find and rescue migrants who are trying to cross the sea in makeshift boats from North Africa. They use radar more extensively, and the Italian MQ-9s’ AN/APY-8 Lynx Block 30 multi-mode radars will soon add software to give them a new Maritime Wide Area Search (MWAS) mode. Sources: GA-ASI, “Predator-Series Aircraft Pivotal to Search and Rescue Missions”.

Jan 2/14: Budgets. Military.com quotes Pentagon director of unmanned warfare and ISR Dyke Weatherington, who says of the new UAV Roadmap that the 24% reduction in UAV spending of from 2012-2013, and 30% cut from 2013-2014, is a trend that will continue. The shift to the Pacific is likely to hurt UAVs below the top end, but:

“This roadmap is two years since the last one. We knew budgets would be declining. I don’t think two years ago we understood how significant the down slope was going to be so this road map much more clearly addresses the fiscal challenges…. We can generally say that from 2014 to 2015 the budget… will be reduced”…. there was about a 24-percent reduction from 2012 to 2013 and a 30-percent reduction from 2013 to 2014…. the Pentagon’s shift to the Pacific and overall Defense Strategy articulates a need to be prepared for more technologically advanced potential adversaries…. “EW is one of those areas where we are going to see opportunities for unmanned systems, likely in tandem with manned systems…”

In this environment, the program to add MALD-J loitering jamming decoys is promising for the MQ-9, but further budget cuts are not. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Pentagon Plans for Cuts to Drone Budgets”.

Jan 1/14: France. Defense World reports that French MQ-9s arrived “in the Sahel Region” on this day, for operations over Mali. Defense World, “France Receive First MQ-9 Reaper Drone”.

Dec 31/13: UK Support. A sole-source, unfinalized $31.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price option for Phase 1 & 2 contractor logistics support: urgent repairs and services, logistics support, field service representative support, contractor inventory control point and spares management, depot repair, flight operations support and field maintenance.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 31/15. The USAF acts as Britain’s agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0080, 09).

Dec 24/13: Support. A $362.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee sole-source contract for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper contractor support, including program management, logistics support, configuration management, technical manual and software maintenance, contractor field service representative support, inventory control point management, flight operations support, depot repair, and depot field maintenance.

$90 million in USAF O&M funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/14. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIKBA at Robins AFB, GA manages the contract (FA8528-14-C-0001).

Dec 19/13: France. The DGA procurement agency receives its 1st Reaper UAV, which is being readied for deployment to Mali along with a 2nd UAV, associated ground systems, etc. The DGA praises the USA’s help in getting personnel trained, helping with communications planning, etc. A record of six months from order to delivery is impressive, and demands nothing less.

French delivery

Nov 21/13: Dutch OK. The Dutch MvD delivers a report to the legislature, announcing the results of their MALE UAV program study phase, which began in 2012. Their requirements included 24 hour endurance, and payload options that included the standard surveillance and targeting turret and SAR/GMTI ground scanning radar, plus a wide-area ground-scanning radar and a SIGINT/COMINT interception pod. Weapons aren’t part of their plan, but they did want an option to add them later, if necessary. The MvD intends to buy 4 Reapers for fielding on expeditionary operations by 2016, and achieve full operational capability from their base at Leeuwarden by 2017. The budget for this purchase is just EUR 100 – 250 million.

That budget could be a problem.

The brief to Parliament lists European airworthiness certification as a major budget risk. It is. The fact that Britain, France, and Italy will also be MQ-9 customers was an argument for a Dutch buy, because they create a pool of partners who can benefit from each other’s work. Cost pooling is an even bigger factor for eventual certification beyond restricted airspace, whose success will involve sense-and-avoid technologies, and certifications whose cost can’t be predicted. Past estimates have involved hundreds of millions of dollars.

The other source of significant risk to the program involves integration the wide-area ground scanning radar, and SIGINT/COMINT payloads. The scope of that effort will have to be assessed. It’s worth noting that payloads are subject to network effects: a larger customer list in Europe makes it easier or more attractive to add payloads, which then provide another reason for new customers to sign on. Sources: Dutch MvD, “Defensie kiest Reaper als onbemand vliegtuig” and “Kamerbrief voorstudie project MALE UAV”.

Nov 20/13: Euro MALE. Defence Ministers committed to the launch of 4 programs during the EU European Defence Agency’s Steering Board session, 1 of which centered around a 4-part program for UAVs. “Ministers tasked EDA to prepare the launch of a Category B project” to develop a Future European MALE platform, to be introduced from 2020 – 2025. Other documents, noting the obvious potential for ridicule since Future European MALE = FEMALE, refer to it as “MALE 2020” – a timeline that would be imperative for industrial and competitive reasons. EDA hasn’t launched the project yet. Once it does, can Europe’s traditionally fractious program negotiations and fragmented execution hit a 2020 target date?

In parallel, a coalition of countries also plan to create an operator community of UAV users, so they can share experiences and improve the foundation for future cooperation. Germany, France, Spain, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland have all joined.

Other areas of cooperation will include streamlining UAV certification in European airspace, now that its costs and uncertainties have already killed Germany’s major Eurohawk UAV program. In a related move, Austria, Belgium, Britain, the Czech Republic, Germany, France and Spain signed a joint investment program around technologies required for UAV use in civil airspace. Sources: EDA, “Defence Ministers Commit to Capability Programmes” | Les Echos, “Drones : des pays europeens s’engagent a collaborer”.

Nov 14/13: Germany. Chancellor Merkel’s narrow victory has an important military consequence. A draft version of the coalition agreement between Merkel’s center-right Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats reportedly says that:

“We categorically reject illegal killings by drones. Germany will support the use of unmanned weapons systems for the purposes of international disarmament and arms control…. Before acquiring a qualitatively new arms system, we will thoroughly investigate all associated civil and constitutional guidelines and ethical questions.”

Translation: Don’t expect a purchase of Reaper or Heron UAVs during the lifetime of this 4-year legislative session. Sources: The Local.de, “Germany halts purchase of armed drones” | See also the left-wing Truthout, “How Europeans Are Opposing Drone and Robot Warfare: An Overview of the Anti-Drone Movement in Europe”.

Nov 9/13: Support. The USAF Sustainment Center and General Atomics reach an enterprise-level, public-private partnership agreement which allows the 2 organizations to partner in the maintenance of MQ-1B/C and MQ-9 unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).
Work can be performed at AFSC logistics complexes in Georgia, Oklahoma and Utah:

“The WR-ALC is expected to begin work on UAS batteries in 2014 and interim modem assemblies in 2015. The battery workload is estimated to bring in 5,000 repair hours and grow to 9,600 repair hours by 2016. The modem workload is estimated to bring in 2,600 repair hours in 2015, growing to 4,500 in 2016. By the end of fiscal 2016, Warner-Robins will have more than 15,000 repair hours from the Predator/Reaper/Gray Eagle workload…”

It’s the 1st center-wide UAS partnership agreement implemented since the stand-up of the Air Force Sustainment Center in June 2012. Sources: Pentagon DVIDS, “Increased unmanned aircraft workload on the horizon thanks to new partnership”.

Nov 1/13: France. A maximum $27.6 million unfinalized delivery order for Phase I of France’s MQ-9 UAS Contractor Logistics Support program. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and run until Oct 31/14.

This sole-source acquisition is handled by USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH, acting as France’s agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0113).

FY 2013

France commits to buying 2, considers up to 16. Competitions in Canada, Netherlands, possibly Poland. FAA tests for civil airspace, and a European effort too; Deliveries stalled by fuel tank problem; JDAMs still a problem; MQ-9 Increment II in limbo; CAE will develop the sim/training system; OMX partnership in Canada as the future of local supplier efforts; Plans aside, what’s the real future of the Reaper force?

RAF Reaper Refuels,
Afghanistan

Oct 15/13: FY13 main order. GA-ASI receives a maximum $377.4 million, unfinalized delivery order for 24 MQ-9 Block 5 Reaper aircraft, shipping containers, initial spares and support equipment. It’s paid for with $305 million in FY 2013 procurement funds, with the rest coming from FY 2012 leftovers.

Though it is now technically a new fiscal year, the federal government shutdown was just the cherry on the cake for a messy FY 2013. This explains delayed orders, and their likewise late public announcement, like this one (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0050).

“USA buys 24

Sept 30/13: Reaper. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in Poway, CA receives a not-to-exceed $49.8 million unfinalized cost-plus-fixed-fee contract action for France’s MQ-9 Reaper urgent request program of 2 UAVs. That seems about right.

Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by July 15/15. USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group, at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH, acts as France’s FMS agent (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0112).

Just days earlier the first of 3 crews from the French air force had taken its initial training flight at Holloman AFB, NM. They want to be ready when 2 UAVs and 1 GCV are delivered at the end of the year. Sources: Pentagon | French Air Force, “Premier vol d’un equipage francais aux commandes d’un drone Reaper”.

France orders 2

Sept 25/13: Sensors. Raytheon Co. in McKinney, TX, has been awarded a $13.2 million delivery order, buying another 24 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems High-Definition Infrared (MTS-B HD IR) turrets for the MQ-9 Reaper. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed at McKinney, TX, and is expected to be complete by May 30/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK’s Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contracts (FA8620-11-G-4050, #0008, modification 12).

Sept 16/13: SOCOM. US SOCOM wants its MALET MQ-9s to have the same kind if easy transportability as its MALET MQ-1s. The Predators can be boxed, shipped in a C-17, and re-assembled in 4 hours. SOCOM wants its Reapers to be packable in under 8 hours, and assembled in less than 8 hours, but it’s going to take some work to get there.

As an aside, one of the most challenging aspects of a new MALET base is actually the ground station. That has to be present for launches and landings, since remote control from the USA is only suitable during the flight. Source: Military.com, “SOCOM Wants to Deploy MQ-9 Drones to Remote Areas”.

Aug 25/13: Help Wanted. The USAF has a pilot recruitment problem for drones, driven by lower recognition and a true perception that promotions are less likely in that service. Here’s the math:

The USA has 61 round-the-clock UAV Combat Air Patrols, and plans to increase that to 65 by 2015. That increase is now suspect. If it’s maintained, the Pentagon’s April 2012 “Report to Congress on Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems Training, Operations, and Sustainability” says the USAF will require, at minimum, 579 more MQ-1/9 UAV pilots from December 2011 – 2015. In 2012, the 40 USAF training slots attracted just 12 volunteers, and training attrition rates are 3x higher than they are for regular pilots. Unlike the USAF’s manned aircraft training slots, only 33 RPA (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) training slots were filled (around 82%), triggered in part by the correct perception that those who succeed will have less career success. Based on present rates, 13% fewer RPA pilots have become majors, compared to their peers.

The US Army has an easier time of things with their MQ-1C fleet, because they tap enlisted and non-commissioned soldiers: 15W Operator and 15E Repairer are enlisted soldiers positions, and 150U technician positions involve a warrant officer. Sources: Stars & Stripes, “Unmanned now undermanned: Air Force struggles to fill pilot slots for drones” | See Additional Readings section for full Pentagon report.

Aug 16/13: Block 5 Testing. An $11.4 million firm-fixed-price contract to buy initial MQ-9 Block 5 spares and support equipment, to support 2 Block 5 UAVs. Technically, it’s an engineering change proposal (ECP) to calendar year 2011 spares and support equipment buys. All funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 28/16. USAF Lifecycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0001-01).

Aug 13/13: EW. General Atomics touts a successful April 12/13 successful demonstration of the MQ-9 as an electronic warfare platform, during the USMC’s Weapons and Tactics Instructor (WTI) course at MCAS Yuma. A company-owned Predator B equipped with a Digital Receiver/Exciter pod and controlled by a GA-ASI Ground Control Station (GCS) was among over 20 aircraft participating. The Northrop Grumman pod “proved to be effective and seamlessly integrated with the Predator B avionics, command and control architecture.”

That’s a minimum baseline. Future demonstrations will work with other unmanned aircraft systems and USMC EA-6B Prowler EW aircraft at places like NAWS China Lake, directing the MQ-9’s EW payload and other assets from the Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (C/EWCC) located at MCAS Yuma. Work to integrate the jet-powered MALD-J jamming missile onto the MQ-9 will be another area of future focus, giving the UAV a range of EW capabilities ranging from jamming remote land mine detonators along convoy routes, to supporting attacks on enemy air defense systems. Source: General Atomics Aug 13/12 release.

Aug 12/13: A maximum $26.2 million, unfinalized sole-source contract for the MQ-9’s Extended Range Phase 2 project, which involves adding longer 88′ wingspan wings that carry internal fuel (q.v. March 12/13). About $7 million is committed immediately from a range of budgets, including FY 2012 R&D, procurement, and repair funds, and FY 2013 R&D funds.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Aug 12/15. The USAF Life Cycle Management Center/WIIK, Medium Altitude Unmanned Aircraft Systems at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0106).

June 27/13: France wants more? The US DSCA notifies Congress [PDF] of a possible Foreign Military Sale to France for 16 unarmed MQ-9s and the necessary equipment and support, for a potential $1.5B total. Such a commitment would further damage the prospects for a future European UAV, but this is a possible sale at this stage, not a contract yet. This will surely get Dassault and EADS howling.

Le Figaro (a newspaper incidentally owned by Dassault) explains [in French] that the size of the request is just a reflection of the FMS process, but that the maximum quantity France would buy is 12 UAVs – in line with the latest whitepaper – for a maximum of 670 million euros (about $875M). But this gives France the option to meet more than its urgent operational requirement. If not directly off-the-shelf as some amount of “francisation” would be expected, at least from a supplier with an already well-established program.

The package would include 48 Honeywell engines (2 spare engines for each installed one), 8 ground control stations, 40 ground data terminals, 24 satellite earth terminal substations, 40 ARC-210 radio systems, and 48 IFF systems. Again, these quantities are very unlikely to happen.

DSCA: France request

June 26/13: Civil certification. In the wake of Germany’s Euro Hawk cancellation (q.v. May 14/13 entry), General Atomics makes an ambitious commitment to civil certification. This theme was also touched on in the Dutch MoU with Fokker (q.v. June 19/13 entry), and General Atomics has a signed a similar agreement with its German partner RUAG to pursue an:

“Independent Research and Development (IRAD) effort to develop a variant of its Predator B RPA that is fully compliant with the airworthiness requirements of the U.S. Air Force and anticipated NATO foreign customers, as well as offers enhanced capabilities for integration into domestic and international airspace. It is envisioned that the system solution will be a multi-nation, certifiable, exportable configuration built upon the company’s Block 5 Predator B aircraft capabilities and Advanced Cockpit Ground Control Station (GCS) layout.”

Which is all well and good. General Atomics’ team can probably develop the technical means, and Europe’s government are in fact working toward a framework for including UAVs in civil airspace. The problem is that the framework does not exist yet, and getting the bureaucrats to certify something totally new is estimated to cost EUR 500 – 600 million. That sum has to be paid by a customer government or governments, who probably don’t have it lying around in their budgets. If they do put the funds together as some kind of multinational consortium, local projects like the proposed EuroMALE are more likely to get that investment, because the certification becomes a big barrier to entry for foreign firms. Which means more jobs at home. General Atomics.

June 19/13: Netherlands. At the 50th Paris Air Show, General Atomics and Fokker Technologies announce a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to bid the MQ-9 as a solution for Dutch UAV requirements. Fokker has a very strong position in Dutch aerospace, and should be able to improve the Reaper’s chances.

In the MoU, Fokker commits to help adapt the UAV to Dutch national standards; offer guidance and support for Dutch airworthiness certification requirements; provide design, manufacturing, and support for the Electrical Wiring Interconnection system; offer engineering support related to landing and arresting gears; and support the UAV after delivery. GA-ASI.

June 18/13: Sub-contractors. For the past 2 years, General Atomics and Canada’s CAE have been teamed for Canada’s JUSTAS high-end UAV program, offering MQ-9/Predator B and/or Predator C Avenger UAVs. CAE is also a top-tier global simulation and training firm, however, and so GA-ASI is partnering with them to develop the global Mission Training System for the unarmed Predator XP, MQ-9 Reaper, and jet-powered Predator C Avenger.

As a bonus, sales and support of future training systems in Canada and abroad would count toward Canada’s required requirement for 100% industrial offsets against the purchase contract’s value. GA-ASI.

May 31/13: MQ-9. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian writes an article for Les Echos, stating his commitment to buy 2 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs from the USA, for delivery before the end of 2013. After so much procrastination, with only 2 Harfang drones operational, and with pressing commitments in Mali and elsewhere, he says that France must take the immediately available choice. Defense Aerospace suggests that the French Air Force finally got their way, after stalling other options.

The Americans’ reluctance to allow even key NATO allies like Italy to arm their drones suggests that French MQ-9s will also be unarmed, which Le Drian explicitly confirmed in an interview with Europe 1. France’s reputation for pervasive industrial espionage, even during combat operations, may also get in the way of advanced sensor exports, leaving their Reapers with 3,000 pounds of ordnance capacity that doesn’t get used. The other unresolved issue involves long-range control. If France wants to operate the Reapers via the preferred satellite link method, they’ll need to either spend the time and money to build their own control facility, make arrangements to share Britain’s newly-built RAFB Waddington facility, or co-locate with the USAF at Creech AFB, NV.

Ultimately, Le Drian argues for a European partnership that will share expertise and develop a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV like the Reaper. The Italians must be happy to hear that, and Le Drian seems to be referring to their discussions when he says “Cette ambition est d’ores et deja en chantier” (loose trans. “we’re already working on it”). The question in Europe is always whether talk will lead to action, so we’ll wait until we see a contract. Les Echos | Defense-Aerospace | Europe 1

.

France will buy 2 MQ-9 Reapers, and pursue a European MALE UAV project

May 14/13: Germany. Germany has decided to end the RQ-4 Euro Hawk project. Not only would it cost hundreds of millions to attempt EASA certification, but reports indicate that German authorities aren’t confident that they would receive certification at the end of the process. Rather than pay another EUR 600 – 700 million for additional UAVs and equipment, and an equivalent amount to attempt EASA certification, Germany will attempt to find another path.

This is bad news for General Atomics’ hopes of selling Germany MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. Reapers also lack anti-collision electronics, and would face many of the same certification problems. Read “RQ-4 Euro Hawk UAV: Death by Certification” for full coverage.

May 9/13: Italy. Foolish American intransigence may be about to create a Reaper competitor.

Aviation Week interviews Italy’s national armaments director Gen. Claudio Debertolis, who reveals that Italy asked to arm its MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper UAVs 2 years ago. The USA has refused to cooperate, halting Italian efforts, while allowing the British to arm their Reaper UAVs. Italy is responsible for wide swathes of territory in Afghanistan, and was the point country for NATO’s campaign against Libya in 2011.

Arming their UAVs is a high priority, and Debertolis confirms that Italy is in talks with potential European partners to move forward with a covert “Super MALE” weaponized UAV program. If they don’t develop a new UAV from scratch, the existing nEUROn program could fill this niche with a full stealth UCAV, and BAE/Dassault’s Mantis/ Telemos is a natural competitor to the Reaper. A 3rd option would be to just buy Heron UAVs from Israel, which that country has reportedly armed. France’s Harfang is a Heron derivative, and Germany is already operating them as rent-a-drones, so an armed Heron and conversion kit could offer a quick solution for all concerned.

The question for any of these options, and even for going ahead and converting existing MQ-1/9 UAVs with American permission, revolved around funding. America may have delayed Italy for so long that it doesn’t have the budget to do anything, even convert its existing UAVs. Aviation Week.

May 3/13: Brimstone for Reapers? With JAGM fielding still some way off, if ever, the USAF’s 645th Aeronautical Systems Group rapid acquisition office is being prodded by the UK to add MBDA’s competing dual laser/ MW radar guided Brimstone missile to the MQ-9’s arsenal. It’s real attraction is a ‘man in the loop’ feature that lets the firing aircraft abort an attack after launch, or correct a missile that locks on the wrong target. In Libya, those characteristics reportedly made it one of the few weapons NATO commanders could use to hit enemy armored vehicles in urban areas.

Brimstone already serves on RAF Tornado GR4 strike jets, and was an option for Britain’s Harrier GR9s before the entire fleet was sold to the US Marines. With Britain’s MQ-9s deployed, they’ve reportedly asked for tests using USAF MQ-9s, and also hope to interest American armed services in the weapon. Defense News | Defense Update.

April 23/13: Canada. General Atomics announces a 2-year agreement with OMX, who has developed the largest, amalgamated structured database of suppliers in the Canadian defence, aerospace, and security industries. Their searchable database has gathered and collected almost 50,000 companies “from existing information available on the Internet by a series of proprietary algorithms,” and has been live since December 2012. Why is this a great deal for OMX? Because:

“Canadian companies interested in becoming suppliers to GA-ASI are encouraged to claim their complimentary company profiles on www.theomx.com and update their information, including Canadian Content Value (CCV) percentages per product.”

It’s a different approach to finding local suppliers, but one that we expect to quickly become the norm around the world.

April 11/13: Support. General Atomics AIS in Poway, CA receives a sole-source $18.3 million firm-fixed-price contract for MQ-1/MQ-9 organic depot activation at Hill FB, UT; Warner-Robins AFB, GA; and Tinker AFB, OK.

Work is expected to be complete by April 4/15. The contract uses FY 2011 monies. USAF Life Cycle Management Command /WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0044).

April 10/13: FY 2014 Budget. The President releases a proposed budget at last, the latest in modern memory. The Senate and House were already working on budgets in his absence, but the Pentagon’s submission is actually important to proceedings going forward. See ongoing DID coverage.

With respect to the MQ-9, the FY 2014 budget cuts 12 Reaper systems. It will buy just 12 MQ-9 Block 5s this year, then pursue the same schedule as the FY 2013 plan. That’s the official line, anyway. FY 2018 adds another 24 Reapers as it moves the planning horizon forward a year, with 65 systems left in the planned program to bring the total to 401.

Delivery of the last 3 FY 2010 and the first 26 FY 2011 UAVs is delayed due to a General Atomics fuel tank manufacturing issue. The Government isn’t accepting aircraft until the manufacturing issue is corrected, but a solution was approved. Correction of tech data, spares and support equipment will be complete in May 2013.

April 2/13: What now? Defense News aptly summarizes the key question facing the USA’s MQ-9 plans:

“On the one hand, the work in Mali shows that the signature weapon of the U.S. war in Afghanistan is outlasting that conflict. On the other, the detachment is a tiny fraction of the Predator/Reaper fleet – and just where are the rest of them going to go?”

With flights below 60,000 feet heavily restricted within the USA, there aren’t that many options stateside, and most of the MQ-9 fleet’s $8,000 per flight hour operations are funded by wartime OCO appropriations. AFRICOM may have the best combination of circumstances abroad, but it can’t absorb all of them, and the $6,000 per flight hour manned MC-12s are a natural competitor.

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish.

The MQ-9 Block 1 Reaper is in production, and the USAF has bought 117, or roughly 30% of their envisioned requirements. Block 5 production decision was delayed 2 years to July 2013, in part due to concerns about software delays, and integration and testing backlogs. Despite the extra time to mature key technologies, the program is currently incorporating several Urgent Operational Requirements from the front lines, including the Advanced Signals Intelligence Payload (ASIP).

Block 5 operational testing is currently planned for November 2013, and the program will be reducing or deferring 12 required block 5 capabilities related to aircraft endurance, radar performance, and reliability, and other areas.

Meanwhile, the USAF is currently re-evaluating its requirements and strategy for managing future Reaper upgrades – which puts the increment II program (GBU-39 Small Diameter Bomb integration, Automatic take-off and landing, Deicing, and National airspace certification) in an unfunded limbo.

March 4/13: Reaper-ER plans. Gannett’s Air Force Times reports that the USAF wants to go ahead with the full suite of MQ-9 Reaper ER refits (vid. April 18/12 entry) to extend the UAV’s range and endurance, even in the middle of budget cuts. The USAF wouldn’t confirm FY 2014 budget plans, but GA-ASI director for strategic development Chris Pehrson has told Defense News that “They’ve approved it; it’s a matter of details now.” The report adds that:

“The ER model could allow incursions into Pakistan despite the loss of the Afghan bases that have been home to many unmanned launches in the past decade…. The standard Reaper is configured for 30 hours for the ISR model, and roughly 23 hours if armed with Hellfire missiles. General Atomics believes the ER model would up those to 42 hours for ISR and 35 hours with the Hellfire.”

Some of the ER’s modifications, like winglets on the wingtips and upgraded landing gear, are already slated for fielding in the MQ-9 Block 5. What the ER model adds is upturned instead of parabolic winglets (based on graphics shown to date), and longer wings (+22 feet wingspan, to 88 feet) with 2 “wet” hardpoints that can take fuel tanks. Gannett’s Air Force Times.

Reaper-ER

Jan 17/13: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). Despite “incremental progress,” the MQ-9 remains in limbo for GBU-38 500-pound JDAM integration, and hasn’t resolved the fuzing and weapons envelope discrepancies identified in 2010.

The Air Force intends to fulfill the MQ-9 Increment One CPD requirements with a final UAS configuration consisting of the Block 5 RPA, Block 30 GCS, and OFP 904.6. The UAV’s core OFP flight software has been a development issue, and DOT&E expects further delays, along with added risks because cyber-vulnerabilities haven’t been heavily tested. AFOTEC hopes to conduct formal operational testing of the final MQ-9 Increment One UAS in 2014.

Dec 21/12: Support. A $337.1 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed-fee and time and material contract to procure logistics services for the USAF’s MQ-1 and MQ-9 Predator/Reaper fleets. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/13. The AFLCMC/WIKBA at Robins AFB, GA manages this contract (FA8528-13-C-0002).

Beyond the original manufacturer GA-ASI, Battlespace Flight Services LLC is also a major support provider for Predator family fleets. Their most recent award was a $950 million contract issued to cover MQ-1/9 fleet support from January 2013 – March 2014.

Dec 20/12: UK. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA, is being awarded a $42.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee and firm-fixed-price contract for Phase 1 and 2 contractor logistics support to the British MQ-9 fleet.

Work will be performed at Poway, CA; Creech AFB, NV; Waddington, United Kingdom; and Afghanistan. Work is expected to be complete by March 31/15 (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0080).

Dec 19/12: France. DGA chief Laurent Collet-Billon confirms to reporters that France is discussing the option of buying MQ-9s through the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, modifying them to carry European sensors and weapons. Collet-Billon believes that this proposition could interest existing operators in Britain and Italy, as well as potential future operators in Germany and Poland.

IAI’s Heron TP also remains in the running. Aviation Week.

Nov 30/12: Support. A $12.6 million option for the MQ-9 Reaper’s FY 2010/2011 retrofits. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Sept 30/15 (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 001302).

Nov 30/12: NASA upgrade. GA-ASI announces an agreement with NASA’s Dryden Flight Center to upgrade their MQ-9 “Ikhana” UAV with new satellite link capabilities. It’s part of a no-cost Space Act Agreement signed in September 2012, and will let the UAV operate in places like the Arctic, where communications can be spotty. NASA Dryden center director David McBride:

“The system improvements enabled by this agreement expand the utility of the Ikhana MQ-9 for NASA science and the development of technology required for unmanned air systems to fly in the national airspace. Both are key national priorities that benefit from this government/industry cooperative effort.”

See: NASA | GA-ASI.

Nov 5/12: + 10 A $125.5 million contract for 10 MQ-9 “modified Block 1” (Block 5) UAVs. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Nov 28/14 (FA8620-10-G-3038, DO 0052).

USA buys 10 Block 5s

Oct 25/12: FAA. GA?ASI announces that they’ve successfully demonstrated BAE’s reduced-size AN/DPX-7 Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B)-based system, using a US Customs and Border Protection MQ-9 Guardian (maritime Predator B) flying off of the Florida coast. The test follows GA-ASI’s successful 2011 test of a prototype airborne X-band “Due Regard” AESA Radar aboard a manned aircraft, and is another step toward civil airspace certification.

The FAA has mandated that all aircraft flying above 10,000 feet or around major U.S. airports must be ADS-B equipped by 2020. ADS-B is a GPS-based surveillance system, and DPX-7 combines military IFF (Identification, Friend or Foe) with civilian ADS-B compatibility. The goal of these tests, and of the broader program, is to have a UAV that knows when other aircraft are approaching, and can likewise inform them of its own presence and location. The Guardian UAV did that with ADS-B in the tests, but a Due Regard radar would give it a secondary backup that could also find aircraft whose ADS-B was absent or malfunctioning.

Oct 22/12: UK. The Guardian reports that RAF XIII Squadron being stood up on Oct 26/12 will operate its 5 Reapers from a new control facility at RAFB Waddington. They’ll have 3 control terminals at Waddington, and all 5 UAVs will deploy to Afghanistan. The 5 Reapers already in service there will continue operation from the USAF’s Creech AFB, NV, but Britain wants to consolidate all of its MQ-9 operations to Waddington later on.

XIII Squadron’s deployment will place all 10 British Reapers in Afghanistan. The question is how many of them, if any, will remain there after 2014, when all NATO combat operations are due to end.

FY 2012

GA-ASI develops Reaper ER, adds auto-takeoff and landing.

Here’s looking
at you, kid…
(click to view full)

Sept 17/12: Auto-land. GA-ASI announces that the MQ-9 Reaper has successfully completed 106 full-stop Automatic Takeoff and Landing Capability (ATLC) landings, with no issues.

The core ATLC system comes from the US Army’s MQ-1C Gray Eagle, and the move represents a departure for the USAF. The approach to date has been to have pilots fly the Reaper, so of course the tradition is to let them fly all aspects. The problem is, the Army found that they had far fewer accidents with automated landings, than the USAF was having with pilots at the controls. The Army also appreciated the ability to use lower-ranking individuals as UAV controllers. Reapers aren’t cheap, and lowering accident rates took priority. So here we are.

The tests took place at the company’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, CA. The next steps will include envelope expansion for takeoffs and landings at higher wind limits and greater maximum gross weights, differential GPS (dGPS) enhancements, and terrain avoidance with adjustable glideslope. GA-ASI.

Sept 13/12: Support. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc. in Poway, CA receives a $297 million cost plus fixed price, firm-fixed-price and time and materials contract for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper contractor logistics support. Work will be performed in Poway, CA, and is expected to be complete by Dec 31/12. The ASC/WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH manages the contract.

The mystery revolves around who it’s for. The original Sept 10/12 release mistakenly said that the contract involved foreign military sales to Afghanistan, Iraq and Africa. The Sept 13/12 “correction” said it involved foreign military sales to United Kingdom.

GA-ASI, who should know, says that neither of those descriptions is accurate. It finalizes a December 2011 contract to support the USAF and British RAF’s deployed MQ-1 and MQ-9 units, and includes field support representatives at remote sites. General Atomics is already 9 months into fulfilling it, and this is the revised dollar amount (FA8620-10-G-3038, 002403).

Sept 5/12: MQ-9 block 5. General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announces a successful 1st flight of the MQ-9 Reaper Block 1-plus. With the completion of development, testing, and expected Milestone C decision this fall, the MQ-9 Block 1-plus configuration will be designated “MQ-9 Block 5.”

Block 5 flies

Aug 28/12: GCS. A $46.5 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for ground control stations. Work is to be completed by Feb 28/14 (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0031).

Aug 20/12: Upgrades. An $87.3 million combination firm-fixed-price, cost-plus fixed-fee contract for retrofit kits and their installation on up to 80 FY 2010/2011 MQ-9 Block 1 aircraft, to be completed by August 2016 (FA8620-10-G-3038, #0013).

When asked, GA-ASI clarified that these kits have 2 main components. One involves installing new trailing arm heavyweight landing gear (TA-MLG), to increase weight capacity. The other big change involves upgrading the weapons kit from BRU-15 [PDF] bomb release units to ITT Exelis’ BRU-71/A [PDF]. These new pneumatic bomb racks are meant to be safer, easier to maintain, and more capable.

Note that this retrofit does not update these Reapers to the future Block 5 standard, which will also encompass other upgrades such as redesigned avionics.

July 10/12: Sensors. Raytheon announces a $191 million contract to provide 149 MTS-B multispectral surveillance and targeting turrets for the USAF’s MQ-9 Reaper. Deliveries are scheduled to begin in January 2013, and the contract also includes support equipment and spares.

The MTS-B is used aboard MQ-9s operated by the USAF, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Britain, and Italy, and has been picked for the U.S. Navy’s MQ-4C Triton/ BAMS Global Hawk UAV variant.

June 20/12: POGO, stuck. James Hasik undertakes a thorough analysis of MQ-9 costs, and comparables for the USA’s F-16 fleet, as a riposte to a paper by Winslow Wheeler of the Project On Government Oversight (POGO, vid. March 1/12). To put it charitably, he doesn’t think very much of Wheeler’s analysis. Hasik’s argument and analysis are worth reading in full, but the core sums to this:

“Actually, 29.5 hours is 17 percent of a week… a tad below the objective of 21 percent, and… With proceed time, it could be more like 12/7 coverage [for a 4-UAV set]. But honestly, I don’t know of any other military aircraft that spends 17 percent of its life airborne… For a 7,300-hour per year four-ship CAP, the estimated costs for MQ-9s are $10.5 million in manpower, $17.2 million in variable flying expenses, and $ 9.2 million in depreciation, for a total of $36.9 million. The estimated costs for F-16Cs are $14.5 million in manpower, $37.3 million in variable flying expenses, and $34.1 million in depreciation, for a total of $85.9 million… [even] operating and dumping four old F-16Cs [would cost] ($51.8 million). In peacetime… F-16 aircrews would still need to get in their 200+ hours to maintain proficiency. How much flying is required for Reaper aircrews to maintain the same? Possibly zero… [and] the per-hour cost of the MQ-9 is so much lower than that of the jets that it’s still clearly the better choice.

…In short, including these aircraft in the force structure is good idea simply to save unjustified wear-and-tear on the fighters, which might actually, someday, again be needed for the big war.”

May 29/12: Arming the Italians. There’s no formal DSCA announcement yet, but media reports indicate that the US government wants to approve Italy’s request to arm its MQ-9 fleet.

If that comes to pass, all 3 Reaper customers (the USAF, Britain, and Italy) will have armed their UAVs. The clear implication would also follow that any NATO member, or close allies like Australia, would be authorized to buy armed American UAVs. That has been a source of controversy in the past (vid. Dec 15/11), and until approval and work take place, this can’t be seen as a completely done deal just yet.

Italy’s military has responsibility for a wide area of northern Afghanistan, and arming its MQ-9s would certainly be helpful to them. So far, Italy appears to have bought 4 MQ-9s, out of their approved total of 6.

April 18/12: Reaper ER. General Atomics announces a pair of “extended range” MQ-9 versions, developed with its own funds. Step 1 is heavyweight landing gear, which increases maximum landing weight by 30%, and maximum gross takeoff weight to 11,700 pounds (+12%). Step 2 is a pair of “wet” hardpoints that can handle a pair of fuel tanks. With those enhancements, aerial endurance without other payloads rises from 27 hours – 37 hours. That endurance also translates into range, but endurance is usually the bigger issue for UAVs.

Step 3 could add a bigger change, replacing the Reaper’s 66 foot wingspan with new wings that have internal fuel tanks. The new wingspan becomes 88 feet, with winglets at the tips, and a UAV with this configuration would raise endurance without other payloads to 42 hours. Both sets of changes can be made as upgrades to existing drones. GA-ASI | AIN | WIRED Danger Room.

strong>March 2/12: +2. A $38.4 million firm-price-incentive-firm (FPIF) and firm-fixed-price (FFP) contract for 2 modified MQ-9 Block 1 UAVs (FPIF) and 2 Aircraft Containers (FFP). Work is expected to be complete in November 2013 (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0051).

USA buys 2

March 1/12: How many crashes? Winslow T. Wheeler of the Center for Defense Information asks how many Predators and Reapers are being lost to crashes. He has to extrapolate to great lengths because of less-than-transparent information sharing from the Pentagon and the Air Force. Wheeler himself doesn’t seem to factor in training and maintenance needs, except to say that he believes that MQ-9s may require more maintenance than advertised. That could be a sufficient explanation for the “excess” ordered drones all by itself, if the Pentagon’s goal is to maintain the required number of combat patrols.

As of February 2012, there are 87 MQ-9 aircraft in inventory according to the Air Force’s latest P-40 document. DID doesn’t have the precise number of deliveries to date, but this probably leaves room for a dozen or more missing aircraft, based on the 101 units ordered to the end of FY10, and delays between orders and deliveries that range between 6 – 24 months.

Though the Air Force doesn’t publicly report all its UAV crashes, Mr. Wheeler’s estimate that the Air Force has “anticipated” an attrition rate of up to 35% strikes us as quite the stretch.

Feb 13/12: FY13PB Bad News. the FY 2013 President Budget cuts the order rate per year from 48 to 24. This would go back to the rate executed in FY 2009 and FY 2010, leaving only FY11/12 at the full rate of 48 units per year. Gross weapon system cost for FY13 is at $553.5 million, down from $719.6 million planned for FY 2012. This, as well as a number of aircraft and system upgrades, should drive unit cost above $15 million. The total number of units by the end of FY 2017 would reach 317 aircraft. If Congress agrees with these quantities this will mean that the program peaked in FY 2011 slightly above $1.2 billion in combined procurement and RDT&E, with spending decreasing to about $650-$800 million per year starting in the coming fiscal year. See spreadsheet above.

While procurement takes a hit, total RDT&E over the next 5 years increased by about $200 million vs. the set of numbers communicated by the Air Force in the FY12PB. Finally the budget for modifications is expected to reach a peak of $238.4 million in FY 2013, up from $149.7 million for FY 2012. Modifications would reach $1.15 billion for 2012-17 out of a total $2.5 billion over the life of the program.

Jan 12/12: GCS. The Register – which never has any love lost for Microsoft – reports that recent pictures show that GCS block 30 Predator-Reaper Ground Control Stations are partly switching over from Windows to Linux computer operating systems, after successful keylogger hacking attacks reported in October 2011.

In reality, using Linux in Block 30 was already in the pipeline months before said security incident (Air Force PDF). Work on the next-generation Block 50 continues.

Dec 15/11: Dis-armed. The Wall Street Journal reports that Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein [D-CA] is lobbying against selling armed UAVs to any other countries beyond Britain, even key allies. This news is bracketed by announcements that EADS is expanding its UAV cooperation agreements to include Italy’s Alenia, and that those agreement include the possible development of armed UCAV platforms. In a sense, it doesn’t really matter if Feinstein succeeds. The mere fact that she is trying, and that the Obama administration is seen to be vacillating on the issue, will cause other countries to step up their own independent efforts. Wall Street Journal [subscription] | Alenia | EADS.

Dec 8/11: +40 A $319.2 million firm-fixed-price contract for 40 MQ-9 Block 1 UAVs, and 40 aircraft containers. Work is expected to be complete in September 2013. This was a sole-source acquisition (FA8620-10-G-3038 0017).

USA buys 40

Dec 7/11: CIA Reapers? Flight International discusses Google Earth photos that appear to show an MQ-1 or MQ-9 being towed on a runway at Yucca Lake, NV, which is owned by the US National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA).

Their report collates what is known from a variety of sources, but the core speculation is that Yucca Lake may be a CIA base, capable of holding 10-15 drones. The CIA is known to operate both MQ-1s and MQ-9s, alongside the RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone which recently ended up in Iran’s hands. An earlier Google Earth image, showing what appear to be a Pilatus PC-12 and Beechcraft King Air on the ramp, has also fueled speculation that Yucca Lake is used by Lockheed Martin.

Dec 2/11: Protests. DeWitt Town Justice David Gideon rules that 31 protesters are guilty on 2 charges of disorderly conduct, and sentences 4 to jail time, for blocking the main entrance to the New York Air National Guard’s Hancock Field on April 22/11. They were protesting the base’s MQ-9 Reaper drones, which the 174th Fighter Wing has been remotely flying over Afghanistan, from Syracuse, since late 2009. Syracuse Post-Standard.

Dec 1/11: Away from the FAA. The US Army confirms that the MQ-9 Reaper has begun training missions at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield in Fort Drum, NY, which allows it to use that site’s restricted airspace without having to get FAA waivers. The cockpit sits at Syracuse’s Hancock International Airport, in order to make takeoffs and landings near-real time, after which the MQ-9 remains connected via satellite.

Nov 28/11: France. The French Senate adopts its Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee’s recommendation to re-route EUR 109 million in funding from France’s 2012 UAV budget, and remove French industrial policy as a decision factor. The move is explicitly designed to favor the MQ-9 Reaper as France’s interim drone, over the more expensive Heron TP picked by France’s DGA. The way France’s political system is structured, however, makes this a long-odds shot at changing the DGA’s mind. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAVs” for full coverage.

FY 2011

US ramps up Block 1 orders, analyzes limitations; Air Force defers Milestone C decision for Block 5 RPA. Program continues to lack an approved Test and Evaluation Master Plan (TEMP). France loss might still be reverted.

Click for video

Sept 14/11: Un-American MQ-9. GA-ASI and SELEX Galileo complete initial testing of a new UAS open payload architecture for their Sovereign Payload Capability (SPC) Demonstration, using GA-ASI’s System Integration Lab (SIL). The broad goal is to be able to add 3rd party sensors and control software without the need to modify software on the MQ-9 or its ground controllers, while letting on-board systems access aircraft data links and communication buses, control certain aircraft power switching, and receive vehicle and sensor data feeds.

The narrower goal involves supporting SELEX Galileo’s sophisticated SeaSpray 7500E AESA maritime radar into the MQ-9, which fits with wider efforts to demonstrate the MQ-9/Predator B’s attractiveness as a maritime surveillance platform.

SPC is a privately-funded Independent Research and Development (IRAD) effort between GA-ASI and SELEX Galileo. GA-ASI is performing the software and hardware modifications, while SELEX Galileo is developing the airborne payload control software, and delivering the radar for integration. A live flight demonstration over the Pacific Ocean is expected in early December 2011. GA-ASI.

Oct 17/11: Italy +2. A $15 million firm-fixed-price contract for the Italian Air Force MQ-9 Reaper Program. This gets production going for 2 MQ-9 Reapers, 3 Lynx Block 30 radars, and 1 spare engine. ASC/WIIK, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, is the contracting activity (FA8620-10-G-3038, 0006).

In 2008, Italy’s original $330 million DSCA request was for 4 UAVs and 3 ground stations. A Nov 19/09 DSCA request looked to pay up to $63 million more, in order to raise the order limit to 6 equipped UAVs and 4 ground stations. This buy makes 4 UAVs, and 2 ground stations so far. General Atomics’ support contracts (about $30 million so far, vid. Nov 30/10, Aug 26/09) are likely to expand along with the fleet.

Italy buys 2

Oct 14/11: FAA training OK. The FAA has decided to allow MQ-9s from the Hancock Air National Guard to fly training missions in Fort Drum’s special use airspace at all times, rather than on a case-by-case basis. This has been required up until now, because UAVs lack basic “sense and avoid” safety measures, and so have very restricted flight certifications.

The next step is a plan that would allow the 174th Fighter Wing to fly its Reapers from Hancock, NY to Fort Drum, instead of being loaded onto trucks and driven. Sen. Kristen Gillibrand [D-NY] | Read Media | WSYR | YNN Central NY.

Oct 7/11: Virus! WIRED Danger Room reports that a “keylogger” virus has infected the USAF’s MQ-1A/B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper fleets. This is a surveillance virus that records keystrokes, and may periodically send the results elsewhere:

“The virus, first detected nearly two weeks ago by the military’s Host-Based Security System, has not prevented pilots at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada from flying their missions overseas. Nor have there been any confirmed incidents of classified information being lost or sent to an outside source. But the virus has resisted multiple efforts to remove it from Creech’s computers, network security specialists say… “We keep wiping it off, and it keeps coming back,” says a source familiar with the network infection, one of three that told Danger Room about the virus. “We think it’s benign. But we just don’t know.”

See also Las Vegas Review-Journal.

MQ-9, armed
(click to view full)

Aug 19/11: R&D. An $11.6 million cost-plus-incentive and firm-fixed-price contract for development of the MQ-9’s aircraft structural improvement program master plan; a left set synthetic aperture radar; and a high definition integrated sensor control system (FA8620-05-G-3028, 0049-19).

General Atomics’ Lynx SAR ground radar, developed in conjunction with Sandia National Laboratories, is widely used on MQ-1A/B Predator and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs, and operates aboard MQ-9s flown the Italian Air Force and US Customs & Border Patrol.

July 21/11: Loss in France. The French Defense Ministry enters into talks with Dassault Aviation to adapt IAI’s Heron TP for use by the French military, starting in 2014, to plug the gap before a “new generation” of drones becomes available in 2020. Reports cite General Atomics’ MQ-9 Reaper drones as the military’s preferred choice, but the high-value workshare for Dassault and Thales SA clinched the Heron TP as the Ministère de la Défense’s interim choice instead.

France eventually changes its mind, and buys MQ-9s. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAV” for full coverage.

“Loss” in France

July 1/11: Wildfires. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Office of Air and Marine has begun using its MQ-9 and the agency’s “Big Pipe” video service, to help agencies fighting Arizona’s wildfires. NASA’s Ikhana has also been used in a fire survey role, and USCBP appears to have formalized the capability.

The UAV, launched from National Air Security Operations Center-Sierra Vista, is using both its electro-optical and radar sensors, then sending the results down to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the Department of Interior (DOI), and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). USCBP Big Pipe images can be viewed anywhere there is an internet connection, including smart-phones. Reviews from the field have been positive. GA-ASI.

May 25/11: Canada. General Atomics and CAE announce an exclusive teaming agreement to offer the MQ-9 as a contender for Canada’s JUSTAS UAV program. GA-ASI.

April 27/11: Germany. General Atomics signs a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with RUAG Aerospace Services GmbH. They plan to offer the MQ-9 as a successor to Germany’s SAATEG program, which is leasing IAI Herons and services from Rheinmetall to cover Germany’s Afghan deployment (vid. Oct 28/09 entry). GA-ASI.

March 31/11: UK. A General Atomics Aeronautical Systems UK Ltd (GA-UK) subsidiary is established with an office in London, managed by Dr. Jonny King. Britain has received 6 MQ-9s, and will grow that fleet to 10 as the December 7/10 orders arrive. GA-ASI.

March 21/11: +6. A $50.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 6 production MQ-9 Reapers, and 2 MQ-9s that will become ground maintenance trainers. Work will be performed in Poway, CA (FA-8620-10-G-3038, 002801).

Feb 2/11: +24. A $148.3 million contract for 24 MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-10-G-3038 0028).

USA buys 31

Feb 2/11: MQ-9 Issues. Defense news quotes Col. James Gear, director of the USAF’s Remotely Piloted Aircraft Task Force, on the future of its UAV fleet. Despite a big commitment to the MQ-1 Predator, the MQ-9 Reaper caused a major mid-stream shift in plans. Col. Gear cites some existing issues with the MQ-9, which could leave it open to a similar shift.

The Reaper does not fare well in icing conditions, and is also not considered survivable against anti-aircraft systems. The issue of jam and snoop-proof data links, and trace-back and verification of signal origins, has also been a live question during the MQ-1 and MQ-9’s tenure. The “MQ-X” that replaces it will have to do better on all 3 counts, and the USAF also wants it to be easily upgradeable via switch-out modules. The Colonel believes the resulting UAV will end up being common with the US Navy’s carrier-based UCLASS requirement, as the 2 services are cooperating closely. That could give Northrop Grumman’s funded X-47B N-UCAS an edge over Boeing’s privately developed X-45 Phantom Ray, but General Atomics will also be submitting its own Avenger/ Sea Avenger.

Having said all of that, the MQ-9 Reaper would be superior to jet-powered UAVS in an environment where airspace is secure and the USA needs lower-cost, long endurance UAVs that combine surveillance and hunter-killer capability. There, it doesn’t need higher-end capabilities, and can deliver the same or better results for less money.

Dec 7/10: Prime Minister David Cameron announces that Britain will “double” its current MQ-9 Reaper fleet, under a GBP 135 million contract. That would place the fleet at its full requested size of 10 UAVs. UK MoD | Flight International.

UK buys 5 more

Dec 1/10: Military support. About 75 airmen from the USAF 451st Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Squadron assume responsibility for MQ-9 Reaper maintenance operations at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, replacing a civilian contract force. They become the first USAF servicemembers to maintain MQ-9s since they entered combat operations in Afghanistan. USAF.

Nov 30/10: Italy. An $18.1 million contract modification, covering contractor logistics support for the Italian Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper program, including all logistics necessary to support the Italian Air Force main operating base and possibly a forward operating base. At this time, $5.4 million has been committed (FA8620-10-G-3038).

Oct 5/10: Support. A $34.4 million contract modification which will provide organizational maintenance support for MQ-9 Reapers and related systems at Creech Air Force Base, NV; Holloman Air Force Base, NM; and deployed locations worldwide. ACC AMIC/PKC at Langley Air Force Base, VA issued this contract (FA4890-07-C-0009, PO 0041).

FY 2010

RAF MQ-9 to Afghanistan
(click to view full)

Sept 15/10: Support. A $51.5 million contract for Initial Spares, Deployment Readiness Packages, and Ground Support Equipment to support the FY 2008 MQ-9 Reaper buy. At this time, all funds have been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028; 0066).

Sept 10/10: UK. Britain has sent an extra MQ-9 Reaper UAV to Afghanistan:

“This latest addition to the Royal Air Force’s Reaper fleet will allow 39 Squadron to fly multiple Reaper aircraft at any one time over Afghanistan. A total of 36 hours of video surveillance can now be delivered in support of troops on the ground every day of the year, which marks an 80 per cent increase over the past 12 months. Reaper has been supporting ground forces in Afghanistan since October 2007 and has now flown over 13,000 hours in direct support of operations.”

Sept 9/10: +6. A $38.3 million contract modification which will buy 6 MQ-9 Reaper aircraft. Which is not the same thing as 6 Reaper systems (which would include all ancillaries), or even 6 fully-armed Reapers (sensors and weapons are separate contracts). At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028; 0050012).

Aug 25/10: Support. A $7.8 million contract modification for the MQ-9 System Development and Demonstration Increment I program. The contract includes a credit for stopped work, a cost overrun for on-going activities, additional scope for a high capacity starter/generator, and the AWM-103 for Hellfire development effort. The AN/AWM-103 is a release and control test set used for pre-flight operational checks of various missile and ordnance launch interfaces, and will also be used for the AIM-9X Sidewinder.

At this time, $3.6 million has been committed by the ASC/WIIK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (F33657-02-G-4035, 0023 36).

June 25/10: France. France’s future UAV options are coming into clearer focus as they prepare to release their new “DTIA” RFP. The MQ-9 is still seen as a contender, but it isn’t alone by any means. Read “Apres Harfang: France’s Next High-End UAV” for in-depth coverage.

June 24/10: New GCS bases. The USAF will create additional ground control bases for its MQ-1 and MQ-9 fleets. Whiteman Air Force Base, MO is expected to reach Initial Operational Capability by February 2011. Ellsworth AFB, SD will achieve IOC by May 2012. Each base will add about 280 people, but no UAVs. USAF.

June 15/10: +4. A $24 million contract for 4 more MQ-9 Reaper (2 production aircraft and 2 ground maintenance trainers). At this time, the entire amount has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028).

A conversation with General Atomics confirms that these 4 MQ-9s are for the USAF, which is exercising a FY 2009 option for more UAVs.

USA buys 5

June 9/10: Italy. Defense News reports that Italy’s 2 ordered Reaper systems will be delivered in July 2010 to Puglia air base in southern Italy, and are expected to start serving in Afghanistan before year-end. The original delivery schedule for the February 2009 order was before 2009 year end, but that has slipped.

An Italian Air Force source told Defense News that 2 more Reapers will be delivered by the end of 2010. The Italian Air Force reportedly wants to have 2 UAVs (Predator or Reaper) ready to fly at all times in Afghanistan, or 1 permanently flying. Italy already operates a small set of MQ-1 Predator UAVs. See also Feb 5/09 ad Dec 19/09 entries.

June 4/10: Automatic? A $9 million contract which will provide “for MQ-9 auto take-off and landing capability modification to the system development and demonstration bridge effort.” US Army UAVs have tended to use automatic take off and landing, which allows them to use non-commissioned officers as UAV controllers. It has also led to lower crash rates, compared to USAF UAVs.

At this time, $1 million has been obligated by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028).

May 19/10: UK. The UK MoD announces that The RAF’s MQ-9 Reaper program has now exceeded 10,000 hours of armed overwatch in support of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The Reapers are flown by 39 Squadron via satellite from a UK operations facility at Creech AFB, NV, USA. Its primary role is surveillance, but from May 2008 the system has been armed with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs. In the last 12 months alone, 39 Squadron has more than doubled its operational flying output, and more RAF MQ-9s are expected to arrive in theater in 2010. UK MoD.

March 30/10: Euro-competitor? The UK’s Labour Party Minister of Defence Quentin Davies says that the U.K., France and Italy have commissioned a set of firms including Dassault Aviation SA to study a multinational project for an armed UAV with surveillance capabilities. The goal is “an improvement on [MQ-9] Reaper, the next generation,” and the report is due for completion in June 2010.

BAE’s Mantis UAV project is one possible basis for an effort of this type, and the UK MoD has confirmed that “Mantis will be one contender in the assessment phase [but] no firm commitments have been made.” Other possibilities might include widening the current French/ German/ Spanish Talarion UAV project, or merging the UK’s stealthy Taranis UCAV project into the similar nEUROn consortium, which already includes France and Italy. A great deal depends on the specifications laid out for the new UAV. BusinessWeek.

Feb 1/10: +2 test. A $12.8 million cost plus fixed fee term contract to provide 2 MQ-9 Reaper test aircraft. They will support immediate and future development tests needs on the Reaper Increment I program. All funds have been committed by the 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028-005005).

December 2009: Hacked! Media reports reveal that MQ-1 Predator UAVs have had their surveillance footage intercepted, using an inexpensive satellite receiver and low-cost SkyGrabber software. The reason? No encryption between the UAV and its ground receivers. The Wall Street Journal adds that:

“The US government has known about the flaw since the US campaign in Bosnia in the 1990s, current and former officials said. But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn’t know how to exploit it, the officials said.”

Some reports added that retrofits are now underway to fix this problem, beginning with deployed UAVs. General Atomics confirmed to DID that the Reaper has used the same SATCOM setup as its Predators. See Wall St. Journal | Ars Technica | cnet | Defense Tech | John Robb’s Global Guerrillas | Flight International.

Hacked

Dec 7/09: US CBP. US Customs and Border patrol takes delivery of its first MQ-9 “Guardian” variant in Paldale, CA, as part of a joint program with the US Coast Guard to investigate UAVs for maritime patrol roles. Australia has already done similar work, as part of its Coastwatch program.

The Guardian has been modified from a standard MQ-9 with structural, avionics, and communications enhancements, as well as the addition of a Raytheon SeaVue Marine Search Radar, and an Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR) Sensor that is optimized for maritime operations. Operational Test and Evaluation (OT&E) is expected to begin in early 2010 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, FL, and if all goes well, the UAV will be sent out on counter-narcotics operations beginning in spring 2010. General Atomics release.

These UAVs are bought by the Department of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. By 2014, US CBP has 11 MQ-9s, including 2 “Guardian” maritime patrol variants with the SeaVue radar.

US Customs & Border Patrol

Nov 19/09: The US DSCA announces [PDF] Italy’s official request for 2 more unarmed MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), 1 Mobile Ground Control Station, plus maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related support. The estimated cost is up to $63 million. The contractors would be:

  • General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. San Diego, California (UAV)
  • Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, CA (surveillance/targeting turret)
  • General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, CA (SAR radar)

Italy has already ordered 2 MQ-9s and 2 ground stations (vid. Feb 5/09, Aug 26/09), and its original Aug 1/08 DSCA request was for 4 UAVs and 3 ground stations. This request would raise the order limit to 6 UAVs and 4 ground stations.

DSCA request: Italy (2)

Nov 2/09: Seychelles. Voice of America quotes U.S. Africa Command spokesman Vince Crawley, who says several MQ-9 Reapers will be based in the Seychelle Islands (just north of Madagascar) by late October or November 2009. The UAVs will be based at the international airport in the capital Mahe, and are there at the request of the Seychelles government. AFRICOM says they will not be armed, which makes the MQ-9 Reaper an odd choice versus the MQ-1 Predator.

The request came after Somali pirates began extending their operations more than 1,000 km away from Somali shores. Two Seychelles-flagged vessels have been hijacked in 2009, and several others attacked in waters near the Seychelles and the Comoros Islands. India also has close relations with the Seychelles, and sent a warship to the area in May 2009. Voice of America | Stars and Stripes | Crossed Crocodiles.

Oct 28/09: Germany. In contrast to Italy’s buy, Germany leases Israeli Heron UAVs for use in Afghanistan. At least one report suggests that negative experiences with Foreign Military Sales rules tipped Germany away from an MQ-9 Reaper, which was the target of an Aug 1/08 DSCA request. Time will tell if Germany’s procurement policies bear that out.

Germany leases Heron UAVs instead

Oct 14/09: Losing my connection. Esquire Magazine’s “We’ve Seen the Future, and It’s Unmanned” article includes an excerpt covering MQ-9 operations that may raise a few eyebrows:

“During “lost link” episodes, when communication with the air crew is broken, the plane circles on a preset course and waits for direction. “We have to find it. It’s like hide-and-seek,” Dowd said. The week Gersten took command at Creech, a power surge hit the base and he lost contact with several Predators and Reapers over Afghanistan and Iraq. His crews told him this was nothing to worry about, and in fifteen minutes all the planes were back online. Two weeks later, another power surge hit Creech and he lost contact with more Predators and Reapers. Within a half hour, all were found. But systems so technology-dependent will be vulnerable to exploitation, whether through hacking or physical interruption of data – shooting down a satellite, perhaps, along its round-the-world journey. And in increasingly wired war zones, everyone will be fighting for bandwidth.”

See also Sept 13/09 entry, re: the forced shoot-down of an MQ-9 over Afghanistan.

Oct 10/09: France. Reports surface in the French media that France is considering an urgent purchase of 2 MQ-9 Reaper systems (4 MQ-9s, 2 ground stations) for use in Afghanistan at a cost of up to $100 million, because 2 of its 3 deployed EADS SIDM/ Harfang UAVs are grounded for repairs, and have had issues with human error and contractor support.

France has advanced UAV programs in development, in collaboration with other European countries, at the medium, heavy, and UCAV levels. A recent test of the jet-powered Barracuda UAV demonstrator in Canada, and ongoing progress on the multinational Talarion and nEUROn UCAV underscores the seriousness of those efforts, but they are not realistic fielding options. Assuming that France does not wish to lease a UAV service as the Australians, British, Canadians, and Dutch have done, the MQ-9 offers commonality with the American, British, and Italian contingents in theater, as well as a UAV with strong weapons options that set it apart from the rest.

A wild card in this situation is France’s reputation for pervasive industrial espionage, even during combat operations. With a number of advanced French-led UAV programs in development, it would certainly be possible to make very good use of full access to America’s most advanced serving UAV. Reuters || In French: Le Point magazine EXCLUSIF | France-Soir | Le Monde | TF 1.

Oct 9/09: Sensors. Northrop Grumman Space and Mission Systems Corp., of San Jose, CA, receives a $9.6 million contract to perform preliminary design for a scaled communications intelligence/ Airborne signals intelligence (COMINT/SIGINT) payload system for the MQ-9. At this time, $7.6 million has been committed by the 659th AESS/SYKA at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-08-C-3004).

FY 2009

MQ-9 at Kandahar
(click to view full)

Sept 30/09: Support. A $19.5 million contract to provide various MQ-9 Reaper equipment and items including aircraft supplemental spares, 30 day pack-up kits, and ground support equipment. At this time, the entire amount has been committed by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028, DO 0034).

Sept 23/09: Weapons. An AIM-9X Sidewinder advanced air-to-air missile fired from a U.S. Air Force F-16C fighter sinks a rapidly moving target boat in the Gulf of Mexico. The missile had received a software upgrade, allowing its imaging infrared seeker to engage land targets as well as other aircraft. This is the 3rd success of the missile in ground-strike mode, following tests in April 2008 (F-16 vs. maneuvering boat), and March 2007 (F-15C vs. moving armored personnel carrier).

This test is especially significant for the MQ-9, as the AIM-9X is one of its permitted weapons. More to the point, unlike helicopter-fired missiles such as the AGM-114 Hellfire, Sidewinders are specifically designed to deal with the cold and conditions found at high altitude, where helicopters do not fly. That makes the AIM-9X a very useful dual role option for Reapers that want to make full use of their 50,000 foot flight ceiling. Raytheon release.

Sept 13/09: Kill it. The USAF reportedly sends fighters to shoot down an MQ-9 over Afghanistan, after the UAV stopped responding to pilot commands. The Reaper would not have been a danger to anyone, but the Air Force is not willing to allow the UAV and its systems to fall into untrusted hands. See also Oct 14/09 entry. Popular Science | Aviation Week.

Rogue shot down

Aug 26/09: Italy. A $10.25 million modified contract for 1 year of Contractor Logistics Support for the Italian purchase of MQ-9 Reaper aircraft under the Foreign Military Sales program (q.v. Feb 5/09 entry). At this time $5 million has been committed by the 703th AESG/SYK at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028 0058030).

March 10/09: Weapons. The USAF announces that a series of GBU-38 JDAM drops have gone well, and they expect certification for the Reapers to use the 500 pound GPS-guided bombs soon. USAF 703rd Aeronautical Systems Group Commander, Col. Chris Coombs says that:

“Our next step is to add the GBU-39B Small Diameter Bomb which will further increase the types of target sets the warfighter can engage.”

The GBU-39 is a 250 pound glide bomb with similar GPS guidance, but its shape and fuze make it good at penetrating hardened bunkers or exploding in the open. The current launcher carries 4 bombs, and will be interesting to see if the GBU-39 ends up needing a smaller launcher for MQ-9 use.

Feb 5/09: The USAF is awarding a maximum $81.3 million firm-fixed-price contract to General Atomics Aeronautical Systems of San Diego, CA for 2 MQ-9 Reapers and 2 Mobile Ground Control Stations. Italy is the buyer, and $40 million has been committed. The 703 AESG/SYF at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH officially manages this Foreign Military Sales contract (FA8620-05-G-3028).

Per the Aug 1/08 entry, Italy’s DSCA request involved 4 MQ-9 UAVs, 3 Mobile Ground Control Stations, and 5 years of maintenance and other support. The approach taken by Britain’s RAF has been to secure the authorization and then buy UAVs at a gradual pace (See Sept 5/08 entry); Italy appears to be following that model as well.

Italy buys 2

Feb 3/09: Training. Members from the 432d Wing complete a successful test flight from Holloman AFB, New Mexico after flying an MQ-9 Reaper over Fort Irwin, California training air space using “remote split operations.” This approach, which is used extensively on CENTCOM’s front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan, involves Predator aircraft launched by crews at one location, while flown by crews from another location via satellite link.

Holloman AFB is the USAF’s preferred location for future MQ-9 Reaper and MQ-1B Predator formal training units, which will move from Creech AFB near Las Vegas once Holloman is ready. Shephard report | USAF re: remote split operations.

Jan 29/09: Turkey. The Turkish newspaper Hurriyet Daily News reports that Turkey is looking to buy MQ-9 Reapers, and submitted a formal request in December 2008. The ultimate decision by the United States on whether to accept and present this formal export request to Congress through the US DSCA is expected in the next 6 months – and as of 2012, no such request had been published.

A refusal can be expected to have an impact on Turkish procurement policy. The Hurriyet article does not believe that Turkey’s membership n the F-35 program would be affected, but it does suggest that Turkey would step up existing efforts to diversify its weapon sources.

Nov 26/08: A firm-fixed-price, not-to-exceed $115.2 million contract for 16 “Global War on Terror” MQ-9 Reaper UAVs. At this time $52.9 million has been committed. This contract is managed by the 703 AESG/SYK at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, OH (FA8620-05-G-3028).

FY 2008

Mariner UAV
(click to view full)

Sept 5/08: UK. Britain’s Royal Air Force is set to expand its fleet of Reapers to 5 after Defence Equipment and Support (DE&S) agreed to buy 2 more airframes from the US, and to replace the MQ-9 that crashed in April 2008. Shephard:

“According to DE&S’ Strategic UAV Experimental Integrated Procurement Team, which is heading up the UK’s Reaper procurement activities, the DSCA notice allows the UK to procure the aircraft in batches as required. Effectively this means that the UK has a further seven aircraft to draw on before it would have to go back through the Foreign Military Sales Process.”

Aug 18/08: Training. USAF Air Combat Command commander Gen. John D.W. Corley announces that Holloman AFB, NM, is the preferred potential location for an additional unmanned aircraft system Formal Training Unit (FTU). This is the first step that could lead to the initial stand-up of FTU operations for MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper combat operators, in 2009, pending a favorable environmental impact analysis.

The current MQ-1/MQ-9 FTU is at Creech AFB, NV. USAF release.

Aug 8/08: Performance problems. A US GAO decision denies Lockheed Martin’s bid protest over the BAMS maritime surveillance UAV contract – and cites ongoing performance issues with its key partner General Atomics as the reason. The GAO summary for Bid Protest B-400135 states that:

“Agency reasonably determined, in procurement for unmanned maritime surveillance aircraft, that awardee [DID: Northrop Grumman] had significant advantage over protester [DID: Lockheed Martin] with respect to past performance where: protester’s subcontractor [DID: General Atomics], responsible for approximately 50 percent of contract effort, had recent past performance history of being unable to resolve staffing and resource issues, resulting in adverse cost and schedule performance on very relevant contracts for unmanned aircraft; record did not demonstrate that protester’s subcontractor had implemented systemic improvement that resulted in improved performance; [in contrast] operating division of the awardee also had performance problems on very relevant contracts for unmanned aircraft, many had been addressed through systemic improvement; and overall performance of awardee’s team on most evaluated contract efforts was rated better than satisfactory, while the overall performance of protester’s team on 11 of 26 contract efforts was only marginal.”

The Lockheed Martin team’s BAMS entry was built around the Mariner UAV, an MQ-9 variant. The GAO decision then goes on to discuss these issues in more detail:

“In contrast, however, GA-ASI’s contract performance was a matter of great concern to the agency. Specifically, while recognizing that GA-ASI had demonstrated a willingness and ability to respond on short notice to evolving Global War on Terror (GWOT) warfighter requirements, the SSEB found that GA-ASI’s performance demonstrated: inadequate staffing, resulting in performance problems on SDD contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper (a second-generation, Predator B model) and the MQ-1C Extended Range/Multipurpose (ER/MP) UAS (a second-generation Predator model); unfavorable schedule performance on four of seven relevant GA-ASI contracts, including very relevant contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, I-GNAT Extended Range UAS (a version of the Predator with some differences for the Army), and MQ-1 baseline Predator; poor performance in meeting technical quality requirements on three of seven GA-ASI contracts, including contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, MQ-1C ER/MP, and I-GNAT Extended Range UAS; and workload exceeded the firm’s capacity on five of seven GA-ASI contracts, including contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper, UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, I-GNAT Extended Range UAS, and MQ?1/MQ-9 maintenance support. In summary, the SSEB found the overall performance of GA-ASI on its very relevant contracts for the MQ-9 Reaper (most delivery orders), UAS ground control stations, MQ-1C ER/MP, and I-GNAT Extended Range UAS to be marginal.”

Aug 1/08: Italy. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Italy’s formal request to buy 4 MQ-9 UAVs, 3 Mobile Ground Control Stations, 5 years of maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support.

The estimated cost is $330 million, and will not require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Italy. That country already operates some of General Atomics’ MQ-1 Predator systems.

The principal contractors will be: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA (UAVs); General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, California (lynx ground viewing radar); and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, California (surveillance turrets).

DSCA request: Italy (4)

Aug 1/08: Germany. The US DSCA announces [PDF] Germany’s formal request to buy 5 MQ-9 UAVs, 4 Mobile Ground Control Stations, 1 year of maintenance support, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support.

The estimated cost is $205 million, and will not require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives. The principal contractors will be: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. in San Diego, CA (UAVs); General Atomics Lynx Systems San Diego, California (lynx ground viewing radar); and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems El Segundo, California (surveillance turrets).

In the end, however, the Germans chose to lease IAI’s Heron-1 UAVs, and left its option to buy MQ-9s on the table. Germany will also operate up to 5 RQ-4 Eurohawk UAVs from Northrop Grumman for strategic reconnaissance.

DSCA request: Germany (5)

July 15/08: UK support team. General Atomics and Cobham plc announce a teaming agreement with Cobham plc to cover whole life support arrangements for Britain’s “GA-ASI products.” This teaming arrangement will initially focus on supporting the UK’s existing MQ-9 Reapers currently in operation with the Royal Air Force (RAF) over Afghanistan.

The MQ-9s are currently the British military’s only significant GA-ASI products. The release says that this arrangement “will develop support solutions that could be used by the UK MoD to offer increased flexibility and sovereignty over existing arrangements.” Immediate dividends will be small, but if competitors fail to match these kinds of arrangements, it could give General Atomics an important advantage as it seeks to sell more MQ-9s to Britain and offer other products like the derivative Mariner maritime UAV or other members of its signature Predator family. GA-ASI release | Cobham release [PDF].

Mantis UCAV
(click to view larger)

July 14/08: Mantis vs. Reaper? The UK Ministry of Defence operates MQ-9s, but it has also entered into a jointly funded 1st phase of the Mantis UAS Advanced Concept Technology Demonstrator program with BAE Systems. The mockup unveiled at the Farnborough 2008 air show shows a UCAV that’s clearly in the MQ-9 Reaper’s class, with up to 6 weapons pylons for Paveway IV laser/GPS guided bombs and Brimstone missiles. The design looks less like a high-altitude strike UAV, however, and more like the offspring of the USA’s A-10 “Warthog” battlefield support plane and Argentina’s IA 58 Pucara counter-insurgency aircraft.

BAE will work with the MoD and key UK industrial parties including Rolls-Royce (RB 250 turboprops for now), QinetiQ, GE Aviation, SELEX Galileo and Meggitt, and the design and manufacture of the twin-engine Mantis and associated ground control infrastructure are already underway. Assembly, vehicle ground testing and infrastructure integration testing will take place later in 2008, with first flight currently scheduled for early 2009. In the end, BAE would add Dassault to its team, and make Mantis the core of their Telemos future UAV’s bid to supplement or replace Britain’s MQ-9s. BAE release | Flight International | Defense Update | Defense News | Aviation Week | domain-B | WIRED Danger Room.

June 6/08: Weapons hot. A British MoD article states that the UK’s Reapers have crossed the line, and become weapons platforms as well:

“An RAF Reaper Unmanned Aerial Vehicle used its weapons system in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan for the first time this week. As with any other munitions this was carried out under strict Rules of Engagement… RAF Reapers are used predominately to provide Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR)… 39 Squadron, which is the RAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Squadron, was reformed in January this year and operates from Nevada in the USA as part of the USAF 432nd Wing. The Reaper aircraft are based in Afghanistan but are remotely controlled by satellite link from the USA… Although it’s an RAF Squadron, 39 Squadron is comprised of personnel from all three UK services; RAF, Royal Navy and the Army.”

UK – armed.

March 31/08: A firm fixed price contract for $28.9 million, to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs. All funds have been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028 ORDER 0031).

USA buys 4

March 7/08: Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that Britain’s MQ-9 DSCA request has “not survived the planning round 2008 [PR08] process.” If true, there will be no further orders.

Jan 16/08: A firm fixed price contract for $16.2 million to build, test, and deliver one (1) MQ-9 Reaper along with containers, a 30-day pack-up kit, and initial spares. At this time $12.1 million has been committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0041).

USA buys 1

Jan 3/08: The US DSCA announces the United Kingdom’s official request for “10 MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) aircraft, 5 Ground Control Stations, 9 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS-B/AAS-52), 9 AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar/Ground Moving Target Indicator (SAR/GMTI) systems, 3 Satellite Earth Terminal Sub Stations (SETSS), 30 H764 Embedded Global Positioning System Inertial Navigation Systems, Lynx SAR and MTS-B spares, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, technical assistance, personnel training/equipment, spare and repair parts, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $1.071 billion.”

The principal contractors will be General Atomics’ Aeronautical Systems (MQ-9) and Lynx Systems (Lynx ground scan radar) subsidiaries in San Diego, CA, and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, CA (MTS-B/AAS-52).

Britain decided to stand up a Reaper flight in 2007, after early experience with 3 unarmed MQ-9s in Afghanistan proved positive. These aircraft would form the B Flight of a new UAV squadron, while A flight will comprise the existing RAF detachment within the UK-USAF Joint (MQ-1A) Predator Task Force located at Nellis AFB, NV. At present, the British say they are looking at the MQ-9 only as a high-end surveillance drone to complement their mid-range Watchkeeper Mk450 UAVs and short-range Deseert Hawk and RQ-11 Raven UAVs.

DSCA request: UK (10)

RAF MQ-9, Kandahar
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Nov 9/07: UK. The UK MoD publishes “Reaper takes to the air in Afghanistan,” confirming that the RAF’s first MQ-9 has been deployed and is performing surveillance missions in theater. The UAVs will be operated by personnel from the RAF’s 39 Squadron Personnel, which in addition to the RAF personnel also has Army and Navy personnel working in a number of functional areas. The release adds that:

“The Reaper capability is still being developed. Training will continue alongside operational missions and there will be a steady build up to a full UK capability. The Reaper UAV is currently unarmed. It is capable of being armed and the MOD is investigating arming options.”

Britian arranged to buy a 3rd UAV in 2007 as part of the UK’s Urgent Operational Request, and all 3 MQ-9s were delivered into theater in October 2007.

Nov 7/07: 1st bomb drop. The USAF confirms that the MQ-9A Reaper demonstrated its hunter-killer capability by dropping its first precision-guided bomb over the Sangin region of Afghanistan.

“[The UAV] was on the hunt for enemy activity when the crew received a request for assistance from a joint terminal attack controller on the ground. Friendly forces were taking fire from enemy combatants. The JTAC provided targeting data to the pilot and sensor operator, who fly the aircraft remotely from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. The pilot released two GBU-12 500-pound laser-guided bombs, destroying the target and eliminating the enemy fighters.”

Oct 28/07: Boom! The USAF reports that In Afghanistan, the MQ-9 Reaper conducted its first precision combat strike sortie, targeting enemy combatants in Deh Rawod with a Hellfire missile. The strike was reported as successful.

1st Reaper strikes

Oct 07: Initial operating capability reached.

IOC

Oct 1/07: Support. A $21.9 million contract modification for MQ-9 organizational maintenance support at Creech AFB, NV and deployed sites worldwide. This support includes aircrew duties/responsibilities, maintaining equipment in accordance with approved applicable AF technical engineering data, quality assurance, parts/supplies ordering and accountable and flying and maintenance schedule development.

At this time all funds have been committed. Air Combat Command AMIC/PKC in Newport News, VA manages this contract (FA4890-07-C-0009-P00006).

FY 2005 – 2007

US orders; Britain requests Reapers.

MQ-9 w. Paveways
(click to view larger)

Aug 31/07: Support. A $65 million firm fixed price contract for various MQ-9 Reaper equipment and items including Aircraft Initial Spares, 30 Day Pack-up Kits, and Ground Support Equipment. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028, Order 0034).

June 22/07: +4. A firm-fixed-price contract modification for $44 million to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs AVs and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, and 30-day pack-up kits.

Solicitations began in January 2006, negotiations were complete in April 2007, and work will be complete by December 2009. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0007, PO 0001).

USA buys 4

May 7/07: +4. A $59 million firm-fixed-price contract to build, test, and deliver 4 MQ-9 UAVs and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, and 30-day pack-up kits.

Solicitations began in January 2006, negotiations were complete in April 2007, and work will be complete by December 2009. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028-0007).

USA buys 4

March 15/07: +2. A $43.7 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to build, test, and deliver 2 MQ-9 UAVs, 2 mobile ground control stations, and associated equipment to include initial spares, ground support equipment, pack-up kits, and Ku SATCOM antennas. At this time, $32.7 million has been committed. Work will be complete in December 2008 (FA8620-05-G-3028, order number 0024/no modification number at this time).

USA: 2

Sept 27/06: UK. The US DSCA announce’s Britain’s formal export request for 2 MQ-9 UAVs, 2 Multi-Spectral Targeting Systems (MTS-B) surveillance & targeting turrets, 2 AN/APY-8 Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (airborne), 1 Ground Control Station, 1 Mobile Ground Control Station, Ku-Band Communications spares, Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar Spares, engineering support, test equipment, ground support, operational flight test support, communications equipment, and other forms of support and assistance.

The principal contractors will be General Atomics Aeronautical Systems in San Diego, CA; General Atomics Lynx Systems in San Diego, California; and Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems in El Segundo, CA (MTS-B). Implementation of this proposed sale won’t require the assignment of any U.S. Government or contractor representatives to the United Kingdom.

Instead, RAF 39 Squadron began operating out of Creech AFB near Vegas in January 2007, alongside the American Reaper force. Sources: DSCA.

DSCA request: UK (2)

Sept 22/06: Support. A $27.6 million cost-plus-fixed fee contract modification for 4 field compatible aircraft maintenance test stations, 2 MD-1A mobile ground control stations, 2 MD-1A fixed ground control stations, 5 MD-1B dual control mobile ground control stations, and non-recurring engineering per FY 2006 Predator MQ-1 and Reaper MQ-9 requirements. At this time, $20.7 million has been obligated. Solicitations began in June 2006, negotiations were complete September 2006, and work will be complete September 2008 (FA8620-05-G-3028 Delivery Order 0022)

Sept 22/06: Support. A $15.8 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 18 ground data terminals, ground support equipment, 2 remote split operation kits, 1 replenishment spares package kit, 1 initial spares package, and 2 primary Predator sitcom link modem assemblies per FY 2006 Predator MQ-1 and Reaper MQ-9 requirements. Solicitations began in June 2006, negotiations were complete September 2006, and work will be complete June 2010. At this time, $11.8 million has been obligated (FA8620-05-G-3028 Delivery Order 0010)

According to Pentagon documents, FY 2006 Predator UAV budgets were $153.8 million from the US Army, and $64.1 million from the US Air Force. These figures would not include supplemental funding budgets, which are intended for use to replace war materials and sustain equipment in the field.

MQ-9 trials
(click to view full)

May-September 2006: Australia. Australia’s government announces a September 2006 trial across Australia’s North West Shelf region, using a General Atomics MQ-9 Mariner Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) and an Armidale Class patrol boat. Australian DoD release | Spacewar | DSTO mini-site.

June 30/06: Upgrades. a $5.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for the retrofit of 5 MQ-9 Predator aircraft with upgraded landing gear for increased landing capacity, Hellfire/EGBU-12/Special Project A Payloads, and interim modem assembly capabilities. Also included in the cost of this effort is one lot of spares and system integration lab upgrade work.

Solicitations began April 2006, negotiations were complete June 2006, and work will be complete June 2007. All funds have been committed (F33657-02-G-4035/order #0028, modification #13).

Jan 25/06: +5. A $41.4 million fixed-price incentive firm contract to build, test, and deliver 5 MQ-9 Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and associated equipment, to include initial spares, ground support equipment, pack-up kits, and Ku SATCOM antennas.

Solicitations began November 2004, negotiations were complete in December 2005, and work will be complete by March 2008. All funds are already committed (FA8620-05-G-3028 Order 0004).

USA buys 5

March 29/05: A $68.2 million cost plus incentive fee contract for the System Development and Demonstration (SDD) of the MQ-9 Hunter-Killer Aircraft. The effort includes options for the retrofit of 4 aircraft to the SDD configuration, along with communications and ground and flight test facility upgrades. At this time, $15.6 million of the funds have been committed (F33657-02-G-4035, Order 23).

MQ-9 Ancillaries

Ikhana fire image
(click to view full)

The Reaper’s technical maturity and 3,000 pound payload limit make it a very attractive platform for testing advanced military surveillance payloads, even as NASA’s MQ-9 Ikhana is used to test advanced civil payloads for monitoring wildfires, etc. Tested payloads can be added to the MQ-9s arsenal of options, enhancing its value. Once tested, however, they can also be added to other platforms, from manned aircraft like the USA’s MC-12W Liberty King Air twin-turboprops, to other high-end UAVs, and even pending airships like the Army’s LEMV.

The following set of entries is meant to be illustrative of the payloads under active consideration, rather than being an exhaustive list of milestones & contracts.

Jan 22/14: Pandora EW. General Atomics and Northrop Grumman conduct the 2nd USMC demonstration of MQ-9s as electronic warfare platforms, using NGC’s Pandora low-power, wideband electronic warfare pod. They tested Pandora’s compatibility with the Reaper’s avionics and command and control architecture, including control of the Pandora pod’s operations, and tested the entire system’s integration into a Marine Command and Control (C2) network.

A Cyber/Electronic Warfare Coordination Cell (CEWCC) located at MCAS Yuma ran the pod and UAV, which supported a large aircraft strike package that included EA-6B Prowler jamming aircraft. General Atomics sees this as an important way to broaden the Reaper’s usefulness, in order to keep it from budget cuts. Sources: GA-ASI, “GA-ASI and Northrop Grumman Showcase Additional Unmanned Electronic Attack Capabilities in Second USMC Exercise”.

Feb 13/13: MALD-J EW. Raytheon Company and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. announce that they’re working to integrate MALD/MALD-J decoys onto the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Ground Verification Test phase completed in November 2012 at GA-ASI’s Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility in Palmdale, CA. Integration is estimated to conclude in 2013.

The Reaper’s slow speed means that their use would need to be timed well, and arranged carefully so as not to make their mission obvious. On the other hand, the Israelis have made an art form out of using drones to provoke air defense batteries into using their radars and communications, then harvesting the emissions for analysis and counter-programming. Enough of that in advance, and the MALDs could just look like the big killer strike wave has finally arrived. Throw in MALD-Js for jamming, and the potential uses multiply further.

Aug 5/11: Missile Defense? The US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announces a maximum $48.4 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to General Atomics Aeronautical in Poway, CA to develop and demonstrate “precision three-dimensional tracking of ballistic missiles from a long endurance, high-altitude unmanned air system.” General Atomics has confirmed the identity of the HALE test system as the MQ-9 Reaper UAV. Read “Ballistic Missile Tracking with UAVs: HALE, Well Met” for full coverage.

Jan 27/11: Gorgon Stare. The twin-pod Gorgon Stare payload for UAVs and aircraft is supposed to let troops cover square kilometers with surveillance, instead of looking through a soda straw, and had been slated for deployment on MQ-9s. But the left-wing CDI reveals that a recent testing report gave it a terrible rating.

The US Air Force has some disagreements with that assessment, but probably regrets their recent boasting to the Washington Post. So does Chuck Spinney, albeit for a different set of reasons.

Nov 1/10: ASIP-2. Northrop Grumman Space and Missions Systems Corp., San Jose, CA receives a contract modification which will “provide for a prototype sensor for the MQ-9 installed in a pod to support a limited flight demonstration of the ASIP-2 functionally. The contractor shall support the General Atomics effort to certify the pod for air worthiness on the MQ-9.”

ASIP is the Airborne Signals Intelligence Payload. This electronic eavesdropping pod from Northrop Grumman has been in testing for the RQ-4 Global Hawk, as well as aircraft like the U-2 and RC-12, but it is also within the Reaper’s payload limit. At this time, $5.4 million has been committed by the ASC/WINK at Wright-Patterson AFB, OH (FA8620-08-C-3004).

Oct 27/10: TRACER. Lockheed Martin’s tree-penetrating Tactical Reconnaissance and Counter-Concealment-Enabled Radar (TRACER) flies for the 1st time aboard NASA’s Ikhana MQ-9, because the Army Gray Eagle MQ-1C fleet that will eventually host the external unpressurized TRACER pods are all busy on operations.

TRACER is a dual-band synthetic-aperture radar (SAR), designed to detect vehicles, buildings and other man-made objects that are buried, camouflaged or concealed under trees and other foliage. The flight tests on Ikhana focused on the radar’s performance in the harsh environment of the unpressurized pod, as the TRACER system will eventually be installed on a variety of manned and unmanned aircraft. Lockheed Martin.

Dec 16/09: Gorgon Stare. The first 3 “Gorgon Stare” surveillance pods are reportedly slated to deploy to Afghanistan in March-April 2010, mounted on MQ-9 Reapers. Reapers can carry the 1,100 pound pods, MQ-1 Predators cannot, and this was reportedly one of the reasons for the USAF’s shift toward the Reaper as its future mainstay UAV.

Using a UAV for surveillance is often like looking through a soda straw. Gorgon Stare begins to fix this issue. Sierra Nevada Corp’s The ISR pod uses 5 high-zoom cameras and 4 infrared cameras to take pictures from different angles, then combines them into a larger picture. Tranche 1 pods can reportedly scan a 4km square area, provide 10 video images to 10 different operators at the same time, and support up to 12 independent ROVER/OSVRT queries, in contrast to an MQ-1 Predator’s one. The next 6 Tranche 2 pods will raise those numbers to 30 clips and 30 different operators by late 2010. By fall 2011, Gorgon Stare Tranche 3 will use 6 of each sensor type, expand the “stare” to 8 square kilometers from 4, and is expected to offer up to 30 ROVER queries, with up to 65 video images deliverable to up to 65 different operators. Gorgon Stare is designed to be platform-agnostic, and to integrate into the USA’s Distributed Common Ground System.

Ultimately, the USAF reportedly wants the Gorgon Stare system to become its standard sensor pod for wide-area, persistent surveillance – though the ARGUS-IS program is reportedly delivering a 92-feed, 1.8 gigapixel camera for Special Forces use, which would mount on the A160T Hummingbird VTUAV. See also DoD Buzz | Flight International | Gannett’s Air Force Times | LA Times | Popular Science | WIRED Danger Room.

Oct 25/07: Firefighter. As large wildfires rage around San Diego, CA, NASA’s “Ikhana” MQ-9 UAV helps out with an interesting new payload. The UAV carries special thermal-infrared imaging equipment that can look right through smoke and haze, and record high-quality imagery of key hot spots. The imagery is processed on board, downlinked, and overlaid on Google Earth maps at NASA Ames Research Center in Northern California. From there, the National Interagency Fire Center makes it available to incident commanders in the field, so they can assign their fire-fighting resources more intelligently.

Lest anyone think this doesn’t affect military customers, it’s worth noting that there are a lot of military facilities around San Diego. Abroad, potential customers like Canada and Australia face serious wildfire dangers within their vast territories. A UAV that promised to help with that civil problem when it isn’t deployed abroad becomes much easier to support as a military buy. Read: “NASA MQ-9 Imaging California Wildfires” for more.

Additional Readings & Sources Background: The Reaper Family

Background: Reaper Ancillaries

Specific Countries

Official Reports

News & Views

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

HOT BLADE 2018 improved joint and combined helicopter training

EDA News - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 12:19

Helicopter training exercise HOT BLADE 2018, organised in May under the European Defence Agency’s Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP) and hosted by the Portuguese Air Force at Beja airbase, was officially closed on 23 May by the Director of the Portuguese Air Operations, Brigadier General Rui de Freitas and José Pablo Romera, EDA Project Officer Rotary Wing.

With 29 air assets flying a total of more than 550 hours and around 1,200 military participants, the exercise (the 12th held under the HEP umbrella) demonstrated once again the immense added value of collaborative multinational training for participating States’ aircrews, maintenance staff, troops and support personnel under very demanding (hot, dusty, mountainous) conditions.

Six Member States (Belgium, Germany, Hungary, The Netherlands, Slovenia and Portugal) deployed assets, including 21 helicopters of 7 different types (A-109, AS-532, EH-101, CH-47, MI-17, NH-90, SA-316). The first week included a complete day of briefings covering flight safety, expected battle rhythm, host nation support, and a helicopter academics session to refresh COMAO Mission Planning procedures. This theoretical element was followed by operational briefings designed to familiarise aircrews with Beja airbase, rehearse emergency procedures with firefighters and Special Operations Forces (SOF), get familiar with the different helicopter types and ensure high safety levels.  The first week was completed with individual trainings, helicopter operations flown by day and by night, fighter evasion missions carried out with Portuguese F-16 fighter jets and helicopter firing drills. All participating Member States were able to reach their national training objectives. 

During the second week, flying crews performed complex missions in a demanding but realistic environment, making full use of the dusty and mountainous surroundings and shooting ranges. As the exercise advanced, the multinational crews conducted ever more complex coalition level trainings culminating in the planning and execution of several Composite Air Operation (COMAO) missions. These covered a spectrum of advanced helicopter manoeuvre tactics including a large formation of helicopters with embarked troops, integration of Tactical Air Control Party (TACP) teams and paratroopers jumping from a Mi-17 helicopter and a C-295 aircraft, all set against complex threats such as SA-8 SAM, missiles and F-16 fighter jets.

Six instructors from Austria, Germany, Sweden and the UK, previously trained in EDA’s Helicopter Tactics Instructors Course (HTIC), formed the HOT BLADE 2018 Mentor Team. It supported the multinational crews in the preparation and execution of the COMAO missions and identified valuable Lessons Learned to be applied in future exercises. Other lessons will be drawn from a more in-depth analysis of the exercise results which is currently underway.

The experience of planning, preparing and flying together in combined and joint missions is a critical requirement for maintaining operational readiness at a realistic level. With most nations facing budgetary constraints, such level of advanced training is almost impossible to achieve on a national basis.  In addition to the cost benefits, the exercise also considerably improves interoperability which has become the trademark of the Helicopter Exercise Programme (HEP) and which was also underlined by the Exercise Director in his closing remarks: “Together we are stronger”. 
HOT BLADE 2018 proved to be another important milestone on the way to meeting the HEP’s objective, namely to continuously improve Europe’s operational helicopter capability.  The next ‘Blade’ exercise is scheduled to take place in the Czech Republic in May 2019.
 

More information:   

Lockheed changes F-35 DAS suppliers | Beware of the Mongoose! | German-Israeli UAV deal approved

Defense Industry Daily - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 06:00
Americas

  • Q.E.D Systems is being awarded a contract in support of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class. Valued at $15 million the cost-plus-incentive fee, cost-plus-fixed fee, cost-only contract allows for the procurement of long lead time material in support of the LCS class ships’ maintenance and sustainment availabilities. The $35 billion LCS program is the Navy’s idea for the low-end backbone of its future surface combatant fleet. At 115 – 127 meters in length and 2,800 – 3,100 tons of displacement the US LCS is almost the size of Britain’s Type 23 frigates. LCSs can be reconfigured with a variety of mission modules. In addition, the vessels are armed with a 57mm naval gun, .50 caliber machine guns, plus defensive systems including automated chaff/flare dispensers and a launcher for Raytheon’s RIM-116 RAM, which allows the ship to intercept anti-ship missiles, aircraft, UAVs, helicopters, and even small boats. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $237 million. Work will be performed in San Diego, California and Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is expected to be completed by June 2019.

  • Lockheed Martin has changed suppliers for the Distribute Aperture System (DAS) integrated into the F-35 Lightning II. Lockheed is contracting Raytheon in place of the incumbent Northrop Grumman. The Lightning II shares a “sensor fusion” design advance with the F-22, based on sensors of various types embedded all around the airframe. These sensors are connected to a lot of computing power, in order to create single-picture view that lets the pilot see everything on one big 20? LCD screen and just fly the plane. As part of that sensor fusion, the F-35 is the first plane in several decades to fly without a heads-up display. Instead the pilots use a special helmet designed by Visions Systems International. The F-35’s DAS uses six infrared cameras mounted around the aircraft to project augmented reality images into the helmet. By projecting the DAS video stream onto the helmet’s display, the F-35 pilot can see through the aircraft structure to view the surrounding environment. The system also automatically identifies and tracks threats, such as incoming missiles, in the headset display. According to Lockheed Martin, the decision to switch DAS supplier will result in more than $3 billion in life-cycle cost savings. The Raytheon-built DAS will be integrated into the F-35 starting with Lot 15 aircraft, expected to be delivered in 2023.

Middle East & Africa

  • Jane’s reports that Denel Dynamics is making good progress in the development of its Mongoose 3 counter-rocket, artillery, and mortar (C-RAM) missile. The Mongoose 3 is part of the close area protection system (CAPS) project funded jointly by Armscor and the South African Department of Defense (DoD). The CAPS project seeks to develop a system to provide close area protection against rocket, artillery and mortar threats. It uses the Mongoose 3 to intercept these and detonate them at a maximum range of about a kilometer. The Mongoose 3 was initially designed to shoot down heavy anti-tank missiles as far as 300 meters from the vehicle and deflect a high-velocity kinetic energy “long-rod penetrator” fired by a tank, causing it to fall short or hit at an oblique angle at which it will not penetrate a tank’s armor. The 28 lb., 3.9 ft. Mongoose 3 is a highly agile, vertical-launch missile that uses side-thrust motors to tip it over after launch. It then uses synchronized dorsal and tail fins to steer it towards its target, guided by its active radar seeker. The transonic Mongoose 3will complement the also newly developed supersonic Cheetah missile. In addition to its primary C-RAM role, the Mongoose 3 will also be able to engage unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), including small types that present difficult targets for other systems and helicopters that come within range. It is also intended as a self-protection weapon for helicopters.

Europe

  • Germany’s parliament has now approved a deal to lease Heron TP UAV’s from Israel. The approval puts an end to a long-running series of debates and protests. Last year a German court rejected a protest against the Heron-TP selection by rival bidder General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Additionally, many politicians opposed the idea of acquiring a UAV that could potentially be armed. The Heron TP is reportedly capable of flying for over 35 hours at a time at altitudes around 45.000 feet. It has a maximum range of about 3,000 km and can carry a maximum payload weighing 2204 lbs. As a large MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV, it’s built to carry multiple payloads at a time for a variety of missions. Choices include electro-optical and thermal surveillance equipment, SAR radars for ground surveillance, maritime patrol radars and sensors, signals and other intelligence collection antennas and equipment, laser designators, and even radio relays. The deal is valued at $1.17 billion and allows the German army to carry out long endurance intelligence-gathering missions.

  • The British Army’s new Ajax armored fighting vehicle (AFV) is currently undergoing field trials, before the first variants are delivered to operational units early in 2019. The Ajax is part of the multi-billion pound “Future Rapid Effects System” (FRES) program. FRES aims to recapitalize the core of Britain’s armored vehicle fleet over the next decade or more. Ajax vehicles are developed upon a highly-adaptable and capable Common Base Platform, maximizing commonality in mobility, electronic architecture and survivability. Each Ajax platform variant has extensive capabilities, including acoustic detectors, a laser warning system, a local situational awareness system, an electronic countermeasure system, a route marking system, an advanced electronic architecture and a high-performance power pack. Ajax will be the medium weight core of the British Army’s deployable Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. It enables the soldier to be at the point of collection of accurate all-weather commander information within a network-enabled digitized platform. The current trials are the final phase of a series of evaluations to approve the vehicle for land warfare operations before it enters full service with the British Army.

  • French defense contractor MBDA is teaming up with the Estonian unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) specialist Milrem Robotics to develop a vehicle designed to conduct anti-tank missions. The proposed system would integrate MBDA’s Missile Moyenne Portée (MMP) medium-range anti-tank missile onto Milrem’s THeMIS UGV. The MMP is designed to be France’s next portable anti-armor missile for troops and vehicles. Its attack modes include fire and forget, man in the loop mode, re-assignment in flight, and even seeker lock-on after launch. As a medium missile, it is able to destroy targets up to main battle tanks. The Tracked Hybrid Modular Infantry System, or THeMIS for short, is the first hybrid fully modular unmanned ground vehicle in the world. Unlike other UGVs that are commonly able to perform mostly one task, the THeMIS is designed so it can be equipped with a vast variety of payloads to perform a number of different tasks. These include functioning as a remote weapon station outfitted with large or small caliber weapons, detecting IED’s, operating as a drone platform or a remote surveillance station.

Asia-Pacific

  • The Royal Thai Army plans to buy six more attack helicopters to replace three of its Cobra helicopters which are marked for retirement after having served for more than 30 years. The Thai government is currently examining different offers made by US, French, Russian, and Turkish manufacturers. It is yet unclear which platform will be chosen, however considering the high cost of US-made Apaches, it seems likely that the Army will closely look into cheaper options like the Z-10 from China, the Russian KA-52 or French Tiger. The Royal Thai Army’s attack helicopter requirement is long-standing but has previously been hindered by a lack of funds. The country’s 2019 defense budget, which was announced in early June, outlines military spending of $7.1 billion.

Today’s Video

  • Mi-8s and Mi-24s from Russia’s Baltic Sea Fleet participate in firing drills.

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

LCS: The USA’s Littoral Combat Ships

Defense Industry Daily - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 05:58

Austal Team
Trimaran LCS Design
(click to enlarge)

Exploit simplicity, numbers, the pace of technology development in electronics and robotics, and fast reconfiguration. That was the US Navy’s idea for the low-end backbone of its future surface combatant fleet. Inspired by successful experiments like Denmark’s Standard Flex ships, the US Navy’s $35+ billion “Littoral Combat Ship” program was intended to create a new generation of affordable surface combatants that could operate in dangerous shallow and near-shore environments, while remaining affordable and capable throughout their lifetimes.

It hasn’t worked that way. In practice, the Navy hasn’t been able to reconcile what they wanted with the capabilities needed to perform primary naval missions, or with what could be delivered for the sums available. The LCS program has changed its fundamental acquisition plan 4 times since 2005, and canceled contracts with both competing teams during this period, without escaping any of its fundamental issues. Now, the program looks set to end early. This public-access FOCUS article offer a wealth of research material, alongside looks at the LCS program’s designs, industry teams procurement plans, military controversies, budgets and contracts.

LCS: Concept & Needs

LCS-I missions
(click to view full)

Ultimately, the US Navy is trying to replace 56 vessels: 30 FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates, 14 MCM Avenger Class mine countermeasures vessels, and 12 MHC-51 Osprey Class coastal mine hunters.

The LCS requirement has been identified as part of a broader surface combatant force transformation strategy, which recognizes that many future threats are spawning in regions with shallow seas, where the ability to operate near-shore and even in rivers will be vital for mission success.

That requires the ability to counter growing “asymmetric” threats like coastal mines, quiet diesel submarines, global piracy, and terrorists on small fast attack boats. It also requires intelligence gathering and scouting, some ground combat support capabilities, and the ability to act as a local command node, sharing tactical information with other Navy aircraft, ships, submarines, and joint units.

At the same time, however, the US Navy needs ships that can act as low-end fillers in other traditional fleet roles, and operate in the presence of missile-armed enemy vessels and/or aerial threats.

Given the diversity of possible missions in the shallow-water and near-shore littoral zones, and the potential threats from forces on land, any ship designed for these tasks must be both versatile and stealthy. History also suggests that they need to be able to take a punch. Meanwhile, the reality of ships that are expected to remain in service for over 30 years gives rise to a need for electronic longevity. As the saga of the USA’s cost-effective but short-lived FFG-7 frigates proved, “future-proofing” and upgradeability for key systems, electronics, and weapons will be critical if these small surface combatants are to remain useful throughout their mechanical lives.

While a ship’s hull and design makes a number of its performance parameters difficult to change, the Americans believed they may have a solution that lets them upgrade sensors and key systems. Denmark’s Standard Flex 300 corvettes pioneered a revolutionary approach of swappable mission modules, based on ISO containers. In contrast to the traditional approach, which is to cram a wide-ranging set of bolted-in compromise equipment into fixed installations, “flex ships” can radically changes the ships’ capabilities, by swapping in a full breadth of equipment focused on a particular need.

Swappable modules also give the Navy new options over time. One option is technology-based, via spiral development that focuses on rapid insertions of new equipment. This creates a long series of slight improvements in the mission modules, and hence the ship’s capabilities. Over time, the cumulative effect can be very significant. The 2nd benefit is cost-related, since upgrades require far less work and cost to install when mission technologies evolve. The 3rd benefit is risk-related. The ability to do low-cost, spiral upgrades encourages frequent “refreshes” that remain within the existing state of the art, rather than periodic upgrade programs that must stretch what’s possible, in order to handle expected developments over the next 25 years.

LCS: Designs & Teams

There are currently 2 different LCS designs being produced and procured as part of the competition.

LCS-1 Freedom Class Monohull

Team Lockheed Martin’s LCS-1 Freedom Class offers a proven high-speed semi-planing monohull, based on Fincantieri designs that have set trans-Atlantic speed records. The design will use the firm’s COMBATSS-21 combat system as the fighting electronic heart of the ship, has shock-hardened the engine systems, and uses a combination of a steel hull and aluminum superstructure. USS Freedom has faced persistent reports of weight and stability issues, however, which required additional bolt-on buoyancy fittings at its stern.

Team Lockheed LCS
(click to view full)

The ships have a smaller flight deck than the Independence Class at 5,200 square feet, but a larger 4,680 square foot helicopter hangar. The Freedom Class’ LCS mission bay is the biggest difference – it’s under half the size, at 6,500 square feet. On the other hand, its RAM missile launcher is the 21-round Mk.49, and if the ships need weapon upgrades, export designs stemming from the Freedom Class mount full strike-length Mk.41 vertical launch cells. These can handle any vertically-launched system in the fleet, including SM-3 anti-ballistic missile interceptors, and Tomahawk long-range precision attack missiles.

Lockheed’s core team includes various Lockheed divisions, plus naval architects Gibbs & Cox of Arlington, VA; shipbuilder Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, LA; and shipbuilder Marinette Marine of Marinette, WI. Niche providers and related partnerships include:

  • Angle Incorporated
  • Argon ST (threat detection systems)
  • Blohm + Voss
  • Data Links Solutions
  • DRS Technologies
  • EADS (TRS-3D radar)
  • Fairbanks Morse (Colt-Pielstick PA6B-STC diesel engines)
  • Fincantieri (diesel generators)
  • Izar (now Navantia)
  • L-3 Communications
  • MAAG Gear AG
  • MacTaggart Scott
  • Raytheon
  • Rolls Royce (MT30 gas turbines, shaftlines, bearings, software, Kamewa waterjets)
  • Sensytech
  • Sperry
  • Terma
  • Unidynamics
  • United Defense, now BAE Systems

LCS-2 Independence Class Trimaran

USS Independence
(click to view full)

The LCS-2 Independence Class offers a futuristic but practical high-speed trimaran, based on Austal designs and experience with vessels like the US Marines’ Westpac Express high-speed transport, and the Army and Navy’s TSV/HSV ships. It offers an especially large flight deck (7,300 square feet) and internal mission volume (15,200 square feet mission bay) for its size, with a 3,500 square foot helicopter hangar. The hull is aluminum, but the trimaran design offers additional stability options, and may help the ship survive side hits.

The Independence Class will carry a General Dynamics designed combat system, and standard LCS weapon fittings. The RAM defensive missile launcher sacrifices some size, but the 11-round SeaRAM is a self-contained unit with its own radar. If the LCS should require a full suite of naval weapons in future, export designs based on the this class tout “tactical-length” vertical launch cells that are limited to shorter weapons like RIM-162 ESSM and SM-2 air defense missiles, and VL-ASROC anti-submarine missiles.

Not anymore…

The initial teaming arrangement was led by General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipbuilder as prime integrator, with Austal of Mobile, AL (a subsidiary of Austal Ships of Australia) as the main design partner and ship-building site. That alliance was broken by the requirements of the 2010 RFP, which demanded a 2nd builder for the designs that was unaffiliated with the first.

Austal is now the sole prime contractor for the LCS-2 Independence Class design. GD subsidiaries remain heavily involved, including General Dynamics Armament and Technical Products Division in Burlington, VT; General Dynamics Electric Boat Division in Groton, CT; General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems in Fairfax, VA; and General Dynamics Canada in Ottawa, Ontario. Other key participants include:

  • Boeing in Seattle, WA
  • BAE Systems in Rockville, MD
  • L3 Communications Marine Systems in Leesburg, VA
  • Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems in Baltimore, MD
  • Maritime Applied Physics Corporation in Baltimore, MD
  • GE (LM 2500 gas turbines)
  • MTU (8000 Series diesel engines)
  • Saab (AN/SPS-77v1 Sea Giraffe AMB radar)
  • Wartsila (water jets)

LCS = Standard Equipment + Mission Packages…

LCS Flight 0 Basics
(click to view full)

At 115 – 127 meters in length and 2,800 – 3,100 tons of displacement, the USA’s competing LCS ship designs are almost the size of Britain’s Type 23 frigates. They might well be classified as frigates, were it not for their shallow water design and employment. For whatever reason, high speed has also been identified as an important ship characteristic. As such, both the GD/Austal trimaran and Lockheed’s racing-derived monohull offer potential top speeds of 40-50 knots over short distances.

No matter which mission modules are loaded, the ship will carry a BAE Systems Mk.110 57mm naval gun with a firing rate of up to 220 rounds/minute, and Mk.295 ammunition that works against aerial, surface or ground threats. The ship will also carry .50 caliber (12.7mm) machine guns, plus defensive systems including automated chaff/flare dispensers and a launcher for Raytheon’s RIM-116 RAM Rolling Airframe Missile. RAM is designed to handle anti-ship missiles, aircraft, UAVs, helicopters, and even small boats, but its range of just 9 km/ 5 nm will only protect its own ship. Unlike larger missiles such as the RIM-162 ESSM, RAM systems cannot perform fleet defense.

LCS ships will also rely on their onboard MH-60 helicopters and/or MQ-8B Fire Scout helicopter UAVs, plus other robotic vehicles including a variety of Unmanned Underwater Vessels (UUV) and Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV). The terms have changed over time, but the US Navy has downgraded the term “mission modules” to mean individual components plus their support equipment. Integrated packages of weapons, sensors, robotic vehicles, and manned platforms that can be switched in and out depending on the ship’s mission are now called “mission packages.” They include all task-related mission modules, onboard aircraft, and their corresponding crew detachments.

The ships’ first and most important mission package is not officially listed. It consists of a small but very cross-trained crew. LCSs were intended to operate with a core crew of 40 (now 50) sailors, plus a mission module detachment of 15 and an aviation detachment of 25. Each ship has a Blue crew and a Gold crew, which will shift to 3 crews over time that can deploy in 4-month rotations.

There are concerns that this is a design weakness, leaving the LCS crew at the edge of its capabilities to just run the ship, with insufficient on-board maintenance capabilities, and too little left over for contingencies such as boarding and search, damage control, illnesses, etc. USS Freedom’s addition of 10 more bunks before her 1st Asian deployment indicates that the US Navy may be about to concede this point, but even with 50, performance wasn’t great.

Beyond the human element, the LCS program will initially draw upon packages for Mine Warfare (MCM: 24 planned), Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW: 16 planned) and Surface Warfare (SUW: 24 planned). The LCS Mission Modules Program Office (PMS 420) packages a variety of technologies to these ends, many of which are produced by other program offices and delivered as elements of a particular mission module. Costs per module have gone down over time, but that hasn’t been from any genius in planning and fielding. Rather, it results from a high program failure rate of individual components, and their replacement in the program by less expensive items:

The following DID articles offer in-depth coverage of current and proposed Mission Packages:

LCS: Controversies & Cautions

Into battle
(click to view full)

The cost and size of LCS ships are now comparable to other countries’ high-end naval frigates. As the US Navy’s primary low-end vessels in the future fleet, they will be expected to perform many of the same roles. The cargo hold’s size has created some challenges in fitting all of the required equipment into the mission modules, without compromising high-end performance at the modules’ particular tasks. Even so, LCS ships can be expected to perform the mine countermeasures role very well, and the frigates’ traditional anti-submarine role reasonably well, thanks to their helicopters, array of robots, and rapidly upgradeable systems.

Other traditional roles for frigate-sized vessels are more controversial. The biggest controversy surrounds the ships’ one severe inflexibility: their weapons fit.

Present LCS designs don’t even carry torpedo tubes, or vertical-launch systems (VLS) that could accommodate present and future attack and/or defensive missiles. Even with the Surface Warfare module installed, LCS ships will carry a very light armament set for a major naval vessel: a 57-mm Mk 110 naval gun system; RIM-116 SeaRAM short range defensive missiles; 30mm cannons that would replace very short range Griffin missile launchers if installed; 12.7mm machine guns; plus any missiles or 70mm rockets carried by its accompanying helicopters (up to 2 H-60 slots or up to 4 MQ-8B Fire Scout UAV slots).

That armament is closer to a support vessel than a naval surface combatant, and larger high-speed support designs like the JHSV would offer far more mission module space for reconfigurable specialty support ships. Naval analyst Raymond Pritchett has pithily described the current compromise as:

“…3000 ton speedboat chasers with the endurance of a Swedish corvette, the weapon payload of a German logistics ship, and the cargo hold of a small North Korean arms smuggler.”

LCS-I components
(click to view full)

The LCS weapons array also compares unfavorably with comparable-sized frigates that can perform the full array of anti-submarine, fleet air defense, and naval combat roles. The new Franco-Italian FREMM Class, or even Britain’s much older Type 23/Duke Class, outclass it considerably as multi-role ships. So do smaller corvettes like Israel’s US-built, $260 million Sa’ar 5 Eilat Class, and Sweden’s ultra-stealthy Visby Class. Even the tiny Danish Flyvefisken Class, whose swappable “flex ship” modules helped pave the way for the LCS idea, has a Mk 48 vertical launch system that can handle medium-range air defense missiles, and mounts launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles.

LCS’ lack of weaponry may not matter against small boats like the “Boghammers,” fielded by the Iranians during their late-1980s guerrilla warfare at sea against the US Navy in the Persian Gulf. Unfortunately, many nations field 90’+ Fast Attack Craft equipped with anti-ship missiles. Despite being 1/3 the LCS’ length and 1/5 of its displacement or less, their employment would create a threat that could attack an LCS from beyond its range of reasonable retaliation, with weapons that the LCS’ may not be able to stop or survive.

It’s telling that brochures for the International LCS versions offered by each team feature a major radar capability boost via the small SPY-1F AEGIS system or other radar upgrade, and are armed with torpedo tubes, anti-ship missiles and vertical-launch system (VLS) cells.

USS Stark, 1987
(click to view full)

Meanwhile, survivability has become an issue on 3 fronts. One is the slim margins created by a very small crew, leaving little margin for tasks like damage control if automated systems are damaged or fail. The other issues involve questions of shock/survivability testing, and of aluminum structures. The original concept for LCS was a ship whose damage resistance could save the crew, but not the ship, in the event if a significant strike. That was upgraded slightly to potentially saving the crew and the ship, but not continuing to fight while doing so. As the Exocet missile strikes on the HMS Sheffield (sank) and USS Stark (survived, barely) proved, even steel warships designed to keep fighting after a strike may find it challenging to meet their design specifications. Navy revelations that the LCS ships would not meet even Level I standards, let alone the OPNAVINST 9070.1 Level II standard of the frigates they’ll replace, has caused some consternation.

So, too, has the use of aluminum in ships exposed to hostile fire. The LCS-1 Freedom Class uses an aluminum superstructure, while the LCS-2 Independence Class is primarily an aluminum design. While both ships have had to certify to the same fire-proofing standards asked of other ships, aluminum conducts heat very well, and melts or deforms easily. If the ancillary fire-fighting systems, resistant coatings, etc. fail, or cannot handle a given situation at sea, structural integrity problems and secondary fires could become fatal concerns very quickly.

The emerging scenario in the USA is a cost for the base ships that continues to hover around $400-500 million each, plus weapons, electronics, and mission modules that bring the price per fully-equipped ship to $450-600 million, even under the proposed new fixed-price contract. That’s no longer a cheap $220 million corvette class price tag. Instead, it’s a price tag that places the USA’s LCS at the mid-to-upper end of the international market for full multi-role frigate designs. Even as overall American procurement trends make LCS ships the most common form of US naval power.

In that environment, unfavorable comparisons are inevitable. A versatile surveillance and special forces insertion ship whose flexibility doesn’t extend to the light armament that’s its weakest point, and isn’t able to deal with anything beyond token naval or air opposition, won’t meet expectations. Worse, it could cause the collapse of the Navy’s envisaged “high-low” force structure if the DDG-1000 destroyers and CG (X) cruisers are priced out of the water, and built in small numbers.

That domino has already fallen, as DDG-1000/ DD (X), production has been capped at just 3 ships, and CG (X) was canceled entirely in the FY 2011 budget. As Vice-Admiral Mustin (ret.) and Vice-Admiral Katz (ret.) put it in a 2003 USNI Proceedings article:

“Because the Navy has invested heavily in land-attack capabilities such as the Advanced Gun System and land-attack missiles in DD (X), there is no requirement for [the Littoral Combat Ship] to have this capability. Similarly, LCS does not require an antiair capability beyond self-defense because DD (X) and CG (X) will provide area air defense. Thus, if either DD (X) or CG (X) does not occur in the numbers required and on time, the Navy will face two options: leave LCS as is, and accept the risk inherent in employment of this ship in a threat environment beyond what it can handle (which is what it did with the FFG-7); or “grow” LCS to give it the necessary capabilities that originally were intended to reside off board in DD (X) and CG (X). Neither option is acceptable.”

Especially if the low end has grown to a cost level that makes it equivalent to other countries’ major surface combatants, while falling short on key capabilities that will be required in the absence of higher-end ships.

The LCS Program

In 2009, the CBO estimated LCS shipbuilding costs at around $30.2 billion, with a fleet average of 1.2 mission modules per ship (TL. 66) bought separately at about $100 million per module. As of 2012, the split had changed a bit, but the overall total was around $39 billion. This contrasts with the original hope of $22 billion total costs for 55 ships and 165 mission modules, at $400 million per ship ($220M construction + (3 x $60M) mission module options).

The US Navy’s current shipbuilding plan envisions building 32 littoral combat ships and 64 mission modules until about 2040. Technically, only 45 LCS ships would count toward Navy fleet totals. Because these ships are assumed to have a service life of 25 years, the 10 or fewer ships bought from 2036 – 2040 would be replacements for the original ships of class. Even so, that number of LCS ships is likely to make up 20% of the Navy or more. The US Navy has already sagged to under 300 ships, and unless major changes in course lie ahead for its budget or its chosen designs, the total number of ships will sink farther.

Acquisition Structure

In July 2011, the Navy created PEO LCS to oversee the program, headed by Rear Adm. James A. Murdoch. Ship construction supervision was removed from PEO Ships, while mission module supervision was removed from PEO Littoral and Mine Warfare (PEO LMW), which was dissolved. It wasn’t the first big change in the program – and may not be the last.

It’s normal for programs to change elements like numbers ordered, but not to change the entire buy strategy. The Littoral Combat Ship program has shifted its entire buy strategy several times during its short lifetime – a sorry sequence of orders, budgets not spent, contract cancellations, etc. documented in Appendix A.

The last buy strategy has lasted long enough for a multi-ship contract. After buying 4 ships and taking bids under their 2009 revised strategy, the US Navy went to Congress and asked for permission to accept both 10-ship bids, buying 20 ships for a total advertised price that was about the same as the estimates for the 15 ships they had wanted. The GAO and CBO both have doubts about those estimates, in part because the Navy is still changing the designs; but the contracts were issued at the end of December 2010. Each contractor would get 1 initial ship order, then 9 more options, with the ship purchases spread across FY 2010-2011 (1 per year for each contractor); then FY 2012-2015 inclusive (2 per year for each contractor). Cost overruns will be shared 50/50 between the government and contractor, up to a set cost cap.

Budgets

By the end of FY 2013, the program is expected to be at about a quarter of total procurement, in units ordered and dollars spent.

LCS: Ship Roster Team Lockheed, Freedom Class

  • LCS 1, USS Freedom. Commissioned Nov 8/08.
  • LCS 3, USS Fort Worth. Commissioned Sept 22/12.
  • LCS 5, Milwaukee
  • LCS 7, Detroit
  • LCS 9, Little Rock
  • LCS 11, Sioux City
  • LCS 13, Wichita
  • LCS 15, Billings

Team Austal, Independence Class

  • LCS 2, USS Independence. Commissioned Jan 16/10.
  • LCS 4, USS Coronado. Commissioned April 5/14.
  • LCS 6, Jackson
  • LCS 8, Montgomery
  • LCS 10, Gabrielle Giffords
  • LCS 12, Omaha
  • LCS 14, Machester
  • LCS 16, Tulsa

LCS: Export Potential

MMCS
(click to view full)

Once one steps beyond small patrol craft, growing capabilities have made frigate-sized vessels the most common naval export around the globe. With many nations confronting challenges in the world’s littorals, which include the globe’s most important shipping choke points, one would expect some interest in the Littoral Combat Ship beyond the USA. A Dec 11/06 Austal release claimed 26 potential buyers worldwide for the ship and its companion equipment, “with two near-term contenders and four others that have expressed active interest.”

There are 2 interesting aspects to LCS export bids. One is their equipment, which is radically different from the US Navy’s set.

Lockheed Martin’s international Multi-Mission Combat Ship (MMCS) version, which attracted some interest from Israel before cost issues intervened, has a variety of configurations from OPV/corvette to large frigate size. Upgraded radars range from CEAFAR active-array radars on smaller ships, to the option of Lockheed’s SPY-1F for the largest variant. Fixed weapons include torpedo tubes and 8 Harpoon missiles, though some exhibit models have used 12 Kongsberg NSMs. Concept diagrams also show between 4-48 VLS cells, some of which are full strike-length size.

General Dynamics’ trimaran adds an upgraded radar (SPY-1F in diagrams), torpedo tubes, and 16 tactical-length vertical launch (VLS) cells.Among other payloads, those cells could hold VL-ASROC anti-submarine missiles to extend anti-submarine reach, or quad-packed RIM-162 ESSM anti-air missiles for area air defense. Exhibited models have also displayed up to 16 NSM anti-ship missiles.

Turkish MEKO 200
(click to view full)

The other aspect worth noting is the Littoral Combat Ship’s failure to close any export sales over 7+ years. At present, both LCS designs have received preliminary export inquiries, but Israel and Thailand are the only cases where it has gone farther than that.

Israel did step up in July 2008, and confirmed its request for an LCS-I based on Team Lockheed’s design. Israel’s variant was very different from LCS 1 Freedom, however; it featured a fixed set of weaponry rather than full mission module spaces, and its proposed SPY-1 AEGIS or MF-STAR radar and weapons array and made it far more capable in critical roles like air defense and ship to ship warfare. As noted above, similar changes have been a common theme among international LCS offerings, but an estimated ship cost of over $700 million eventually pushed Israel to rethink its plans. That country is now pursuing cheaper options based on Blohm + Voss’ MEKO family of corvettes and frigates, or South Korean designs. The Freedom Class also lost the Thai competition.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly expressed interest in a fixed armament version of the General Dynamics/Austal design. That interest was reiterated in 2010, but they’re also evaluating Lockheed Martin’s design for the Arabian/Persian Gulf fleet. In 2011, it emerged that the Saudis might skip an LCS buy altogether, in exchange for a much more heavily-armed, versatile, and expensive option: the USA’s DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class multi-role destroyers, with ballistic missile defense capability.

Meanwhile, designs like the German MEKO family, the multi-role Franco-Italian FREMM, the modular-construction Dutch Sigma class, and even refurbished 1980s-era NATO frigates continue to find buyers around the world.

LCS: Ship Contracts & Key Events

This section covers the core LCS program. Mission Packages are discussed in-depth in “It’s All in the Package: the Littoral Combat Ship’s Mission Modules“; and the complex mine countermeasures package gets its own in-depth treatment in “LCS & MH-60S Mine Counter-Measures Continue Development“.

Unless otherwise noted, all contracts are issued by the USA’s Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC.

FY 2016 – 2018

 

LCS 4 & JHSV

June 15/18: Sustained support Q.E.D Systems is being awarded a contract in support of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class. Valued at $15 million the cost-plus-incentive fee, cost-plus-fixed fee, cost-only contract allows for the procurement of long lead time material in support of the LCS class ships’ maintenance and sustainment availabilities. The $35 billion LCS program is the Navy’s idea for the low-end backbone of its future surface combatant fleet. At 115 – 127 meters in length and 2,800 – 3,100 tons of displacement the US LCS is almost the size of Britain’s Type 23 frigates. LCSs can be reconfigured with a variety of mission modules. In addition, the vessels are armed with a 57mm naval gun, .50 caliber machine guns, plus defensive systems including automated chaff/flare dispensers and a launcher for Raytheon’s RIM-116 RAM, which allows the ship to intercept anti-ship missiles, aircraft, UAVs, helicopters, and even small boats. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $237 million. Work will be performed in San Diego, California and Virginia Beach, Virginia, and is expected to be completed by June 2019.

March 20/18: Mission modules Northrop Grumman will deliver services in support of littoral combat ship (LCS) mission modules for the US Navy. Valued at $46.7 million, the contract modification was announced by the Pentagon last Wednesday, March 15, and tasks Northrop with providing engineering, technical and sustainment services for the Navy’s littoral combat ship mission modules—which are designed for naval operations against asymmetric threats and anti-access obstacles in littorals near the coastline. Work will take place Bethpage, New York, San Diego, California, and several other US locations with contract completion scheduled for March 2019.

February 5/18: USS Omaha-Commissioning The newest Independence-variant littoral combat ship (LCS), USS Omaha, was commissioned into service on Saturday, February 3, at the Broadway pier in San Diego. As the 11th LCS to enter the fleet and the sixth of the Independence-variant design to enter service, attendees at the ceremony include former Navy SEAL officer and Medal of Honor recipient Bob Kerrey—who also served in the US Senate and as governor of Nebraska—Warren Buffett’s daughter, Susie Buffett—who served as the vessel’s sponsor, as well as San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer. The LCS-class consists of the Freedom-variant, made by Lockheed Martin, and the Independence-variant, made by Austal USA.

January 24/18: USS Little Rock-“Littoraly” Stuck! The US Navy’s latest Freedom-class littoral combat ship (LCS), USS Little Rock, has found itself caught in the ice in Montreal, Canada. Recent cold fronts from the Arctic has caused record cold temperatures throughout December and January, with ice forming faster than normal in the Seaway. Little Rock, which was commissioned in Buffalo, New York on December 16, with significant snowfall already falling, and the plan was to then transit the Seaway to reach the Atlantic Ocean, before continuing on to Mayport, Florida. Now, its is likely the vessel will be stuck in Montreal until the ice thaws in March, with the crew to continue to focus on training, readiness and certifications.

November 9/17: The US Navy has awarded a $22.4 million contract to BAE Systems to exercise options for post-shakedown availabilities (PSA) for the USS Little Rock and USS Sioux City littoral combat ships (LCS). Work will be carried out onboard USS Little Rock LCS-9 and USS Sioux City LCS-11 Freedom-class littoral combat ships at BAE’s facility in Jacksonville, Fla., with completion scheduled for February 2019. PSA activities are usually carried out to correct deficiencies found during the shakedown cruise or to accomplish other authorised improvements.

October 09/17: Austral USA, the Mobile, Alabama-based subsidiary of the Australian shipbuilder has been awarded a $584.2 million modification to a previously awarded US Navy contract for the construction of a littoral combat ship (LCS). Under the terms of the deal, the firm will perform and oversee all necessary design, planning, construction and test and trials activities in support of delivery of the vessel to the Navy, with a scheduled completion date set for October 2023. Work will primarily take place at Mobile, Alabama, but also at several other east coast locations. The Navy expects to release a competitive solicitation(s) for additional LCS class ships in future years, and therefore the specific contract award amount for these ships is considered source selection sensitive information and for the time being, will not be made public.

September 28/17: Shipbuilder Fincantieri Marinette Marine has delivered the future USS Little Rock, a Freedom variant Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), to the US Navy. The Little Rock—completed last summer and is expected to be commissioned into service in December—is the Navy’s 11th LCS and the fifth Freedom variant delivered to and accepted by the service. Speaking on addition Freedom-class LCS vessels under construction, Fincantieri added that the future USS Sioux City will enter into trials soon, the future USS Wichita was christened and launched in September of last year and is conducting system testing in the Menominee River, and the future USS Billings was launched in July and is to begin trials next year.

September 04/17: Future Littoral Combat Ship USS Little Rock (LCS 9) has completed its acceptance trials, attaining the highest score of the five Freedom-class LCS vessels completed to date. During the five-day trial, it completed a full-power run along with all associated steering and maneuvering events and also surface and air self-defense detect-to-engage exercises, as well as demonstrating the performance of the ship’s propulsion plant, auxiliary systems and the ship’s handling. Manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Fincantieri Marinette Marine are now preparing Little Rock for delivery to the Navy in the coming weeks.

August 29/17: In a littoral combat ship (LCS) first, the US Navy successfully used a UAV to provide over-the-horizon targeting information and damage assessment for a missile that was launched from an LCS vessel. The ship in question, the Independence-class LCS USS Colorado, was participating in exercises off the coast of Guam when it fired a RGM-84D Harpoon Block 1C missile that successfully struck a surface target at significant distance beyond the ship’s visual range. During the exercise, a Northrop Grumman MQ-8B Fire Scout drone and a Lockheed Martin MH-60S Seahawk helicopter, both part of Coronado’s rotary-wing air detachment, provided targeting support for the Harpoon missile. The aircraft used radar, electro-optical systems and other sensors to locate the target, pass targeting information back to the ship via data link to refine the firing solution, monitor and assess the missile, and then carry out damage assessment on the target.

August 23/17: An industry team led by Lockheed Martin has successfully completed builder’s trials of the future Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship USS Little Rock. Conducted on Lake Michigan, LCS 9 Little Rock went through a series of tests and evaluations of its primary systems and propulsion, including reaching flank speeds of over 40 knots. Four Freedom-class LCS vessels have been delivered to the Navy by Lockheed, with the Little Rock and eight others in various stages of production. They will serve alongside the larger Independence-class LCS produced by Austal USA.

July 6/17: The US Navy has christened its latest Freedom-class littoral combat ship the USS Billings during a ceremony in Marinette, Wis. Built by Lockheed Martin, Freedom-class LCS is the smaller of the two variants of the LCS, the other being the Independence-class constructed by Austral USA. It has a top speed of over 40 miles per hour and carries a variety of light guns, short-ranged missiles and anti-submarine torpedoes. Each LCS is outfitted with a single mission package made up of mission modules containing warfighting systems and support equipment.

May 25/17: The US Navy has awarded Raytheon a $14.7 million contract for maintenance and support of the AN/AQS-20 sonar mine detection system. Under the agreement, the company will work to improve the system’s performance and sustainability with work to include hardware and software upgrades, technology development, engineering and spare parts. Options available in the contract could bring the total value of the program to $77.1 million. The AN/AQS-20 towed mine hunting and identification array is deployed on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

March 9/17: The US Navy completed the test-firing of a surface to surface missile module (SSMM) from littoral combat ship USS Detroit. This marks the first time that such a system was fired from an LCS platform as well as the first time such a platform utilized a vertical lift launch. By giving LCS vessels an SSMM package, the Navy will be able to engage the increasing threats posed from small boats by giving them an added lethality.

September 14/16: A US Navy announcement for an overhaul of the troubled Littoral Combat Ship program will include turning the first four ships into test vessels. The change comes after the naval branch announced an engineering stand-down for LCS crews following an August 29 engineering casualty on the USS Coronado. Under Thursday’s plan, the Freedom, Independence, Fort Worth and Coronado will become single-crewed testing ships that could be deployed as fleet assets on a limited basis, the Navy said.

December 4/15: Experts from navies, academia and industry met in Tokyo this week to discuss the unique challenges of operating in the littoral or coastal environment. The Littoral OP Tech East conference is the first of its kind to be held in Asia, and looks at fostering increased innovation and creation of solutions to both new and old problems. Speakers stressed the importance of the development of new war-fighting concepts and increased operational capabilities of fleets. The meeting comes at a time when the US navy and its allies are looking to incorporate wider capabilities for all ships in its fleets and the rolling out of the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class warship throughout various theatres.

December 1/15: The US Navy has released the remaining $279 million funding to Lockheed Martin for the next freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ship. The funds will allow for the completion of the USS Cooperstown, the 29th LCS warship in service, and follows the $79 million granted by congress in March towards the construction. The announcement comes shortly after the commissioning of the USS Milwaukee last week.

November 24/15: The US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship Class (LCS) program is picking up speed as two more of the ships were launched over the last few days. November 20 saw the USS Omaha enter the water in Mobile, Alabama and the USS Milwawkee was commissioned the following day by the Mayor of Milwawkee. There are now five LCS class ships operational and they are being completed at an average of four per year. It is hoped that by 2018, 38 of the ships will have undergone construction in only 13 years and will be operating in shallow and coastal waters throughout the world.

October 27/15: The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) will reportedly be equipped with over-the-horizon missiles for their next deployment, with the specific model not yet determined. With the Brookings Institution rightly pointing out that the LCS do not currently possess the power-projection capabilities recently demonstrated by Russia’s Caspian Sea fleet, the USN is likely looking to bolt-on additional muscle to the fleet following the cancellation of the Non-Line-of-Sight (NLOS) missile in April 2010. With the USS Coronado and USS Freedom scheduled for deployment next year, a Request for Proposals is expected by the end of this year.

October 21/15: The US State Department has approved the sale of up to four Littoral Combat Ship-based Multi Mission Surface Combatant Ships to Saudi Arabia, with these based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class LCS, as opposed to the Austal Independence-class. If lawmakers agree to the sale, a Foreign Military Sales contract can be drafted, with this likely to be signed early next year. The deal – potentially worth $11.25 billion – forms part of the Kingdom’s Eastern Fleet Modernization program.

October 20/15: The Navy has accepted delivery of the sixth Littoral Combat Ship (LCS 5), the future USS Milwaukee. The Freedom-class vessel is the third of eight to be manufactured by Lockheed Martin, with the ship now scheduled for commissioning on 21 November. The USS Milwaukee will be homeported in San Diego with the rest of the LCS fleet.

FY 2015

LCS 7 & 8 christened; New TRS-4D radar for Freedom Class after LCS 15.

September 17/15: The Saudis are reportedly set to choose Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ship for the country’s Arabian Gulf-based frigate modernisation program, with a deal thought to be announced by the end of the year. The company is one of two teams constructing LCS for the US Navy. The Saudis have previously requested the ability for their LCS vessels to launch Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) air defense missiles but are thought to have dropped previous plans to procure the Aegis combat system owing to cost.

August 27/15: Austal is enjoying the start of the sweet spot of its $3.5 LCS contract, showing record profits and anticipating additional efficiencies as it starts to knock out the remaining 9 LCS ships.

August 18/15: The Littoral Combat Ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) has successfully conducted live-fire testing using the ship’s surface warfare mission module, firing the ship’s Mark 46 30mm cannon and Mark 110 57 mm gun, hitting surface targets off the West Coast. The BAE Systems Mk 110 gun equips the Navy’s LCS fleet as standard, with the Mark 46 forming part of the surface warfare (SuW) module.

July 21/15: Lockheed Martin has launched the ninth Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), the Freedom-class USS Little Rock (LCS 9). Austal christened LCS 8 (the USS Montgomery) in November 2014, with LCS 9 the fifth of eight LCS timetabled for construction by Lockheed Martin. The ship will now undergo testing and equipment fitting before being delivered to the Navy later this year.

Sources: US Navy Moving Forward With LCS | USNI News.

July 9/15: Littoral Combat Ship 6 (USS Jackson) has completed acceptance trials with the US Navy in the Gulf of Mexico. LCS 6 is the third Independence-class to be built by Austal, which shares the construction of the LCS program with Lockheed Martin under a $3.5 billion ten-ship block buy awarded in December 2010. The company laid the keel for the fourteenth LCS (USS Manchester) in late June this year, having already delivered two Independence-class vessels.

July 1/15: Austal has laid the keel of the fourteenth Littoral Combat Ship in Alabama, with the future ship destined to become the USS Manchester. Austal shares the construction of the LCS program with Lockheed Martin under a $3.5 billion ten-ship block buy awarded in December 2010.

Feb 23/15: USS Omaha keel laid, sixth in Independence class.
Austal USA laid the keel for the USS Omaha (LCS 12), the latest and sixth littoral combat ship in the Independence class.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel appears to have shied away from making any drastic dedision with the future of the LCS, by choosing to base 20 future Small Surface Combatants… based on “modified LCS hull designs.” The use of the plural form implies that there is no down-select to just one of the 2 LCS designs. By omission, mine warfare seems out, since modular requirements are maintained solely for capabilities against surface ships and submarines.

Predictably the SSCs will have to be both more survivable and better armed, since these points are among the weaknesses most often pointed out by LCS detractors. The list of goodies to achieve that:

  • over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missiles
  • air defense sensor and weapon upgrades
  • 1 advanced electronic warfare system
  • advanced decoys
  • 1 towed array system for submarine detection and torpedo defense
  • 2 25mm guns
  • 1 armed helicopter equipped with Hellfire missiles and MK-54 torpedoes
  • 1 unmanned FireScout helicopter for surveillance, reconnaissance, and targeting

The armed helicopter and rotorcraft are not new, and 25mm guns are not going to make much of a difference except against the smallest threats. The rest is getting SSCs closer to how LCS has been pitched to export prospects, and to what even smaller ships pack in foreign fleets. Beyond that, the Navy still has to pin down many specifics, discuss crew size, or explain how they will contain costs.

Nov 17/14: CSBA Paper. The non-partisan CSBA releases “Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare.” Their recommendations are wide ranging, including a major shift in US Navy weapons configurations toward higher capacity medium-range air defenses. That would take place in order to free up VLS cells for long-range offensive surface attack, anti-submarine, and air-denial weapons.

The paper believes that LCS ships should be forward based abroad, given their limited range and low ability to maintain themselves at sea. Their mission packages should also be disentangled from the LCS platform, creating “independent, stand-alone capability sets that could be carried on a wide range of ships in the National Fleet.” Beyond that, the SSC/ LCS could take advantage of LCS’ higher power generation to mount anti-aircraft rail guns and/or lasers, hosting RIM-162 ESSM air defense missiles, and distributing offensive attack capabilities via their VLS cells.

The paper recommends that the Navy pick 1 existing LCS design to convert to the SSC, adding a vertical launch system and retrofitting VLS to some of the Flight 0 ships as well. The problems come down to capability and cost. At minimum, an SSC derived from the LCS would need to carry the ASW mission package full-time, and incorporate longer-range missile capabilities via a vertical launch system. The reality is that the cost is inevitably higher than the $515 million for an LCS with the ASW package, but the Navy isn’t planning for any increase as it plans for 20 SSC ships. This is so even though the FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class, which was developed in the 1980s as a similar sort of budget frigate platform, would cost $774 million in adjusted modern dollars. Conclusion? The Navy won’t get 20 SSCs, which is one more reason to retrofit VLS cells on Flight 0 LCS ships. Sources: CSBA, “Commanding the Seas: A Plan to Reinvigorate U.S. Navy Surface Warfare” (incl. full PDF) | USNI, “CSBA Recommends New Course for U.S. Navy Surface Forces”.

Nov 8/14: LCS 8 christened. The US Navy christens the Independence Class LCS 8 Montgomery, in a ceremony at Austal USA’s Mobile, AL shipyard. The ship was launched in August 2014, and is making preparations for trials and delivery in late summer 2015. Austal adds that:

“Jackson (LCS 6) is preparing for sea trials in early 2015. Final assembly is well underway Austal USA’s Bay 5 on Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) and in Bay 4 on Omaha (LCS 12). Modules for Manchester (LCS 14) and Tulsa (LCS 16) are under construction in Austal USA’s Module Manufacturing Facility.”

Sources: Austal, “USS Montgomery (LCS 8) Christened: Second Independence-variant LCS christened this year”.

Oct 28/14: LCS-1 sensors. Airbus North America announces that Freedom Class ships will have a new and improved radar, beginning with LCS 17. Instead of the current TRS-3D, they’ll be equipped with the more powerful and flexible TRS-4D naval radar, a rotating version of the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) fixed panel GaN radar that equips Germany’s forthcoming F125 Class expeditionary frigates.

AESA radars offers a 2x-3x range or resolution boost compared to PESA technologies, and GaN circuits offer further improvements to a radar’s power to performance ratio. Flexibility comes from programming that can segment and shift all of its individual T/R modules in order to steer beams, offer near-simultaneous modes, actively illuminate multiple targets, etc. What it doesn’t offer yet, is the Saab Sea Giraffe AMB’s ability to backtrack incoming artillery and rocket fire to its origin point.

There’s talk of moving to a single LCS radar, and maybe even a single combat system for the entire class. The TRS-3D was seen as being a step behind the LCS-2 Independence Class’ Sea Giraffe AMB, which can also backtrack incoming artillery to its origin point. The TRS-4D counters with superior overall performance, and strengthens EADS as a contender against the USMC’s TPS-80 G/ATOR, Saab’s Sea Giraffe 4A AESA, etc. It also improves Team Lockheed’s overall radar/ combat system position, which is already strong because of its interface commonalities with Aegis. Sources: Airbus North America, “New Radars Provided by Airbus Defense and Space, Inc., to Support Improved Survivability for the Freedom Variant Littoral Combat Ships”.

Oct 18/14: LCS 7 christened. The US Navy christens and side-launches trhe Freedom Class LCS 7 Detroit, in a ceremony at Marinette Marine Shipyard, WI. We’re trying to resist the temptation to make a crack about ceremonially burning down the mission module area, but we can’t resist. On the other hand, the city of Detroit hasn’t given up. A ship could do worse.

Detroit will continue to undergo outfitting and testing at Marinette until her expected delivery to the Navy in late 2015. Sources: US Navy, “Navy Christens, Launches Future USS Detroit” | LMCO, “Lockheed Martin-Led Team Launches Future USS Detroit”.

Oct 14/14: LCS-2 Support. Austal USA, LLC in Mobile, AL receives an $8.4 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification to a previously awarded contract to exercise an option for Core LCS-2 Independence Class Services. They’ll assess engineering and production challenges, evaluate costs and schedule risks for engineering change proposals, and keep up class baseline documentation. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 US Navy shipbuilding budgets.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (60%), and Pittsfield, MA (40%), and work is expected to be complete in October 2015 (N00024-11-C-2301).

Oct 12/14: 57mm gun. The US Navy has removed BAE’s Mk.110 57mm naval gun from their DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class ships. The reported reason was that the 30mm Mk.46 RWS did better against key target types like small boats than the Mk.110 or notional 76mm guns. That’s more than slightly surprising to some observers, who note that a 30mm cannon is only lethal within about a mile – but the Navy is saying that they were equally surprised. Program Manager Capt. Jim Downey is quoted saying that:

“They were significantly over-modeled on the lethality…. The results of the actual live test-fire data was that the round was not as effective as modeled…. it gets into the range of the threat – the approach of the threat, what the make-up of the threat is and how it would maneuver, how it would fire against our ship. There is a whole series of parameters that are very specific on what the threat is and how you take it out through a layer of defenses…. not what we expected to see.”

Downey categorically denies that the Mk.110’s 10+ ton weight difference was an issue, and also confirmed that his program’s findings haven’t been shared with other NAVSEA entities like PEO LCS, let alone the Coast Guard who uses the gun on some cutters. The Navy is working on creating those mechanisms, but they don’t exist yet. Defense News, “Experts Question US Navy’s Decision To Swap Out DDG 1000’s Secondary Gun”.

Oct 9/14: LCS 7. Lockheed Martin Corp. in Baltimore, MD receives a $10.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, exercising an option for LCS 7 Detroit’s post-delivery support. This is normal, and involves deferred design changes that have been identified during the construction period, before the post-delivery test and trials. $500,000 in (FY 2011?) US Navy shipbuilding budgets is committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Marinette, WI (57%); Hampton, VA (14%); Moorestown, NJ (11%); San Diego, CA (11%); and Washington, DC (7%), and is expected to be complete by October 2016 (N00024-11-C-2300).

Oct 9/14: LCS 8. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $10.9 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification, exercising an option for LCS 8 Montgomery’s post-delivery support. This is normal, and involves deferred design changes that have been identified during the construction period, before the post-delivery test and trials. $500,000 in FY 2011 US Navy shipbuilding budgets is committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (70%); Pittsfield, MA (20%); and San Diego, CA (10%), and is expected to be complete by October 2016 (N00024-11-C-2301).

FY 2014

Orders for ships 17-20; Congress wimps out on oversight, but then USN wants to stop at 32 ships; USN finally wakes up to the importance of “combat” with the SSC frigate idea, but is it too late? BIW wins multi-year support contract for both types; LCS 5 & 6 launched; Mayport, FL to host 6 Freedom Class ships; Poor performance on LCS 1 deployment to Singapore; Naval Strike Missile test from LCS 4; Could rail guns and lasers save the day?; LCS lifecycle costs are high; Weight margins are a huge problem for LCS, and so is under-manning.

Ch-ch-changes…

Sept 25/14: GAO on lead ships. The GAO issues a report saying that the Navy technically stayed within acquisition regulations in its acceptance of the 2 lead ships, thanks to cost-reimbursement contractual clauses. But extensive use of waivers to expedite LCS 1 and LCS 2 trials and acceptance, and for a variety of short-term concerns, led to a lot of additional time and money spent later on. That discussion may seem somewhat moot a decade after the initial contract awards, but consequences are felt to this day:

“Even as of August 2014, the combat management system continued to face significant limitations, which has restricted its use during fleet operations.”

Separately, the April 17 SAR report, obtained 2 months later through the Freedom of Information Act, shows the Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) for LCS 2 is now set for August 2015, followed by Initial Operational Capability (IOC) 1 month later. According to the Navy, that delay trickled down from delayed completion of the Mine Countermeasures Mission Package’s (MCM MP) own IOT&E. Despite all of the delays, the first 2 ships in the class still don’t look very capable. Sources: GAO-14-827, “Navy Complied with Regulations in Accepting Two Lead Ships, but Quality Problems Persisted after Delivery” | CRS, “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background and Issues for Congress” [Aug 4/14 update, PDF] | SAR [PDF].

LCS + NSM

Sept 23/14: Weapons. The US Navy confirms a successful live fire test of Kongsberg’s Naval Strike Missile from USS Coronado [LCS 4], via a launcher mounted on the flight deck.

NSM is a full-range, stealthy sub-sonic missile that delivers both anti-ship and land attack capability. Its presence would instantly turn the SuW module into something other than a joke, but the Navy is noncommittal about issuing a requirement that would lead to NSM integration with the existing LCS fleet. What is certain, is that a missile of this nature will be required as part of any SSC frigate derivatives. Sources: US Navy, “Navy Successfully Tests Norwegian Missile from LCS 4” | Kongsberg, “Successful test firing of KONGSBERG’S Naval Strike Missile from US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship” | USNI, “Norwegian Missile Test On Littoral Combat Ship Successful.”

Sept 9/14: SSeCret. A classified briefing for the House Armed Services Committee about the findings of the small surface combatant task force is postponed at the last minute, with a new date yet to be rescheduled. A Navy spokesperson tells USNI that all they’re willing to talk about at this point is their thought process. The report itself was submitted internally on July 31, but the Navy does not want to talk about its content before budget negotiations with the Pentagon. If the past is any indication, the Navy will keep Congress in the dark as long as possible. Ronald O’Rourke notes in his CRS report, about the aborted 2009-10 downselect:

“…this was the third time in the history of the LCS program that the Navy presented Congress with an important choice about the future of the LCS program late in the congressional budget-review cycle, after Congress had completed its spring budget-review hearings and some of its committee markups.”

If the Navy wants ships in this category before the end of the decade, some sort of LCS 2.0 seems a much more realistic option rather than a brand new design – short of buying an off-the-shelf design abroad. So much for Secretary Hagel’s call that “all options are on the table” – and the core reason is the US Navy’s history of added costs and slow execution for ship designs that they haven’t fielded before. Source: USNI, “HASC Cancels LCS Replacement Briefing Over Lack of Information.”

Aug 22/14: Support. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives an initial $9.8 million cost-plus-award-fee contract to provide planning yard services in support of both variants of in-service Littoral Combat Ships. Bath Iron Works will be the single planning yard, providing engineering, planning, ship configuration, material and logistics support to maintain and modernize both variants of the LCS class, managing the scheduling of all planned, continuous, and emergent maintenance, and associated maintenance periods that involve multiple private and public organizations. $6.2 million in FY 2014 US Navy O&M budgets are committed immediately, and options could bring the contract’s cumulative value to $100.4 million.

Work will be performed in Bath, ME and is expected to be complete by August 2015. This contract was competitively procured via FBO.gov with 3 offers received. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-14-C-4313).

Dual-class Planning Yard services

Aug 22/14: Support. CACI Technologies, Inc. in Chantilly, VA is being awarded a $25.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for professional support services in support of Program Executive Office LCS. Services include professional services in the areas of: program management and acquisition support, technical and engineering support, business and financial management support and logistics support. $15 million is committed immediately from various budgets, and this contract includes options which could bring its cumulative value to $44 million.

Work will be performed in Washington, DC (90%); Norfolk, VA (4%); San Diego, CA (2%); Panama City, FL (2%); Newport, RI (1%); and Monterey, CA (1%), and is expected to be complete by February 2015. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1) as implemented in FAR 6.302-1. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-14-C-6307).

Aug 7/14: Basing. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announces that Naval Station Mayport, FL, will be receiving 6 Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ships: LCS 9 Little Rock, LCS 11 Sioux City, LCS 13 Wichita, LCS Billings, LCS 17 Indianapolis, and LCS 19. NS Mayport, which recently lost its frigates, will pick up about 900 Sailors and support personnel. Sources: Maritime Executive, “Six Navy LCS’ Find Homeport”.

July 31/14: LCS-1 Support. Rolls Royce Marine North America in Walpole, MA receives a $9 million firm-fixed-price repair order for the repair of 1 MT-30 gas turbine engine for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Freedom variant, including re-assembly into the LCS configuration, and pass-off testing to validate performance. All funding is committed immediately, using FY 2014 US Navy O&M budgets.

Work will be performed in Bristol, UK and is expected to be complete by February 2016. The order was not competitively procured in accordance with 10 USC. 2304(c)(1), by US NAVSEA in Washington, DC (N00104-09-G-A755).

LCS testing plan
(click to view full)

July 30/14: GAO Report. The US GAO releases another LCS-related report, which looks at the program as a whole but has a greater emphasis on the class’ weight issues. Both initial ships have inadequate weight margins, and the LCS-2 Independence Class will stay that way even after the design is stabilized for LCS 6, with just 31.3 tons to spare (3,156.7 tons of 3,188.0 Naval Architectural Limit) instead of 50. The LCS-1 Freedom Class does better, with 67.3 tons to spare by LCS 5 (3,482.7 tons of 3,550.0 NAL). GAO recommends changes to contractor weight reporting, whose lack of centralized tracking has contributed to surprise weight problems.

Low margins are problematic, because they harden the 105-ton limit for mission packages, and limit or inflate the cost of weapon upgrades, extra crew, or other changes needed to make the ship relevant throughout its life. Accepting the penalty of going overweight, on the other hand, would hurt ship speed, handling, range, and service life. USS Freedom is itself overweight, and she illustrated this problem during the Singapore deployment. Her gas turbines had to remain switched off most of the time to conserve fuel, giving this “fast” ship such slow transit speeds that it was “hard for LCS to easily or efficiently get around the [7th fleet’s large Pacific] theater”.

To make matters worse, there’s already a call for extra weight. It will take another 10-20 tons, and a pervasive ship redesign, to address the under-crewed fatigue demonstrated during LCS 1’s Singapore deployment. That was present even though the crew recruited contractor technical representatives for routine ship tasks, during a peacetime operation. The Navy’s response is that they don’t intend to change the number of people on board, and they’re also compromising the ship’s mission capability in other ways:

“Navy weight estimates for increment 4 of the MCM mission package, however, do not reflect all the systems being acquired for that package. Space and weight constraints have required the Navy to modify how it intends to outfit increment 4 of the MCM mission package. Although the Navy plans to acquire all the systems planned for that increment, space and weight limitations will not allow LCS seaframes to carry all of these systems at one time. According to LCS program officials, MCM mission commanders will have either (1) the Unmanned Influence Sweep System and the unmanned surface vehicle that tows it, or (2) the minehunting Surface Mine Countermeasures Unmanned Undersea Vehicle—called Knifefish—available—but not both systems. As a result, LCS seaframes outfitted with the increment 4 MCM package may have decreased minesweeping or mine detection capability.”

The final argument has to do with the RFP to continue production after LCS 24. GAO recommends no approval for additional ships or even an RFP until both seaframes have deployed to “a forward overseas location” like Singapore (not scheduled for the Independence Class until 2017); completed rough water, ship shock, and total ship survivability testing; and completed initial operational test and evaluation of the SUW mission package on the Freedom variant and the MCM mission package on the Independence variant. The Navy, as usual, wants to keep production going regardless, setting continued production and savings now vs. the risk of major RFP amendments and delays, expensive refits later, or flawed ships on the front lines. Sources: GAO-14-749, “Littoral Combat Ship: Additional Testing and Improved Weight Management Needed Prior to Further Investments.”

July 26/14: Force structure. The US Navy has a problem. Its 11 remaining FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates have largely been disarmed, but they’re still underway on missions more often than many other fleet ships. When the frigates are all retired by FY 2015, the US Navy will only have 8 LCS ships, with no real anti-submarine capability beyond a helicopter, and an unproven ability to sustain existing missions like longer-term counter-drug operations or carrier escort.

CSBA analyst Cmdr. Bryan Clark (ret.) sees the US Navy falling back on cargo vessels, the Mobile Landing Platform ship, and JHSV transport catamarans to pick up some of the slack. Even so, anti-submarine work will devolve to its high-end destroyer fleet, and recent issues with sustained operations during LCS-1 Freedom’s initial trials are not encouraging. Sources: Gannett’s Navy Times, “Retiring frigates may leave some missions unfilled”.

July 24/14: Weapons. The US Navy confirms that USS Coronado [LCS-4] is scheduled to test-launch Kongsberg’s stealthy, 13-foot Naval Strike Missile (NSM) at the Point Mugu, CA test range. NAVSEA says this isn’t about any specific requirement, it’s just a one-off event to test the Independence Class’ ability to handle more advanced weapons, and “provide insights into the weapon’s stated capabilities of increased range, survivability and lethality.”

It’s possible that NSM could fit into the LCS SuW mission module at some future date, with the LCS using UAVs etc. to close the kill chain at range. Amazingly, the US Navy is still wondering whether it should confine itself to weapons that work only within the ship’s unaided detection range, despite the fact that 500-ton Fast Attack Craft fielded by other countries carry full-range anti-ship missiles.

The Independence Class’ too-small weight margin may seem to be a problem for heavy weapons, but the “Surface Warfare” module is so vestigal that there’s plenty of weight margin in the mission package’s 105-ton weight limit. The anti-submarine module is also pretty basic, and it will be interesting to see if the class can handle an ASW/SuW fleet scout loadout.

On a related note, the NSM is a candidate to eventually replace the sea-skimming, radar-guided RGM-84 Harpoon missiles abord US Navy ships, and a full range anti-ship and surface attack missile will be critical to the USA’s Small Surface combatant frigate program (q.v. April 7-8/14). Since the Navy’s approach makes it hard for anything other than an adapted LCS to succeed, this test has significant long-term implications for the Independence Class. Sources: Gannett’s Navy Times, “LCS to conduct test of Norwegian missile”.

July 17/14: SAC Budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a $489.6 billion base FY 2015 budget, plus $59.7 billion in supplemental funding. It includes the LCS, but they aren’t pleased in the shift from 4 ships to 3, and the planned extension of block-buy pricing into FY 2016. They also note the program cut to 32 and the untested performance of the mission modules:

“Given the testing concerns raised by GAO and the Department’s current strategic pause on the LCS program, the Committee finds it prudent to also slow the procurement of LCS mission modules. Therefore, the Committee recommends a total reduction of $71,314,000 to the fiscal year 2015 budget request for LCS mission modules and related components.”

See also DID, “FY15 US Defense Budget Finally Complete with War Funding”.

Life-cycle costs
(click to view full)

July 8/14: GAO Report. After USS Freedom returned to San Diego from its mission in Asia, nearly every LCS stakeholder – including the operational commander of the ship in Singapore (Commander, Destroyer Squadron Seven) and each of the USS Freedom crews – produced lessons-learned summaries. Mostly, we’ve learned that the Freedom Class has some critical problems in real-world 7th Fleet operations, and that its operating costs will approach destroyers with 3x its tonnage.

Bluntly, the ship’s crew of 50 still couldn’t cope, even in peacetime, testing nothing of substance beyond RHIB boats, and with onboard defense contractor support reps drafted into jobs they weren’t supposed to be doing. Crews averaged 6 hours sleep while underway, instead of the Navy’s recommended 8.

The “good” news is that USS Freedom spent 58% of its time in port, vs. a 20% average for other fleet ships. Mechanical issues were part of that, with 55 total mission days lost that cut short 2 exercises and removed 2 planned operations. It might have been worse, but failure-prone medium-pressure air compressors were constantly monitored by sensors and replaced before they could fail.

On the costs front, the number of shore personnel to support the ship has more than tripled from 271 in the 2011 estimate to 862. An updated life-cycle cost estimate is expected in fall 2014, but GAO estimates place them at $79 million ($64M ships + $15M mission modules) per ship per year, vs. $24M for a minehunter, $54M for a frigate, and $88M for a DDG-51 Ballistic Missile Defense destroyer. Additional overseas deployment-related cost data is likely to raise LCS costs, but deployment schedules mean that we probably won’t have good data for both variants until well after 2017. Sources: GAO-14-447, “Deployment of USS Freedom Revealed Risks in Implementing Operational Concepts and Uncertain Costs” | USNI, “Document: GAO Report on USS Freedom Deployment”.

June 13/14: LCS 4. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives $11.7 million cost-plus-award-fee modification to the previously awarded order to provide engineering and management efforts in support of USS Coronado’s [LCS 4] post-shakedown availability work, to fix the last set of things from INSURV testing. The ship was commissioned on April 5/14.

$5 million in FY 2014 ship conversion budgets is committed immediately. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by December 2014. The US Navy’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair in Bath, Maine manages the contract (N00024-13-G-2316, #0001).

May 12/14: MQ-8 MUT. USS Freedom [LCS 1] operates an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and MQ-8B Fire Scout VTUAV together off the coast of San Diego, CA for VBSS (visit, board, search & seizure) exercises. Flying them together doesn’t seem like much, but operating safely in the same space as a manned helicopter is something that needs to be worked out very thoroughly before it can be used operationally.

June 13/14: LCS 4. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives $11.7 million cost-plus-award-fee modification to the previously awarded order to provide engineering and management efforts in support of USS Coronado’s [LCS 4] post-shakedown availability work, to fix the last set of things from INSURV testing. The ship was commissioned on April 5/14.

$5 million in FY 2014 ship conversion budgets is committed immediately. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by December 2014. The US Navy’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair in Bath, Maine manages the contract (N00024-13-G-2316, #0001).

May 12/14: MQ-8 MUT. USS Freedom [LCS 1] operates an MH-60R Seahawk helicopter and MQ-8B Fire Scout VTUAV together off the coast of San Diego, CA for VBSS (visit, board, search & seizure) exercises. Flying them together doesn’t seem like much, but operating safely in the same space as a manned helicopter is something that needs to be worked out very thoroughly before it can be used operationally.

Fire Scouts can maintain longer surveillance over a target or area of interest, but these helicopter UAVs lack the total firepower and/or troop capacity of an MH-60R or MH-60S. Sources: NGC, “Northrop Grumman, US Navy Conduct Successful Simultaneous Manned, Unmanned Helicopter Flight Tests Aboard the Littoral Combat Ship”.

May 6/14: Cyber-security. US Fleet Cyber Command head Vice Admiral Jan Tighe says that the Navy is working to close the cyber-security gaps identified in the 2013 DOT&E report (q.v. Jan 28/14). The Navy has teams considering “what do they need to do to change, and/or replace” on Freedom Class (and presumably Independence Class) ships, in order to close gaps and create the communications systems needed to transmit critical data to the shore-based support facilities LCS ships are so dependent upon. Sources: Bloomberg, “Cyberdefenses for Littoral Combat Ship Getting Retooled”.

April 30/14: Politics. It looks like LCS support is well and truly slipping. The House Seapower subcommittee version of the FY 2015 defense spending bill would cut planned Navy buys from 3 ships to 2, plus advance procurement funding for 2 in FY 2016, while prioritizing submarines and aircraft carriers. Worse:

“A source familiar with the subcommittee’s deliberations noted there had been a “real effort to zero out the LCS request,” based on perceptions of a flawed program and the need to eliminate some spending.”

20+ ships into a program is a bit late for such realizations, but the reality of not enough money is beginning to force choices that Congress didn’t really have to face before. Sources: Defense News, “House markup cuts one LCS, supports 11 carriers” | Subcommittee markup [PDF] | Full committee NDAA.

April 22/14: Support. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives an unfinalized $28.7 million contract for Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class design services. This includes class baseline design services, class documentation services, class engineering studies and interim support services.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 shipbuilding and FY 2014 RDT&E budgets. Work will be performed in Bath, ME (54%); Pittsfield, MA (45%); and Mobile, AL (1%), and is expected to be complete by May 2015. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-09-C-2302).

April 17/14: SAR. The Pentagon finally releases its Dec 31/13 Selected Acquisitions Report, which includes LCS.

“Program costs decreased $11,332.1 million (-33.4%) from $33,955.5 million to $22,623.4 million, due primarily to a quantity decrease of 20 ships from 52 to 32. The Department of Defense has determined that no new contract negotiations beyond 32 Flight 0+ LCS ships will go forward. The Navy has been directed to complete a study to support the future procurement of “a capable and lethal small surface combatant.” The Navy has also been directed to submit “alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant,” and the study should consider options for “a completely new design, existing ship designs (including LCS), and a modified LCS.” This SAR reflects the initial estimate of a 32-ship LCS program. The results of the study, to be completed in time to inform the FY 2016 President’s Budget, will determine the configuration of the ships (future flight of LCS or different small surface combatant) that will fulfill the small surface combatant requirement.”

Program cut cuts costs

April 9/14: SSCTF RFI. The US Navy issues a very non-specific Request for Information #N00024-14-R-2306, in the hopes that responses will inform its SSCTF (Small Surface Combatant Task Force). Basically, they’re looking at specifications and cost drivers for existing designs, but they don’t specify what range they’re looking in:

“The Navy is interested in the shipbuilding industry perspective on mature ship designs and concept designs that have the capability and lethality generally consistent with a small surface combatant. Systems and sub-system information will be the subject of the second RFI. The Navy is also interested in market information on system and sub-system level approaches to providing small surface combatant combat capabilities including hull, mechanical and electrical systems; weapon and sensor systems; command, control, communications, computers and intelligence networks; electronic warfare systems; signature reduction technologies; and mission module concepts for consideration in future small surface combatants including modified LCSs.”

Sources: FBO.gov, “Intent to Issue Requests for Information (RFI) for Market Information Pertinent to the Navy’s Future Small Surface Combatant”.

RFI for frigate replacement

April 9/14: Weapons. The US Navy confirms that they have picked the AGM-114L Hellfire Longbow radar-guided missile as the SUW Package’s initial missile. Lockheed Martin’s Hellfire wouldn’t have any more range than Raytheon’s Griffin (~3.5 nmi), but the radar seeker allows the ship’s radar to perform targeting, while allowing salvos of multiple fire-and-forget missiles against incoming swarms. In contrast, the Griffin’s laser designation must target one boat at a time, from a position that’s almost certain to have a more restricted field of view than the ship’s main radar.

Lockheed Martin says that the missile has had 3 successful test firings in vertical launch mode, and there are plans to test-fire the missile from LCS itself in 2014, using a new vertical launcher. Navy AGM-114L missiles would be drawn from existing US Army stocks, which will have shelf life expiry issues anyway. That’s one reason the Army intends to begin buying JAGM laser/radar guided Hellfire derivatives around FY 2017. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Navy Adds Hellfire Missiles to LCS” | USNI News, “Navy Axes Griffin Missile In Favor of Longbow Hellfire for LCS”.

April 7-8/14: Weapons. With the USA considering its options for 20 frigates, Finmeccanica is proposing the OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid gun as an upgrade to existing and future LCS/ASSC ships. Already in service with 56 navies, the water-cooled gun can maintain high rates of fire, while extending naval gun range. Specialty options include GPS-guided Vulcano super long-range shells for naval fire support out to 22 nmi, or the optional STRALES system that adds a radar to the gun mount, and uses DART radar-guided shells for surface warfare and air defense. The bad news is that the US Navy isn’t sure that it will fit on the LCS-2 Independence Class’ narrow hull (q.v. CRS report, Feb 25/14).

Meanwhile, Kongsberg is presenting scale models of armed Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) at the Sea-Air-Space 2014 Exposition, fitted with their stealthy new Naval Strike Missile. The Freedom Class gets 12 NSMs in 2 recessed modules above the helicopter hangar, while the trimaran Independence Class ends up with 18 missiles in 2 recessed launchers just behind the bridge, and another in the hull behind the naval gun.

Those loadouts would make the ships formidable surface combatants. If they control multiple UAVs for surveillance and targeting, their strike role actually starts to look like an aircraft carrier with 1-launch aircraft, and this configuration wouldn’t require ship radar upgrades. That could even position them for the post-2019 Surface Warfare Module upgrade within the existing fleet. On the other hand, a real frigate-type ship will need other weapons, which means 8 or more Mk.41 vertical launch cells that can carry VL-ASROC anti-submarine rockets, longer range air defense missiles like quad-packed RIM-162 ESSMs, etc. Unless the air defense missiles have independent guidance, like MBDA’s Sea Ceptor or Raytheon’s future ESSM Block 2, a frigate-class radar and combat system will also be necessary. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Finmeccanica Proposes 76mm Gun for LCS” | Naval Recognition, “Sea-Air-Space 2014 Show Daily News – Kongsberg NSM”.

April 5/14: LCS 4. USS Coronado is commissioned at North Island Naval Air Station, in Coronado, CA next to San Diego. This ship is 6 months late, but shows quality improvements over LCS 2. Which you’d certainly hope would be the case, compared to a first-in-class ship. Sources: UT San Diego, “USS Coronado commissioned”.

LCS 4 commissioned

April 4/14: Manning. Breaking Defense published the results of an unreleased study re: LCS 1’s Singapore deployment:

“[LCS sailors] averaged about six hours of sleep per day, 255 below the Navy’s eight-hour standard, and key personnel such as engineers got even less. That’s in spite of

  • extensive reliance on contractors both aboard and ashore, with a “rigid” schedule of monthly returns to Singapore that restricted how far from port the LCS could sail;
  • the decision to increase Freedom‘s core crew by 25 percent, from 40 to 50 — the maximum the ship can accommodate without a “significant” redesign; and
  • the 19-sailor “mission module” crew, who are supposed to operate LCS’s weapons, helicopters, and small boats, pitching in daily to help the core crew run the ship’s basic systems.

The core crew’s engineering department in particular told GAO they had no idea how they’d keep the ship going without help from the mission module’s engineers. But…. while the entire 19-sailor anti-surface module crew has skills useful in running the ship itself, the MCM crew has only four sailors who could help, and the ASW module only one. That means an LCS outfitted to hunt mines or subs would effectively be 15 to 18 sailors short – about 20 to 25 percent.”

The Navy says they’re testing engineering modifications and new approaches. But then, that’s what they’ve always said about this issue. Sources: Breaking Defense, “Sleepless In Singapore: LCS Is Undermanned & Overworked, Says GAO”.

Manning still a problem

April 2/14: Testing. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $6.7 million contract modification to build a live fire test module in support of the Navy’s LCS-2 Independence variant LCS survivability testing program. It certainly took the Navy long enough to get this going.

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 RDT&E budgets. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL, and is expected to be complete by March 2015. Fiscal 2013 research, development, test and evaluation funding in the amount of $6,726,406 will be obligated at the time of award and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The USN Supervisor of Shipbuilding Gulf Coast in Pascagoula, MS manages the contracts (N00024-11-C-2301). See also Austal, “Austal Awarded Contract For Survivability Testing On LCS”.

March 31/14: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2013, plus time to compile and publish. The LCS has 16/18 key technologies listed as mature, the 2 exceptions being LCS-1 mission bay overhead launch and retrieval system and the LCS-2 aluminum structure. Design changes include a stronger stern ramp for LCS-1 ships, and bridge wings and a 7m RHIB boat for LCS-2 ships. The report adds:

“LCS 1 completed a ten-month deployment to the western pacific in December 2013 where it operated out of Singapore. During this deployment it encountered two significant engineering issues that significantly curtailed its ability to get underway: the lubrication cooling system ruptured and the ship service diesel engine generator had reliability issues. In addition to these engineering issues, LCS 1 had a number of combat system and other material failures; including radar underperformance and the combat system unexpectedly rebooting during operations.”

March 4-11/14: FY15 Budget. The USAF and USN unveil their preliminary budget request briefings, and slowly release numbers over the next week. LCS procurement drops from 4 ships to 3 in FY15, but then it actually rises from 2 to 3 per year in FY16, FY17, and FY18, and overall budgets rise too. That would close out Hagel’s 32-ship limit. The Navy’s presentation also shows 2 LCS ships beyond that, however, in FY19. A note indicates that this is “Pending FY16 decision.”

The obvious resolution of the Navy presentation’s discrepant data would involve an initial advanced small surface combatant award. The Pentagon’s noises about “alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, consistent with the capabilities of a frigate” have dominated outside discussions ever since Hagel’s Feb 24/15 briefing. The extent of the required changes make it difficult to understand how they could move forward under current acquisition regulations, without creating a new program. On the other hand, detailed budget documents show a Navy that intends to continue LCS as a program beyond the 32 ships. Sources: USN, PB15 Press Briefing [PDF].

March 10/14: FY 2014. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC issues the FY14 orders for 4 Littoral Combat Ships. Ships 17-20 will cost a total of $1.383 billion:

Lockheed Martin in Baltimore, MD receives $698.9 million for LCS 17 & 19, including basic seaframe construction, selected ship systems integration and test, and some onboard systems like engines and radars that aren’t bought under independent contracts.

All funds are committed immediately, using Navy FY14 shipbuilding budgets. Work will be performed in Marinette, WI (56%), Walpole, MA (14%), Washington, DC (12%), Oldsmar, FL (4%), Beloit, WI (3%), Moorestown, NJ (2%), Minneapolis, MN (2%), and various locations of less than 1% each (7%), and is expected to be complete by June 2018 (N00024-11-C-2300).

Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives $683.7 million for LCS 18 & 20, including basic seaframe construction, selected ship systems integration and test, and some onboard systems like engines and radars that aren’t bought under independent contracts.

All funds are committed immediately, using Navy FY14 shipbuilding budgets. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (51%), Pittsfield, MA (13%), Cincinnati, OH (4%), Baltimore, MD (2%), Burlington, VT (2%), New Orleans, LA (2%), and various locations of less than 2% each (26%), and is expected to be complete by June 2018 (N00024-11-C-2301).

FY15: 4 ships

March 10/14: LCS-FFG. Ever since Hagel’s late February announcement, his mention of a Small Surface Combatant/ frigate as a follow-on after LCS #32 has dominated discussion. Recall: “I’ve directed the Navy to consider a completely new design, existing ship designs, and a modified LCS.” His memo to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus specifies that “These assessments should consider survivability, performance, sustainment cost, materiel readiness, lethality and growth potential…”

CNO Adm. Greenert now says he will disband the LCS Council, which still seems to have work to do in terms of getting the ships ready to deploy and work with the fleet, in favor of a group that will study the Navy’s Small Surface Combatant options.

Early indications are that it won’t be much of a study. SecNav Mabus has already compared the task to successive flight/block modifications of previous ship classes, while continuing a strained relationship with the truth by dismissing license-built foreign designs as: “Well, number one, I don’t think any foreign design is up to our — our standards.” That’s patently ridiculous, and indicates either a lack of the most basic grasp of this field, or willful dishonesty. Breaking Defense is quite correct in adding that many off-the-shelf foreign designs would be far superior – though they miss Navantia’s serving 5,300t Nansen Class ASW frigate, which already comes with Lockheed’s SPY-1F radar and AEGIS combat system, and uses the Mk-41 VLS. Norway paid Navantia $480 million per ship (NOK 21 billion for 5, on June 23/00).

Loren Thompson of the Lexington Institute argues that the design has to be an LCS derivative for a different reason – the Navy doesn’t have a decade to hold the competition, design a new vessel, and get it produced. That kind of wait would push the future frigate’s funding right into the buzz-saw of SSBN-X and F-35B/C buys. Which is true.

On the other hand, neither LCS model has a fully-armed derivative in even detail design form, and both LCS contenders have potential issues that will require added testing if the ships’ size grows. Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman is proposing a frigate variant of the USCG’s Bertholf Class cutter. It would be interesting to compare development and certification times for a lengthened LCS with different weight distribution and new systems, vs. NGC’s model. Or vs. a close Nansen Class derivative built by Bath Iron Works. Sources: Breaking Defense, “LCS Lives! Mabus, Hamre Argue Littoral Combat Ship Will Survive Cuts” | Defense News, “CNO: Group Will Study New LCS Designs” | Forbes, “Navy Has Few Options If Littoral Combat Ship Falters”.

Feb 28/14: Support. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC exercises a pair of options to perform post-delivery planning, and implementation of deferred design changes, on the Freedom Class ship Milwaukee [LCS 5] and the Independence Class ship Jackson [LCS 6].

Lockheed Martin in Baltimore, MD receives $10.8 million for LCS 5. All funds are committed immediately, using USN FY10 shipbuilding budgets. Work will be performed in Marinette, WI (57%); Hampton, VA (14%); Moorestown, NJ (11%); San Diego, CA (11%); and Washington, DC (7%), and is expected to be complete by October 2015 (N00024-11-C-2300).

Austal USA in Mobile, A receives $7.1 million for LCS 6. All funds are committed immediately, using USN FY10 shipbuilding budgets. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (70%); Pittsfield, MA (20%); and San Diego, CA (10%) and is expected to be complete by September 2015 (N00024-11-C-2301).

Feb 25/14: CRS Report. The US Congressional Research Service revises their Background and Issues for Congress report. While the report includes useful information about the program’s history, and details some of the current problems with both seaframes, its timing means that the basis for the Pentagon’s move to stop at 32 LCS ships is a focus. CRS raises the concern that the same ‘field first, analyze missions and design next, justify in retrospect’ philosophy may be applied to the follow-on frigate. Is a frigate the best option for meeting the described need? They do admit that:

“Countering improved Chinese maritime military forces will involve procuring ships (such as destroyers and attack submarines) that are oriented toward ballistic missile defense, anti-ship cruise missile defense, countering larger surface ships, and countering submarines that are operating far from shore as well as in littoral waters.48 The LCS is not optimized for most of these missions.”

The report’s pricing for mission packages is useful; according to an Aug 26/13 Navy document, the common equipment for all sets is $14.9 million, the MCM Package is $97.7 million (TL $112.6M), the “SUW” Package is $32.6 million (TL $47.4M), the future ASW Package is $20.9 million (TL $35.8M). Given that key mission packages like ASW aren’t even close to being fielded yet, and that some aspects like waterjet propulsion are ill-suited to the ASW mission, it’s hard to see the basis for saying:

“When assessed in terms of ability to perform the LCS program’s three primary missions [Mines, Small boats, and Submarines in shallow waters], the LCS fares well in terms of weaponry and other ship features in comparisons with frigate and corvette designs operated by other navies.”

Sources: US CRS, “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background and Issues for Congress”.

Mission Module costs

Feb 24/14: Backing away? The announcement isn’t a surprise (q.v. Jan 6/14), but there’s less to Chuck Hagel’s FY 2015 pre-budget briefing on the LCS than meets the eye:

“Regarding the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, I am concerned that the Navy is relying too heavily on the LCS to achieve its long-term goals for ship numbers. Therefore, no new contract negotiations beyond 32 ships will go forward. With this decision, the LCS line will continue beyond our five-year budget plan with no interruptions.

The LCS was designed to perform certain missions – such as mine sweeping and anti-submarine warfare – in a relatively permissive environment. But we need to closely examine whether the LCS has the protection and firepower to survive against a more advanced military adversary and emerging new technologies, especially in the Asia Pacific. If we were to build out the LCS program to 52 ships, as previously planned, it would represent one-sixth of our future 300-ship Navy. Given continued fiscal constraints, we must direct shipbuilding resources toward platforms that can operate in every region and along the full spectrum of conflict.

Additionally, at my direction, the Navy will submit alternative proposals to procure a capable and lethal small surface combatant, 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. These proposals are due to me later this year in time to inform next year’s budget submission.”

Consideration of these questions is a decade overdue, but there’s only 1 takeaway here that really means anything: “the LCS line will continue beyond our five-year budget plan with no interruptions”. They haven’t actually terminated the program, and they can negotiate for up to 8 ships beyond the current block buy that ends in FY15, and follow-on comments from Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus show that he overwhelmingly favors modifying LCS for the Small Surface Combatant. This is so despite likely issues with effective anti-submarine warfare due to waterjet noise, low damage tolerance, and comparative cost vs. proven frigates once upgrades to the radar, combat system, and weapons are added. Sources: US DoD, “Remarks By Secretary Of Defense Chuck Hagel FY 2015 Budget Preview Pentagon Press Briefing Room Monday, February 24, 2014” | Bloomberg, “Hagel Expands on Reservations’ About Littoral Combat Ship”.

Semi-commitment to stop at 32, follow-on “capable small surface combatant” proposed

Feb 21/14: Support. Lockheed Martin in Baltimore, MD receives a $23.6 million contract modification for LCS fleet support.

All funds are committed immediately, using Navy FY14 O&M dollars. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete by September 2014. The USN’s Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego, CA manages the contract (N00024-12-G-4329).

Jan 23/14: Sub-contractors. L-3 Corp. Systems West, Salt Lake City, Utah, is being awarded a $17.6 million indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contract modification for supplies and services associated with Littoral Combat Ship configurations of the Hawklink Tactical Common Data Link (TCDL) Surface Terminal Equipment, and with Vortex Mini-TCDL Shipset components. While Hawklink is most closely associated with the MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, these supplies and services are in support of the Fire Scout MQ-8B/8C.

Funds will be committed as needed. Work will be performed in Salt Lake City, UT (90%), Point Mugu, CA (5%), and the Patuxent River Naval Air Station, MD, (5%), and is expected to be complete in December 2014. US Naval Air Systems Command, Patuxent River, Md., is the contracting activity (N00019-13-D-0001).

Jan 19/14: New deal? Defense News is reporting that the Navy and Pentagon have come to an uneasy compromise of sorts re: LCS. The program would be put on probation, but ship buys would continue to a total of 26-28, which would be until FY 2017 or so. Before any more ships could be bought, the ship would need to pass evaluation by the Pentagon’s independent DOT&E testing office, which has been critical of the ship.

This new proposal gives existing shipbuilders and supporters more time to prove that the ship can meet its base claims and specifications. It also gives them more time to lobby. A passed FY 2015 budget that stopped buys at 32 becomes hard to overturn, even though production would continue for several years, because the Navy would begin filling future budgets with other programs instead. An open-ended “we dare you to stop us later” agreement has a very different dynamic.

Note, too, that DOT&E’s mandate doesn’t include re-evaluating the ship concept, which is coming under more fire these days. All they can do is state whether the ship meets the Navy’s specifications and can perform its assigned missions, which is a different judgment than the one that Pentagon’s leadership was implicitly making. Sources: Defense News, “Navy, Pentagon battle over LCS future”.

Jan 13/14: Aviation Week looks at the LCS program, and reports that the crew size will rise to 50 core crew on both ships. That still wasn’t really enough during USS Freedom’s recent deployment (q.v. Nov 12/13). Beyond that, the article quotes Vice Adm. Thomas Copeman, commander of the Naval Surface Force and U.S. Pacific Naval Surface Force. Amazingly, the Navy has finally concluded that reducing crew sizes first, then hoping for technological innovation, is a bad approach.

Copeman adds that combat power is indeed one of LCS’ requirements, as he distinguishes between routine operations and combat operations. It may have “my complete attention,” but naval analyst Norman Polmar points out that the design process sacrificed the Navy’s flexibility regarding this defining characteristic of a warship. You can’t shoot attention at the enemy, though technological improvements may create new options in a decade or more (q.v. Jan 10/14). Polmar is also dismayed at the delays for mission modules that address long-standing naval challenges: “If the modules were something exotic, like nuclear lasers, I’d understand.” In fairness, they are trying to address standard challenges in non-standard ways.

We’ll add that combat options do exist for LCS, but retrofitting designed-out features is expensive. They’d need to cut into the decks to install a MK41 vertical launch system, then code and test major changes to the combat system so it could handle advanced weapons like the RIM-162 Evolved SeaSparrow. In practice, that means they’d either (a) stick to a narrow range of weapon improvements that are largely self-contained, and require minimal integration, at the possible cost of fleet commonality – vid. MBDA’s Sea Ceptor missile; (b) pick just one LCS class to have real combat capability, and make changes to it; or (c) spend more to implement radar and combat system commonality across both classes, as part of a full weapons upgrade. Sources: Aviation Week: NavWeek, “Skimming the Surface.”

Jan 6/14: To 32. A Pentagon memo from acting deputy defense secretary Christine Fox recommends that the LCS program slash total numbers by 20 ships, from 52 – 32. Looks like the Navy “won” the internal battle, which could have decided to terminate the program at just 24 (q.v. Sept 3/13). That would leave just 8 ships to be bought after the current multi-year buy contract ends in FY 2016, and options reportedly include speeding up production, or running a follow-on buy that might pick just 1 type.

Even at 32 ships, the program will have bought over 80% of its ships before the end of operational testing.

It’s important to note that this isn’t set in stone yet. The 2015 budget proposal will contain the final plan, but that document will be delayed to late February or March. Then it has to pass through Congress. Meanwhile, leaked copies of the Pentagon’s DOT&E test reports are expected to be critical of both LCS ship types, and of the Mine Counter-Measures package in particular. Sources: Bloomberg, “Pentagon Said to Order Cutting Littoral Ships by 20” | Bloomberg, “Navy Littoral Ship Reliability in Doubt, Tester Says” | ABC2 WBAY Wisconson, “Marinette Marine Monitors Pentagon Recommendations” | Alabama,com, “Navy will reportedly cut littoral combat ship order by 20” | U-T San Diego, “Navy’s littoral ships to be slashed?”.

Jan 16/14: The US Navy has come up with its own designation for the Sea Giraffe radar that equips LCS-2 Independence Class ships: AN/SPS-77(V)1. It’s adapted for US operations by Saab Defense and Security USA Sensor Systems in Syracuse, NY, who also handles installation, testing, and maintenance.

So far, the radar has been installed on 3 Independence Class ships, with 5 more radars in production. Sources: Saab, Jan 16/14 release.

Jan 10/14: LCS 1 & 3. Lockheed Martin in Baltimore, MD receives a maximum $13.2 million cost-plus award fee contracting modification, finalizing LCS 1 and 3 planning yard support efforts for Freedom Class LCS ships, esp. USS Freedom and USS Fort Worth. That means vendor training and crew familiarization; trainer support; availability advanced planning; long lead time material planning and procurement; material warehousing; logistics product updates; and class sustainment management.

One thing we’re noticing is that over the last couple of years, similar support contracts seem to cost more for the Freedom Class than they do for the Independence Class (q.v. Dec 23/13, March 15/13, Dec 20/12).

All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2014 O&M budgets. Work will be performed in Washington, DC, and is expected to be complete by September 2014. US NAVSEA in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-12-G-4329, 0017).

Naval laser trials

Jan 10/14: LCS EM Weapons module? The current US Navy program manager for DDG 51 acquisition, Capt. Mark Vandroff, says that the service has begun to look at the requirements for a “DDG-51 Flight IV” destroyer, which wouldn’t begin service until the 2030s. Rail guns and lasers are part of the early conversation, and it isn’t just because they’re cool:

“Some of the thinking involves senior leaders talking about getting on the other side of the cost curve. Right now if someone shoots a missile at us, we shoot a missile back at them. The missile we shoot at them cost about as much, if not more, than the missile that got shot at us. They are burning money and we are burning money to defend ourselves…. The down side is this kind of technology does not exist today and even if it does, you have to look at what kind of maritime platform could you put it on and what that would look like. When that technology starts to get close to mature, then you will see the Navy start to figure out what it has to do in order to field that technology.”

This could be the opportunity LCS has been looking for. Converting DDG 51 ships to hybrid-electric drive would be a minimum requirement to host these weapons, but the redesign could become very expensive, and even that may not be enough. HII is touting their LPD-17 Flight II amphibious assault hull as a future air and missile defense cruiser platform,. It has enough power generation capacity, but that’s a $2.5+ billion proposition. Looking downscale, Littoral Combat Ships have plenty of onboard power, plus accessible free space for capacitors etc. Switching the 57mm forward gun for a railgun, and adding laser weapons for air and surface defense, would give an LCS with the “EM weapons” package unique Naval Fire Support and air-defense roles within the fleet. LCS-2 ships might even have enough room remaining to add other mission package capabilities. As Vandroff says, we’ll know more as the technology becomes mature. Sources: Military.com, “Future Destroyers Likely to Fire Lasers, Rail Guns”.

Dec 23/13: Support. US NAVSEA issues a pair of options for LCS core class services. Those include engineering and design services, as well as efforts to reduce LCS acquisition and lifecycle costs.

Lockheed Martin Corp. in Baltimore, MD receives a $23.3 million contract modification, with $12.1 million in FY 2013 shipbuilding funds committed immediately. Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (36%), Hampton, VA (30%), Washington, DC (23%), and Marinette, WI (11%), and is expected to be complete by December 2014 (N00024-11-C-2300).

Austal USA LLC in Mobile, AL receives a $14.1 million contract modification, with $4 million in FY 2013 shipbuilding and R&D funds committed immediately. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (72%) and Pittsfield, MA (28%), and is expected to be complete by December 2014 (N00024-11-C-2301).

Dec 23/13: LCS 2 & 4. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $7.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee delivery order for LCS-2 and LCS-4 Planning Yard Services, as they prepare for in-service sustainment. These services will include: vendor training and crew familiarization; in-service engineering support; trainer support; availability advanced planning; long lead time material planning and procurement; material warehousing; logistics product updates; and class sustainment management.

$1 million is committed immediately, using FY 2014 O&M funds. Work will be performed in Bath, Maine, and is expected to be completed by Dec 21/14 (N00024-12-G-4330).

Dec 18/13: LCS 5 launch. Marinette Marine christens and launches LCS 5 Milwaukee from its Marinette, WI shipyard. This is the Lockheed Martin team’s 1st ship under the 2010 block buy. Unlike LCS 6, this one slides into the river in a traditional manner. Sources: USN, “Future USS Milwaukee (LCS 5) Christened and Launched, Marks Production Milestone” | Lockheed Martin, “Lockheed Martin-Led Team Launches Future USS Milwaukee”.

Dec 14/13: LCS 6 launch. Jackson is launched at Austal’s shipyard in Mobile, AL. This is Austal’s 1st ship under the 2010 block buy, and the 1st ship built in the shipyard’s new 59,000-square-foot Bay 5 assembly hall.

Launches have become more complex these days. Instead of just sliding down a ramp, the 1,600t assembly was lifted almost 3 feet in the air by Berard Transportation’s self-propelled modular transporters (SPMTs), and moved about 400 feet onto an adjacent moored deck barge. The barge was towed a half mile down river to BAE Systems’ Southeast Shipyard for transfer to BAE’s floating Drydock Alabama. Launch happens when Alabama submerges, floating Jackson free. The ship will undergo final outfitting and activation at Austal’s shipyard.

Dec 13/13: Demands, but no teeth. The House FY 2014 defense bill has some key provisions in Section 124 re: the LCS program, and the Senate is unlikely to mess with them. It doesn’t matter, since the there are no real penalties for non-compliance.

The bill demands a review from the Pentagon’s JROC saying that they’ve looked at existing and required capabilities; think the current capabilities development document remains valid given performance, and will produce an adequate ship; and confirm that capability production documents exist for each ship type, and will exist for each mission module before operational testing begins. The odds of the JROC saying “we were wrong to give our go-ahead, this is a complete mess, LCS fails” are basically zero.

Beyond that, the bill demands a report from the CNO, and also from the Pentagon’s far more skeptical Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, within 60 days of the FY 2014 defense budget becoming law. That report will looks at the LCS’ concept of operations, which the Navy admits is sketchy now. It will also look at the ships’ ability to meet the Navy’s core strategy; compare the combat capabilities of the mission modules against the FFG-7 frigate and Osprey Class minehunting ships LCS would replace; assess LCS’ expected survivability in combat, given threats in the near-shore environment; offer an overview of test progress and plans; and look at maintenance, manning and support issues for the class, with special attention paid to failures so far.

Fine. So, what if the reports aren’t produced, or the results are negative? The GAO Report (q.v. July 22/13) recommended dropping to minimum sustaining rate production for ships, and halting module buys. So, what did the House do? Nothing. They said that FY 2014 monies couldn’t be used to buy items for LCS 25-26, until the bill’s conditions were met. For reference, FY 2014 is about ships #17-20, and the entire multi-year contract ends at #24. Sources: House FY 2014 NDAA [PDF] | Breaking Defense, “Congress Targets Littoral Combat Ship Survivability In NDAA” | USNI News, “More Littoral Combat Ship Oversight Unlikely to Affect 2015 Block Buy”.

Dec 2/13: Support. Austal USA LLC in Mobile, AL receives an $8.3 million contract modification, exercising option for Independence Class core class services. They’ll assess engineering and production challenges, and evaluate the cost and schedule risks from new efforts to reduce LCS acquisition and lifecycle costs.

All funds are committed immediately from FY 2013 shipbuilding budgets. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (60%), and Pittsfield, MA (40%), and is expected to be complete by November 2014 (N00024-11-C-2301).

Nov 20/13: Saudi Arabia. The Saudi Naval Expansion Program II will shape the Kingdom’s next set of buys, and discussions have ranged from American LCS frigates, to full-size DDG-51 Aegis destroyers capable of ballistic missile defense. They could turn to options like Spain’s Navantia (F100 family), if they wish to buy Aegis ships from a source other than the USA. The Saudis are also evaluating France’s new FREMM frigates, which could offer missile defense capabilities of their own, and share some commonalities with their existing Al-Riyadh Class.

October statements by Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan may have said that the kingdom was hoping to make a major shift away from the United States, but Lockheed Martin continues to pursue discussions. The Royal Saudi Navy’s core currently consists of French Al-Riyadh (Lafayette) and Al-Madinah Class frigates at the high end, and older US-built Badr Class corvettes and Al-Sadiq Class patrol boats at the low end. Sources: Reuters, “Lockheed sees more clarity on Saudi naval buy in next months” | UAE’s The National, “Challenges in the Middle East for US defence companies“.

Nov 16/13: LCS 1. USS Freedom leaves Singapore’s Changi Naval Base, which she had been using as a logistics and maintenance hub. Those kinds of bases are key to the LCS concept, because the crew design and load-out of the ship have most maintenance and almost all repairs performed in port, with very little capability on board ship. The Navy adds that:

“Prior to getting underway, Freedom accomplished repairs to the feedback cable in the port steerable waterjet which delayed her participation in exercise Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Brunei. All wajerjets are now functioning normally, and Freedom still expects to conduct a brief port visit in Brunei as part of the exercise.”

Since arriving in Singapore April 18, Freedom has participated in the International Maritime Defence Exhibition (IMDEX), 2 CARAT exercises with Malaysia and Singapore, and the multinational SECAT exercise. CARAT Brunei will undoubtedly be counted in future USN releases, even though the ship was actually prevented from taking substantive part. Sources: “USS Freedom (LCS 1) Gets Underway From Singapore For Final Time”.

Nov 12/13: Shock and Awwww. The Wall Street Journal reports that LCS 1’s maintenance problems in Singapore were a shock to Navy leadership:

“When Navy leaders were given an expedited assessment on the ship’s performance last week, they found the scope of those problems to be “a little stunning,” says Rear Adm. Tom Rowden, the Navy’s director of surface warfare.”…. In war games last year, the Freedom seemed to struggle with multiple tasks and appeared overwhelmed, says Petty Officer Manuel Navarro, a combat leader aboard the USS Sampson, a 500-foot destroyer that took part in the exercises. “From a combat perspective, from what I can see, they did horribly,” he says.”

The ships’ heavy dependence on pierside maintenance is a new concept for the Navy, and the key question is whether this is the sort of normal teething problem associated with that newness, or an illustration of a flawed concept that hasn’t been used for good reasons. The same question arises re: ship manning, which may not have been enough even with 10 extra core sailors on board.

As the Navy ponders these issues, pressure is growing to cut the LCS buy from the original plan of 55 to 32 or even 24 ships (q.v. Sept 3/13). That would probably be achieved by taking GAO’s advice, and dropping orders to the minimum sustainable level. A 32-ship program would still end very early, with last orders in 2022 or so. Sources: Wall Street Journal, “Navy Ship Plan Faces Pentagon Budget Cutters” | Newsmax, “Navy’s Problem-Plagued Ship of Future Facing Cutbacks”.

Nov 11/13: LCS 1. More problems, just before a planned naval exercise in Brunei. USS Freedom had issues with feedback in the portside steerable waterjet, which needed additional repairs. This comes shortly after the starboard steerable water-jet hydraulic system had been contaminated with seawater and required extra maintenance. Sources: Russia Today, “Glitch-ridden US advanced warship pier-side ahead of Singapore drills”.

LCS 1: CARAT Brunei

FY 2013

$1.38 billion for LCS 13-16; Program cut to 50 ships; Undersecretary Robert Work’s overview of the program is followed by 2 negative Navy reports, as capability controversies continue; GAO program report; DOT&E report on LCS issues; Keel laying for LCS 8 & 9; USS Freedom deploys to Singapore, with difficulties; New Freedom Class waterjets solve a problem – and add to one?; Export loss in Thailand.

To Singapore
click for video

Sept 3/13: Ship cuts? With over $50 billion in cuts coming, the Office of the Secretary of Defense’s ALT POM reportedly proposed to end LCS buys with the current contract, at just 24 ships. The Navy is pushing to buy at least 32.

On the other hand, OSD is reportedly insisting that the Navy place a top priority on fielding the mine countermeasures (MCM) module, in light of challenges around the Strait of Hormuz and elsewhere. One would think this would have been obvious years ago. Sources: Defenseworld, “U.S. To Limit Littoral Combat Ship Purchase”.

Aug 12/13: Support. Small business qualifier Manufacturing Techniques Inc. in Kilmarnock, VA receives a $32.7 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract with cost-plus-fixed-fee completion and firm-fixed-price delivery orders. It’s a support contract involving battle management systems, Dragon Spear (SOCOM’s MC-130W aircraft), and Littoral Combat Ship programs. They’ll provide help with rapid prototype development, hardware fabrication, hardware and software for prototype or prototype pre-production units and kits.

Just $68,263 in FY 2012 funds are committed immediately. Work will be performed in Kilmarnock, VA, and is expected to be complete by August 2018. This was competitively procured via FBO.gov, with 2 offers received by the US Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division in Dahlgren, VA (N00178-13-D-1022).

Aug 12/13: LCS 2. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $9 million cost-plus-award-fee order to provide material and labor for USS Independence’s post-shakedown availability (LCS 2 PSA Phase 2). Efforts will include program management, production supervision, temporary protection services and transportation services.

$6.9 million in FY 2012 – 2013 funding is committed immediately, and $2.3 million in FY 2013 funding will expire by Sept 30/13. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete by December 2013. The Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair in Bath, ME manages the contract (N00024-13-G-2316).

LCS & Mission modules
2012-2019
(click to view full)

July 25/13: HASC Seapower hearing. The House Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces holds hearings in the wake of the GAO’s report. It makes for interesting viewing in places but that’s mostly in the prepared statements. GAO explains that they aren’t advocating cancellation, but unless Congress steps in now, they’ll find themselves unable to exercise any influence on the program. The Navy repeats the party line that everyone loves the LCS, and all problems will be fine.

The real takeaway is that the basic format for Congressional hearings is broken and next to useless if a program is in trouble. At 3-5 minutes per member present, it’s impossible to ask more than 1 substantive question, or offer the kind of consistent questioning and follow-up required to even establish key facts. That’s a perfect environment for evasive or meaningless answers, secure in the knowledge that they can’t be examined in any depth. Which is exactly what happens. Watch for yourself. Sources: HASC Seapower, Acquisition and Development Challenges Associated with the Littoral Combat Ship (Video Part 1 and Part 2) | GAO Testimony Transcript.

July 22/13: GAO Report. The US GAO releases GAO-13-530, “Significant Investments in the Littoral Combat Ship Continue Amid Substantial Unknowns about Capabilities, Use, and Cost”. The entire report is a long chronicle of the Littoral Combat Ship program’s history of falling short and of unresolved issues, side-by-side with warnings concerning a program that will have bought 24 ships, started a second multi-year contract in FY 2016, and bought 31 mission packages before full operational testing is done.

That “could lead to the Navy risking taxpayer investments of over $40 billion in 2010 dollars in systems that may not provide the expected – and yet to be fully defined – militarily useful capability.” This timing also strips outside bodies of meaningful oversight and influence, while buying equal numbers of ships even if a specific type is better for certain missions. As the GAO notes:

“…the former Under Secretary of the Navy and others have posited that the Freedom variant may be better suited to the Middle East region and the SUW mission given its maneuverability [DID: the TERN UAV’s restriction to LCS-2 would change even that advantage], while the Independence variant may be better suited to the western Pacific region and the ASW and MCM missions given its longer range and larger helicopter deck.”

This is just a small slice of the issues with the LCS program. One issue that was accepted in the original LCS vision is its need to stay close to a deployed group when in medium to high threat environments. That restriction isn’t shared by similarly-expensive ships, and creates an added burden on task groups. Nor is this the only issue:

“…since LCS has only a self-defense anti-air warfare capability, it will require protection from a [DID: likely missile defense capable] cruiser or destroyer in more advanced anti-air warfare environments, which reduces the LCS’s ability to operate independently and occupies the time of more capable surface combatants that might be better employed elsewhere”…. [There are] classified concerns with the capability or planned capability and employment of the SUW, MCM, and ASW mission packages…. Elements of the LCS business case, including its cost, the time needed to develop and field the system, and its anticipated capabilities have degraded over time. There are also significant unknowns related to key LCS operations and support concepts that could affect the cost of the program and soundness of the business case…. Some of these questions, discussed in table 5, are likely to have impacts on the ongoing LCS acquisition, including what seaframe variant should be purchased and how the ships will actually be operated and supported… .At the Milestone B decision for the seaframe program, the Navy estimated O&S costs to account for 62% of the program’s life-cycle cost estimate, or $87 billion of $124 billion in total ownership costs through fiscal year 2057.[20] The Navy’s point estimate for the LCS seaframe program total life-cycle cost estimate was at the 10% confidence level, meaning that there is a 90% chance that the costs could be different – and likely higher based on the data – than the point estimate [the spread is between $108 – 170 billion in then-year dollars].”

They recommend that Congress appropriate LCS funding under the existing contract, but with conditions attached to complete LCS technical and design studies, assess changes, and offer an analysis of what they want to change for greater commonality, before the money is freed. GAO also recommends shifting to minimum sustaining production for mission modules (now) and ships (LCS 25-), until and unless the Navy has produced a new independent cost estimate and a new validated capabilities document, and received a full rate production decision. Sources: GAO-13-530, || See also detailed report coverage re: sub-systems for LCS mission packages and the Mine Counter-Measures package in particular.

GAO study cites multiple program issues, recommends program slowdown & conditions

July 11/13: The US Navy offers its latest update on the LCS program, via its official blog. There are a number of specific details re: the doings of LCS 1-3, but overall, it boils down to: “All is well. Really.” Sources: USN Navy Live, “LCS: Latest Update”.

July 20/13: LCS 1. USS Freedom limps back into port in Singapore after an overheated diesel generator took out propulsion during a helicopter VERTREP with USNS Ceasar Chavez [T-AKE 14]. The ship’s overall power stayed on, and the supply run was completed, but it had to pull out of planned Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercises with the Singaporean Navy.

Exhaust leaks in the turbochargers on 2 generators will require turbocharger replacement, and the generators will require further troubleshooting in Singapore. The ship has had similar problems before on its trip – see March 19-29/13, May 21/13 entries. Just another successful deployment. Defense News | Reuters.

LCS 1: Shutdown off Singapore

July 19/13: LCS 2. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a sole-source $7.5 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification, to provide engineering and management services in support of USS Independence’s post-shakedown availability. All funds are committed immediately, using FY 2013 RDT&E budgets; $602,083 will expire on Sept 30/13.

Work will be performed in Bath, ME (55%), and San Diego, CA (45%), and is expected to be complete by March 2014. The USN Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair in Bath, Maine manages the contract (N00024-09-G-2301, ER09).

June 27/13: LCS 9. The official keel-laying ceremony for the future USS Little Rock is held at Marinette Marine Corp. in Marinette, WI. Lockheed Martin.

June 26/13: LCS 8. The official keel-laying ceremony for the future USS Montgomery is held at Austal’s yard in Mobile, AL. Given modern ship-building methods, 36 of the 37 modules for the ship are already under construction. Austal.

June 6/13: Naming. The Secretary of the Navy names the next 2 LCS ships.

The Freedom Class LCS 15 Billings is named after the city in Montana. The Independence Class LCS 16 Tulsa is named after the city in Oklahoma. US DoD.

May 24/13: SAR. The Pentagon finally releases its Dec 31/12 Selected Acquisitions Report [PDF].

“Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) – Program costs decreased $3,485.0 million (-9.3%) from $37,440.5 million to $33,955.5 million, due primarily to the decision to purchase 3 fewer ships resulting in a quantity decrease from 53 to 50 ships (-$2,945.7 million) and associated schedule and estimating allocations (+$150.0 million). Additional decreases were attributable to the application of new outyear escalation indices ($-1,050.6 million), realignment of LCS in the 30-year shipbuilding plan in FY 2019 to FY 2034 (-$519.8 million), and adjustments to the seaframe requirements estimate in FY 2012 to FY 2018 (-$406.3 million). These decreases were partially offset by the application of revised escalation indices (+1,216.4 million) and pricing changes for trainer and battle spare requirements (+$90.6 million).”

So, let’s see if we have this straight. Cost escalation indices during the budgeting period add over $1.2 billion, which seems to be a common theme among many SAR reports this period. Then, as soon as we leave the budgeting period, something magically changes and the program will save over $1 billion due to the same indices. That seems preposterous, and doesn’t fit any trends we’re aware of, but we’re open to a convincing explanation. If someone out there has one, we’ll print it.

SAR – Fewer ships & implausible accounting

May 22/13: User Interfaces matter. Respected Navy blog Information Dissemination takes note of a FY 2014 markup in the budget, and explains why rationalization to a single radar and combat system will likely leave both Saab and GDC4S out in the cold. From “House FY14 Mark“:

“Saab North America has a problem. They supposedly have this really great radar…. the problem is the radar is tied to the combat system on the Austal variant of the LCS, and that combat system has a fatal flaw typical of software development in government. The UI is terrible…. The surface warfare community has a user interface into the combat system that is standard across the entire AEGIS line of warships. The Freedom class version has a combat system that uses a very similar interface…. Instead of making the combat system user interface look and feel like every other combat system in the fleet at the User Interface level, the LCS-2 combat system insists their user interface is better.

….AEGIS is government owned. These folks who complain about Lockheed Martin’s monopoly in the Navy on the combat system are given chance after chance to compete, but they fail every time because no matter how good the technology is under the covers – and sometimes it is really fantastic – they lose to Lockheed Martin because they refuse to imitate the user experience of AEGIS that every sailor in the Navy is comfortable with. As an IT guy who develops enterprise systems for government, I laugh when observing a classic mistake contractors do far too often, and all I can say is these companies get exactly what they deserve when they get nothing. It isn’t the Saab North American radar. That radar might be legitimately great, but it doesn’t matter at all. The real problem is the software folks who insist their way of doing user interfaces for the US Navy is better than the way everyone in the US Navy does it. That’s just stupid!”

User Interfaces matter!

May 21/13: LCS 1. More problems push the ship pierside again in Singapore, as ship’s force inspection reveals rust on 2 of the reduction gear casings. The suggestion is that the oil has formed emulsions and lost some of its lubricating quality, as a result of maintenance that wasn’t performed quickly enough after the late April reduction gear seawater cooler failure. Sources: Information Dissemination, “Camo Gray and Never Underway”.

LCS 1

May 7/13: USN Report. Bloomberg gets its hands on a March 9/12 confidential draft report prepared for CNO Adm. Greenert by Rear Adm. Samuel Perez. This document is separate from USN Commander of Surface Forces Vice-Adm. Copeman’s “Vision for a 2025 Surface Fleet”, which recommended a full set of weapon for LCS (q.v. March 18/13 entry). Perez’ report is broader, but his conclusions are similar: serious gaps between ship capabilities and the missions the Navy will need LCS to execute. Key areas of concern include:

Manning: “The minimal-manning level and subsequent fatigue result in significant operational and safety impacts, with notable degradation of crew readiness, performance levels and quality of life.” USS Freedom has since added 20 more berthings for its initial deployment, bringing total crew to 100 (40 core + 25 aviation + 15 mission package + 20).

Armament: Perez shares Copeman’s reservations about the LCS’ armament, and points out that Iran alone has 67 Fast Attack Craft that carry anti-ship missiles with a range of over 5 miles. Any one of them can strike LCS ships without direct retaliation, and deliver disabling hits.

CONOPS: He also cites the lack of a clear LCS concept of operations, and notes that getting all of the right people and equipment on station to swap a mission module can take several weeks, instead of the advertised 96 hours. As a result, the concept “no longer has the tactical utility envisioned by the original designers.”

Navigation: Finally, Perez points out that the Independence Class trimaran’s width “may be a navigational challenge in narrow waterways and tight harbors,” though Bloomberg’s account doesn’t quantify that in any way.

The disturbing thing about these reports isn’t their conclusions. It’s the fact that these conclusions have been obvious for years, and have been pointed out for years, while US Navy leadership pretended that everything was fine. That’s still the Navy’s M.O., and CNO Greenert dismissed questions by saying that “study is over a year old – we’ve done a lot since then”. Which doesn’t address what they’ve done to change the conclusions of the study. In a number of critical areas, the answer is “nothing” or “not much.” Perez Report Executive Summary [PDF] | Bloomberg | The Hill | Military.com | USNI, “Perez Report: Many in LCS Program Have Forgotten Key Fundamentals”.

Perez Report

May 2/13: New waterjets for LCS-1 class. LCS 5 Miwaukee will be the first Freedom Class ship to try out a set of 4 new waterjets. The technology was developed by Rolls-Royce Naval Marine in Walpole, MA, in collaboration with the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and the Naval Surface Warfare Center’s Carderock Division. The joint project under ONR’s Future Naval Capabilities program began in 2007, and the April delivery to Marinette Marine marked its successful completion. The waterjets will be made in the United States, with primary manufacturing at Rolls-Royce facilities in Walpole, MA and Pascagoula, MS.

The new 22MW Axial-Flow Waterjet Mk-1 can reportedly move nearly 500,00 gallons of seawater per minute, providing more thrust per unit than the current commercial waterjets. Researchers believe the smaller, more efficient waterjets will help the LCS avoid excessive maintenance costs and ship component damage associated with cavitation. On the other hand, Information Dissemination points out an issue:

“Waterjets are incredibly loud, as in they can be so loud that a ship with waterjets is probably going to significantly reduce the effectiveness of a bow sonar…. there is no bow mounted sonar [on LCS] and waterjets is why there never will be…. ONR is going to deliver super waterjets, which may increase the speed of LCS a knot or two, who knows. Here is the problem though – waterjets are still loud like a rock concert, and one of the primary missions of the LCS is to hunt littoral submarines.

When will this program start being about mission and stop being about features?”

Sources: USN, “New Waterjets Could Propel LCS to Greater Speeds” | Rolls Royce, Feb 21/12 release. | Information Dissemination, “More Speed!”

April 25/13: Support. CACI Technologies Inc. in Chantilly, VA receives a $20.1 million contract modification for professional support services in support of PEO LCS (Program Executive Office Littoral Combat Ships). They’ll help with program management and acquisition support, technical and engineering support, business and financial management support, and logistics support.

Work will be performed in Washington DC (89.9%); Norfolk, VA (4.2%); San Diego, CA (2.2%); Panama City, FL (1.8%); Newport, RI (1.3%); and Monterey, CA (0.6%), and is expected to be complete by October 2013. Just $362,308 are being committed immediately, and $181,334 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-13-C-6322).

April 21/13: Thailand. Lockheed Martin’s MMCS Freedom Class derivative loses the competition, as the Royal Thai Navy picks South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering. DSME won with their DW 3000H proposal, which builds on experience gained with ROKN projects like the FFX Incheon Class frigates. Bangkok Post.

Loss in Thailand

April 15/13: General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $12.6 million contract modification, exercising Independence Class Design Services for LCS 6 and following ships. Work includes baseline design services, class documentation services, class engineering studies, cost estimating support, LCS ship transition, and a liaison role for ship construction and post delivery.

Work will be performed in Bath, Maine (52%); Pittsfield, MA (47%); and Mobile, AL (1%), and is expected to be complete by June 2014. It’s completely funded by the FY 2012 Shipbuilding and Conversion budget (N00024-09-C-2302).

April 12/13: LCS 3. As Coronado was conducting a full-power demonstration and running at high speed when insulation on the starboard diesel exhaust first smoldered, then ignited. The fire was reportedly “extinguished immediately.” All fires at sea are serious, but this one was pretty minor. The question is whether it happens again during full-speed trials. KPBS.

Minor fire

April 12/13: Naming. 2 LCS ships are among the 7 named by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who actually stuck to class naming conventions this time instead of veering into political partisanship.

The Freedom Class LCS 13 Wichita is named in honor of Kansas’ largest city, while the Independence Class LCS 14 Manchester is named for one of New Hampshire’s industrial centers. Pentagon.

April 8/13: Arming LCS. Austal VP Craig Hooper says it’s quite possible to arm the LCS-2 Independence Class with effective anti-ship weapons and vertical launch cells, which isn’t exactly a surprise since that has been in Austal brochures:

“You want Harpoon? I can give you eight to 16. You want VLS, 75mm gun? OK we can do it…. but is that the right path? If we hand over all the available margin on LCS to legacy weapons… do we risk losing the opportunity to exploit the changes that are coming in the war at sea?”

As with all things, there is a balance point. It isn’t at all obvious why a quad Harpoon launcher topside, or a 76mm gun with the ability to launch long-range shells, or an 8-cell VLS, must precludes mission module space in a class that has a lot of it. USN Director of Surface Warfare Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden doesn’t see an armament problem at all, even in the current undergunned state, saying “I’m the keeper of the keys for requirements. And I am here to tell you that LCS meets the requirements.”

A more thoughtful response comes from Bryan McGrath at ID, who notes that the last US Navy surface ship built to fire anti-ship missiles was USS Porter [DDG 78], the last Arleigh Burke Flight I destroyer. Every Flight II/IIA destroyer all the way up to DDG 116 has omitted those launchers, and every FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigate in USN service has removed theirs. Meanwhile, fleets like China’s have invested heavily in anti-ship missiles that work at longer and longer ranges, and routinely mount them on ships as small as corvettes. As DDG-51 Flight I destroyers have to retire due to age, the disparity will just get worse, and LCS is a contributor to the “out-sticked” problem rather than a solution. Military.com | Information Dissemination.

April 5/13: Review? Military.com reports that US Navy leaders plan to discuss the LCS and its fit in the future fleet at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space Symposium on April 8th. Word is that they’re considering a program review.

April 1/13: LCS 3. Lockheed Martin Mission System and Training in Baltimore, MD receives a $17 million cost-plus-award-fee order for USS Fort Worth’s post-shakedown work, including renewed post-repair trials. The ship was commissioned on Sept 22/12. This is in addition to the $12.7 million contract for post-shakedown planning (q.v. Oct 25/12).

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by July 2013. The full amount is committed immediately, using FY 2006, 2012, and 2013 Shipbuilding and Conversion funding. The USN Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair in Bath, ME manages the contract (N00024-12-G-2317).

March 29/13: YGBKM. There’s a lot poor reporting out there on defense issues, and we don’t always call it out, but sometimes the standards are so poor that it’s necessary. Former ballet dancer Allison Barrie’s FOX News “reporting” on LCS’ Pacific arrival is in that category. Where to begin? MH-60 helicopters can’t carry heavyweight torpedoes, or key mine clearance equipment. The mine warfare module touted in the article isn’t ready, and the surface warfare mission module is only effective against motorboats. And what does “Should a battle erupt, Freedom can act as a hub to tie together sea, air and land assets” even mean?

The article paints a picture of a ship that can perform a number of specialized missions at a high level, right now – and almost none of it is true. A dash of skepticism and about 15 minutes of Google searching would have revealed the many and serious holes in this piece, especially given recent coverage in several major media outlets. Unfortunately, no-one at FOX seems to have put in the time or oversight. Falling below even the New York Times’ standards on defense issues should be a source of shame. FOX News | “Someone Help Allison Please“.

March 28/13: GAO Report. The US GAO tables its “Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs“. Which is actually a review for 2012, plus time to compile and publish. GAO designates 16/19 critical LCS technologies as mature, and the 3 omissions are either minor differences (Freedom Class retrieval system) or unsatisfiable any time soon. If a 30-year ABS certification somehow fails to satisfy the 20 year operational hull life requirement, the only solution seems to be “wait 20 years and ask us again in 2032.”

For the Freedom Class, GAO says that the cracking problem “occurred either in high stress areas or were due to poor workmanship.” They’ve been repaired. The ship has also had corrosion problems in the mission zone due to a poor stern door seal, and class design changes were made in response to both issues. They do seem to be finding quite a few issues in this design, but LCS 5 & 7 accomplished production readiness and integrated baseline reviews. LCS 5 is listed as 53% complete, and LCS 7 is listed as 37% complete.

Austal’s Independence Class, “will now [add] a corrosion protection system similar to [the Freedom Class] to mitigate the corrosion and will backfit it on existing hulls.” That’s an unusual item to casually omit from 1 LCS class, but whatever. LCS 4 has experienced construction delays to summer 2013, but the program office says that these issues are resolved now. LCS 6 & 8 accomplished production readiness and integrated baseline reviews: LCS 6 is listed as 49% complete, and LCS 8 is listed as 24% complete.

In October 2012, the Navy rescinded their requirement to conduct a Milestone C/ Low Rate Production LCS review. That means there will be 24 ships under contract before there’s a systematic review to support a production decision, in FY 2019.

March 19-29/13: LCS 1. USS Freedom has now had 3 power outages during the ship’s transit from Pearl Harbor, HI to Guam. This isn’t the 1st time, vid. April 23/12 entry.

On this trip, Aviation Week reports that the 10-12 minute March 16th outage may have been caused by water getting into an SSDG diesel generator’s exhaust system. March 20th saw an 11 minute outage that was also supposedly related to an SSDG problem, and March 21st was the 3rd outage. The ship eventually makes it to Guam on March 29th, and the crew was able to work through the issues themselves, but loss of power is a serious problem if it doesn’t happen at a convenient time. Aviation Week | Marianas Variety || US Navy | Guam PDN.

LCS 1 loses power

March 19/13: 30mm Mk46s. General Dynamics Land Systems Inc. in Woodbridge, VA receives a $25.7 million contract option for eight 30mm MK46 MOD 2 gun turrets, including associated spares and shore based parts. It covers 2 gun weapon systems for the LPD 17 class, and 6 more to equip LCS 5, 6, and 7. The guns are part of the “surface warfare” mission package.

Work will be performed in Woodbridge, VA (43%); Tallahassee, FL (20%); Lima, OH (14%); Westminster, MD (11%); Sterling Heights, MI (10%); Scranton, PA (2%), and is expected to be completed by November 2014. All funding is committed immediately (N00024-10-C-5438).

March 18/13: USN Memo – Up-gun LCS. USNI reports that USN Commander of Surface Forces Vice Adm. Tom Copeman has proposed changes to the Navy’s LCS strategy. In late 2012, he reportedly submitted the classified memo “Vision for the 2025 Surface Fleet,” which calls for an “up-gunned, multimission variant” of a single LCS class going forward. Some observers have interpreted this as halving the 55 ship LCS buy, but that doesn’t necessarily follow. It’s perfectly possible to buy the same number of ships, with just 1 go-forward design.

With respect to the multi-mission requirement, both LCS classes have been promoted abroad with proper weapon fit-outs and upgraded sensors. A number of radar fit-outs would be possible, but the ship designs would have 2 important differences. Lockheed Martin’s Freedom Class has less mission module space to give, but could host strike-length Mk.41 vertical launch cells that can launch Tomahawk cruise missiles and the largest SM-x family air and missile defense hardware. Austal’s Independence Class could retain much more mission module space after installing serious weapons, but would be restricted to tactical-length cells that would still be big enough for RIM-162 ESSM air defense missiles, and for VL-ASROC anti-submarine rockets.

There is some precedent. Undersecretary Bob Work’s draft assessment of the LCS program (vid Jan 29/13) explicitly cites the old Spruance Class destroyers. Later versions added a 61-cell VLS battery and 8 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, while subtracting a dedicated ASROC launcher and keeping its pair of 5-inch guns, 2 Mk15 Phalanx 20mm CIWS defenses, and RIM-7 Sea Sparrow air defense missiles. The likely radar and combat system changes would make LCS re-configuration more substantial, but even a tiny 8-cell VLS and provision for anti-ship missiles would significantly change the LCS’ tactical capabilities. USNI | Bloomberg | Defense News.

Copeman Report

March 15/13: Support. Lockheed Martin MS2 in Baltimore, MD received a $32.8 million contract modification for Freedom Class service efforts and special studies, analyses and reviews. “Lockheed Martin will assess engineering and production challenges and evaluate the cost and schedule risks from affordability efforts to reduce LCS acquisition and lifecycle costs.”

All funds will come from US Navy FY 2012 Shipbuilding and Conversion, and are committed immediately. Work will be performed in Hampton, VA (32%); Marinette, WI (27%); Moorestown, N.J. (22%), and Washington, DC (19%), and is expected to be complete by March 2014. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-11-C-2300).

March 15/13: Support. Austal USA LLC in Mobile, AL received a $20 million contract modification for Independence Class service efforts and special studies, analyses and reviews. “Austal USA… will assess engineering and production challenges and evaluate the cost and schedule risks from affordability efforts to reduce LCS acquisition and lifecycle costs.”

All funds will come from US Navy FY 2012 Shipbuilding and Conversion, and are committed immediately. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (72%) and Pittsfield, MA (28%), and is expected to complete by March 2014. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-11-C-2301).

March 4/13: 2 Freedom Class. Lockheed Martin MS2 in Baltimore, MD receives $696.6 million to build 2 FY 2013 Littoral Combat Ships. Note that this doesn’t include the mission modules needed to make the ships useful, or weapons provided as government-furnished equipment.

Work will be performed in Marinette, WI (56%); Walpole, MA (14%); Washington, DC (12%); Oldsmar, FL (4%); Beloit, WI (3%); Moorestown, NJ (2%); Minneapolis, MI (2%) and various locations of less than 1% each totaling 7%, and is expected to be complete by July 2018 (N00024-11-C-2300). See also Lockheed Martin.

March 4/13: 2 Independence Class. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives $681.7 million for 2 FY 2013 Littoral Combat Ships. Note that this doesn’t include the mission modules needed to make the ships useful, or weapons provided as government-furnished equipment.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (51%); Pittsfield, MA (13%); Cincinnati, Ohio (4%); Baltimore, MD (2%); Burlington, VT (2%); New Orleans, LA (2%) and various locations of less than 2% each totaling 26%. Work is expected to be complete by June 2018 (N00024-11-C-2301). See also GDLCS site.

4 LCS ships: 2 of each class

March 4/13: LCS 4. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $12.3 million contract modification, exercising an option for post-delivery support of LCS 4, the Independence Class ship USS Coronado. Bath Iron Works will perform the planning and implementation of deferred design changes identified during the construction period, which are necessary to support Coronado’s sail-away and follow-on post-delivery test and trials.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (76%); Bath, ME (18%); and Pittsfield, MA (6%), and is expected to be complete by February 2014. The full amounts are committed immediately, using FY 2009 Shipbuilding and Conversion funds (N00024-09-C-2302).

March 1/13: Deployment. USS Freedom [LCS-1] leaves San Diego to deploy to Singapore and Southeast Asia for about 8 months. It’s the ship’s first regular deployment, though it has been sent on active missions in the Caribbean during its training and post-shakedown phases. USN All Hands, incl. video.

1st official operational deployment

Feb 8/13: LCS 2. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $6.9 million cost-plus award fee contract modification. They’ll provide engineering, management, advance planning and design work to support post shakedown work on LCS 2, the first-of-class USS Independence. Efforts will include program management, advance planning, engineering, design, material kitting, liaison and scheduling (see also May 21/12’s $7 million entry).

Work will be performed in Bath, ME (90%) and Pittsfield, MA (10%), and is expected to be complete by April 2013. All funds are committed, using FY 2013 RDT&E funding. The US Navy’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair in Bath, ME manages this contract (N00024-09-G-2301).

Jan 30/13: Thai competition. IHS Jane’s reports that Thailand is talking about buying 3 Chinese Type 054 Jiangkai-II frigates from Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding, plus technology transfer to enable maintenance, repair, and overhaul and to locally produce unspecified components under licence. Thailand already operates some Chinese-built ships, and its 2 Nareusan Class frigates boast the very unusual feature of having American & European systems and weapons on board.

They see the Chinese ships as an option that could fit their total $1 billion budget, but Lockheed Martin has confirmed that they’re competing, too, with a variant of the Freedom Class LCS. Further competition can be expected from European manufacturers like TKMS (MEKO), Damen Schelde (SIGMA), and possibly DCNS (Gowind); and South Korea (FFX Incheon Class) adds a new international option in this category.

Jan 29/13: Work in progress. Undersecretary of the Navy, Robert O. Work offers a working paper draft of an in-depth report entitled “The Littoral Combat Ship: How We Got Here, and Why”. It’s soon withdrawn from the US Naval War College Site, as he works to incorporate feedback into the final edit. It is accurately characterized as

“…the most thorough, honest, and detailed forensic outline of how LCS came pierside…. one-stop-shopping for anyone who would like to know the significant decision points in the process.”

Work is an LCS supporter. His outline is honest, but his conclusions are debatable. A fuller recounting and analysis is deserving of its own separate piece. DID awaits the final report, but offers this link to this interim document in the meantime. Commander Salamander naval blog | Scribd copy of the draft.

Undersec Report draft

Jan 22/13: Industrial. Austal announces a strategic partnership with Sembcorp Marine subsidiary Sembawang Shipyard Pte. Ltd., in Singapore. “Austal and Sembawang Shipyard will together provide rapid, high quality support specifically tailored to the US Navy’s fleet of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and Joint High Speed Vessels (JHSV), both of which are expected to operate in the region.”

True, though the first example will be a Lockheed Martin ship.

Jan 17/13: DOT&E testing. The Pentagon releases the FY 2012 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The LCS is included, and so are its Mission Modules/ Pakages. It does not paint a hopeful picture, demonstrating very serious mission package deficiencies that could and should have been addressed years ago. With respect to the ships themselves:

Freedom Class: During sea trials following post-shakedown availability, the ship developed a shaft seal leak and took 6 weeks to repair, but was graded as fit for service during special INSURV trials in May 2012. LCS 3 has made some design changes, and isn’t reporting any of the serious hull cracks found on USS Freedom. Final design isn’t expected to sail until LCS 5 Milwaukee.

Independence Class: Getting a system to combat corrosion (see Aug 12/11 and earlier), and an Impressed Current Cathodic Protection system is planned for the water jet tunnels on LCS 4. The Navy also continues to work through problems associated with the Twin Boom Extensible Crane on LCS 2. Final design isn’t expected to sail until LCS 6 Jackson.

General: LCS has problems fighting while maneuvering. “Ship operations at high speeds cause vibrations that make accurate use of the 57 mm gun very difficult.” Overall, “LCS is not expected to be survivable in that it is not expected to maintain mission capability after taking a significant hit in a hostile combat environment.” Crewing levels continue to worsen this vulnerability, while impairing capability:

“Crew size can limit the mission capabilities of the ship. Core crew size provides little flexibility to support more than one operation at a time; unplanned manning losses and corrective maintenance further exacerbate the problem. The Navy is reviewing manning levels and installing 20 additional bunks in LCS 1 for flexibility during its deployment [DID: vid. July 2/12 entry], but is not changing the final manning levels.”

LCS has been given class-specific survivability designations, rather than using the Navy’s general Level 1, Level 2, etc. LCS LVL 1 is an orderly abandon ship. LCS LVL 2 allows the ship to limp out of the area, while operating communications and small caliber weapons. LCS LVL 3 includes some remaining mission capability. The USN will conduct Total Ship Survivability Trials on LCS 3 and 4, but won’t conduct shock trials until the final LCS 5 & 6 designs sail. DOT&E | WIRED.

DOT&E 2012 report

Jan 10/13: Program update. Rear Admiral Thomas Rowden offers an update covering the LCS program and its mission modules.

USS Freedom is preparing for her Asian deployment, and LCS 3 USS Fort Worth is preparing to undergo a Post Delivery Test and Trials period. USS Independence is testing the Mine Counter-Measure module, and LCS 4 Coronado is under construction and slated for summer 2013 delivery.

On the mission module front, they’re now referred to as “mission packages.” The vestigal Surface Warfare MP is scheduled for Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in FY 2014. USS Independence [LCS 2] has demonstrated successful launch and recovery of offboard vehicles for the Mine Counter Measures MP, which is also slated for IOC in 2014. The ASW MP is working on “[i]ntegration of the launch and recovery system into the hull, and won’t reach IOC until FY 2016. USN’s Navy Live blog.

Jan 10/13: PEO support. CACI Technologies Inc. in Chantilly, VA receives a $20.6 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract to support PEO Littoral Combat Ships. All funds are committed immediately, but $4.4 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13.

Work will be performed in Washington ,DC (89.9%); Norfolk, VA (4.2%); San Diego, CA (2.2%); Panama City, FL (1.8%); Newport, RI (1.3%); and Monterey, CA (0.6%), and is expected to be complete by April 2013. This contract was not competitively procured, per the sole-source allowances in 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1), as implemented in FAR 6.302-1 (N00024-13-C-6322).

Dec 26/12: LCS 1 fixes. Aviation Week reports that the US Navy has made a number of fixes to problems identified in their May report (q.v. April 23/12 entry), after vehemently denying that accounts of those problems were true.

Fixes include augmentation of the ship’s anti-corrosion system, complete repainting of the main machinery room and piping that had not been previously painted, non-destructive testing of piping that was then reviewed by the the American Bureau of Shipping, and changes to weld procedures and Non-Destructive Testing procedures on LCS-3 and subsequent Freedom Class ships. Fixes to the RIX air compressors don’t appear to have been effective, based on “ship sources.” They may be replaced with Sauer products. Program officials also supposedly redesigned the Isotta Fraschini ship’s service diesel engines (SSDGs) that have been causing power problems – but subsequent events indicate that it hasn’t fixed the problems. Maybe Finmeccanica shouldn’t have been given such carte blanche by Lockheed Martin to specify its own products.

Dec 26/12: Support. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives $13.5 million for planning yard services to support LCS-2 and LCS-4, the first Independence Class ships. Services will include: vendor training and crew familiarization; in-service engineering support; trainer support; availability maintenance advanced planning; long lead time material planning and procurement; material warehousing; logistics product updates; and the class sustainment management.

Work will be performed in Bath, ME, and is expected to be complete by September 2013. $9.4 million is committed immediately, and will expire at the end of the current fiscal year on Sept 30/13 (N00024-12-G-4330).

Dec 20/12: Support. Lockheed Martin MS2 in Baltimore, MD receives a $12.1 million contract modification, exercising an option for Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship core class services. All contract funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (36%), Hampton, VA (30%), Washington, DC (23%), and Marinette, WI (11%), and is expected to be complete by December 2013 (N00024-11-C-2300).

Dec 20/12: Support. Austal USA LLC in Mobile, AL receives an $8.1 million contract modification, exercising an option for Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) core class services. They’ll assess engineering and production challenges, and evaluate the cost and schedule risks of affordability changes to reduce LCS acquisition and lifecycle costs. All contract funds are committed immediately.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (51%) and Pittsfield, MA (49%), and is expected to be complete by December 2013 (N00024-11-C-2301).

Oct 25/12: LCS 3. Lockheed Martin MS2 in Baltimore, MD receives a $12.7 million cost-plus-award-fee order to provide engineering and management services for advance planning and design to support of LCS-3 Forth Worth’s post-shakedown availability.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by July 2013. The USN supervisor of shipbuilding, conversion, and repair in Bath, ME manages the contract (N00024-12-G-2317).

Oct 5/12: Controversy. USMC Lt. Col. John Sayen pens an LCS article for TIME’s Battleland that minces few words, while comparing LCS to specific foreign ship classes:

“The Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is not only staggeringly overpriced and chronically unreliable but – even if it were to work perfectly – cannot match the combat power of similar sized foreign warships costing only a fraction as much…. About the only threat the LCS might handle is the “swarms” of Iranian machinegun and RPG-carrying speedboats in the Persian Gulf…. When asked why the LCS has sacrificed so much for speed, Navy spokesmen tend to become vague.”

The US Navy fires back in short order, saying that:

“…the LCS was never designed to protect other ships or to support troops ashore. That’s not its job. Its job is to protect the sea base and high value naval units from swarming boats, hunt down and sink diesel submarines, and clear mines in littoral waters.”

Some of their other shots miss, but they’re right about a few things. In terms of major points, shipbuilding is to naval vessel standards, not commercial standards as Sayen claimed, a change that cost the Navy a good chunk of money on initial ships. That argument ducks the issue of lower survivability standards, however, which are a legitimate point of debate. The Navy’s contention re: superiority to 1980s-era FFG-7 frigates that have had all major weapons removed in a bit disingenuous, and it would be useful to understand the basis for their claims of superiority over much smaller and cheaper 1990s-era Osprey Class minesweepers. TIME Battleland | USN’s Navy Live blog | Military.com.

Sept 28/12: Support. Lockheed Martin MS2 in Washington, DC receives an $8.5 million contract modification, finalizing the contract for Freedom Class FY 2013 engineering support services. Work includes technical library services, logistics and technical data and documentation, quality management services in preparing of test and inspection requirements, quality assurance inspection, collecting and analyzing test data, and otherwise working to standardize the class’ follow-on availability periods.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by September 2013. All funds expire on Sept 30/12, at the end of FY 2012. The USN’s Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego, CA manages the contract (N00024-12-G-4329).

FY 2012

$1.4 billion for LCS 9-12; Freedom Class breakdowns & questions – but program looks “unstoppable”; Navy establishes LCS Council to get it ready for deployment to Singapore; LCS 10-12 named; LCS 4 launched; LCS 5 keel laid; 20 New berths for Freedom Class; Cost is #1 now.

LCS 4 launch
(click to view full)

Sept 28/12: Support. Lockheed Martin MS2 in Washington, DC wins a $7.5 million modification, as part of finalizing the contract for Freedom Class FY 2013 engineering support services.

All funds expire on Sept 30/12, at the end of FY 2012. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to complete by September 2013. The USN’s Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego, CA manages the contract (N00024-12-G-4329).

Sept 28/12: Support. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $7 million modification, finalizing the contract for LCS Independence Class FY 2013 engineering support services. Work includes technical library services, logistics and technical data and documentation, quality management services in preparing of test and inspection requirements, quality assurance inspection, collecting and analyzing test data, and otherwise working to standardize the class’ follow-on availability periods.

All funds expire on Sept 30/12, at the end of FY 2012. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA. The USN’s Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego, CA manages the contract (N00024-12-G-4330).

Sept 22/12: LCS 3. The Freedom Class ship USS Fort Worth is commissioned at the Port of Galveston, TX, and is officially placed in service. US Navy.

LCS 3 commissioned

Aug 22/12: LCS Council. The US Navy convenes an “LCS Council” of high-ranking officers, in order to ensure that the LCS is ready to deploy to Singapore in 2013, per its commitments, and that the USN is ready to support it properly. “Addressing the challenges identified by [preparatory USN] studies necessitates” this high-level group, in order to drive fixes in multiple places across the Navy.

It’s filled with brass: Vice Adm. Rick Hunt, director of the Navy Staff, as its chairman, and the following senior officers also on board: Vice Adm. Mark Skinner, Principal Military Deputy to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition; Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, commander, Naval Surface Forces; and Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy, commander, Naval Sea Systems Command. The Plan of Action and Milestones are due no later than Jan 31/13. USN Memo [PDF] | POGO.

Aug 16/12: “Directional instability”. POGO and Aviation Week find documents that detail problems keeping LCS 1 on a straight course. While ships do need some directional instability to maneuver well, but “a source close to the LCS program told POGO that the directional instability affected the crew’s ability to operate the Lockheed ship.”

Worse, the problem occurred just before the Navy went to Congress, asking for permission to buy both ship types. The documents show the Navy instructing people to either not talk about this problem, or minimize it. POGO.

June 1/12: LCS to Singapore. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta tells the 11th Annual Shangri-La Dialogue on security that “American littoral combat ships will be berthing in Singapore.” Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey goes on to detail the specifics a couple of days later, saying that there will be 4 LCS ships committed to Singapore for 6-10 month rotations, and will make port calls throughout the region. Pentagon | Pentagon follow-on.

Singapore chosen for deployments

May 31/12: Support. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $12.5 million cost-plus-fixed fee contract modification for LCS Independence Class design services. They’ll provide class baseline design services, class documentation services, class engineering studies, cost estimating support, LCS ship transition work, interim support services, and liaison for ship construction and post delivery with the class design agent for even-numbered ships from LCS 6 Jackson onward. This modification includes an option, which could bring its cumulative value of this modification to $25.1 million.

Work will be performed in Bath, ME (54%), Pittsfield, MA (45%), and Mobile, AL (1%). Work is expected to be complete by June 2014 (N00024-09-C-2302).

May 31/12: LCS 2. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Bath, ME receives a $7 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to provide engineering and management services for advance planning and design in support of LCS-2 USS Independence’s post-shakedown availability. Efforts will include program management, advance planning, engineering, design, material kitting, liaison, and scheduling.

Work will be performed in Bath, ME, and is expected to be complete by February 2013. This contract was not competitively procured by the USN’s Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair in Bath, ME (N00024-09-G-2301).

POGO Presentation
click for video

May 11/12: Push for GAO. House Armed Services Committee member Rep. Jackie Speier [D-CA] is leading a push to have the Congressional GAO audit office to review the LCS program. Rep. Duncan Hunter [R-CA] is also active in submitting LCS-related amendments that are critical of the Navy and its lack of disclosure. Speier says that:

“…serious flaws…. threaten the operational capabilities of the ship…. it’s disturbing that the Navy would accept a ship that fails to meet the basic requirements for a tugboat. The future of the fleet is corroding before our eyes.”

See: Maritime Executive | AOL Defense | The Hill.

April 23/12: POGO – cancel LCS-1 Class. The POGO NGO releases a series of Navy documents showing problems with the LCS-1 Freedom Class, which:

“…has been plagued by flawed designs and failed equipment since being commissioned, has at least 17 known cracks, and has repeatedly been beset by engine-related failures…. during those two outings: several vital components on the ship failed including, at some point in both trips, each of the four engines. In addition, there were shaft seal failures during the last trip,[22] which led to flooding. Additional new material… shows that the ship appears to have even more serious problems with critical ship-wide systems, including rampant corrosion and flooding….. The Navy has not been forthcoming with information about all of these problems.”

Aviation Week picks up on these allegations, and relates “extensive corrosion and manufacturing issues more recent and serious than anything the Pentagon or prime contractor Lockheed Martin has publicly acknowledged thus far,” including flaws in vital piping systems that are leaking. Their report is based on a guided tour of the ship in dry dock, as well as “sources intimately familiar with Freedom’s design, repairs and operations.” To make things worse, the ship has issues with underway speed. In moderate-severe Sea State 7 conditions, it’s no greater than 20 knots, with prohibitions against driving into head seas. Even in moderate Sea State 5 conditions, LCS 1 is restricted to 20 knots into head seas. POGO goes on to recommend that the USN adopt just 1 variant of the LCS, and further recommends canceling Lockheed Martin’s Freedom Class variant. POGO | Aviation Week | USNI Blog | Commander Salamander blog | U-T San Diego | POGO vs. the USN, side by side comparison.

Widespread issues with LCS 1

July 2/12: 20 more berths. Defense News reports that the Navy is acknowledging the obvious, and adding 20 more berths to USS Freedom. They’re not adding any more space, of course, but they will add 2 officer berths, 2 petty officer berths, and 16 enlisted berths. No decision has been made yet about USS Independence.

LCSs were intended to operate with a core crew of 40 sailors, plus a mission module detachment of 15 and an aviation detachment of 25. Each ship has a pair of 40-person crews (Blue and Gold), which will shift to 3 crews over time that can deploy in 4-month rotations. In order to use the additional berths, the manning plan also has to change.

Other LCS 1 Freedom Class upgrades will reportedly involve an Aqueous Film-Forming Foam system, improvements to stern ramp fender stanchions, removal of its retractable bitts; and more fire suppression sprinklers, tank level indicators, and pipe hangers. Those sorts of changes aren’t unusual for a ship at this stage.

May 22-24/12: Despite the PREINSURV report of May 7/12, The Special Trial takes place anyway with an overall good assessment. Because the Freedom was on the pier for repairs, its crew had spent too little time on it prior to the inspection, which explains some of the hiccups.

These repairs have addressed some problems like hull cracks (see April 11/11 entry) but other vexing issues remain unsolved since they have been spotted in 2008, such as water intrusion up the hawse pipe and through the aft stern doors. Navy Times.

May 7/12: A PRESINSURV report recommends not to proceed with a scheduled Special Trial, as they have found the crew unprepared with the inspection and unfamiliar with their ship. At least they had a positive attitude. It should be noted that a pre-inspection is supposed to find issues, in order to get all ducks in a row before the real deal. Gannett’s Navy Times | Information Dissemination has the verbatim memo.

April 8/12: Program unstoppable? The New York Times writes an article about the Littoral Combat Ship: “The Next War: Smaller Navy Ship Has a Rocky Past and Key Support.” The money paragraph:

“Analysts say an important factor driving the Navy and Congress is that the vessels the ships are meant to replace – frigates and minesweepers – are aging, and that there is little else in the pipeline. The combat ship is seen as too far along in production to be killed now. [Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-CA says] It’s one of those things that once the snowball goes down the hill, it just keeps rolling…. There’s no way I’m going to stop it.”

See: New York Times | DoD Buzz.

March 16/12: 4 x FY 2012 ships. The US Navy issues 2 major contracts for FY 2012 LCS ships. A $715 million contract modification to Lockheed Martin Corporation will build LCS 9 Little Rock and LCS 11 Sioux City at Marinette Marine Corporation in Marinette, WI. A $691.6 million contract modification to Austal USA will build LCS 10 Gabrielle Giffords and LCS 12 Omaha in Mobile, AL. Amounts are based on the competitive, LCS dual block buy contracts (vid. Dec 29/10), and factor in approved FY 2010-11 change orders to the designs. Note that these contracts cover just the base sea frames, and installation of separately-purchased “government furnished equipment” like weapons, etc. Mission modules in particular must be noted as an expensive “extra.”

At present, USS Freedom [LCS 1, Fr] is undergoing serious repairs at its homeport in San Diego, CA. USS Independence [LCS 2, In] is currently undergoing test and trials in Mayport, FL. Fort Worth [LCS 3, Fr] is under construction and planned to deliver in June 2012, and Coronado [LCS 4, In] is expected to deliver in early 2013. Milwaukee [LCS 5, Fr] and Jackson [LCS 6, In] are in the early stages of construction. Detroit [LCS 7, Fr] and Montgomery [LCS 8, In] are in pre-production stages. US Navy.

4 ships: 2 of each class

March 14/12: US NAVSEA issues a pair of contracts for a year of “special studies, analyses, review and Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class services… [to] assess engineering and production challenges and evaluate the cost and schedule risks from affordability efforts to reduce LCS acquisition and lifecycle costs.” Work will last until March 2013.

The award disparity between the Freedom (Lockheed) and Independence (Austal) classes is interesting, and calls to mind the AvWeek report that suggested the need for a fundamental redesign (Jan 30/12). Maritime Memos’ Tim Colton wonders what the heck the government is thinking with the whole award. “…[T]hese are fixed-price contracts: the contractors should be doing everything they can to reduce costs and schedule at their own expense.” Which is true, but lifecycle costs are a bigger fraction, and are entirely the Navy’s problem unless there’s a contract to address them. Of course, not picking 40+ knot speeds as a key requirement would have done a lot to reduce operating costs and boost range – but it’s too late for the Navy to do that now.

Lockheed Martin Corp in Baltimore, MD receives a $33.6 million option (N00024-11-C-2300), with work to be performed in Hampton, VA (32%); Marinette, WI (27%); Moorestown, NJ (22%); and Washington, DC (19%).

Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $19.7 million option (N00024-11-C-2301), with work to be performed in Mobile, AL (72%) and Pittsfield, MA (28%).

March 1/12: LCS 1. Gannett’s Navy Times:

“Barely a month after leaving dockyard hands, the Freedom, first of the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), is back [for a 6 week] dry dock in San Diego, this time to fix a broken shaft seal that caused minor flooding on board the ship [on Feb 1/12]… engineers from the Naval Sea Systems Command and Lockheed Martin… will pull the propeller shaft and examine the shaft and its seals to determine why and how the newly-installed seal broke. Repairs for the Freedom are covered under an Initial Support Plan contract with Lockheed-Martin…”

LCS 1 breakdown

Feb 15/12: LCS 11 & 12 named. US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus names the next 2 Littoral Combat Ships. He keeps politics out of this naming set, naming the Freedom Class ship LCS 11 Sioux City, and the Independence Class ship LCS 12 Omaha. US Navy | Washington Times.

Feb 10/12: LCS 10 named. US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus can’t seem to keep politics out of his ship names. He names LCS 10 after shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords [D-AZ], even though the naming convention for LCS ships has been cities. He did the same for Rep. John Murtha [D-PA] in the San Antonio Class LPDs.

Mabus’ politicized ship naming choices have drawn fire, to the point of sponsored bills and amendments that would add congressional oversight to SecNav’s traditional prerogative. Traditionally, there has been some level of politics in the process, but it has generally involved choices that had acceptance on both sides of the aisle. The Giffords naming would qualify, but coming after Mabus’ other choices, it’s raising the heat rather than dissipating it. US DoD | Austal.

Jan 30/12: Freedom Class a lemon? Aviation Week reports that after being given copies of Aviation Week Intelligence Network (AWIN) briefings the findings of Navy and industry reports, the set of defense analysts it probed believe that the Freedom Class may need to be fundamentally redesigned.

“The analysts also call for an investigation into how the ship was accepted in such – in their view – questionable shape…”

Jan 27/12: PM removed. LCS program manager Capt. Jeffrey Riedel is reassigned out of the program by LCS Program Executive Officer Rear Adm. James Murdoch, pending an investigation into allegations of “improper conduct.” Edward Foster will serve as the acting program manager until the investigation is complete, but even if the allegations are proven false, the report says that Riedel won’t be returning. Gannett’s Navy Times.

LCS PM removed

Jan 14/12: LCS 4 launch. LCS 4 is christened Coronado, after the California city near San Diego. Note that she is not yet USS Coronado. US Navy.

Dec 19/11: Support. Lockheed Martin in Baltimore, MD receives an $11.9 million contract modification, exercising an option for core Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class services until December 2012. They’ll assess engineering, and provide baseline and configuration management services during construction, post-delivery, test and trials for the Freedom Class.

Work will be performed in Hampton, VA (20%); Virginia Beach, VA (20%); Washington, DC (15%); Marinette, WI (13%); Moorestown, NJ (12%); Baltimore, MD (10%); Manassas, VA (7%); and Arlington, VA (3%). Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, DC, is the contracting activity (N00024-11-C-2300).

Dec 19/11: Support. Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives an $11.9 million contract modification, exercising an option for core Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class services until December 2012. They’ll assess engineering, and provide baseline and configuration management services during construction, post-delivery, test and trials for the Independence Class.

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (30%); Pittsfield, MA (30%); Malvern, PA (20%); Newport News, VA (13%); and various locations of less than 2% each, totaling 7% (N00024-11-C-2301).

Dec 19/11: LCS 3. Lockheed Martin in Baltimore, MD receives a $15.2 million contract modification, exercising an option for LCS 3 (future USS Fort Worth) post-delivery support. Lockheed Martin will perform the planning and implementation of deferred design changes that have been identified during the construction period, and are deemed necessary to support Fort Worth’s sailaway and follow-on post delivery test and trials.

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (39%); Marinette, Wis. (34%); Hampton, VA (18%); and Washington, DC (9%). Work is expected to be completed by December 2012. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, DC, is the contracting activity (N00024-09-C-2303).

Dec 16/11: Philippines deployment? Discussions continue re: deployment of LCS ships to Singapore (vid. Dec 4/10), and reports suggest that the Philippines is also involved in discussions with the USA. The moves are said to be part of a broader US strategy to “pivot” its military focus toward the Pacific, and away from Europe. Reuters.

Nov 7/11: New LCS Office. Inside the Navy reports [subscription] that PEO-LCS has created an office dedicated to introducing the new ships to the fleet. It will be responsible for coordinating logistics, training, mission package support and ship sustainment. That sort of thing has been done before elsewhere in the Navy and US Military Sealift Command, but it’s new to the LCS following the July 11/11 merger of the ship and mission module PEOs.

Nov 2/11: LCS 5 keel. Team Lockheed Martin holds the official keel-laying ceremony for LCS 5 Milwaukee, their 3rd Freedom Class ship. Lockheed Martin.

LCS induction office

Oct 24/11: LCS 3. Lockheed Martin announces that LCS 3 Fort Worth has passed builder’s trials, and returned to Marinette Marine on Lake Michigan to prepare for Navy acceptance trials.

Oct 20/11: Cost is #1. LCS PEO Rear Adm. James Murdoch tells reporters that cost is now the overriding priority for the program, which means avoiding any changes unless there’s no choice. The flip side is that all of the 2 classes’ current weaknesses end up more or less frozen as is.

The mission modules will continue to evolve. He says that the Navy is still trying to reduce the Independence Class’ [LCS-2] preparation time to employ some of its mine-clearing mission package, so it can meet the Navy requirement to clear a (classified) area in a (classified) amount of time of a (classified) number of mines. They’re also taking steps to replace the anti-submarine USVs with simpler towed sonar arrays, which can be run at speed. Aviation Week.

FY 2011

Program shifts to dual-buy; Program SAR to $37.48 billion; LCS 5-8 bought; PEO LCS created; USS Independence corrosion issues; USS Freedom cracking issues; LCS 5-9 named; Marinette opens new facility; Saudi interest?; Official reports.

Named.
(click for cutaway)

Sept 20/11: Sub-contractors. Saab and its American subsidiary Saab Sensis Corp. announce the official Sea Giraffe contract from General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, who is the Independence Class’ platform system engineering agent. Saab’s Sea Giraffe has always been the planned radar for the LCS-2 Independence Class, and has been ordered for the first 2 ships; this just makes it official for all ships under the new contract.

The 3-D Sea Giraffe AMB is used for aerial scans, water surface scans, and weapon guidance. Land-based counterparts can even back-track incoming rockets and ballistic projectiles to their firing point, and Saab confirms reports that the naval radar can do so as well. Saab Sensis manages the US technical baseline for Sea Giraffe AMB. They will provide US based program management hardware and software adaptations, system integration, testing, and total life-cycle support to in support of the radars on Austal’s LCS design.

Sept 8/11: LCS 2. USS Independence [LCS-2] arrives in St. Petersburg, FL. The question is now how the Navy will use it. GAO reports contend that USS Freedom’s previous deployment may have set the whole program back, by removing the ship’s use as a test bed for LCS mission modules. DoD Buzz discusses what they think we know:

“We can presume the ship’s corrosion issues are resolved since it was given the green light to leave Naval Station Mayport, Fla., and that it’s seaworthy because it made the trip around the state, and that it’s handling flight operations now – the ship stood into Tampa Bay with an MH-60 helicopter on its flight deck…”

Aug 29/11: Exports? Aviation Week quotes Lockheed MS2 VP of littoral ship systems, Joe North, who says that over 21 countries have expressed interest in their LCS design. He’s the first to admit that interest does not always equate to a budget, and the article notes that Chinese frigate designs are becoming thinkable alternatives to buying a ship like the Freedom Class.

Aug 22/11: LCS 5 begins. Lockheed Martin announces the start of construction on LCS 5 Milwaukee, at Marinette Marine. The ship is due for delivery to the U.S. Navy in 2014, and is the 1st of 10 Freedom Class ships awarded to Lockheed Martin under the December 2010 Navy contract.

Meanwhile, LCS 3 Fort Worth remains on track for delivery in 2012.

Aug 5/11: Freedom Class changes. Aviation Week’s “U.S. Navy Studies And Improves LCS-1” describes the post-shakedown process, which includes design and procedure changes that are incorporated into the class. Previous hull cracking issues aren’t on USS Freedom’s PSA list, but magazine modifications and a mooring configuration change are.

Aug 2/11: Corrosion. Prospective Deputy SecDef Ashton Carter sends a written response to the bipartisan Senate letter of July 13/11. It says that USS Independence’s galvanic corrosion problem was a design flaw, which is being changed at a cost of $3.2 million, plus about $250,000 for each future ship of class. An Impressed Current Cathodic Protection System and “additional sacrificial protection design” will be applied to USS Independence during its Post Shakedown Availability, and on future ships of class prior to delivery. With respect to the damage:

“…the complex geometry of the water jet assemblies and tunnels made sufficient insulation of the aluminum hull from the steel water jet assembly difficult… corrosion on LCS 2 is concentrated in small areas in the water jet tunnels and water jet cone assemblies… transition area between the two.”

That doesn’t sound like “aggressive” corrosion, which raises questions. The original design approach apparently did include cathodic protection in the waterjets, alongside coatings and insulation, but it wasn’t enough, and some of the insulation wasn’t installed properly. The system was also designed to commercial principles, which emphasize regular repair of corrosion, but the Navy is looking for a more permanent fix.

With respect to the LCS program’s cost estimates, Carter says the Navy’s figures were based on actual offers received, so he decided that was the best program estimate to use. Full Carter letter [PDF] | Defense News. See also July 13/11, June 20-22/11, and June 17/11 entries.

Independence Class corrosion issue

Aug 1/11: LCS 6 begins. The Navy authorizes the first cutting of aluminum for the Independence Class ship LCS 6 Jackson at Austal’s Modular Manufacturing facility in Mobile, AL. US Navy.

July 27/11: Rep. Duncan D. Hunter [R-CA-52] and Rob Wittman [R-VA-1] ask the GAO to update its 2010 audit of the LCS program. Full Letter [PDF].

July 22/11: LCS 2. General Dynamics – Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $10 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to provide engineering and management services for advance planning and design in support of the post shakedown availability for USS Independence [LCS 2]. While Austal is the builder and contract owner, GD-BIW began the LCS competition as their bid partner, and would likely have served as the “2nd shipyard” for the trimaran design, if the Navy had pursued that requirement.

Work will be performed in Bath, ME (72%); Pittsfield, MA (20%); and Mobile, AL (8%). Work is expected to be completed by February 2013. The Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion, and Repair in Bath, Maine manages this contract (N00024-09-G-2301).

July 15/11: LCS 9 named. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announces that the next Freedom Class ship, LCS 9, will be named USS Little Rock, in honor of Arkansas’ capital city.

The previous USS Little Rock began life as a Cleveland Class light cruiser after World War II [CL-92], and was one of 6 to be converted to a Galveston Class guided missile cruiser later on [CLG/CG-4]. She was decommissioned in 1976, and now sits in Buffalo, NY as a museum ship. US Navy.

July 13/11: Corrosion. A bipartisan group of 7 U.S. Senators sends a formal letter to the Pentagon’s Ashton Carter, asking for explanations about LCS certifications that had been waived by the Navy. Waived items included survivability-related certifications, an area that’s a known weakness for the type. Senators Webb [D-VA, former Secretary of the Navy], Begich [D-AK], McCaskill [D-MO], McCain [R-AZ], Brown [R-MA], Coburn [R-OK], and Portman [R-OH] question:

  • An April 7/11 Office of the Secretary of Defense certification to move the LCS to Milestone B, while waiving several requirements, with no explanation of why.
  • The use of Navy acquisition cost estimates, instead of those from the Pentagon’s Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) group.
  • A waiver of the need to certify program tradeoffs, granted late in the program
  • How the LCS program “will ensure reliability and minimize major cost growth in operations and sustainment costs” in light of LCS-2’s corrosion issue; they also want detailed information about the problem, and a response to the Austal CEO’s public statement.

See: Full text of letter | Gannett’s Navy Times.

July 11/11: PEO LCS Created. The US Navy formally establishes Program Executive Office, Littoral Combat Ships (PEO LCS), during a ceremony at Washington Navy Yard, in order to oversee the program. Ship construction supervision is removed fro PEO Ships, while mission module supervision is removed from PEO Littoral and Mine Warfare (PEO LMW), which is dissolved.

Per predictions made in May, Rear Adm. James A. Murdoch is placed in charge of the office, which is designed to bring all elements of the troubled program together under one roof. US Navy | Information Dissemination (May 2011) was not enthusiastic.

July 5/11: US Navy:

“The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) is undergoing $1.8 million in maintenance while in dry dock at BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair. Freedom is scheduled to undock September 19, 2011.”

The accompanying picture clearly shows the single helicopter hangar, as well as the 2 boxy stern bustles, aka. “water wings,” which added at a late stage to address the type’s reserve buoyancy issues.

June 20-22/11: Corrosion. June 20-22/11: After USS Independence corrosion reports hit Austal’s share price, a company release addresses the issue. It notes the complete lack of such problems on all of Austal’s commercial and military ships to date, and suggests that the US Navy may have failed to follow basic procedures. Note that Westpac Express is a leased vessel, maintained by Austal:

“…having built over 220 aluminum vessels for defence forces and commercial clients around the world… galvanic corrosion has not been a factor on any Austal built and fully maintained vessel, and our technical experts are eager to support any request to identify root causes… The Westpac Express… has shuttled U.S. Marines throughout the Pacific Basin continuously for ten years, with a 99.7% availability over that period.

Austal has a well-developed methodology for the management of galvanic corrosion, which it has deployed globally… If selected to provide post-delivery support for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Class Services program, it is a straight forward process for Austal engineers… deploy temporary sacrificial anodes every time the vessel is moored, and ensure that high-voltage maintenance equipment is properly grounded before use aboard ship.”

Reports that the US Navy’s temporary fix involves installing a cathodic protection system aboard USS Independence do tend to suggest several major lapses: in specifications and acceptance (US Navy), by the Design Agent (Austal), and by the contract prime (GD Bath Iron works). Information Dissemination has a different take, and thinks there are grounds for believing that Austal’s JHSV ships, which may not have a cathodic protection system either, could also be at risk:

“In the case of LCS-2, the problem was apparently accelerated by stray currents in the hull from the electrical distribution system problems the ship has been having since it was turned over to the Navy. LCS-4 doesn’t have [a cathodic protection system] either, but apparently CPS is part of the lessons learned process and was included in the fixed-price contracts for Austal versions of the LCS beginning with LCS-6. LCS-2 will have the CPS installed at the next drydock period, while Austal has said a CPS will be added to LCS-4 before the ship is turned over to the Navy. The question everyone seems to be asking is whether the JHSV could suffer the same issue… I’d be curious to know if Westpac Express has a CPS installed, or some other form of prevention is used at all.”

See: Austal release | Alabama Press-Register | Information Dissemination | WIRED Danger Room.

June 17/11: Corrosion. The US Navy has told Congressional appropriations committees that “aggressive” corrosion was found in the propulsion areas of USS Independence, which rely on Wartsila waterjets. The ship has been given temporary repairs, but permanent repairs will require dry-docking and removal of the water-jet propulsion system. The strong Australian dollar has hurt Austal’s commercial exports, so this blow to its defense business has added impetus. Bloomberg | Alabama Press-Register | Sydney Morning Herald.

Corrosion in new ships isn’t unheard of, though it’s never a good sign. Norway’s Fridtjof Nansen Class AEGIS frigates had this problem, for instance. The Independence Class runs some risks that are specific to its all-aluminum construction, however, as key subsystems with different metals create risks of galvanic corrosion. Interestingly, the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) NGO notes that:

“The Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup of the FY 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, released today, gives the Pentagon $32.1 million to address “the DoD Corrosion Prevention and Control shortfall in funding requirements.” The Pentagon estimates that funding in this area yields an estimated 57:1 return on investment by reducing the costs for repairs and replacements of corroded systems and parts.”

June 16/11: WLD-1 launch testing. The US Navy Program Executive Office for Littoral and Mine Warfare (PEO LMW) announces the successful first time launch and recovery of the WLD-1 Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) semi-submerged USV from USS Independence [LCS 2], while underway near Panama, FL. The vehicle went through 5 successful cycles of deployment, towed operations and recovery, while also testing things like vehicle stability in the wake zone and remote operation.

In active use, the RMMV will tow the AN/AQS-20A sonar, and the entire Remote Minehunting System is scheduled for further testing in summer 2011 as part of the LCS MIW mine warfare module’s core AMCM system. This test matters to the LCS program for other reasons as well. The effectiveness of LCS rear launch and recovery systems has been a concern for both designs. US NAVSEA.

June 15/11: Saudi Arabia. Defense News reports that Saudi Arabia may be shifting their focus away from a fully armed variant of the Littoral Combat Ship, carrying the smaller AN/SPY-1F radar and AEGIS combat system. In its place, they received May 2011 briefings concerning DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers displacing about 3 times the tonnage, with ballistic missile defense capability upgrades. The cost trade-off would be about 4-6 modified LCS ships, in exchange for about 2 DDG-51 Flight IIA BMD ships.

The unspoken threat here is, of course, Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The unspoken concern is the security of a top-level defense technology, which is critical to defending the USA and its allies, in Saudi hands.

To date, the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class has never been exported per se, though their AEGIS combat system and accompanying AN/SPY-1D radars have. Another possible option for Saudi Arabia would be used US Navy DDG-51 Flight I ships, upgraded with AEGIS BMD. That would allow the Saudis to field more ships for the same money, if an agreement was reached. The costs would lie in questions about hull life and length of service, and the Flight Is’ lack of a helicopter hangar. Helicopters have been shown to be essential defenses against speedboat threats, of the kind that Iran fields in the Persian/Arabian Gulf. Defense News | Information Dissemination.

June 4/11: LCS to Singapore. In a speech made at this year’s Shangri-La Dialogue, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates disclosed US plans to deploy new littoral combat ships (LCS) to Singapore. US Navy ships routinely stop in Singapore, but these would be the first US Navy ships permanently deployed there. SecDef Gates speech transcript | East Asia Forum.

June 2/11: Sub-contractors. Taber Extrusions LLC announces contracts to supply extruded aluminum products for JHSV 3 Fortitude, and LCS 6 Jackson, from its facilities in Russellville, AR and Gulfport, MS. Some structural extrusions for both ships will also be manufactured by Taber and supplied to Austal through a contract with O’Neal Steel Corp.

Taber has an 8,600 ton extrusion press with a rectangular container and billet configuration. The firm says that compared with smaller presses and round containers, their tool gives superior metal flow patterns with much tighter tolerances for flatness, straightness and twist; and better assurance of critical thickness dimensions. The resulting wide multi-void extrusions are friction stir welded into panels, and tight tolerances improve productivity while reducing downstream scrap. When finished, they make up some of the ship’s decking, superstructure and bulkheads.

April 15/11: LCS SAR. The Pentagon’s Selected Acquisitions Report ending Dec 30/10 include the LCS program:

“Procurement and construction cost estimates for LCS have been incorporated into the SAR following approval of Milestone B (entry into Engineering and Manufacturing Development) on April 8, 2011. Previous reports were limited to development costs… Since the December 2009 SAR, development costs increased $1,080.4 million (+3.0 percent) from $36,358.4 million to $37,438.8 million, due primarily to fully funding the required planning and execution of the post-Milestone B program, to include the requirements for developmental/operational testing and live fire test and evaluation (+$822.0 million). There are also increases to complete shipboard trainers (+$189.3 million) and post delivery efforts for LCS-1 and LCS-2 (+$60.9 million).”

Costs rising

April 11/11: Cracking. DoD Buzz relays US Navy LCS program manager Capt. Jeff Riedel’s words, from a briefing at the US Navy League’s annual Sea, Air Space conference. He says it isn’t a design issue – or is it?:

“Both Lockheed and the Navy are going through their final review that should be available in the next couple of weeks… The design is adequate, how I build it is a different story… If I was able to weld it as it was designed to be welded, it wouldn’t have been an issue. The real issue was, getting access to that area to be able to do the weld… We modeled the superstructure and we found that we had areas that were high stress areas, so we would expect, potentially, a crack to occur in that high-stress area… So we instrumented the superstructure and we used that instrumentation to validate the model and in fact, we’re now using that to better the design… for LCS-3 and following we’ve gone back and changed the design so we can reduce those stress areas.”

Beginning with LCS-3, Riedel says that the spot on the ship where the crack occurred was made easier for welders to reach, allowing them to lay an extra thick weld.

March 25/11: LCS 6 & 8 named. US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announces that the Freedom Class LCS 6 will be named the USS Jackson, after Mississippi’s state capitol, and LCS 8 will be named the USS Montgomery, after Alabama’s state capitol. US DoD

March 18/11: Freedom, cracked. US NAVSEA reveals that Team Lockheed’s LCS-1 Freedom has already experienced a 6-inch outside/ 3-inch inside horizontal hull crack, located below the waterline in the steel hull, during a heavy weather ocean trial. It leaked 5 gallons an hour, and originated in a weld seam between steel plates. The ship returned to port in San Diego at 8 knots, avoiding rough seas, and the crack was patched with a cofferdam by March 12/11. NAVSEA is reviewing the class’ design, construction drawings and welding procedures.

In response to questions, NAVSEA spokesman Christopher Johnson emailed Bloomberg to add that welding “defects” also showed up as smaller cracks in the welds of USS Freedom’s aluminum superstructure during 2010 sea trials. Changes apparently already have been made in the ship’s design to correct the superstructure stress.

Discussions with people who have been involved in shipbuilding produced a range of reactions, but the fact that the larger crack was found in the steel hull, not the aluminum superstructure, is significant. Aluminum is a tricky material for ships, precisely because of its tendency to crack. One sailor recalled being able to see daylight from inside a level 2 office in the USS Newport LST (now Mexico’s ARM Papaloapan), thanks to cracks at the welds in its aluminum superstructure. Steel is supposed to be less troublesome that way. The overall tenor was that cracks typically first appear near the areas that ‘want to move’ as the ship flexes, but are overly restrained from doing so. That is said to make cracks more of a design issue, and less of a welding issue, though poor welding or poor steel quality can cause problems. One question asked was about expansion joints, which allow the middle part of the ship that gets the most bending to be able to give up those forces in the rubber expansion joint. Many older frigates have an expansion joint at the middle of the ship, for instance, and if this was eliminated in the LCS design, that would more strongly suggest a design issue. Bloomberg (note that USS Independence, referenced as having better welds, is in fact Austal’s ship) | Defense News | Fort Worth Star Telegram | Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Online.

LCS 1 cracks

March 18/11: LCS 5 & 7 named. US Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announces that the next 2 Freedom Class ships built by Lockheed Martin will be named the USS Milwaukee [LCS 5] and the USS Detroit [LCS 7]. LCS 3 Fort Worth is said to be about 85% complete at the moment, and on schedule for 2012 delivery. LCS 5 Milwaukee will begin construction in the summer of 2011, while LCS 7 Detroit isn’t expected to begin construction until May 2012.

The last ship named USS Detroit was a Sacramento Class fast support ship, T-AOE-4. It was decommissioned in 2005. The last ship named USS Milwaukee was T-AOR-2, a Wichita Class oiler that was decommissioned in 1994. US Navy | Alabama Press Register | Detroit Free Press | Australia’s Herald Sun (Victoria/ Melbourne) | Green Bay Press-Gazette | West Australia Business News.

March 17/11: 4 ships in FY 2011. The budget calls for 1 ship from each contractor. Note, however, that these awards don’t include the purchase of Government Furnished Equipment on board, or of the mission module needed to make the ships operational.

Lockheed Martin Corp. in Baltimore, MD receives a $376.6 million contract modification for 1 Freedom Class ship, LCS 7 Detroit. Work will be performed in Marinette, WI (56%); Walpole, MA (14%); Washington, DC (12%); Oldsmar, FL (4%); Beloit, WI (3%); Moorestown, NJ (2%); Minneapolis, MN (2%); and various locations of less than 1% each, totaling 7%. Work is expected to be complete by April 2016 (N00024-11-C-2300).

Marinette Marine Co.’s President, Richard McCreary, says the firm expects to recall all 110 laid off employees by the summer, and add about 40 employees per month in August & September 2011.

Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $368.6 million contract modification for 1 Independence Class ship, LCS 8. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (51%); Pittsfield, MA (13%); Cincinnati, OH (4%); Baltimore, MD (2%); Burlington, VT (2%); New Orleans, LA (2%); and various locations of less than 2% each, totaling 26%. Work is expected to be complete by October 2015 (N00024-11-C-2301). See also Austal | Lockheed Martin | Aviation Week | defpro | Philadelphia Inquirer | Upper Michigan Source.

FY 2011 order: LCS-7 & LCS-8

March 15/11: Support. Contracts to the 2 shipbuilders for Littoral Combat Ship class services, funding efforts to “assess engineering and production challenges and evaluate the cost and schedule risks from affordability efforts to reduce LCS acquisition and lifecycle costs.”

Lockheed Martin Corp. in Baltimore, MD receives $34.1 million contract modification. Work will be performed in Hampton, VA (31%); Marinette, WI (25%); Washington, DC (24%); and Moorestown, NJ (20%); and is expected to be complete by March 2012 (N00024-11-C-2300).

Austal USA in Mobile, AL receives a $19.7 million contract modification. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (83%), and Pittsfield, MA (17%); and is expected to be complete by March 2012 (N00024-11-C-2301).

March 8/11: Controversy. The Senate Armed Services Committee holds hearings regarding the Navy’s FY 2012 Navy budget and longer-term plan. SecNav Ray Mabus outlines the Navy’s view of the approved multi-year buy strategy.

“With an average cost of $440 million per ship, and with the cost reductions we have seen demonstrated on LCS 3 and 4, the Navy will save taxpayers approximately $1.9 billion in FY12-FY16. More importantly, the fact that prices were so dramatically reduced from the initial bids in 2009 will allow us to save an additional $1 billion – for a total of $2.9 billion – through the dual award of a ten-ship contract to each bidder.”

On the other hand, ranking member Sen. McCain continues to express concerns re: the LCS acquisition plan, though the multi-ship buy has been approved:

“As you probably know, I continue to think the Navy made a big mistake in going forward with a dual-source strategy on the LCS program. I believe that the true lifecycle costs of buying and sustaining both ships will be considerably more than what the Navy told us. I do not believe it is wise for Congress to authorize what amounts to a ‘bulk buy’ on a program without proving that its key aspects will work as intended and that its sustainability costs are reasonable. In the case of LCS, the Navy could not tell Congress what its plans are for the two different combat systems for the two designs; and, the combined capability of the mission packages with the sea-frames, which gives the ships combat power, remains unproven. I am concerned that the costs of operating and sustaining both variants will eventually require moving to a single combat system or going to a common propulsion and mechanical system. If that is where affordability concerns drive the Navy, why are we buying two versions of this ship?”

See: SASC Hearings record | Sen. Levin (chair) floor statement | Sen. McCain floor statement.

March 7/11: Industrial. Fincantieri subsidiary Marinette Marine Corporation breaks ground for a new panel-line fabrication building to support construction of the U.S. Navy’s Freedom-class LCS. It will use more automation, improve raw material storage, and cut the distance ship modules have to travel during construction. It’s part of a 5-year, $100 million modernization plan by the shipyard’s new parent company, and builds on 2009 improvements that included higher-capacity overhead cranes, plasma-cutting tables and pipe-bending machines.

In addition to this groundbreaking, Marinette Marine also marked the opening of its professional center and the completion of a project to expand its main indoor ship construction building. This expansion project nearly doubles the building’s size, creating enough space to house 2 complete LCS hulls and parts for 2 additional ships. The firm’s counterpart, Austal, has also been investing in major facility improvements at its Gulf Coast shipyard. Marinette Marine [PDF] | Lockheed Martin.

Feb 1/11: Sub-contractors. EADS North America announces a contract from Lockheed Martin to supply its TRS-3D radar for up to 10 Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ships through 2015. Under the terms of its contract, EADS North America will deliver the 1st radar unit to Lockheed Martin for installation in 2012.

Within the US armed forces, the TRS-3D also serves aboard the Coast Guard’s new frigate-sized National Security Cutters. Austal’s Independence Class trimarans use Saab’s Sea Giraffe AMB radar instead.

Jan 17/10: Sub-contractors. Fairbanks Morse announces a contract from Lockheed Martin for 2 of its 17,000 bhp Colt-Pielstick 16-cylinder PA6B STC diesel engines, to power the Freedom Class LCS 5 ordered in December 2010. The engines will be manufactured and tested at the company’s facility in Beloit, WI, in accordance with American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Naval Vessel Rules.

Price is not disclosed. If the entire set of 10 ships is ordered, the firm would provide 20 diesel engines.

It may be presumed that Austal is busy working on contracts with its engine suppliers as well: GE (LM2500 turbines) and MTU (800 series diesel).

Jan 17/10: Sub-contractors. Rolls Royce Marine announces an immediate contract from Lockheed Martin for 2 more of its 36MW MT30 gas turbines, as part of a larger contract to equip up to 10 Freedom Class ships.

The MT30 is derived from the firm’s Trent engines that outfit large passenger jets. In the US Navy, the MT30 also serves on the forthcoming fleet of 3 DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class destroyers. Each LCS-1 Freedom Class ship takes 2 turbines, so the total order would be 20 if all 10 Freedom Class ships are ordered. Price is not disclosed, and the release adds that:

“In addition to gas turbines and waterjets, a significant range of Rolls-Royce equipment is specified in the Lockheed Martin design, including shaftlines, bearings and propulsion system software.”

They have not been trouble-free, however: see esp. Sept 29/10 entry.

Build ’em both!
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Dec 30/10: Dual Buy. Now that the provisional spending authority is approved along with the Navy’s revised dual-buy plan, the Navy issues 2010-2015 block buy contracts to Austal and to Lockheed Martin. The contract includes options for up to 9 additional vessels in the following 5 years, plus post delivery support, additional crew and shore support, special studies, class services, class standard equipment support, economic order quantity equipment. These contracts were competitively procured via the Federal Business Opportunities website, with 2 offers received.

Freedom class monohulls: Lockheed Martin Corp. in Baltimore, MD receives a fixed-price-incentive contract (vid. Dec 8/10 entry) for $491.6 million: $436.9 million for a Freedom class ship, and $54.7 million for technical data package, core class services, provisioned items orders, ordering, a not-to-exceed line item for non-recurring engineering, and data items. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year, except FY 2010 RDT&E funds.

Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine Corporation will build the ships, and naval architect Gibbs & Cox will provide engineering and design support. Work will be performed in Marinette, WI (56%); Walpole, MA (14%); Washington, DC (12%); Oldsmar, FL (4%); Beloit, WI (3%); Moorestown, NJ (2%); Minneapolis, MI (2%); and various locations of less than 1 percent (7%). Work is expected to be complete by August 2015.

If all 10 Freedom class ships are bought, the given cumulative value is $4.07 billion. If the Navy exercises options according to the previous procurement approach instead, and looks in 2012 for a 2nd source to build 5 more ships, the contract could rise to $4.571 billion, including selected ship systems equipment for a 2nd source builder and selected ship system integration and test for a 2nd source (N00024-11-C-2300).

Independence class trimarans: Austal USA, LLC in Mobile, AL receives a fixed-price-incentive contract (vid. Dec 8/10 entry) for $465.5 million: $432.1 million to build an Independence class LCS, plus $33.4 million for technical data package, core class services, provisioned items orders, ordering, a not-to-exceed line item for non-recurring engineering, and data items. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year, except FY 2010 RDT&E funds.

This brings Austal’s total order book to A$ 1.3 billion; the same shipyard is also building the US Navy’s JHSV fast-transport catamarans. Austal is beginning LCS-related preparation work beyond its investments to date, including a $140 million facility expansion and workforce development program over the next 12 months, which will more than double Austal’s workforce to 3,800 employees. Construction of the first LCS vessel will begin in early 2012, and it’s currently scheduled for delivery by June 2015. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (50%); Pittsfield, MA (17%); Cincinnati, OH (3%); Baltimore, MD (2%); Burlington, VT (2%); New Orleans, LA (2%); and various locations of less than 2 percent each (24%).

If all 10 Independence class ships are bought, the given cumulative value is $3.786 billion. If the Navy exercises options according to the previous procurement approach instead, and looks in 2012 for a 2nd source to build 5 more ships, including selected ship systems equipment for a 2nd source and selected ship system integration and test for a 2nd source, the contract could rise to $4.386 billion (N00024-11-C-2301).

Note that these prices do not reflect the additional cost of Government Furnished Equipment, including all weapons, mission modules, etc. Those additional costs can be expected to be comfortably over $100 million per ship. See also US Navy | Austal | Lockheed Martin | Defense Tech.

Dual buy contract for up to 20 ships

Dec 22/10: Budgets. The US Senate passes H.R. 6523, the House’s Ike Skelton National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2011. Having passed in identical form in both the House and Senate, it was introduced to the President to be signed on Dec 29/10. US Senate [PDF]. See also Aviation Week debate coverage | Sen. McCain’s [R-AZ] floor statement, against inclusion of the LCS.

Dec 21/10: Budgets. The US house of Representatives’ “lame duck” session of outgoing Congresspeople passes a new continuing resolution proposed by Senate Democrats to keep the government running through early 2011. The only arms-program-specific language in the legislation says that: “Subject to the availability of appropriations, the Secretary of the Navy may award a contract or contracts for up to 20 Littoral Combat Ships”.

On the other hand, the funding will not extend through the end of the fiscal year on Sept 30/11, as the incoming House and Senate will have full opportunity to pass their own budget. Gannett’s Navy Times.

Dec 14/10: GAO Report. The US Senate Armed Services Committee holds hearings regarding the proposed LCS program change. Reuters | See esp. the US GAO testimony: “Defense Acquisitions: Realizing Savings under Different Littoral Combat Ship Acquisition Strategies Depends on Successful Management of Risks,” which generally echoes their Dec 8/10 report.

Dec 13/10: Competition. Lockheed Martin and Austal extend their bid price offers to Dec 30/11, to allow extra time to finalize contracts at current prices. That’s necessary for 2 reasons. One is the funding uncertainty and turmoil created by continuing resolutions, as the 112th Congress tries to clean up the budgetless mess left by the last Congress. The other, related issue is that the latest LCS acquisition plan hasn’t been approved by Congress yet. Ranking Senate Armed Services Committee member Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] continues to oppose approval of that new acquisition plan, pending clarity on combat effectiveness and long-term costs. Green Bay Press Gazette.

Dec 10/10: CBO Report. The US Congressional Budget Office releases its report on the proposed program change: “Cost Implications of the Navy’s Plans for Acquiring Littoral Combat Ships” [PDF]. The CBO often has different cost estimates than the US Navy – and CBO’s higher estimates have a history of being right. In this case, however, they acknowledge that they’re handicapped by not seeing the shipyard bids.

They see the central issues as twofold. One is future operating and maintenance costs, which the GAO has also flagged as a serious issue. Maintaining 2 types is both a plus and a minus. That could really help the fleet if one design performs better, and right bow, data is limited. n the other hand, it also means additional spares, maintenance and training infrastructure, which may have to be duplicated on both coasts depending on deployment plans.

The other issue is the hardwired central combat systems, which are said to cost about $70 million per ship. They’re a topic of special attention in the report, as they’re different for the 2 ship designs. On the other hand, aligning them to allow common upgrades and maintenance would result in high retrofit costs down the road. Some estimates place the cost between $910 million – $1.8 billion. See also subsequent coverage of the combat system issue by Aviation Week | Gannett’s Navy Times.

Dec 8/10: GAO report on buy strategy. The US GAO releases its report – “Navy’s Proposed Dual Award Acquisition Strategy for the Littoral Combat Ship Program.” They still see the program as risky, and the risks are inherent in the design, concept, and execution, not the procurement strategy. The Navy doesn’t really understand operating and maintenance costs for the designs yet, which creates a big budget risk, though building both ships may hedge against the risks that one design turns out to be poor in this or other areas. Most significantly, the GAO points to a chronic and serious problem that has destroyed cost estimates for previous ship classes:

“In an effort to address technical issues on the first two ships, the Navy has implemented design changes for… LCS 3 and LCS 4… [that are] not yet complete. These changes are significant and have affected the configuration of several major ship systems including propulsion, communications, electrical, and navigation. In addition, launch, handling, and recovery systems for both designs are still being refined… contract modifications will need to be negotiated and priced. According to the Navy, it estimates funding requirements for these change orders to total 5 percent for all future follow-on ships produced… In addition, Navy officials stated that the seaframe solicitation includes a provision that agreed to design changes are “not to exceed” $12 million – a feature that Navy officials state will bound government cost risk due to design changes. Pending full identification and resolution of deficiencies affecting the lead ships, the Navy’s ability to stay within its budgeted limits remains to be seen.”

While the US Navy says that designs for LCS 3 & 4 are stable as built, the GAO points out that this is because key changes have been deferred until post-delivery. As testing reveals other issues, the amount of deferred work for follow-on ships “can reasonably be expected to grow.” See also Bloomberg.

Dec 6/10: LCS-2. USS Independence (LCS 2) arrives at BAE Systems Ship Repair in Norfolk, VA to begin its first industrial post-delivery availability. During the availability, the ship will complete the installation of needed components not installed during construction. US Navy.

Dec 4/10: LCS 3 launched. The 2nd Freedom-class LCS, USS Fort Worth (LCS 3), is launched at the Marinette Marine shipyard, on the Menominee River. Lockheed Martin | Argon ST [PDF].

Nov 4/10: LCS Plan #5. The US Navy looks over the bids, and applies to Congress to change the procurement strategy one more time. The bids appear to be low enough that the Navy thinks it can order 20 ships total (10 from each builder), and bulk up the fleet sooner, for the amount it had budgeted to field 15 ships using a 10 + 5 split.

Congress must take action to authorize the proposed 2 block buys by mid-December 2010, or the Navy is likely to end up with its default approach of awarding one 10-ship contract. US Navy | Aviation Week | James Hasik | Reuters.

5th plan the charm?

Oct 26/10: Saudi Arabia. Lockheed Martin MS2 President Orlando Carvalho confirms that his company has supplied price and availability information on its version of the littoral combat ship (LCS) to Saudi Arabia, which is looking to buy 8 modern frigate-sized warships. Lockheed is proposing a very different LCS, configured as a frigate equipped with AN/SPY-1F radars, an AEGIS combat system, and set equipment instead of mission modules.

It remains understood the Saudi authorities are waiting to see which LCS version the U.S. Navy chooses, but the ship’s capabilities might be well suited to the Arabian/Persian Gulf’s shallow waters. At Euronaval 2010, a French official reportedly said that France is hoping to sell between 4-6 FREMM frigates for the Saudis’ western (Red Sea and Indian Ocean) fleet, while the LCS was seen as likely for the eastern (Gulf) fleet. Defense News | Shephard Group | Tactical Report.

Oct 14/10: CRS Report. The Congressional Research Service issues its updated report: “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Program: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress” [PDF]. It offers details concerning the program’s history and current plans. Key issues examined include:

  • Whether Congress had adequate time to review the latest procurement strategy in 2010
  • Whether the Navy’s new plan gives it enough time to really evaluate how the initial ships of class perform
  • Whether the price-focused RFP properly balances sticker price against life-cycle operation and support (O&S) costs and ship capability
  • What happens if the Navy picks a winner, and the winner can’t deliver to cost?
  • How does the Navy plan to evolve the winning ship’s combat system to a configuration that has greater commonality with one or more existing Navy surface ship combat systems?
  • What are the Navy’s longer-term plans regarding the 2 “orphan” ships from the LCS class that isn’t picked?
  • What potential alternatives are there to the Navy’s new acquisition strategy? CRS cites block buys of both types, Profit Related to Offer bidding, and having the Navy buy the combat system separately.
  • In light of the cost growth, is the LCS program still cost-effective? What is the LCS sea frame unit procurement cost above which the Navy would no longer consider the LCS program cost-effective?

Other concerns include survivability, and CRS quotes the December 2009 report from the Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation:

“LCS was designated by the Navy as a Level I survivability combatant ship, but neither design is expected to achieve the degree of shock hardening as required by the CDD [Capabilities Development Document]… Only a few selected subsystems will be shock hardened… Accordingly, the full, traditional rigor of Navy-mandated ship shock trials is not achievable, due to the damage that would be sustained by the ship… The LCS LFT&E [Live Fire Test and Evaluation] program has been hampered by the Navy’s lack of credible modeling and simulation tools for assessing the vulnerabilities of ships constructed to primarily commercial standards (American Bureau of Shipping Naval Vessel Rules and High Speed Naval Craft Code), particularly aluminum and non-traditional hull forms. Legacy LFT&E models were not developed for these non-traditional factors, nor have they been accredited for such use. These knowledge gaps undermine the credibility of the modeling and simulation, and increase the amount of surrogate testing required for an adequate LFT&E program. The LCS is not expected to be survivable in a hostile combat environment as evidenced by the limited shock hardened design and results of full scale testing of representative hull structures completed in December 2006.”

See the US Naval Institute blog’s take on the report as well, with a particular focus on survivability and the lessons of littoral naval combat. One excerpt from the full report discusses an important procedural point:

“The Navy had earlier planned to make the down select decision and award the contract to build the 10 LCSs sometime this past summer, but the decision was delayed and reportedly will now occur within 90 days of September 15 – the date by which the two industry teams were told by the Navy to submit new proposal revisions. On this basis, it would appear that the decision could be announced as late as December 14. On October 12, 2010, it was reported that a Defense Acquisition Board (DAB) review meeting on the LCS program that was scheduled for October 29 has been postponed to a later date that has not been set. The Navy states that it cannot announce its down select decision and award a contract to the winner until after the DAB meeting occurs.”

FY 2010

RFP released, but decision delayed; Clarity on LCS 3-4 costs; LCS “not survivable in a hostile combat environment”; LCS concept fails in Persian Gulf war game; USS Freedom [LCS 1] deploys with US Coast Guard aboard; USS Independence [LCS 2] commissioned; LCS 1’s MT30 engine problems; Austal/GD team splits; Official reports.

MT30 turbine
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Sept 29/10: MT30 improvements. Rolls-Royce Naval Marine, Inc. in Walpole, MA received a $9.8 million cost-plus fixed-fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity contract for “engineering and technical services on the Rolls-Royce gas turbine engine product improvement program. This contract is being awarded to research potential improvements to Rolls Royce gas turbine engines. Delivery Order 0001 will be issued on the same day of contract award with initial contract funding in the amount of $800,000.”

Work will be performed in Walpole, MA (70%), and Indianapolis, IN (30%), and is expected to be complete by September 2015. $800,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, which is Sept 30/10. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock Division, Ship Systems Engineering Station in Philadelphia, PA (N65540-09-D-0016).

DID has not tied this contract directly to the LCS program yet, but a search through US Navy ship types didn’t reveal any ships using Rolls Royce gas turbines, except LCS 1.

Sept 23/10: MT30 problems. Gannett’s Navy Times reports that USS Freedom [LCS 1] shut down its gas turbine engines on Sept 12/10, while operating off southern California. The Rolls-Royce MT30 gas turbines had “high vibration indications” in the starboard engine, and the ship returned to port using its diesel engines. Subsequent examination showed that turbine blading had broken off, damaging the turbine.

Lockheed Martin’s monohull design uses MT30 engines, instead of GE’s less powerful LM2500 which is used in the Austal trimarans, and in most current US Navy surface combatants. The US Navy will conduct USS Freedom’s engine changeout in Port Hueneme, CA, which is seen as being similar to the likely locations in which a deployed LCS would have to do this sort of operation. The Navy has scheduled a week’s time for the complete procedure.

LCS-1 engine issues

Sept 15/10: Bids in. Final bids for the latest incarnation of the Littoral Combat Ship contract are in from Lockheed Martin and Austal USA. Lockheed Martin | Defense News.

Sept 14/10: Politics. The Senate defense appropriations subcommittee votes to fund just 1 Littoral Combat Ship in FY 2011, instead of 2. That’s a long way from being the final word on the matter, but chairman Sen. Daniel Inouye [D-HI] reportedly says that:

“…two ships funded in 2010 have not yet been contracted. Under the new plan, the Navy would seek to award four ships to a single contractor in the coming year. There is virtually no way that the winning contractor would be able to begin construction of four ships in 2011.” Funding for one ship in 2011 “is more than adequate,” he said. And it saves $615 million.”

See: Gannett’s Navy Times | Information Dissemination.

Sept 14/10: Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia may be interested in the LCS as part of its rumored $60 billion weapons package. Despite previous focus on Austal’s trimaran design, a Washington Post report says that:

“The official said the Saudis continue to have internal discussions about those purchases and are watching to see the outcome of a competition to build a new Littoral Combat Ship.”

Sept 9/10: LCS a Lemon? In a piece called “Red Flags Everywhere,” influential naval blog Information Dissemination, which has generally been mildly supportive of the program, says:

“There isn’t just one thing wrong with the Littoral Combat Ship program – every thing is wrong with this program. There are so many red flags waiving frantically in the face of Congress, the Navy, and any casual observer in regards to the Littoral Combat Ship I feel like I am standing roadside in Beijing during a Party propaganda parade… The Littoral Combat Ship has traded survivability, armor, endurance, weapon payloads, cost efficiency, and reduced operational capabilities across the board for the advantage of speed. What is this advantage of speed that makes the trade off worth it? What is 40 knots giving the Navy’s new small combatant that 28 knots can’t?”

The piece comes in response to a generally supportive Lexington Institute piece:

“More recently, the Navy seemed to have the LCS program under control… Understanding the importance of the LCS, the Navy responded to initial problems with the basic ships or sea frames with the necessary attention, expertise and resources. The same effort must now be devoted to the development of working mission packages. This also includes developing the desired unmanned systems, particularly for subsurface operations.”

Sept 1/10: War Game Fail. Defense Tech reports:

“A recent Pentagon war game that ran the Navy’s new Littoral Combat Ship through simulated combat in the Gulf didn’t unfold quite as expected, according to participants… The war game featured the trouble-making Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps navy… Seeing their small boat swarm shot-up, the Iranians dispatched a bunch of small, air-breathing submarines to attack the LCS flotilla. The LCSs were forced to steam down to Diego Garcia to switch out the surface warfare modules with the anti-submarine warfare packages. That scenario repeated itself every time the Iranians changed up their attack and wrong-footed the LCS flotilla [due to the long change-out times].”

Designing the mission modules to be swappable by helicopter, and having medium-lift helicopters in the Navy with higher lift capacity then the planned H-60 models, might alleviate that problem. Neither approach has been taken.

LCS fails in war game

Aug 31/10: GAO Report. US GAO report #GAO-10-523 on the LCS program sees problems. “Defense Acquisitions: Navy’s Ability to Overcome Challenges Facing the Littoral Combat Ship Will Determine Eventual Capabilities.” Key excerpts:

“The Navy plans to invest over $25 billion through fiscal year 2035 to acquire LCS. However, recurring cost growth and schedule delays have jeopardized the Navy’s ability to deliver promised LCS capabilities… technical issues with the first two seaframes have yet to be fully resolved… Challenges developing mission packages have delayed the timely fielding of promised capabilities, limiting the ships’ utility to the fleet during initial deployments… Key mine countermeasures and surface warfare systems encountered problems in operational and other testing that delayed their fielding…”

With respect to the ships themselves:

“The Navy has required LCS seaframes to meet Level 1 survivability standards. Ships built to Level 1 are expected to operate in the least severe environment, away from the area where a carrier group is operating or the general war-at-sea region… Current ships in the fleet built to the Level 1 standard include material support ships, mine-warfare vessels, and patrol combatants.”

“…In our work on shipbuilding best practices, we found that achieving design stability before start of fabrication is a key step… Addressing [LCS 1 and 2] technical issues has required the Navy to implement design changes at the same time LCS 3 and LCS 4 are being built… Our analysis of the procurement section of the LCS total ownership cost baseline found the estimate lacks several characteristics essential to a high-quality cost estimate.”

See also the LCS Ancillaries: Mission Module & Weapon Contracts & Key Events section for additional excerpts related to those areas, and “MH-60S Airborne Mine Counter-Measures Continues Development” for in-depth reports on the mine warfare mission module components. See also: Aviation Week | Information Dissemination on the larger cultural issues this report speaks to.

Aug 29/10: LCS 3s. DoD Buzz reports that “Lockheed Martin, with just a five-week head start, has completed 60 percent of LCS 3, compared to Austal, whose LCS 4 is only 26 percent complete.” Why is that? It’s partly because Lockheed Martin reused work done on the original LCS 3 contract, which was canceled mid-stride. Lockheed Martin MS2 business development director Paul Lemmo:

“Lemmo also pointed out that Lockheed Martin has kept parts and materials left over from the previously terminated LCS-3. The Navy originally terminated Lockheed Martin’s second LCS in April 2007… [but] the company decided to continue manufacturing about 50 to 55 systems all the way to their completion… “Those systems have been in storage either at the manufacturer or at some of our facilities and they will be brought to bear on the ship,” [Lemmo] said. “The value of that material is about at least half of the total value of the material on the ship. Half the material needed for Fort Worth was already purchased. Generically a lot of it is long-lead propulsion machinery–the engine, the gas turbines, diesels, gears, water jets, shafting, those kinds of things…what was on order.”

See: DoD Buzz | Defense Daily.

Aug 23/10: Selection delayed. The US Navy delays its final selection for the new Littoral Combat Ship contract. The decision appears to have been pushed back to Dec 30/10, but the exact date in unclear. Defense News.

April 12/10: Competition. Lockheed Martin announces that its industry team has submitted its proposal for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fiscal year 2010-2014 contract to the U.S. Navy today. The Navy will award the winning team a fixed-price incentive fee contract to provide up to 10 ships with combat systems, as well as combat systems for 5 additional ships, to be built at a second shipyard.

April 1/10: LCS SAR. The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009. One of the changes involves the Littoral Combat Ship, while another involves an ancillary system and is covered in that section. For the LCS “seaframe” itself:

“Program costs [DID: for the initial development effort] increased $883.9 million (+31.0%) from $2,848.6 million to $3,732.5 million, due to additional development and support for the mission package test program, seaframe testing, and crew training (+$241.5 million). There were also increases for the procurement of additional mission packages (+$183.6 million), a revised estimate for development, planning, and execution of Flight 0 and Flight 0+ (+$157.2 million), a revised estimate for seaframe pricing due to cost growth (+$131.5 million), changes to mission module development and phasing (+$77.8 million), additional funding for a technical data package (+$59.8 million), and the re-phasing of work due to a change in the schedule for Flight 0 (+$44.8 million).”

Cost increases

March 31/10: LCS 2. Aviation Week Ares describes the current state of USS Independence [LCS 2]. At this point, its captain says that she’s still in the pre-tactical risk mitigation stage. The crew is becoming familiar with the ship, and performing basic tasks like air defense testing, fast acceleration and deceleration, putting fast boats in the water while at sea, etc.

March 30/10: GAO Report. The US GAO issues report #GAO-10-388SP, its 2010 Assessments of Selected Weapon Programs.

With respect to the Littoral Combat Ship, the report places the program far below the desired level of technology and manufacturing knowledge for a program at this stage. Compared to its 2004 baseline, which was itself about 150% of original cost-per unit estimates, LCS R&D costs have increased by 169.2% of baseline. Procurement cost for the initial capability ships is up by a stunning 505.3%, total program cost for initial fielding has risen 285.9%, and acquisition cycle time rose 139% over the original baseline. The report also flags LCS weight increases that have led to LCS 1 stability issues due to a higher center of gravity, and mission modules that are only partially capable.

Mission Module findings are detailed in the Ancillaries section, but the key takeaway is that they’re not ready for effective service yet – and the ship’s chosen missile armament could become a serious problem.

March 22/10: Support. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Baltimore, MD receives a $14.1 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-09-C-2303) to provide engineering, program, and technical support for LCS class ships. This includes class baseline design services, class configuration management services, class documentation services, ship interim support, ship systems development, and other technical and engineering analyses.

Work will be performed in Norfolk, VA (41%), Moorestown, NJ (16%), Baltimore, MD (15%), Marinette, WI (14%), Washington, DC (8%), Arlington, VA (6%), and is expected to be complete by December 2010.

March 20/10: Costs. Inside the Navy:

“The Navy does not ask competing Littoral Combat Ship builders Austal USA and Lockheed Martin to arrive at an exact dollar figure for how much each bidder’s ship will cost over its lifespan in the current request for proposals for what will be the winning LCS design, sources told Inside the Navy last week. Yet, the sea service wants the competitors to “qualitatively: explain how they will manage “total ownership costs” in the future…”

March 16/10: Cracking. Reuters reports on a recent US Navy SBIR research solicitation, aimed at more quickly and cheaply diagnosing cracking in aluminum ship structures. From US Navy SBIR N10A-T041: “Fracture Evaluation and Design Tool for Welded Aluminum Ship Structures Subjected to Impulsive Dynamic Loading” :

“A new analysis tool combined with an experimental validation protocol is needed to accurately characterize the dynamic response and fracture behavior of welded aluminum ship structures subjected to extreme loading events. The goal of this effort is to develop an explicit dynamic failure prediction toolkit for fracture assessment of welded thin-walled aluminum structures. To efficiently characterize a large size ship structure, innovative modeling techniques using fractured shell elements are needed along with a mesh independent crack insertion and propagation capability. In addition to innovative crack simulation in a shell structure, advanced constitutive models have to be implemented in the toolkit to capture the rate dependence and anisotropy in strength, plastic flow and ductility. Developing and demonstrating novel damage simulation and fracture prediction methods has significant potential impact on design and operation of current and future Navy welded aluminum, ship structural systems.”

US Navy Commander Victor Chen reiterated the Navy’s confidence in the JHSV and LCS ships; the JHSV catamaran is aluminum construction, as is the LCS-2 Independence Class, and the LCS-1 Freedom Class uses an aluminum superstructure on a steel hull. He adds that:

“We already have a level of confidence in how to work with aluminum. The Office of Naval Research is trying to expand the knowledge base and build on what we already know.”

March 16/10: Drug busts. On her initial deployment to the Caribbean, the US Navy highlights USS Freedom’s [LCS 1] conduct of drug busts. The fast boats were intercepted with help from Freedom’s embarked MH-60S helicopter – a capability that is not unique to the LCS, by any means. Aviation Week Ares.

March 13/10: Industrial. New Fincantieri subsidiary Marinette Marine Corporation in Marinette, WI breaks ground on an expansion that will nearly double the size of its main indoor ship construction building. The expansion will provide enough indoor space to simultaneously house 2 complete LCS hulls and parts for 2 additional ships. It will also allow greater use of more efficient modular construction processes. The expansion is part of parent company Fincantieri’s 5-year, $100 million plan to modernize its U.S. shipbuilding operations and support the LCS program. Green Bay Gazette | MarineLog.

March 4/10: Austal & GD break up. Defense News reports that shipbuilding partners Austal USA and General Dynamics have agreed to revoke their teaming arrangement on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program: “We are now acting as prime going forward on the LCS program,” Austal president Joseph Rella told Defense News March 4.

The positions partner General Dynamics to bid on the 2nd set of 5 ships under the current procurement plan, if the LCS-2 Independence trimaran design wins. Competing with a rival prime bid is unrealistic for General Dynamics at this point, given the investments that would be required in aluminum-related manufacturing facilities and techniques. General Dynamics has confirmed that it does not intend to bid on the initial 10-ship competition, though the firms will continue their joint relationship when building the Coronado [LCS 4]. GD Advanced Information Systems will continue beyond that as an Austal team partner, and subcontractor for systems integration.

Austal & GD end partnership

LCS 1 & LHD 6
(click to view full)

March 3/10: CSBA Report. The USA’s non-partisan Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment puts out a paper: “Littoral Combat Ship: An Examination of its Possible Concepts of Operation” [PDF]. While the report is generally positive about the LCS, and even offers several operational scenarios that use the ship’s capabilities, it does raise a few issues. Crew size is one, but the other relate to the standard trio of speed, armament, and sustainability:

“The disadvantage is that speed requires great power. By choosing speed the Navy has consciously chosen to accept lower carrying capacity and endurance. The impact on endurance is illustrated by the fact LCS’s cruising range of around 4,000 nautical miles (nm) at 20kts reduces to 1,500 nm at 45kts. This compares to an endurance of around 12,000 nm at 9kts for the US Coast Guard’s Legend- class National Security Cutter. Consequently, any mission that requires extensive use of speed will significantly limit the ship’s unrefueled time on station. Restrictions on payload and fuel capacity (including aviation fuel) mean that the LCS will require considerable logistical support for the provisioning of fuel, ammunition, perishable foods and other consumables. The Navy will almost certainly need to give greater thought to how the LCS can be supported when operating at distance from base areas.

…While taking due account of the fact that none of these nations operate carriers or long-range strike forces, the ability of the LCS to defend itself when compared to similar ships designed to undertake similar tasks appears to be limited, especially against air attack, regardless of which mission package is carried… The ship currently lacks a torpedo detection capability. The Navy is now taking urgent steps to rectify this worrisome omission… consideration needs to be given to providing a “mother ship” or tender in support able to resupply not only fuel but also other consumables, such as ammunition, perishables and spare parts, and provide medical treatment and workshop facilities. The LCS is designed to be self-sustaining for between fourteen and twenty-one days but in circumstances when it is operating at high speed this could conceivably drop to as little as four days. Workshop access may be particularly important because, as part of the drive to restrict crew size, much of the maintenance generally conducted by a ship’s crew has, in the case of the LCS, been transferred ashore.”

…NWDC laid equal stress on “frequently conducted” or “continuous” missions including SOF support, maritime interception operations/ SLOC(Sea Lines of Communication) patrol, and logistics. It pointed out that in the 29-year period prior to 1999, 60 percent of all naval missions were of this type… The implication of these statements is that the primary use of the LCS is increasingly considered to be as a naval constabulary vessel (which all naval vessels are to a degree) that is also able to undertake most naval diplomacy tasks and selected missions at the middle and lower ends of naval war fighting.”

Note that many of the scenarios to illustrate the ships’ usefulness depend on sustained high-speed operations, against the backdrop of a US Navy that is already short on oilers. Another involves escorts through the Persian Gulf, against fast attack craft armed with anti-ship missiles whose range the LCS cannot match, and whose strikes the LCS is ill-equipped to survive.

March 3/10: Fuel & Range. Inside the Navy publishes data about the relative fuel efficiency of the 2 LCS contenders (Source). There’s a significant difference, with implications for both operating costs and range, but the Navy proposes to treat them as equivalent, vid. Feb 25/10 entry:

“The General Dynamics variant of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) uses less fuel per hour during higher rates of speed than the Lockheed Martin vessel, according to a Navy document. The one-page LCS Consumption Curves shows that both ships use about the same amount of fuel, or barrels, per hour between zero and 16 knots. At five knots, the General Dynamics aluminum trimaran uses 3.2 barrels per hour versus 3.9 for Lockheed Martin’s semi-planing monohull [DID: +21%]. At 14 knots, the General Dynamics ship uses 11.3 barrels per hour while the Lockheed Martin ship uses 12.7 [DID: +12.4%]. At 16 knots, the Lockheed Martin ship uses 18.4 barrels per hour while the General Dynamics ship uses 15.5 [DID: +18.7%], according to the document. At 30 knots, the General Dynamics trimaran burns through 62.7 barrels per hour, while the Lockheed Martin monohull uses 102.9 barrels per hour [DID: +64.1%] … At 40 knots, the Lockheed Martin ship burns through 138 barrels per hour while the General Dynamics ship uses 105.7 barrels per hour [DID: + 30.5%].”

The LCS-1 Freedom Class’ weight issues could change these figures, especially when fully loaded. The LCS-2 Independence Class also has greater fuel capacity.

Feb 25/10: Competition. US Sen. Sessions [R-AL] questions criteria for Littoral Combat Ship RFP, pointing out the RFP’s cost as sole determinant approach, despite capability differences. The Navy responds that they consider both ships to be equivalent, and says that the ships will spend a low percentage of their time at high speeds. AL.com | YouTube video | Gannett’s Navy Times article.

Feb 19/10: LCS 3. Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Kim Martinez says that the Fort Worth [LCS 3] “is being assessed to preclude the same tank design,” and may be modified to avoid the need for USS Freedom’s bolt-on rear “water wings.” Gannett’s Navy Times blog Scoop Deck adds:

“Neither LockMart nor the Navy will say the original LCS 1 design included too little reserve buoyancy, but Martinez stressed that Freedom “meets all the Navy’s requirements, including for reserve buoyancy.” So does that mean the Navy discovered problems with its own requirements after accepting delivery of the Freedom? “That’s a question best answered by the Navy,” Martinez said.”

Feb 16/10: Freedom Class change. Gannett’s Navy Times’ blog “Scoop Deck” notes an interesting change to USS Freedom [LCS 1]:

“There is one big change, however: In a yard period late last year, Freedom acquired two large oblong metal boxes on its transom, on either side of the stern gate its crew uses to launch and recover boats. The sailors call these “buoyancy tanks,” although they look almost like a baby’s water wings for the pool… Do water wings added after the fact mean the Freedom – and Lockheed Martin’s design for the LCS 1-class – suffered from too little reserve buoyancy? “I can’t really talk much more about that,” [Gold Crew skipper, Commander Randy] Garner said.”

Feb 2/10: GAO Report. The US Congress’ GAO submits official report GAO-10-257: “Littoral Combat Ship: Actions Needed to Improve Operating Cost Estimates and Mitigate Risks in Implementing New Concepts.” Key excerpts:

“GAO’s analysis of the Navy’s 2009 estimates showed that the [LCS] operating and support costs for seaframes and mission packages could total $84 billion (in constant fiscal year 2009 dollars) through about 2050 [divided $64.1B seaframes, $20.8B packages]. However, the Navy did not follow some best practices for developing an estimate… The costs to operate and support a weapon system can total 70 percent of a system’s costs… With a decision pending in 2010 on which seaframe to buy for the remainder of the program, decision makers could lack critical information to assess the full costs of the alternatives. The Navy has made progress in developing operational concepts for LCS, but faces risks in implementing its new concepts for personnel, training, and maintenance that are necessitated by the small crew size… an average of 484 days of training is required before reporting to a [LCS] crew, significantly more than for comparable positions on other surface ships. Moreover, the Navy’s maintenance concept relies heavily on distance support, with little maintenance performed on ship. The Navy acknowledges that there are risks in implementing its new concepts… If the Navy cannot implement its concepts as envisioned, it may face operational limitations, have to reengineer its operational concepts, or have to alter the ship design. Many of the concepts will remain unproven until 2013 or later, when the Navy will have committed to building almost half the class… Navy officials from two divisions within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations – the Surface Warfare Division and the Assessments Division – said they were unaware of any analysis supporting the total planned quantities for either the surface warfare package or its maritime security module. Also, Navy officials said that the Navy has not performed a force structure analysis on the antisubmarine package because the contents are under development.”

GAO’s core recommendation, among several:

“To improve decision making, we are recommending that the Navy conduct a risk assessment and consider the results before committing to buy LCS ships in order to link procurement with evidence that the Navy is progressing in its ability to implement its new operational concepts.”

Jan 27/10: RFP. The US Navy releases the revised Littoral Combat Ship RFP. See Sept 16/09 and Jan 11/10 entries; the winner will receive contracts for 10 ships over the next 5 years, and another competition will be held in 2012 for a 2nd shipyard. The 2nd shipyard will build 5 ships of the same design over 3 years, but can’t be associated with the winning shipyard. FedBizOpps Solicitation #N0002410R2301:

“For the requirements synopsized herein, the LCS team members are the only sources, with the requisite knowledge of LCS design, construction, systems, and extensive knowledge of, and experience with, mission module interface requirements to efficiently and effectively construct these additional follow-on ships within the required construction period, and perform the associated services. The requirement contemplated is for up to ten (10) ships with two (2) ships in Fiscal Year 2010 and for two (2) ships per year in Fiscal Years 2011 through 2014; up to five (5) additional Select Ship Systems to be provide to a Second Source in FY12; integration of up to five (5) sets of Select Ship Systems for a Second Source in FY12. The contract will be awarded through a limited competition pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304(c)(1), only one responsible source and no other supplies or services will satisfy agency requirements. Companies interested in subcontracting opportunities should contact the LCS teams directly.”

The RfP lists 3 primary bid items (basic seaframe/ ship; combat & non-combat equipment; and the systems to handle the integration and testing. Technical and management factors in order of preference are: affordability and production approach; management; technical data package adequacy, and rights in technical data and computer software; design change impact; past performance; and life-cycle cost reduction initiatives. Navy statements strongly indicate, however, that this will almost exclusively be a cost-driven competition. Defense News | Gannett’s Navy Times.

Revised RFP issued

Jan 20/10: No LVL 1 Survivability. Reuters offers conclusions from the Pentagon’s director of Operational Test and Evaluation. They include the failure of either design to meet Level I survivability criteria except among some sub-sections, and that neither ship could be expected to “be survivable in a hostile combat environment.”

Lockheed Martin’s Freedom Class monohulls had problems in early air target tracking tests, which revealed deficiencies in the TRS-3D radar’s power supply and reliability, and serious problems with the combat system. The report added that the ship could face stability problems when fully loaded. Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Jen Allen claims that stability is no longer a problem for this class, and Reuters reports that the Navy plans to install external tanks to effectively lengthen the ship’s stern, and increase its buoyancy.

General Dynamics/ Austal’s Independence Class trimaran had its builders trials delayed due to reported leaks at the gas turbine shaft seals, and more testing identified deficiencies in the main propulsion diesel engines. Reuters

Jan 16/10: LCS 2. The trimaran USS Independence [LCS 2] is commissioned. Austal | Gannett’s Navy Times.

USS Independence

Jan 11/10: Partnership break-up? Defense News reports that General Dynamics and Austal are set to break up their LCS partnership, which has GD Bath Iron Works as the prime contractor but most of the structural shipbuilding work done by Austal in Mobile, AL. Under the new procurement rules, the US Navy will require a second-supplier shipyard for the winning design, that can’t be associated with the primary builder. Before they take any final actions, however, the GD/Austal team is waiting to see the Navy’s latest RFP, which is a bit behind schedule but is still expected in January 2010.

General Dynamics had reportedly seen Bath Iron Works as the logical shipbuilding facility to take on shipbuilding work if their team’s trimaran design won, but there is some speculation that this may shift to T-AKE shipbuilder GD NASSCO in California, instead.

LCS 2 christening
(click to view full)

Dec 18/09: LCS 2 delivered. The General Dynamics Littoral Combat Ship Team delivers Independence [LCS 2] to the US Navy. USN Commanding Officer Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Conversion and Repair Captain Dean Krestos officially accepted custody of Independence in Mobile, AL, where the ship will remain before its commissioning as USS Independence on Jan 16/10. That date will mark the first time a US Navy ship has been commissioned in Mobile since 1945. The ship will then prepare for its next set of trials, in the summer of 2010. US Navy | GD release.

Dec 17/09: LCS 4 keel. A brief keel laying ceremony is held in Mobile at Austal USA’s Assembly Bay 4 to record completion of the first major construction milestone for Coronado [LCS 4]. As one might expect, the centerpiece of the ceremony was the ship’s keel module, a large outfitted section of the aluminum center hull. GD release.

Dec 12/09: Coast Guard on USS Freedom. Gannett’s Navy Times reports that USS Freedom [LCS 1] will have US Coast Guard VBSS teams on board when it ventures into the Caribbean:

“The littoral combat ship Freedom is to take aboard a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment for part of its trial deployment early next year, Navy officials said, with the Coasties substituting for part of the Navy boarding team added to the LCS crew. Freedom is taking 20 sailors in two visit, board, search and seizure teams…”

Dec 3/09: Order clarity. The US Navy finally releases the cost data for recent Littoral Combat Ship contracts. Note that the cost of a fully-outfitted ship would add about $100 million for the installed mission module, in addition to other “government furnished equipment”. As such, actual costs to field operational ships are likely to end up above $600 million:

“As a result of the Navy’s change in acquisition strategy for the Fiscal Year (FY) 2010 Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, the Navy can now release the pricing… The total value of the LCS 3 contract, awarded to Lockheed Martin Corporation on March 23, was $470,854,144 which includes ship construction, non-recurring construction and additional engineering effort, configuration management services, additional crew and shore support, special studies and post delivery support.

The total value of the LCS 4 contract, awarded to General Dynamics – Bath Iron Works on May 1, was $433,686,769 which includes ship construction, non-recurring construction and additional engineering effort, configuration management services, additional crew and shore support, special studies and post delivery support.

The contract values do not include government costs which include government furnished equipment, change orders, and program management support costs. The contract values do not include the cost of continuation work and material used from the terminated original contract options for LCS 3 and 4. The value of the continuation work and material from the terminated LCS 3 was $78 million for Lockheed Martin Corporation and $114 million from the terminated LCS 4 for General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works.”

FY 2009 costs

Nov 13-21/09: LCS 1. USS Freedom [LCS 1] also conducts independent ship deployment training and certification at sea, operating with ships from the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower [CVN 69] Carrier Strike Group during their Composite Training Unit Exercise (COMPTUEX). That was part of the Maritime Security Surge certification for the ship’s Gold Crew, which will deploy aboard Freedom in early 2010 to U.S. Southern Command.

Nov 19/09: Testing. The US Navy announces that LCS 2 Independence has successfully completed acceptance trials, after completing a series of graded in-port and underway demonstrations for the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV).

Acceptance trials are the last significant milestone before delivery of the ship to the Navy. Ship delivery is expected to occur with the ship’s commissioning as USS Independence on Jan 16/09 in Mobile, AL.

Oct 18/09: Testing. LCS 2 Independence successfully completes builder’s trials in the Gulf of Mexico. The trials included more than 50 demonstration events in preparation for final inspection by the Navy, including stable flight deck performance and ship control in Beaufort Sea State 5 conditions, sustained speeds of 44 knots, tests of the ship’s open architecture OPEN CI electronic backbone, and detection and engagement of a simulated cruise missile fire by an small jet aircraft. Austal release | GD release | Gannett’s Navy Times.

Oct 14/09: USS Freedom to deploy. The Navy announces the decision to deploy the USS Freedom [LCS 1] in early 2010 to the Southern Command and Pacific Command areas ahead of her originally scheduled 2012 maiden deployment (see also June 9/09 entry). Military.com says that:

“In evaluating options for deploying the Freedom earlier than originally scheduled, the Navy took into consideration several key factors including combat systems testing, shakedown of the ship systems and overseas sustainment with a new concept of operations and crew training. To facilitate the early deployment, the Navy adjusted the Freedom testing schedule, prioritized testing events needed for deployment and deferred others not required for the missions envisioned during this deployment.”

FY 2009

Another program shift; LCS 3 & 4 ordered, again, but we won’t tell you how much; LCS 4 named; LCS 2 launched; Naval Fire Support module?

LCS 2, builder’s trials
(click to view full)

Sept 16/09: LCS Plan #4. The Pentagon reiterates its commitment to 55 LCS ships, but changes the LCS program’s acquisition structure, again. There will be no Phase II for the FY 2009 buy. Instead, selection of the final design would occur in FY 2010, before operational trials of both ships could take place. Both industry teams would submit proposals under a new solicitation. The winner would receive a 10-ship contract running from FY 2010-2014, and provide the combat systems for their 10 ships, plus 5 more. They would also deliver a technical data package, allowing the Navy to open a “build to print” competition for a second builder of the chosen design, beginning in FY 2012. That “build to print” order would be for up to 5 more ships.

This timeline would not give the Navy enough time to fully evaluate the ships relative merits before it makes its selection, essentially removing the entire rationale for building 2 types of Flight 0 ships. It would also leave the ships’ overall operational utility an open question.

Colton Company’s Maritime Memos adds that the envisioned structure may face challenges, depending on which design wins. It sees Team Lockheed’s steel hull as biddable to Northrop Grumman Pascagoula, GD Bath Iron Works, and GD NASSCO, plus VT Halter Marine; and possibly Todd, Bollinger in a break-away bid, or anyone who buys Bender in liquidation. The GD Bath Iron Works/Austal aluminum-hull design requires a more specialized set of skills, however, and those ships are too wide to be built on the Great Lakes and shipped out through the seaway. Colton believes a shipbuilder would have to invest in a new yard, or partner with an established aluminum boatbuilder, such as Swiftships or megayacht builder, such as Trinity Yachts. Colton adds:

“In essence, there might not be any credible competition for a second-source contract. Since almost everyone now agrees that the Austal design is clearly superior to the Marinette design, this could give the Navy a new problem.”

It could certainly give the Austal/GD team a new problem. US DoD | The Hill magazine | Alabama Press-Register | Associated Press | Reuters | Information Dissemination op-ed: “The LCS is Still a Mess.”

Acquisition plan #4

July 30/09: Politics. At the House Armed Services Seapower and Expeditionary Forces Subcommittee’s “Hearing on Efforts to Improve Shipbuilding Effectiveness,” Chair Gene Taylor [D-MS] states in his opening remarks that:

“The LCS program is still a disaster, there is no way to sugar coat it, the program is still a disaster. Those first vessels were constructed in the most inefficient manner possible, just like my house construction analogy, and now we are being told by both the contractors that the cost of these ships really is in excess of a half a billion dollars. I am not sure the Congress is willing to go forward with that program unless significant progress is made on cost control, and I do mean significant.

With the challenges being faced by all the Services in trying to reset from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan the Navy cannot count on additional funding for ship construction. We all need to figure how to rebuild our Fleet with the procurement dollars available. To do that all costs must come under control. Hard decisions need to be made. Soon.”

June 15/09: Inside the Navy, Vol. 22, No. 23:

“The House Armed Services seapower and expeditionary forces subcommittee has proposed to restructure the congressionally mandated $460 million cost cap for the Littoral Combat Ship to solely include the price of each vessel [DID: and not its weapons, radars, and “mission equipment”], but if shipbuilders cannot meet the cost cap, lawmakers would require the Navy to rebid the ship.”

June 10/09: Testing. Austal announces “light off” of LCS 2 Independence’s 4 propulsion engines: 2 GE LM2500 22,000kW gas turbines, and 2 MTU 20V 8000 M71 9,100kW diesels. The light off followed fuel loading and testing of all 4 generators.

Activation and testing of the combat and other systems onboard Independence is continuing at Austal’s US facility in Mobile, AL. The beginning of sea trials is expected within a few weeks.

June 9/09: The Military Officers’ Association of America’s “Inside the Headquarters” blog says that the US Navy is thinking of deploying the LCS early:

“According to a source at Lockheed Martin, the Navy wants the USS Freedom (LCS 1) to deploy soon and well ahead of schedule. Apparently the chief of naval operations himself, Adm. Gary Roughead, has called for the move. Currently, the Freedom is not scheduled to deploy until 2012.”

The Somali coast would be the most likely destination. Efforts to move endangered weapons programs to the front lines, in order to secure a program’s future, have a long history in the US military.

June 9/09: Support. Alion Science and Technology Corp. in Washington, DC received an $8.6 million modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-09-F-B008) for support to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program office. This will include program planning and management, business and financial management planning and execution, systems engineering, test and evaluation engineering, life cycle engineering and support, logistics and operation support, configuration and data management engineering, and combat systems development.

Work will be performed in Washington, DC, and is expected to be complete by September 2009.

June 1/09: Costs. Gannett’s Navy Times reports that based on FY 2010 budget justification documents, the price to build, outfit and deliver Team Lockheed’s USS Freedom [LCS 1] now is $637 million, up from last year’s estimate of $631 million. The price tag for the GD/Austal ship Independence [LCS 2], however, rose from $636 million to $704 million. Most of the cost growth on the LCS 2 is listed under Basic Construction Cost.

LCS 1, builder’s trials
(click to view full)

May 22/09: Testing. The USS Freedom wasn’t able to perform a number of key Navy acceptance tests on Lake Michigan, where she was built. A 2nd round of INSURV testing was required, and the US Navy PEO Ships release states that:

“There were no major safety issues or operational restrictions determined during the trial, although the ship must complete a number of scheduled system certifications before it can conduct unrestricted operations.”

INSURV inspectors noted that since the August 2008 lake trials, the ship has made improvements to its propulsion plant, machinery control system, communication systems, and information systems. The new salt water tests allowed inspectors to check the ship’s cathodic protection, degaussing, and reverse osmosis system. Ocean conditions let them test surveillance and identification systems at a sufficient distance from land without border issues. And stepping out of a lake used for drinking water let them demonstrate the ship’s fire suppression and waste discharge systems. Other major systems and features demonstrated for INSURV this time included aviation support, small boat launch handling and recovery, fin stabilizers, in addition to the full-power run.

May 15/09: LCS for NFS? Aviation Week reports that US Marine Corps Commandant Gen. James Conway is working with his Navy counterpart, Adm. Gary Roughead, to expand the concept of using the LCS as a naval fire support option for Marine landings.

Conway is quoted as discussing “a box of rockets” as the Marnes’ preferred option, which would seem to indicate the LCS surface warfare module’s planned NLOS-LS/NETFIRES “missile in a box” system. On the other hand, the report adds that:

“The services are still examining storage and elevator capacity aboard LCS, and Conway said “we don’t have [the] box we need.”

May 1/09: LCS 4.US Navy Sinks LCS-4 Construction” chronicled the crash of the original program’s acquisition plan, and cancellation of the 2nd ships from each manufacturing team. Now, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME has received a FY 2009 contract to build the USS Coronado [LCS 4]. The contract includes construction, class design services, configuration management services, additional crew and shore support, special studies and post delivery support. Phase II could involve up to 3 more LCS Flight 0+ Class ships.

What the US Navy will not do, is reveal those terms of Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics’ contracts, even though the original excuse that the Navy was in negotiations with General Dynamics for its part of the 2-phase buy no longer applies. The Navy simply says that “the award amount is considered source selection information (see FAR 2.101 and 3.104) and will not be made public at this time.” The LCS program’s cost overruns have been significant contributors to the program’s political troubles, and it certainly is convenient not to have to discuss that any more. One source of inference is that the award represents the 2nd half of the 2-vessel, $1.02 billion FY 2009 budget appropriation for the LCS program, but past LCS contracts and budgets have had little predictive value with respect to final outlays.

Austal had remained optimistic regarding the LCS program, but recently laid off 62 employees in Mobile, AL, due to slower work in the commercial ferry sector. There is no word yet on whether they will be rehired as a result of this contract. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (50%); Bath, ME (17%); Pittsfield, MA (14%); California, MD (1%); Baltimore, MD (1%); Leesburg, VA (1%); Burlington, VT (1%); Ottawa, Ontario, Canada (2%); and various locations of less than 1% each totaling 13%. Work is expected to be complete by June 2012 (N00024-09-C-2302).

Meanwhile, sea trials of Austal’s first LCS, the 127m Independence [LCS 2], are scheduled for mid-2009, with delivery expected later in the year. Austal | General Dynamics | Mobile, AL Press-Register | Mobile, AL Press-Register re: layoffs.

LCS 4 ordered, again

April 6/09: Budgets. Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announces his FY 2010 budget recommendations, which include 3 LCS ships. Despite issues with the program, and concern about the ship’s combat capabilities, Gates reiterates the goal of eventually buying 55 of these $500+ million specialty support ships. The announcement bolstered confidence at Austal, which had been watching the budget deliberations closely.

March 23/09: LCS 3. US NAVSEA awards Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Baltimore, MD an undisclosed sum for “LCS FY09 Flight 0+ ship construction, class design services, configuration management services, additional crew and shore support, special studies and post delivery support.”

The Navy cancelled Lockheed Martin’s original LCS-3 contract in 2007, but new negotiations reportedly arrived at an acceptable arrangement for a fixed-price contract with incentives. The Fort Worth’s [LCS-3] price tag is reported to be in the $500 million range, which would represent a price drop relative to LCS-1.

NAVSEA is still negotiating with General Dynamics for LCS-4, so the award amount is classified source selection information under Federal Acquisition Regulations 2.101 and 3.104. Under the Navy’s FY 09/10 strategy (see Oct 17/08 entry), the Navy will attempt to buy 2 LCS ships in FY 2009, with option for up to 3 ships in 2010. Earlier acquisition strategies had focused on FY 2010 as the down-select date; that is still possible, but the Navy reportedly has the option of choosing another split for the FY 2010 buy.

Work will be performed in Marinette, WI (63%); Moorestown, NJ (12%); Washington, DC (11%); Clearwater, FL (4%); Baltimore, MD (4%); Arlington, VA (3%); Brunswick, GA (2%); and Eagan, MN (1%), and is expected to be complete by December 2012 (N00024-09-C-2303). See also: Reuters report.

LCS 3 ordered, again

March 12/09: LCS 4 named. US Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter announces that LCS 4 will be named USS Coronado. A 4th LCS ship had not been ordered yet when the announcement was made, though some funds had been allocated in the FY 2009 budget for 2 ships. The Navy’s release has a picture of the GD/Austal trimaran design next to the announcement, but the announcement does not confirm that type as LCS 4.

Coronado, near San Diego, CA is home to Naval Air Base North Island (NASNI) and Naval Amphibious Base (NAB), Coronado, and has been home to the Navy since 1917. Coronado hosts 2 aircraft carriers, the west coast’s major SEAL special forces facility, and over 120 tenant commands between the 2 bases. US Navy.

March 11/09: Politics. Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week reports that one logical corollary of a “build to [blue]print” approach is that foreign shipyards might become eligible to compete for LCS construction:

“[Taylor] also noted to the conference that he’s visited other shipyards – Hyundai in Korea, Maersk in Finland – and concluded that “our yards have to get up to their [DID: highly automated] standards.” So if LCS goes to open bidding, would those shipyards be eligible to bid? “Traditionally the House has preferred to build our weapons domestically,” Taylor said, “but we’ve had a hard time getting it past Senator McCain. If I had my way I’d limit it to American shipbuilders. But I often don’t get my way.”

That statement can fairly be described as cryptic. Sweetman’s conjecture re: foreign construction is unlikely, for a variety of political reasons. Government funding for shipyard improvements, meanwhile, did not appear in the “stimulus” bill, and would be most likely to be funneled to the larger military shipyards if it was granted.

March 10/09: Politics. MarineLog reports that the Littoral Combat Ship program receives another bi-partisan rough ride at the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces. Chairman Gene Taylor [D-MS]:

“When I look at the plan from just two years ago, we should by now have at least 4 ships delivered, 3 more nearing completion from a fiscal year 2008 authorization, 6 under contract from a fiscal year 2009 authorization, and today we should be discussing the authorization of 6 more ships for fiscal year 2010. That would be a total of 19 ships. So instead of having 13 delivered or under contract with another 6 in this year’s budget, we have one ship delivered that will likely tip the scales well above two and a half times the original estimate and one ship that might finish this summer, with similar if not higher cost growth… Everyone should understand that the current situation of these vessels costing in excess of a half billion dollars cannot continue… There are too many other needs and too little resources to pour money into the program that was designed to be affordable.”

With respect to Taylor’s desire for a “build to print” approach, the answer appears to be that the government owns the rights to the ship’s physical design, but integration of all the sub-systems like the radar, Mk110 naval gun etc. is another matter. Rep. Todd Akin [R-MO] was critical of the Navy’s acquisition strategy, from the repeated changes over the last 2 years to the current strategy’s sustainability:

“We cannot reasonably expect the industry teams to make the investments in facilities and designs for affordability we demand, if we cannot articulate what we want to buy. Further, we cannot reasonably expect the taxpayers to continue to fund ships that we cannot definitively say we want… We need to be very cautious about increasing capacity for which the Navy lacks the volume to support… We must ensure that we are not creating two additional shipyards that rely on a sole customer for support. The strategy for building LCS at mid-tier yards was explicitly to avoid this phenomenon, since these yards had commercial work. Now, we hear that these yards may have turned away commercial work and are considering capital investments with the intent of constructing LCS only.”

See: MarineLog | Information Dissemination.

March 6/09: New LCS 3 named. US Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter announces 6 that the LCS 3 will be named USS Fort Worth. A 3rd LCS ship had not been ordered yet when the announcement was made, though some funds had been allocated in the FY 2009 budget for 2 ships.

The Navy says that the announcement continues the practice of naming the agile LCS vessels after American midsized cities, small towns and communities. Fort Worth, TX, near Dallas, is an especially important hub of aerospace manufacturing, but a number of other defense-related activities go on there. US Navy.

March 2/09: Industrial. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Baltimore, MD received a modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-03-C-2311) for “LCS program continuation efforts necessary to preserve production capability at its industry team shipyard facility.” Work is expected to be complete by April 2009, and will be performed in Marinette, WI (56%); Moorestown, NJ (13%); Clearwater, FL (11%); Brunswick, GA (10%); Washington, DC (8%) and Baltimore, MD (2%) under contract (N00024-03-C-2311).

Lockheed Martin has already delivered USS Freedom [LCS 1] to the Navy, and the Navy’s prior cancellation of LCS 3 has left that shipyard with a work gap. General Dynamics and Austal, meanwhile, continue to build LCS 2 Independence at their Gulf Coast shipyard. This award must be at least $5 million, or the Navy would not have announced it at all, but no figure was given. With respect to this award, the US Navy cites this justification for its lack of transparency:

“As this award represents efforts integrally related to Phase I of a competitive two-phased acquisition approach to procure FY09/FY10 LCS, with Phase II including potential award of up to three additional LCS Flight 0+ Class ships, the award amount is considered source selection information (see FAR 2.101 and 3.104) and will not be made public at this time.”

That translates as “we’re still negotiating with Lockheed Martin and with General Dynamics for fixed-price awards, and are appropriating these funds to buy advance materials and avoid layoffs at Marinette.”

Feb 24/09: Politics. Senators McCain and Levin, who have authored legislation to reform the US military’s procurement system, single out the LCS program in their comments. CNN:

“Levin said the ships are “way beyond” their projected construction time of two years, and the program has grown from a cost per ship of about $220 million to more than $500 million, according to a November report from the Congressional Research Service. “We can’t have a ship that’s a small ship that’s supposed to be built in two years run completely out of control to double or triple or quadruple its original cost estimates,” McCain said.”

Jan 28/09: LCS 2. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME received a $37.75 million basic ordering agreement for Post-Shakedown Availability (PSA) of the USS Independence [LCS-2]. Work will include the ship’s PSA efforts, testing, and materials, from program management to advance planning, engineering, material kitting, liaison, scheduling and participation in PSA planning conferences and design reviews, preparation of documentation as required by the Contract Data Requirement List, and required fixes.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (53%); Norfolk, VA (24%); and Mobile, AL (23%), and is expected to be complete by December 2012. This contract was not competitively procured (N00024-09-G-2301).

Dec 29/08: NVR cert. The American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) in Houston, TX is a congressionally recognized agent of the government, and certification to set standards is one of their services. They receive a $55 million cost no fee, indefinite-delivery/ indefinitely-quantity contract to provide for ship classification and classification-related services using Naval Vessel Rules (NVR), which form the core of the certification process for surface ships bought by US NAVSEA.

New construction contracts require the ships to be designed and constructed in accordance with ABS Rules for Building and Classing Naval Vessels, and other referenced ABS Rules and Guides as necessary to comply with the designated class notations. Readers of this brief will recall that the switch to NVR rules during LCS construction was one of the key factors that inflated the costs of the first ships, and raised costs across the board for the class. On the other hand, ships built to NVR standards can be expected to survive damage better than comparable non-NVR ships.

Approximately 46% of ABS’ services will be performed in support of new DDG ships in Bath, ME (GD-BIW); Pascagoula, MS; and Gulf Port, MS (NG-SS) and approximately 46% in support of future LCS new construction ships in locations to be determined. The remaining 8% of services will be performed in Norfolk, VA; San Diego, CA; and various worldwide points as specified in task orders to be issued. Work is expected to be completed by December 2013. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington, DC (N00024-09-D-4208)

Dec 17/08: Weight. Information Dissemination relays an Inside the Navy report hat covers ongoing platform issues in “LCS Weight Issue Revisited“. From Inside the Navy:

“In October, Navy spokesman Lt. Clay Doss confirmed that initial tests by the Navy were showing the vessel to be six percent overweight, but maintained that it was not cause for concern… “There’s stuff on board that I don’t think we need,” Gabrielson said. “There’s some pretty big things on board that I think we could live without.”

Nov 8/08: LCS 1. LCS 1 Freedom is commissioned during a 10 a.m. EST ceremony at Veterans Park in Milwaukee, WI. Upon completion of the ceremony, she becomes USS Freedom. US Navy PEO Ships advance notice | USS Freedom Comissioning Committee.

USS Freedom

Oct 31/08: Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Baltimore, MD received a $37.5 million Basic Ordering Agreement for Post-Shakedown Availability (PSA) on the Littoral Combat Ship, USS Freedom [LCS-1]. The orders to be issued will encompass services include, but are not limited to program management, advance planning, engineering, material kitting, liaison, scheduling and participation in PSA planning conferences and design reviews, and preparation of documentation as required by the Contract Data Requirement List. The orders will also encompass material and labor to perform the PSA for LCS 1, all testing, including post repair trials required to verify the accuracy and completion of all shipyard industrial work, non-standard equipment when approved, and technical manuals for non-standard equipment.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (53%) and Norfolk, VA (47%), and is expected to be completed by January 2011. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C. (N00024-09-G-2300).

Oct 24/08: The Freedom [LCS 1] sails away from the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, WI, en route to Duluth, MN for a four-day port visit beginning Oct. 27. This will be the first leg in the ship’s voyage of commissioning and transit to Norfolk, VA, where she will undergo fleet testing and evaluation away from the Great Lakes’ ice buildups. Maritime Reporter and Engineering News.

Oct 17/08: LCS Plan #3. The NY Times’ International Herald Tribune reports that the U.S. Navy has canceled plans to buy a 3rd new combat ship in FY 2008 from either Lockheed Martin Corp. or General Dynamics Corp., citing budget shortfalls. The article adds that:

“The Navy now plans to award one ship to each contractor under the fiscal 2009 budget, and hold a competition for another three vessels with funding in fiscal 2010 to keep competitive pressure between the two companies. Each of the 2009 contracts will come with options for future ships. However, the Navy said it will evaluate pricing of the fiscal 2010 ships before making a decision, and envisions awarding two ships to a winning contractor and one ship to a losing bidder, the same as its original plan.”

Acquisition plan #3

Oct 4/08: LCS 2 christened. The Austal/General Dynamics ship LCS 2 Independence is christened in a ceremony at Austal’s Mobile, AL shipyard. US Navy PEO Ships release | Austal release.

FY 2008

No ships this year; LCS 2 launched; LCS-4 canceled; Cost growth continues; Israeli request.

Team GD LCS Concept
(click to view full)

September 2008: The US Navy has the appropriated funds to build an additional LCS ship, but decides not to issue that contract. Source.

No FY 2008 ship

Sept 30/08: Infrastructure. R. A. Burch Construction Co., Inc. in Ramona, CA received $6.5 million for a firm-fixed-price task order under a previously award multiple award construction contract. They will be responsible for upgrading Building 57 for the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) squadron administrative headquarters at Naval Base San Diego. The task order also contains one option, which if exercised would increase cumulative task order value to $8.7 million.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by April 2010. Contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, and 3 proposals were received for this task order by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command, Southwest in San Diego, CA (N62473-08-D-8607, #0005).

Sept 18/08: LCS 1 delivered. The Lockheed Martin-led LCS team delivers LCS 1 Freedom to the U.S. Navy. The delivery milestone marks the Navy’s preliminary acceptance of LCS 1.

Sept 4/08: CSBA Cool to LCS Concept. WIRED Danger Room’s post “Navy Already Shifting Away from Shallow Waters?” forwards an analysis by Bob Work, naval analyst at the respected, nonpartisan CSBA think tank in Washington. He sees the same pressures that turned the Navy against the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class destroyer program impinging on the future of the Littoral Combat Ship:

“The maritime area over which a strong coastal power can now influence with multidimensional, combined-arms naval reconnaissance-strike complexes is expanding. The combination of space-based sensors, over-the-horizon radars, maritime [Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance], patrol and strike aircraft, nuclear and [Air-Independent Propulsion] submarines armed with wake-homing torpedoes and anti-ship cruise missiles, and now anti-ship ballistic missiles, poses severe threats to any surface ship. Under these circumstances, the Navy has to improve its ability to fight from range, in the open ocean.”

July 31/08: CRS report. In testimony before the US House Armed Services Committee’s Seapower and Expeditionary Forces subcommittee, Dr. Eric Labs of the Congressional Budget Office discusses the LCS program to date [PDF]:

“The Navy’s 2009 shipbuilding plan envisions building 55 littoral combat ships between 2005 and 2019. Because those ships are assumed to have a service life of 25 years, the Navy would need to begin procuring their replacements in 2032… The Navy expects to buy 64 mission modules for the 55-ship program.

…Originally, each sea frame was expected to cost about $260 million (in 2009 dollars, or $220 million in 2005 dollars). The Navy’s 2009 budget would allow the purchase of 18 LCSs during the 2009-2013 period, at an average cost of about $450 million per sea frame. That is 11 fewer than the 2008 plan envisioned… In the 2009 budget, the Navy estimates the cost of LCS-1 at $631 million and LCS-2 at $636 million… using the lead ship of the FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate as an analogy… The first FFG-7 cost about $670 million to build (in 2009 dollars), or about $250 million per thousand tons, including combat systems. Applying that metric to the LCS program suggests that the lead ships would cost about $600 million apiece, including the cost of one mission module… CBO estimates that the first two LCSs could cost about $700 million each, including outfitting and postdelivery costs… As of April 27, 2008, LCS-1 was 87% complete and LCS-2 was 72% complete. So, additional cost growth is possible…”

July 30/08: What happened to LCS? Naval Technology’s article “Littoral Combat Ship Runs Aground” offers a look at the program workings and assumptions that have led the program to its current state. In brief, it states that:

“Distilling the story yields the following guide to botching development projects in five steps […];

1. Make the goal as difficult as possible
2. Impose a management style ideally suited for commoditised products
3. When sourcing, be penny-wise and pound-foolish
4. Design and build simultaneously
5. When you’re in a hole, keep digging

[…] Perhaps the moral of the LCS story is this: the US can produce better ships, or produce ships better – but it can’t do both at the same time.”

July 28/08: Testing. LCS 1 Freedom begins builder’s trials on Lake Michigan. US Navy release | Reuters Aug 12/08 follow-up.

July 15/08: Israel request. The contracts with Lockheed Martin et. al. could be worth up to $1.9 billion for 4 ships, and would be the first LCS export sale. The design will be very different from the American Freedom Class LCS, however; mission modules will be replaced with vertical launch systems and fixed weapons, and the ship will sport an AEGIS radar system.

The Israelis eventually decide that the costs are prohibitive, and begin looking elsewhere. As of 2013, they still don’t have a contract for new ships, though they are upgrading the Sa’ar 5 Eilat Class to a Sa’ar 5.5 configuration in the meantime. See “A Littoral Combat Frigate For Israel” for details.

Israel request

April 28/08: LCS 2 launched. Austal USA’s Mobile, AL shipyard launches LCS 2 Independence. The ship will be moored alongside the Austal USA facility for activation and testing of combat and other onboard systems is completed. Sea trials are expected to commence in late 2008. Austal release.

April 7/08: LCS SAR. Cost growth for the LCS program lands it on the Pentagon’s Selected Acquisition Reports for this period:

“Program costs increased $909.7 million (+46.9 percent) from $1,938.9 million to $2,848.6 million, due primarily to a revised estimate in Seaframe pricing that reflects substantial cost growth and post delivery work (+$496.1 million) and a revised estimate for Mission Module development and phasing due to maturation of the definition of the Mission Modules (+$271.2 million). Costs also increased due to a lengthening of the Flight 0 schedule to incorporate additional effort (+$71.3 million), a revised estimate for program development of Flight 0 and Flight 0+ planning and execution (+$42.3 million), and additional scope for Mission Module development (+$40.7 million).”

Costs rising

March 14/08: Controversy. The odds don’t look good for the US Navy’s FY 2009 request of 2 Littoral Combat Ships. The house Armed Services Committee’s Seapower & Expeditionary Forces subcommittee took testimony regarding that request, and the LCS request came under fire from both sides of the aisle. See “US Navy’s 313-Ship Plan Under Fire in Congress” for full links etc. Chairman Rep. Gene Taylor [D-MS], a strong proponent of more naval shipbuilding:

“So, instead of being asked to fund programs that are building ships on time and at projected cost, we are asked to fund programs which are not… [the LCS] will go into the textbooks to train future acquisition officials how not to run a program. The LCS will be at least twice as expensive as advertised, it has taken twice as long to build the lead ships, neither vessel has been underway on its own power, and the Navy cancelled two contract options last year, which were already funded, because of cost overruns.

Yet this year we are asked to authorize two more ships – why? What has changed between then and now that indicates that this program is in any way ready to build more ships? We have been told the answer to this question is that there is an ’emergent need’ for these ships in the fleet. If that is true why did the Navy cancel two of the ships? At some point we must stop throwing money at this program until the Navy can prove that at least one of the ships can get to sea and do its mission.”

Ranking minority member Roscoe Bartlett [R-MD] was equally skeptical:

“And how much risk are we buying down if we procure two more Littoral Combat Ships, the year after we cancelled two, and the year in which the Navy plans to conduct an operational evaluation and possible downselect of LCS-1 and 2? Even if there is no downselect, the Navy has stated that there will be design changes made to the Flight One ships. So the two we buy now will be different than the remaining 50. Is that worth it, if those funds could keep a stable program like LPD-17 alive?”

Feb 4/08: Costs. FY 2009 budget documents released by the Navy give the expected final cost for its LCS-1 and LCS-2 ships: $631 million and $636 million, respectively. First-of-class ships usually cost more – but recall that prescient July 24/07 estimate of $630 million from the Congressional Budget Office.

Nov 1/07: LCS-4. The US Navy cancels construction of LCS-4 by the General Dynamics/Austal team, leaving its LCS acquisition strategy adrift amidst deep proposed funding cuts from Congress in the FY 2008 budget. There was also the minor problem of a second contractor who refused to accept a “deal” that let the Navy make any number of design changes, while the contractor was solely responsible for costs, and would pay for overruns above the proposed fixed-price contract.

The Navy eventually decides to revise its entire approach, and use planned FY 2007-2008 procurement funds to get LCS 1 & 2 built, rather than buying additional ships.

LCS-4 order canceled

Oct 11/07: Israel. Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that the Israeli Navy “has launched a second study regarding the potential acquisition of the United States Navy’s (USN’s) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) focused on Lockheed Martin’s semi-planing monohull design known as LCS-I (Israel). “That design appears to be the most suitable for our needs,” a senior IN source told Jane’s…”

See “An LCS For Israel?” for full coverage.

FY 2007

LCS-3 cancelled, LCS-4 ordered but iffy over cost growth; LCS Program Manager dismissed; LCS 2 inspection issues; ALCOA weight reduction work; Official reports.

GD: Helicopter space
(click to view full)

Sept 27/07: Sub-contractors. Small business qualifier ALCOA Inc. in Alcoa Center, PA received an $8.3 million indefinite-delivery/ indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee completion contract to provide engineering services in support of the re-design of existing aluminum structures to improve performance and survivability of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) via weight reduction of selected assemblies or components. Work will be performed in Alcoa Center, PA (84%); Johnstown, PA (11%); Columbus, OH (3%); and various shipyards (2%), and is expected to be complete in September 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $3.7 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The contract was not competitively procured by the Naval Surface Warfare Center, Carderock Division, West Bethesda, Md., is the contracting activity (N00167-07-D-0010).

This contract will fund the Alcoa Collaborative Design Approach (ACDA), a phased program approach in which the following tasks will be applied to the LCS: selection of candidate assemblies and components; development of conceptual designs and down selection of design concepts; evaluation of design concepts and final selection; development and evaluation of prototypes; and ship integration. The components for improvement may include hull sections, doors/hatches, load floors, foundations, large apertures or similar structures.

Alcoa has considerable expertise in this area, having worked closely with Lockheed Martin on a very similar effort re: the F-35B Lightning II STOVL fighter.

Still, one wonders why, exactly, this has become a priority for the LCS program? The Dec 17/08 entry suggests that weight reduction was the goal.

Sept 24/07: LCS 2 issues. Newhouse News Service reports that “Navy inspectors have documented numerous problems with construction of a next-generation vessel known as the littoral combat ship, or LCS, according to government records obtained under the federal Freedom of Information Act.” They are referring specifically to the General Dynamics/ Austal ships, and proceed to detail these issues in “Navy Inspectors Find Numerous Problems With Ship Project.”

Some of these items are “normal” issues that inspectors exist to catch, others are less so. Note, especially the time frames of the issues raised, as many date from 2006 and predate subsequent reports.

Sept 21/07: LCS 4? Gannett’s Navy Times reports that the US Navy and General Dynamics are expected to meet next week to discuss the LCS program:

“GD spokesman Kendall Pease confirmed the Navy had asked for the meeting but provided no further details, other than to say a specific date had not been set. Other sources, however, said the meeting was to discuss slowing construction on LCS 4, the second ship GD is building at its Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala.”

The Navy was forced to reimburse Team Lockheed for a number of expenses after canceling LCS-3, and they are reportedly trying to restructure the deal with the GD/Austal team to avoid paying those costs in the event that LCS-4 is canceled. If the parties cannot agree, the Navy could always choose to cancel LCS-4 on those grounds, and pay the minor reimbursement fees that would be involved at this early stage. The downside is that a second cancellation decision would leave the entire LCS program in tatters, either turning it into a 1-ship each “sail off” competition, or throwing the entire program back to the drawing board.

Aug 8/07: Cost growth. US Navy acquisition chief Dolores Etter said in an interview with Reuters that General Dynamics is about 54% done with its first ship [LCS-2], which is due to be delivered in mid-2008. She also stated that “We … continue to see challenges with the program and with each platform, specifically with the propulsion system on LCS-1 and systems integration on LCS-2.”

With respect to the GD/Austal team’s effort to rein in costs, she said that “We do have points at which our concern will go up. You can’t predict what will happen, but things are moving forward in a good direction” in terms of the firm’s efforts to rein in costs.

Meanwhile, Reuters adds that US Navy officials have asked lawmakers to approve a 55% increase in a cost cap for the 5th and 6th LCS ships, to $460 million. They also said costs for the first Lockheed ship and GD’s LCS-2 could be up to 75% higher than expected. Reuters article: “US Navy sees progress on General Dynamics LCS ship.”

July 24/07: CBO Report. In a statement before the US House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces, Congressional Budget Office representatives testify that [PDF format]:

“Experience had suggested that cost growth was likely to occur in the LCS program. In particular, historical cost-weight relationships – using the lead ship of the Oliver Hazard Perry class of frigates (FFG-7) as an analogy – indicated that the Navy’s original cost target for the LCS was optimistic. The first FFG-7, including its combat systems, cost a total of about $650 million (in 2008 dollars) to build, or about $235 million per thousand tons. Applying that per-ton estimate to the LCS program suggests that the lead ships would cost about $575 million apiece, including the cost of one mission module (to make them comparable to the FFG-7). In this case, looking at cost-weight relationships produced an estimate less than the apparent cost of the first two LCSs but substantially greater than the Navy’s original estimate.

As of this writing, the Navy has not publicly released an estimate for the LCS program that incorporates the most recent cost growth, other than its request to raise the cost caps for the fifth and sixth ships. CBO estimates that with that growth included, the first two LCSs would cost about $630 million each, excluding mission modules but including outfitting, postdelivery, and various nonrecurring costs associated with the first ships of the class. As the program advances, with a settled design and higher annual rates of production, the average cost per ship is likely to decline. Excluding mission modules, the 55 LCSs in the Navy’s plan would cost an average of $450 million each, CBO estimates.”

DID background: The FFG-7 frigates are still widely touted as a successful example of cost containment. The Oliver Hazard Perry Class met their budget and performance targets and served successfully. The USS Stark even survived a hit from an Iraqi Exocet missile while patrolling the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war. The ships paid a price in lower capability and lack of space for capability growth, however, and many were sold to other countries or retired early because upgrading them was too difficult. That experience was one of the inspirations for the LCS’ open-architecture, mission modules approach.

Mach 14/07: LCS 3 canceled. Full DID coverage, as Navy Cancels Team Lockheed’s LCS 3, warns General Dynamics. The Navy explains that they couldn’t reach agreement on a new contract. Lockheed Martin expressed “disappointment,” and says: “We believe that our proposal was fully consistent with the Secretary’s stated desire to bring the benefits of increased competition to shipbuilding while holding the Navy’s industrial partners accountable for cost performance within their control”. Note especially those last 3 words, given the role played by Navy specification shifts in that cost growth.

LCS-3 contract canceled

Mach 14/07: LCS program plan #2. Based on a comprehensive two-month review of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) acquisition program, Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter announced that he is prepared to lift a previously issued stop work order for construction of Lockheed Martin’s LCS 3 – under a renegotiated contract.

The new decision will also affect the General Dynamics/ Austal team. Under the restructured Littoral Combat Ship program plan, the Navy will recommend deferral of FY 2007 LCS procurement, and use those funds to complete the construction of LCS 1-4 by the Lockheed and General Dynamics teams. This effectively cancels an expected order for the 5th and 6th ships.

This is part of a wider package of efforts aimed at controlling program costs… before those costs raise comparisons, questions, and dilemmas that begin to control the program. For full coverage, see “Cost Growth Leads to Stop-Work on Team Lockheed LCS-3 Construction (updated)“.

Revised acquisition plan

Feb 28/07: Costs. Reports surface that the General Dynamics/ Austal LCS design is also expected to face cost overruns, although the scope of the increases is not yet clear. Navy acquisition chief Delores Etter had said the first General Dynamics LCS ship would cost $350 million or more, but Lt. Cmdr. John Schofield, Etter’s spokesman, said in an e-mail that:

“Etter mistakenly characterized the cost of LCS 2 to be $350 million or more. The estimated cost range of LCS 1 is $350 million-$375 million, as previously testified. That estimate is based on the best information to date. There is insufficient information to know precisely the final cost range of LCS 2… Although we anticipate some cost growth, it is premature to discuss specific numbers as they are unavailable at this time.”

Etter described Team Lockheed’s LCS-1 Freedom as 75-80% complete, and the GD/Austal team’s LCS-2 Independence as about 33% complete. Reuters report | Defense News report (March 20/07).

Jan 29/07: Personnel. Capt. Donald Babcock, the Navy’s LCS program manager, is relieved of his duties by Rear Adm. Charles Hamilton – who is also being reassigned.

LCS PM dismissed

Jan 12/07: Stop Work on LCS 3. “The Navy issued a stop work order Jan. 12 to Lockheed Martin Corp. Maritime Systems & Sensors unit, Moorestown, N.J., for the construction of the third Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). This stop work order will take effect immediately, and is for a period of 90 days. The stop work order was issued because of significant cost increases currently being experienced with the construction of LCS-1 and LCS-3, under construction by Lockheed Martin…”

The US Navy says they are “working closely with the contractor to identify the root cause of the costs growth… [and] reviewing the overall acquisition strategy for the LCS program…” At this point, the GD/Austal team’s trimaran design and build-out of LCS 2&4 are unaffected. See full DID coverage with all updates, not to mention the Lexington institute’s predictive December 2006 report “Modularity, the Littoral Combat Ship and the Future of The United States Navy.

Dec 8/06: LCS 4 order. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $208.1 million cost-plus-incentive-fee/ award-fee modification under previously awarded contract N00024-03-C-2310, exercising an option for construction of the 4th Flight 0 Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the second by the GD-Austal team. Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (55%); Pittsfield, MA (24%); and Bath, ME (21%), and is expected to be complete by August 2009.

The associated General Dynamics release trumpets its trimaran design as having “one of the largest usable payload volumes per ton of ship displacement of any U.S. Navy surface combatant afloat,” and notes its ability to carry even the CH-53 medium-heavy transport helicopter if the mission requires it.

Austal’s associated release discusses potential US Navy plans that could include an extended buy of the Flight 0 version ships, and adds that its workforce in Mobile is slated to grow to 1,200 by the end of 2007.

LCS 4 ordered

Oct 17/06: The FY 2007 defense budget is signed. LCS funding is not cut, but remains at $520.67 million

FY 2002 – 2006

Preliminary work with Norway’s Skjold, Lockheed’s Sea SLICE; Preliminary design contracts to 3; Down-select to 2 contenders; LCS 1 ordered & launched; Freedom Class named; LCS 2 ordered & keel laid; Independence Class named.

LCS 1 Freedom christening
(click to view full)

Sept 23/06: LCS 1 launch. The US Navy christens and launches LCS 1 Freedom, the nation’s first littoral combat ship, at the Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin. The ship will continue to undergo outfitting and testing at Marinette Marine; it will be commissioned in 2007 and eventually homeported in San Diego, CA. The ship’s sponsor is Birgit Smith, wife of the late Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith.

July 26/06: CRS report. The US Congressional Research Service releases its report “Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS): Background and Issues for Congress.” Meanwhile, as negotiations in Congress go forward, The House-reported version of the FY2007 defense appropriations bill (H.R. 5631) recommends approval of this request. The Senate reported version recommends a 2-ship cut by funding just one LCS in FY 2007, and rescinding funding for 1 of the 3 LCSs procured in FY 2006.

June 26/06: LCS 3. Lockheed Martin Maritime Systems & Sensors in Moorestown, NJ receives a $197.6 million cost-plus-incentive-fee/ award-fee modification under a previously awarded contract, exercising an option for construction of one Flight 0 monohull Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Work will be performed in Lockport, LA (63%); Moorestown, NJ (36%); and Arlington, VA (1%), and is expected to be complete by January 2009. See corporate release.

LCS 3 order

April 13/06: Israel. Israel is considering Lockheed’s Littoral Combat Ship design. Specifically, they’re considering Lockheed’s monohull design as a potential replacement for their Saar Class corvettes and missile boats. A funded initial study is underway to assess feasibility, and integration with Israeli systems and weapons is critical.

April 4/06: Independence Class. Secretary of the Navy Donald C. Winter has named LCS 2, the first Flight 0 ship of the General Dynamics/Austal trimaran design. She will be the USS Independence. This Navy release notes the backgrounds of other ships who have borne that name. It’s all part of a speech on the future of Navy shipbuilding.

LCS-2 Independence Class

Jan 19/06: LCS 2 keel. GD/Austal Lays Keel for LCS 2. Austal USA hosts a traditional US Navy keel-laying ceremony to signify the start of construction on the first Flight 0 General Dynamics/Austal LCS trimaran. The keel laying follows on the heels of the official November 17, 2005 opening of Austal USA’s ship construction facility in Mobile, AL. See also General Dynamics team lead press release.

Dec 2/05: The U.S. Navy announced that USS Freedom [LCS 1] will be homeported at Naval Station San Diego, CA when it enters service. The ship is expected to be delivered to the Navy in December 2006, and arrive in San Diego in early 2007. See US Navy release.

Oct 7/05: LCS 2. The 1st GD-Austal Flight 0 LCS gets the go-ahead, as General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME received a $223.3 million cost-plus-award-fee/ incentive-fee modification to exercise an option under contract N00024-03-C-2310 for detail design and construction of one Flight 0 Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

Work will be performed in Mobile, AL (50%) – note that this represents Austal’s component, and is the company’s largest-ever individual contract. Work will also be performed in Pittsfield, MA (33%); Bath, ME (15%); and Baltimore, MD (2%), and is expected to be complete by October 2007. This award is one of the potential options described in the May 27/04 contract award.

LCS 2 order

Skjold Class
(click to view larger)

June 2/05: LCS 1 keel. Lockheed Lays Keel for LCS 1, USS Freedom. This is the first Flight 0 ship of Team Lockheed’s design, and the ceremony was attended by numerous dignitaries. This event is related the Dec 15, 2004 shipbuilding contract, of course.

May 9/05: Freedom Class. Secretary of the Navy Gordon England has named LCS 1, the first Flight 0 ship of Team Lockheed’s design. She will be the USS Freedom. See DefenseLINK release.

LCS-1 Freedom Class

April 11/05: Bath Iron Works prepares for construction. Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME receives a $16 million cost-plus-fixed-fee option to previously awarded contract N00024-03-C-2310 for the advance procurement of required Long Lead Material for the first “Flight Zero” models of General Dynamics’ trimaran Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) design. The contract award for Long Lead Material includes a description of the items to be procured, the supplier, the required ordering date, supplier lead-time, in-yard need date and a breakout by month of the dollar amounts required. Work is expected to be complete in September 2005.

Dec 15/04: LCS 1 ordered. Lockheed Martin Corp. Maritime Systems & Sensors in Moorestown, NJ received a $188.2 million cost-plus award-fee/ incentive-fee option to contract N00024-03-C-2311 for detail design and construction of the first Flight 0 Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).

Work will be performed in Moorestown, NJ (38%); Marinette, WI (57%); and Arlington, VA (5%), and is expected to be complete by December 2006. This is one of the potential options described in the May 27, 2004 contract award. US Navy.

LCS 1 order

June 6/04: LCS 1 design. Lockheed unveils latest version of its LCS design.

May 27/04: Downselect and Initial Contracts. Lockheed Martin Corp. Maritime Systems & Sensors in Moorestown, NJ, and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME received cost-plus-award-fee contract modifications to previously awarded contracts for final system design, with options for detail design and construction of up to 2 Flight 0 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).

Lockheed Martin receives a $46.5 million contract modification for a 7-month final system design, which could go as high as $423.4 million if options for detail design and construction of up to two LCS Flight 0 ships are exercized. Work on the final system design is expected to be complete by December 2004. See corporate release for further details re: Team Lockheed’s design & objectives.

General Dynamics receives a $78.8 million cost-plus-award-fee contract modification to N00024-03-C-2310 for a 16-month final system design. The award could go as high as $536 million if options for detail design and construction of up to two LCS Flight 0 ships are exercised ($536,020,688 including all options). Work on the final system design is expected to be complete by September 2005. Corporate release for further information re: the GD team’s design goals.

Raytheon’s team is eliminated.

Final system design finalist contracts

Visby Corvette
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July 17/03: Preliminary Designs. The following 3 companies out of 6 offers won firm-fixed-price contracts for Flight 0 Littoral Combat Ship Preliminary Design:

General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME (N00024-03-C-2310 – $8.9 million)

Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems, Surface Systems in Washington, DC (N00024-03-C-2311 – $10 million)

Raytheon Company Integrated Defense Systems in Portsmouth, RI (N00024-03-C-2312 – $10 million).

Each contractor will perform a preliminary design effort to refine its proposed Littoral Combat Ship concept. Work is expected to be complete in February 2004. The 3 losing teams include Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Gibbs and Cox (who would join the Lockheed team), John J McMullen Associates, and Textron Systems Marine & Land Operations.

The biggest surprise is the absence of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, who was working from an already-proven littoral corvette design by Sweden’s Kockums AB, and its German parent Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft AG. Kockums designed and is building Sweden’s Visby Class littoral warfare corvettes, and Northrop Grumman planned to use the stealthy carbon fiber mono-hull as the baseline for its LCS program.

Preliminary design contracts

May 21/03: Lockheed Martin holds an Industry Day to solicit potential members for its LCS team. Its base design concept is then known as “Sea Blade.”

March 4/03: Lockheed lays foundation for LCS team. Lockheed Martin, naval architects Gibbs & Cox, Bollinger Shipyards and shipbuilders Marinette Marine formally partner on the LCS program. The Lockheed release contains details of their respective areas of responsibility and past work.

September 2002: Skjold. US Navy finishes studying Norway’s Skjold (“Shield”) Class air cushion catamaran littoral fast patrol boats. The ship completed a 13-month deployment in the USA, allowing the US Navy to study the Skjold class concept and shape thinking about the LCS idea. The ship participated in a series of naval exercises and a number of tests with US Navy research establishments NAVSEA and the Office of Naval Research.

March 25/02: Sea SLICE. Lockheed’s Sea SLICE X-vessel participates in naval exercise. The vessel participated as a littoral warfare combatant, and tested a number of weapons including the 35mm “Millenium Gun,” NETFIRES missiles, and a simulated torpedo strike. The Lockheed release contains more information about Sea SLICE and the tested weapons, as does this GlobalSecurity.org Sea SLICE profile.

Appendix A: LCS’ Yo-Yoing Budgets & Program Structures

LCS 1, final construction
(click to view full)

In July 2011, the Navy created PEO LCS to oversee the program, headed by Rear Adm. James A. Murdoch. Ship construction supervision was removed for PEO Ships, while mission module supervision was removed from PEO Littoral and Mine Warfare (PEO LMW), which was dissolved. It wasn’t the first big change in the program – and may not be the last. Indeed, in August 2012 the Chief of Naval Operations added a council tasked to come up with a plan.

It is normal for programs to change elements like numbers ordered, but not to change the entire buy strategy. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the LCS program has done. Several times.

Early plans for much cheaper ships would have built them from 2005 – 2019, but the extent of the program’s timeline and budgetary issues can be inferred from the current production timeline: 2011-2040.

How the US Navy arrived at that plan is a very tangled, but very instructive, story of goals not met, budgets changed or not spent, and an acquisition plan that has now been changed several times.

The LCS program’s budget mess has reflected their yo-yoing underlying program structure. LCS budgets are not even suitable for inclusion as a table, because the program’s structure has changed repeatedly. For several of those years, program turmoil was so great that it prevented budgeted funds from being spent. As such, each year’s budget can only be understood in light of the program’s shifting plans.

Plan #1: 13 ships. Under the original vision, Team Lockheed and the General Dynamics/Austal consortium would each produce a number of fully operational, competing Flight 0 ships. The idea was that experience with these ships is the best teacher and evaluator, ensuring that the Navy selects the right winning team for the overall program. It would also begin an immediate expansion of the US Navy’s falling numbers, since all of the Flight 0 ships would be available after the testing phase was complete. The design approach for the winning team’s second generation Flight 1 LCS ships would be flexible, and was envisioned as changing somewhat in light of the experience gained with the Flight 0 designs. Initially, 4 Flight 0 ships and 9 Flight 1 ships were contemplated, along with a purchase of various mission modules.

In FY 2005, Congress approved the Navy’s plan to fund the construction of the first 2 competing LCS sea frames, funded LCS-1, required LCS-2 to be built to a different design when funded in FY 2006, and added other basic stipulations.

The FY 2006 budget was $1.054 billion ($470.3M procurement, $584.1M RDT&E). The Navy had initially asked for LCS-2, but shipbuilding supporters in Congress funded LCS 2-4. As the program progressed, however, new Navy shipbuilding standards, and other shifts in specifications, caused LCS ship prices to rise sharply. As ship costs doubled, and then continued to rise, political scrutiny grew. In response, legislators inserted an adjusted $220 million cost cap on LCS 5-6, and made that buy and any others contingent on Navy certification of a stable LCS design.

Plan #1a: The FY 2007 budget was $926.6 million ($597.2M for ships & mission modules, $329.4M RDT&E). Congress funded LCS-5 and LCS-6. Austal’s Dec 11/06 press release even implied that more early-build ships might enter US Navy plans:

“Recent Navy reports have speculated on an expanded acquisition strategy, from 4 to a possible 17, for the Flight 0 fleet of LCSs that also includes an alternate monohull ship design. Commenting in September, Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development, and Acquisition), Dr Delores Etter, told Reuters, ‘The U.S. Navy hopes to finalize its acquisition strategy for a new class of shore-hugging combat ships by mid-December [2006].’ “

Plan #2: Bailing out. In March 2007, however, the US Navy canceled Team Lockheed’s LCS-3 due to cost growth. In November 2007 (technically, FY 2008), the General Dynamics/ Austal LCS-4 joined it. A Navy policy of requesting fixed-price contracts, coupled with specifications and designs they could keep changing at will, created a gap too large for negotiations to bridge. Contracts for LCS 5 & 6 were never issued.

Under the Navy’s revised approach, planned FY 2007-2008 procurements would be channeled into getting LCS 1 & 2 built, rather than buying additional ships. Instead of buying 3 more LCS ships in 2008, and then ramping up to 6 ships per year in 2009 – 2012, amended procurement plans proposed to buy 1 ship in 2008 and 2 ships in 2009. Under that Plan B, the 2 consortia would compete for orders, with 2 ships contracted to the winning builder and 1 for the loser. A down-select to 1 design would take place in 2010.

The FY 2008 request was set at $1.208 billion ($990.8M for 3 ships + 2 mission modules, $217.5M RDT&E); but the Navy’s cancelations and revised procurement strategy led to $337.1 million in funding for a single LCS – a contract the Navy never issued. Meanwhile, Congress had raised the per-ship cost cap to $460 million, and required fixed-price-type contracts for LCS ships bought from here on.

Where to now?
(click for cutaway)

Plan #3: Fog of war. The FY 2009 request was $920 million, for 2 LCS ships. The final 2009 defense bill increased that funding to $1 billion. Once again, however, the Navy’s LCS procurement plan changed. Now, it planned to buy 2 LCS ships in 2009, with an option for Phase II that could involve up to 3 more LCS Flight 0+ Class ships on the same terms in 2010. Those Phase II ships would likely be split between the contractors, but could be issued for just 1 design.

Congress added some relief by delaying the implementation of the LCS cost cap to FY2010, but contract negotiations must have been interesting. Neither manufacturing team had demonstrated the ability to deliver an LCS ship for $500 million, and the Navy was insisting on fixed-price contracts that transfer all risk to the shipbuilders. Both contracts (LCS-3 and LCS-4) were eventually signed in 2009, but the Navy decided that their terms needed to be kept secret.

That seems likely leave just 2 Flight 0 LCS ships in the water before the revised LCS program was supposed to pick one final design. Or not. Under terms that remained unclear.

Additional reports added even more uncertainty. First came reports that that final selection might even feature a design competition that would be separate from the build competition, which means the ship’s design team may not be the final builders. That kind of competition is called “build to print,” in which the government buys the blueprints and then contracts for construction separately. Of course, handing a new ship design to a firm that hasn’t built it before carries cost-inflation risks of its own. The question is whether the potential threat of switching suppliers creates enough added incentives to keep costs down, in order to justify the increased time, overhead, and added program risk inherent in running 2 serial competitions instead of 1.

The FY 2010 budget requested $1.877 billion ($1.38 billion for 3 more ships, $136.7M for mission modules, plus $360.5M RDT&E which includes $75.5 million to cover cost growth on LCS 1-2). The program ended up with $1.579 billion: $1,157 million for all procurement of 2 ships and mission modules, and $422.0 million for RDT&E.

Plan #4: 10 + 5. In September 2009, while the House and Senate were working on reconciling their FY 2010 defense bills, another major change to the program’s structure was announced. There would be no Phase II for the FY 2009 buy. Instead, selection of the final design would occur in FY 2010, before operational trials of both ships could take place. Both industry teams would submit proposals under a new solicitation. The winner would receive a 10-ship contract running from FY 2010-2014, and provide the combat systems for their 10 ships, plus 5 more. They would also deliver a technical data package, allowing the Navy to open a “build to print” competition for a second builder of the chosen design, beginning in FY 2012. That “build to print” order would be for up to 5 more ships.

Assuming that this program would remain intact, the FY 2011 request was for $1.819 billion with RDT&E would be $226.3 million, while $1.592 billion for procurement would fund 2 ships ($1.2 billion), advance orders for FY 2012-14 major hull and propulsion components ($280 million), and mission modules (remainder, about $112 million).

Plan #5: Dual-build 20. Naturally, the proposed procurement approach changed again. Upon examining the bids, the US Navy went to Congress and asked for permission to accept both 10-ship bids, buying 20 ships for an advertised price that was about the same as the estimates for the 15 they had wanted. The GAO and CBO both have doubts about those estimates, in part because the Navy is still changing the designs; but the contracts are underway. For better or for worse, the Navy finally has an approach that is actually buying ships.

The Navy’s FY 2011-15 plan called for 17 ships total in a 2, 3, 4, 4, and 4 sequence, though that may rise to 20 ships. The Navy’s longer-range shipbuilding plans would buy 3 LCS hulls per year from FY 2016-19, dropping to 2 per year from FY 2020-24, then dropping again to a 1-2-1-2 pattern for FY 2025-33. The program would finish up at 2 per year from FY 2034-40.

Because these ships are assumed to have a service life of 25 years, the 10 ships bought from 2036 – 2040 would be replacements for the original ships of class.

Unless, of course, the entire acquisition plan changes again. The graph below shows how estimates of the total program cost have fluctuated as the Navy changed its procurement structure, again and again:

FY12 Forecast: US Navy Comptroller
No such data released in May 2009 document

The projected costs and cost/unit, include outfitting and post delivery costs, which explains why they’re above the widely-used Total Obligational Authority (TOA) numbers. At more than $1.3 billion over the life of the program, these extra costs are hardly pocket change

Additional Readings & Sources

Readers with corrections, comments, or information to contribute are encouraged to contact DID’s Founding Editor, Joe Katzman. We understand the industry – you will only be publicly recognized if you tell us that it’s OK to do so.

The Littoral Combat Ships: Basic Program & Ship Background

 

LCS 1 Freedom Class Monohull & Major Unique Items

 

LCS 2 Independence Class Trimaran & Major Unique Items

 

LCS Exports

  • GDLCS – Multi-Mission Combatant. See also their more detailed international variant brochure [PDF], dating from when they were teamed up with Austal.

  • Lockheed Martin – Multi-Mission Combat Ship. LCS for export, but with real weapons and an improved radar. Comes in varying sizes: 85m (corvette), 118m (light frigate, like LCS), and 150m (full frigate). See also their older LCS-Israel brochure [PDF, 4.27 MB], offering a design that removes the Mk110 gun while adding a 30mm gun system like the Typhoon, Harpoon missiles, Barak anti-air missiles, and strike-length Mk41 vertical launch cells.

  • DID Spotlight – A Littoral Combat Frigate for Israel? The Israelis wanted a very different approach. No mission modules. Full fleet defense capabilities, including vertical launch cells and a SPY-1F AEGIS radar. Anti-ship missiles, and torpedo tubes. Problem was, the ship was too expensive for them.

  • Aviation Week Ares (Oct 18/08) – Lockheed Martin Pushes Export LCS. With a long list of offered and potential changes to armament, layout, and even propulsion. Market demand in the rest of the world appears to be delivering some design verdicts.

 

Official Reports

 

LCS Program: Analysis

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

Israel Sells Heron UAVs to India, Leases to Germany Imminent

Defense Industry Daily - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 05:54
Latest updates: 3rd squadron stands up in the south.

Indian Heron UAV
(click to view larger)

In November 2005, media reports claimed that India was set to purchase some 50 Heron MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAVs from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) in a deal worth $220 million. They would be put to use carrying out reconnaissance missions on India’s mountainous borders with China and Pakistan, and along India’s long coastal waters. India was said to have been close to sealing the deal in 2004, but it was postponed due to the change in governments in New Delhi.

The Heron’s performance during the December 2004 tsunami apparently clinched the deal. Its performance since, and Chinese aggression on the Indian border, has green-lighted a follow-on contract.

The Herons

Heron, multi-sensor
(click to view full)

India already had about 12 Heron-1 drones before the 2005 sale, and they played a crucial part in search and rescue operations following the Indian Ocean tsunami in December 2004. IAI Searcher tactical UAVs and and their high-end Heron UAV counterparts were used to locate trapped survivors and missing bodies near the Andaman and Nicobar islands, relaying clear live feed photographs while in flight, and allowing immediate response as soon as survivors or victims were identified on screen.

The Heron UAV is reportedly capable of flying for over 24 hours at a time at altitudes around 32,000 feet. IAI lists flight time as >40 hours, and says that it has demonstrated 52 hours of continuous flight. It has a maximum range of about 3,000 km and can carry a maximum payload weighing 250 kg/ 550 lbs. As a large MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV, it’s built to carry multiple payloads at a time for a variety of missions. Choices include electro-optical and thermal surveillance equipment, SAR radars for ground surveillance, maritime patrol radars and sensors, signals and other intelligence collection antennas and equipment, laser designators, and even radio relays.

India doesn’t discuss its UAV payloads, but reports have its Searcher IIs equipped with the standard day/night surveillance turret, while the Herons are similar to Israel’s maritime patrol configuration, with an Elta Systems radar and a stabilized Tamam surveillance and targeting turret.

A subsequent Heron-2 or Heron-TP variant is larger, with a bigger 1,200 hp Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop to power it. Typical mission payload rises to 1,000 kg, which can be carried to around 45,000 feet, and the UAV has a maximum flight time of over 36 hours in favorable conditions.

India and Israel are not alone in being impressed by the Heron’s capabilities. As of 2011, leased Herons or Heron variants are operating in Afghanistan on behalf of the Australian, Canadian, French, and German armed forces; and have participated in demonstrations involving US SOUTHCOM and its Latin American partners. Subsequent years have also seen confirmed or rumored export sales to Brazil’s federal police, Ecuador’s navy, Singapore’s armed forces, and Turkey.

Contracts & Key Events

Israeli Heron-TP
(click to view full)

June 15/18: Deal finalized Germany’s parliament has now approved a deal to lease Heron TP UAV’s from Israel. The approval puts an end to a long-running series of debates and protests. Last year a German court rejected a protest against the Heron-TP selection by rival bidder General Atomics Aeronautical Systems. Additionally, many politicians opposed the idea of acquiring a UAV that could potentially be armed. The Heron TP is reportedly capable of flying for over 35 hours at a time at altitudes around 45.000 feet. It has a maximum range of about 3,000 km and can carry a maximum payload weighing 2204 lbs. As a large MALE (Medium Altitude, Long Endurance) UAV, it’s built to carry multiple payloads at a time for a variety of missions. Choices include electro-optical and thermal surveillance equipment, SAR radars for ground surveillance, maritime patrol radars and sensors, signals and other intelligence collection antennas and equipment, laser designators, and even radio relays. The deal is valued at $1.17 billion and allows the German army to carry out long endurance intelligence-gathering missions.

April 10/18: Lease signing imminent Germany is reportedly close to signing a deal that will lease five Heron TP unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). Contracts for the $1.2 billion agreement are expected to be signed in the coming weeks, with the period of lease running for nine years. Airbus will also cooperate on the program and will use the skills learned to help develop a Euro-Drone with France, Spain, Germany, and Italy. The Heron deal had been initially planned to be wrap up by the end last year but was derailed at the last minute due to opposition from the Social Democratic Party. Since then, a German election, hung parliament, and subsequent horse-trading for a new coalition has broken the Heron deadlock—with a new coalition agreement signed between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ruling CDU/CSU Party and the Social Democrats paving the way for smooth approval of the contract.

June 9/17: Heron TP UAVs leased to the German military by Airbus will be operated from an Israeli air base. It is also believed that German crew will be trained at the site. Deliveries of Heron TP systems for use by the German military will commence late next year and will go towards supporting international operations involving German personnel prior to the availability of a European-developed medium-altitude, long-endurance UAV from around 2025. The deal has been initially held up after a protest by General Atomics.

June 2/17: A German court has ruled against US weapons manufacturer General Atomics after the firm posted a legal challenge against Germany’s plans to lease armed drones from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). GA, along with Switzerland’s RUAG lost out to provide the Predator B UAV to the German military after Berlin chose to lease the Heron TP UAV in a deal estimated to be worth $652 million. On taking the deal to court, GA stated that they did so “to ensure that this procurement is conducted as a fair and open competition; thereby ensuring that the German Ministry of Defense procures the most technologically superior and cost efficient solution.” Berlin’s decision to lease Herons instead of buying Predators comes as an interim measure until the EU has developed its own drone. Germany, France, Italy and Spain plan to jointly develop a drone by 2025.

October 19/16: Having joined the Missile Technology Control Regime this summer, India is forging ahead with plans to purchase Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Heron TP UAV. While Israel is not a member of the regime, which aims to restrict the proliferation of missile technology, it has agreed to export its strategic weapon systems only to member countries. While New Delhi has operated the Heron 1 and smaller Israeli UAVs, the Heron TP UAV has a 40h endurance, maximum take-off weight of 5,300kg (11,685lb), and carries a typical mission payload of 1,000kg.

September 14/15 The Indian government has approved the purchase of ten armed UAVs from Israel Aerospace Industries, following a fast-tracking of the program by the Modi administration. The $400 million acquisition will see ten IAI Heron TP drones join other Israeli designs operated by the Indian Air Force, with Harpy loitering munitions, Searcher ISR aircraft and unarmed Heron-1 aircraft already seeing service. The country is also pursuing an indigenous UAV development program known as the Rustom 2. India has been the world’s largest importer of drones over the last thirty years, with IAI officials reportedly in talks with the Indian Defence Ministry over a possible joint production of the new UAVs. India is also planning to allocate significant funds to train increasing numbers of operators to use its expanding UAV fleet.

May 5/15: With 22.5% of all UAV imports over the 1985-2014 period, India has topped the list of unmanned aerial systems importers. The principle beneficiary of India’s UAV spending has been Israel, particularly the IAI Heron and Searcher variants.

Dec 29/13: +15. India’s Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has reportedly approved an INR 12 billion (about $300 million) budget to buy another 15 Heron UAVs and associated equipment from Israel, and upgrade the existing fleet for improved communications.

The move would give India 40+ Herons, which is a respectable fleet. India’s massive border length, and the number of neighbors it needs to keep an eye on, mean that it really needs more than this. The new UAVs are reportedly slated for the Chinese and Pakistan borders, whereas the existing 3 squadrons seem to be more focused on India’s eastern and western seaboards. Sources: Times of India, “Govt clears proposal for buying 15 UAVs from Israel” | Israel’s Arutz Sheva, “India to Buy 15 Drones from Israel” | (Anti-India) Kashmir News Service, “Indian govt clears proposal for buying 15 Israeli UAVs”.

Sept 8/13: Shift east. India shifts some of its Heron UAVs to the 4,057 km Line of Actual Control between India and China. The Searcher Mk.II UAVs suffer from endurance restrictions and high altitude performance shortfalls, so the IAF wants to replace them all with Herons in that area. As the UK’s Daily Mail reports:

“Though unrelated, this development comes just a day after the furore over the contents of a report filed by Shyam Saran, chairperson of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB), indicating a loss of almost 640 sq km of Indian territory in eastern Ladakh to China…. the army will soon issue a formal communication about the [UAV] proposal, which came directly from the ground formations posted along the LAC…”

Sources: UK Daily Mail, “India sends Heron drones to LAC to boost surveillance efforts”.

April 11/12: 3rd Squadron. India’s Navy commissions a 3rd UAV squadron of IAI Searcher tactical UAVs and IAI Heron long-endurance UAVs, in order to step-up surveillance in the Gulf of Mannar, Palk Strait and Palk Bay. INAS 344 will be operated from INS Parundu, the naval air station in Uchipuli, Tamil Nadu, in southern India. It will be controlled by Eastern Naval Command

INAS 344 joins the western INAS 343 naval UAV squadron in Porbandar, Gujarat and the original INAS 342 eastern squadron at Kochi in Kerala. sUAS News.

March 31/11: Flight International:

“India’s navy has operational requirements for additional unmanned air vehicles made by Israel Aerospace Industries, sources say, with these to potentially include improved Heron or Heron-TP systems carrying maritime sensor payloads. Evaluations using some systems have already been carried out, they add.”

Jan 21/11: 2nd Squadron. The Indian Navy stands up INAS 343 (the “Frontier Formidables”) at Porbandar, Gujarat, near the Pakistani border. Gujarat has the longest coastline of any Indian state.

This is India’s 2nd Heron/Searcher UAV squadron; INAS 342 has been operational since 2006. Flight International | India Defence | MarineBuzz.

Aug 2/09: Reports that the deal has been approved:

“The Indian Army is going in for two more “troops” (six to eight birds each) of advanced Heron UAVs from Israel for Rs 1,118 crore [DID: then about $230 million], after getting the nod from the Defence Acquisitions Council headed by defence minister A. K. Antony.”

Times of India | SatNews.

India: 12-16 Herons

Hunter

Nov 4/05: Reports of the sale. In analyzing the Heron sale, Stratfor notes that:

“The purchase will allow India to better protect its long borders and to pave the way for the planned 2007 acquisition of Israeli Phalcon radar — all while seeking to convince Pakistan that the security balance between the two countries will not shift further in New Delhi’s favor. Pakistan, however, is unlikely to be placated, and will endeavor to counter the Indian acquisition… Despite the negative resonance this deal will have in Islamabad, the Herons will strengthen New Delhi’s ability to deny access to jihadists crossing into India from Pakistan by enhancing India’s border surveillance capabilities.”

Meanwhile, the Pakistani Daily Times newspaper has sources who claim that the Indian Army is also making inquiries about the Hunter UAV, a smaller IAI aircraft that is also in service with the US Army. RQ-5A Hunter UAVs have logged substantial flight time in Iraq, and demonstrated their ability to drop small precision munitions like the Viper Strike. Pakistan’s Daily Times | India Defence | Stratfor

Additional Readings:

  • IAI – Heron Family. Range for the Heron-1 is given as 350 km, but since the drone flies at well over 100 km/h, and can stay up for far, far more than just 3.5 hours, that makes no sense. A 24 hour flight at 125 km/h is 3,000 km, the figure used in this article.

  • Defense Update – Heron TP (Eitan)

  • IAI – Searcher Mk.III

News & Views

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

FRES: The Future of British Armored Vehicles

Defense Industry Daily - Fri, 06/15/2018 - 05:52

FRES-SV PMRS
(click to view full)

Many of Britain’s army vehicles are old and worn, and the necessities of hard service on the battlefield are only accelerating that wear. The multi-billion pound “Future Rapid Effects System” (FRES) aims to recapitalize the core of Britain’s armored vehicle fleet over the next decade or more.

The best one can say is that FRES has gone far better than America’s comparable and canceled “Future Combat System.” That doesn’t mean the rise has been smooth. FRES was spawned by the UK’s withdrawal from the German-Dutch-UK Boxer MRAV modular wheeled APC program, in order to develop a more deployable vehicle that fit Britain’s exact requirements. Those initial requirements were challenging, however, and experience in Iraq and Afghanistan led to decisions that changed an already-late program. So, too, have subsequent budgetary crises…

FRES: The Program Program Goals

CVR (T) Scimitar
(click to view full)

The UK Ministry of Defense’s FRES Integration Project Team described it this way:

“FRES will be the central pillar of a capable and highly deployable medium force which will be able to project power rapidly world-wide, complementing our existing heavy and light forces. The key drivers are the need for a rapid effect land capability, the ability to meet a wide number of operational roles, maximum interoperability with other UK forces and our allies, and addressing the obsolescence of existing vehicles. It is a challenging project, faced with the conundrum of balancing capability, affordability and early delivery.”

The roles FRES-Utility and FRES-Scout vehicles will undertake, and the number of vehicles to be bought, were determined by initial Assessment Phase studies. FRES is expected to provide Britain’s future medium-weight armored vehicles, and may replace current British armored vehicles such as the CVR (T) Scimitar/ Sabre/ Sultan/ Striker light tanks (1,255 vehicles), FV 430 family tracked Armored Personnel Carriers (1,492), and Saxon wheeled APCs (622) in the Army’s inventory.

The original plan for the FRES fleet involved as many as 3,000-3,500 vehicles, including as many as 2,000 wheeled Utility APCs. It began as the largest ever British Army program, with an expected cost of around GBP 16 billion for purchases, and through-life costs of about GBP 60 billion.

Subsequent plans under Britain’s budget-driven Army 2020 plan look set to slash those numbers drastically. Britain’s MoD won’t just how drastically, but a total buy of just several hundred is a likely outcome.

Program History

The first European Defense Agency head, Britain’s Nick Witney, may have made “reducing the number of national infantry fighting vehicles from 22 to 12” one of the EU’s Top 5 defense priorities – but his own government initially followed a very different script. FRES came to the fore after Britain pulled out of the MRAV “Boxer” Infantry Fighting Vehicle> project, which Germany and The Netherlands are still pursuing.

Technology Demonstrator Programme (TDP) contracts began the cycle in February 2005, and ran to late 2007. Their goal was in order to assess of what was possible, but changing battlefield requirements also elbowed their way into the process. MoD objectives for the vehicles solidified somewhat over this period, and included 4 main areas:

  • Survivability via armor and other self-protection systems; experience in Iraq and Afghanistan has influenced this requirement, and changed it somewhat.

  • Deployability by the A400M aircraft, which has a 35-tonne capacity. The original target vehicle weight of 17 tons, which would be deployable in the RAF’s C-130J Hercules, was abandoned; expected vehicle weight shifted to 20-27 tonnes (22-30 tons), and is likely to reach 30 tonnes/ 33 tons for FRES-UV. FRES-SV can carry up to 42t, but getting there would involve adding new equipment that could be removed for transport, or developing new variants.

  • Networked-enabled capability via digital communication technology.

  • Through-life upgrade potential throughout its anticipated 30 year service life.

Jane’s characterized FRES as a transformational system for the British armed forces, and the UK initially adopted a “Systems House” approach to its development, instead of having the military run it directly. The similarly-tasked U.S. Future Combat Systems program was also led and managed by Boeing and SAIC as Lead Systems Integrators, rather than by a military office. Under these systems, military reviews play a role at various pre-decided stage gates, and the military also plays an ongoing advisory role regarding changing requirements and capabilities, but a contractor is responsible for moving the program ahead and making key decisions, without the same level of red tape found in government programs. Under the UK’s approach, a Systems House who was “independent of product or manufacturing capability” led the initial Assessment Phase (iAP). Atkins played that role, which evaluated Britain’s options and issued technology development program (TDP) contracts. iAP lasted until 2008, when the Ministry of Defence itself stepped forward to declare finalists, conduct trials, and begin declaring its winners.

In total, 9 TDP contracts were issued, many of which are discussed in more detail in the Appendices. The FRES Technology Demonstrator Programs included:

  • Stowage & Capacity (placed Feb/05, complete May/06) – DSTL, the Defence science and technology laboratory
  • Hard Kill Defensive Aid System (placed May/05, completion due Dec/06) – Akers Krutbruk
  • Chassis Concept TDP1: AHED (placed Aug/05, due Feb 07) – General Dynamics UK
  • Chassis Concept TDP2: SEP (placed Dec/05, due Feb/07) – BAE Systems Haaglunds
  • Electronic Architecture TDP 1 (placed Aug/05, due March/07) – Lockheed Martin UK
  • Electronic Architecture TDP 2 (placed Aug/05, due March/07) – Thales
  • Electric Armour TDP (placed Dec/05, due June/07) – Lockheed Martin / Insys
  • Integrated Survivability (placed Dec/05, due Nov/06) – Thales UK
  • Gap Crossing (placed Dec/05, due Oct/07) – BAE Systems

There can be… none?
(click to view full)

Boeing and Thales UK won the competition to play a similar role as the system-of-systems integrator (SOSI) during the FRES program’s production phase.

In the end, however, changes on the battlefield and criticism over the pace of FRES led the UK MoD to reach for more of an off-the-shelf vehicle solution. Neither of the vehicles involved in the TDP efforts was among the 3 finalists announced in June 2007, all of whom participated in the ministry’s FRES-UV ‘trials of truth’ in late 2007.

The FRES-UV winner wasn’t announced until May 2008, when General Dynamics’ Piranha-V beat France’s VBCI and the German-Dutch Boxer MRAV program that had been FRES’ origin. Negotiations subsequently stalled, however, and FRES-U/Medium Armor is now on the backburner indefinitely.

The program’s focus is now squarely on the FRES-SV Specialist Vehicle family. It includes the FRES Scout SV, the turretless Protected Mobility Recce Support base variant for Ambulance, Command, and Engineer Recce roles, the Recovery SV model, and the Repair SV model. Instead of replacing Britain’s Warrior IFVs in the armored infantry battalions, Scout SV vehicles will initially serve alongside them in the armored cavalry niche. Britain’s Warriors are getting upgrades, but they’l have to retire around 2030. What happens after that isn’t clear yet.

Phase 1: FRES-SV

GD’s pitch: Part 1

The FRES integration and build contract remained up for grabs, and expected contenders included BAE Systems, General Dynamics UK, and Lockheed Martin UK. The FRES-SV reconnaissance version was also up for grabs, and was tied to a companion program a program to modernize Britain’s Warrior light IFVs.

General Dynamics UK eventually won FRES-SV, beating an upgraded model of BAE’s popular CV90 family with an ASCOD-2 variant of the infantry fighting vehicle (IFV) that serves in Austria and Spain. Modifications included a drive train designed to last the 30-year life of the vehicle, and the ability to support up to 42 tonnes/ 46.3 tons – a weight that would place FRES-SV at the low end for main battle tanks. A signed development contract followed in June 2010.

Variants will include Protected Mobility Recce Support (PMRS SV), a turretless variant that will be used for the Ambulance, Command, and Engineer Recce roles. Turretless Repair SV and Recovery SV variants are also planned, but their roles are so different that they become their own individual designs. The turreted Scout SV will be the most produced variant.

GD’s Pitch: Part 2

The turret’s novel design and impressive performance make it a key component for Scout SV. Indeed, the government mandated the use of BAE/Nexter’s 40mm CTAS gun system for both FRES-SV and Warrior WCSP. The core of its uniqueness resides in the “caseless telescoped” ammunition: the projectile is encased inside a cylinder, with the propellant packed around it instead of behind it. That cuts round length by about 50%, and improves space efficiency by about 33% for a given level of performance, which mitigates the natural space penalties that accompany a larger 40mm gun. Telescoped ammunition also allowed CTAI to replace the normal breech arrangement with a static ammunition feeder that feeds into a novel rotating breech, via a hollow trunion. That allows a more maintainable feeder that cuts the number of parts by over 50%, and can be located farther forward out of the crew’s way.

Best of all, the 1 kg HE (high-explosive) round has 3 times the hitting power of the Warrior’s previous 30mm Rarden shell, and its high explosive air burst (HEAB) capability allows detonation in mid-air at precise ranges. That’s very useful for firing into urban strongpoints, or over enemies hiding behind outside cover.

GD UK’s FRES-SV turret delivery team has a goal of 75% British content, and includes:

  • Rheinmetall Land Systems (turret structure, cannon mounting structure, CT40 integration)
  • Lockheed Martin UK Ampthill (fire control and training, turret integration authority)
  • Curtiss Wright (turret drives and stabilization control)
  • Defence Support Group (assembly integration and test)
  • Meggitt (ammunition handling system)
  • Moog (slip ring)
  • Ultra Electronics (power management)

FRES-SV: Plans

SV: initial options
(click to view full)

The FRES SV requirement originally involved up to 3 “blocks” of up to 1,300 Reconnaissance, Medium Armour, and Manoeuvre Support vehicles, and a wide variety of potential variants. As of August 2009, the plan was down to 1,238:

  • Recce Block 1: 589 Scout, Repair, Recovery, and Protected Mobility variants. Seen as the highest priority.
  • Recce Block 2: up to 141 vehicles
  • Recce Block 3: up to 280 vehicles
  • Medium Armour: up to 193 vehicles
  • Manoeuvre Support: up to 35 vehicles

The current Army 2020 plan looks set to cut those totals significantly, with FRES-SV vehicles equipping just 1 armored cavalry regiment within each of 3 armored infantry brigades. FRES-UV numbers also look set to take a cut, equipping only each of the 3 brigades’ Heavy Protected Mobility battalion.

At the same time, the in-service date for FRES has slipped from 2009, and is now no earlier than 2015 for FRES-SV. FRES-UV remains without a contract, or a planned in-service date. A 2008 UK Parliamentary report conveyed the Atkins system house’s doubts that FRES vehicles would be operational in any significant numbers before 2017. That was seen as shocking when they said it – but it may prove to be optimistic.

FRES: Contracts & Key Events 2012 – 2018

CT40 gun qualified; FRES-SV
PMRS variant moving ahead; How secure is FRES-SV funding.

GD on SVs

June 15/18: Ajax trials The British Army’s new Ajax armored fighting vehicle (AFV) is currently undergoing field trials, before the first variants are delivered to operational units early in 2019. The Ajax is part of the multi-billion pound “Future Rapid Effects System” (FRES) program. FRES aims to recapitalize the core of Britain’s armored vehicle fleet over the next decade or more. Ajax vehicles are developed upon a highly-adaptable and capable Common Base Platform, maximizing commonality in mobility, electronic architecture and survivability. Each Ajax platform variant has extensive capabilities, including acoustic detectors, a laser warning system, a local situational awareness system, an electronic countermeasure system, a route marking system, an advanced electronic architecture and a high-performance power pack. Ajax will be the medium weight core of the British Army’s deployable Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) capability. It enables the soldier to be at the point of collection of accurate all-weather commander information within a network-enabled digitized platform. The current trials are the final phase of a series of evaluations to approve the vehicle for land warfare operations before it enters full service with the British Army.

September 19/17: General Dynamics Land Systems UK has commenced live firing trials for its AJAX armored vehicle program. The trials are being held in West Wales, Great Britain, and will last for approximately five months, starting with static firing positions against immobile point targets and gradually progressing to a moving vehicle engaging moving targets. It is armed with the CT 40 autocannon and a coaxial 7.62mm chain gun for lighter targets. Used by both the UK and French armed forces, the CT 40 ustilizes a type of telescoping 40mm ammunition designed to take up less space and reduce the necessary size of the gun. It can fire armor-piercing discarding sabot and high-explosive airburst ammunition out to an effective range of 2500 meters. It has a maximum rate of fire of up to 200 rounds per minute.

Sept 13/14: Industrial. Defense News reports that there’s a problem with the cost of assembling the FRES-SV vehicles in Britain, when compared to lower costs for vehicles from GD Santa Barbara Sistemas in Spain. That’s a problem for many reasons, not least of which is the fact that General Dynamics’ industrial proposals in Britain were reportedly a key element in their contract win (q.v. March 15/10). To make matters worse, the FRES-SV decision also led to closures at BAE that included their Newcastle armored vehicle plant in 2012 (q.v. May 31/12).

So much for promises that 80% of ASCOD SV’s full rate production and 70% of its total supply chain will be based in the UK, securing or creating “over 10,600 jobs.” The original plan was to build 100 vehicles entirely at GD Santa Barbara Sistemas, in order to efficiently reach Initial Operational Capability. After that, the Spanish plant would provide hulls only, with the remainder of assembly and manufacturing taking place at Britain’s state-owned Defence Support Group (DSG).

The whole thing begins to look like a very poor policy decision if DSG is very inefficient by comparison, or even a bait-and-switch. The government has asked General Dynamics to go over the figures again, but one could be forgiven for wondering what leverage the government actually has at this point. If the additional costs of DSG-built vehicles are too high, the size of the FRES-SV program would leave the government with a very unpleasant decision to make. Sources: Defense News, “British MoD Reconsiders Assembling Scout in UK”.

Dunne in FRES-SV PMRS
(click to view full)

Sept 3/14: FRES-SV. The UK Ministry of Defence orders 589 FRES Scout-SV tracked vehicles, in 6 variants, to be delivered between 2017 – 2024. General Dynamics UK will also provide initial in-service support and training under the GBP 3.5 billion ($6 billion) contract.

The vehicles will be delivered in 6 variants. The UK MoD double-counts Engineer Reconnaissance, and omits the base turreted vehicle and the touted Ambulance variant. Correcting for those faults, one possibility looks to known variants promoted by General Dynamics, and lists:

  • Scout-SV base. Only variant with a full 40mm turret.
  • Turretless PMRS SV (Protected Mobility Reconnaissance Support) – incl. Ambulance role, and Engineering Reconnaissance carrying specialist engineering equipment and personnel.
  • Command and Control – derived from PMRS.
  • Reconnaissance – derived from PMRS, role includes targeting and fire control.
  • Repair SV – turretless, with crane.
  • Recovery SV – turretless, with winch and dozer blade.

The announcement is made on the eve of NATO’s Wales Summit, while Russian forces are fighting semi-openly in eastern Ukraine. It’s meant to underscore the fact that Britain is the only major NATO member other than the USA who is meeting the 2% of GDP target for defense spending, and Britain presses more allies to follow Poland’s example and commit to more defense spending. Sources: GD UK, “General Dynamics UK awarded £3.5 billion to deliver 589 SCOUT SV platforms to the British Army” | BBC, “NATO summit: £3.5bn armoured vehicle deal to be signed”.

FRES-SV: 589 vehicles in 6 variants

June 25/14: FRES-UV. The British Army will conduct renewed 8-month trials of a heavily-modified VBCI, as a follow-on to the The Lancaster House agreement (q.v. Nov 2/10) regarding the 2 countries’ defense industries. Activities will begin before the end of 2014 at France’s Canjeurs military base, before moving to Mourmelon. VBCI’s export version has some important changes:

“Speaking to IHS Jane’s at Eurosatory 2014 in Paris, Philip Dunne, UK Minister for Defence Equipment, Support, and Technology, said the VBCI had fallen down on three elements in the original competition: accessibility to the vehicle’s powerpack, the vehicle’s armour protection levels, and its growth potential…. “VBCI has undergone a significant upgrade”, he added…. [Nexter’s] new export variant of the VBCI…. included the ability to remove the vehicle’s powerpack in the field (a British but not a French requirement), and an improved suspension and transmission to increase the VBCI’s maximum weight from 29 tonnes to 32 tonnes – meeting the British need for growth potential and improved protection…. Other improvements include fourth-axle steering, a repositioned fuel tank, upgraded cooling and engine performance, and small hull reconfigurations to increase the vehicle’s internal volume.”

The bad news? Under the revised “Army 2020” plan, FRES UV has dropped from initial estimates of around 2,000 vehicles to just 1 Heavy Protected Mobility (HPM) battalion in each of 3 mechanized brigades. There’s no firm date for that buy, either, as relatively new 6-wheeled Mastiff v-hulled vehicles already occupy the HPM role. Sources: DID, “VBCI: France’s Wheeled APC” | IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, “British Army to trial VBCI”.

June 16/14: Weapons. The WSCP’s 40mm Cased Telescoped Armament System has achieved qualification certification from the UK and France for the 40mm cannon and 2 tracer round types: APFSDS armor piercing and TP full target practice rounds.

CT40 qualification certification allows manned firing demonstration phases to begin for Britain’s FRES-Scout and WCSP programs, and for the French DGA’s EBRC wheeled light tank program. The program will work to certify the other initial ammunition types (A3B anti-aerial airburst, Point detonating and Airburst general purpose tracer rounds, and a low-cost reduced range TPPR-T training round) over the next 2 years, in time for the first delivery of the UK’s series production vehicles. The French EBRC program is expected to start full development in 2015. Sources: CTAI, “CTA International achieves Anglo-French qualification for the 40mm Cased Telescoped Cannon and Ammunition”.

April 28/14: PMRS CDR. The UK Ministry of Defence passes FRES-SV’s turretless Protected Mobility Recce Support (PMRS) base platform through the Base Platform Critical Design Review (CDR). The review covered mine and ballistic survivability; human factors design; PMRS system architecture; its sub-systems, such as the running gear, suspension, auto controls and propulsion; and PMRS specific design interfaces, including for the vehicle’s electronic architecture, C4I equipment, towing and storage.

Note that when the demonstration contract was signed (q.v. July 1/10), full trials of the prototype vehicle were expected to begin no later than 2013. They’re a bit behind.

PMRS is the 1st variant-specific CDR for the SCOUT-SV program, and it will produce a turretless vehicle carrying 2 crew and just 4 soldiers. Variants will be used for Ambulance, Command, and Engineer Reece roles. Delivery of the first PMRS variant pre-production prototype is expected in 2014, following PMRS’ overarching CDR. The Scout SV infantry fighting vehicle, Recovery SV, and Repair SV will follow later. Sources: GD-UK, “General Dynamics UK completes Base Platform Critical Design Review for Specialist Vehicle variant”.

Feb 13/14: NAO Report. Britain’s National Audit Office releases their 2013 Major Projects Report, as well as their review of Britain’s 2013-2023 Equipment Plan. With respect to FRES Specialist Vehicles, the number of vehicles planned is redacted. The NAO report adds:

“It should be noted that Specialist Vehicles does not have a single Main Gate Approval. The size of the programme, together with previous lessons learned in other programmes, determined that a two stage Main Gate approach should be used; Main Gate 1 for entry into Demonstration for Recce Block 1 and Common Base Platform only, with a second Main Gate (2) for entry into production, the latter being the major investment decision. Later approvals (in effect sub- Main Gates) will approve Demonstration and Manufacture of the remaining Protected Mobility Recce Support roles and any future needs.”

Jan 29/14: Parliamentary Report. The House of Commons Defence Committee publishes a report regarding Britain’s fuzzy “Army 2020” plans. Key excerpts:

“We are surprised that such a radical change to the Army’s structure, reflecting a reduction of 12,000 personnel from that announced in SDSR 2010, was not discussed at the National Security Council (NSC)…. As well as setting out the proposed new structure for the Army, the plan announced there would be 17 fewer major units in the Army with a reduction of 23 units from the Order of Battle[51] in total by disbanding and merging several units….

We note that the Secretary of State for Defence accepts that Army 2020 was designed to fit a financial envelope. We are concerned that this consideration took primacy over the country’s abilities to respond to the threats, risks and uncertainties contained in the National Security Strategy. We were also concerned to hear that it was the Ministry of Defence’s Permanent Secretary who told the Chief of the General Staff the future size of the Army under the Army 2020 plan. We call on the MoD to explain the apparent lack of consultation and involvement of the Chief of the General Staff in the decision-making process that has affected his Service so fundamentally….

In its response to this Report, we recommend that the MoD provide us with an assessment of how the Army 2020 plans will affect the “Fighting Power” of the Army providing comparable assessments of both current fighting power and projected fighting power following the completion of the Army 2020 plans.”

Sources: UK Parliament, “Defence Committee – Ninth Report
Future Army 2020
“.

Jan 13/14: -SV plans. Britain’s MoD endorses an update to the FRES-SV Acquisition Strategy. The turretless Protected Mobility Recce Support vehicle variant will be used with minor sub-system changes for the Ambulance, Command, and Engineer Recce roles. Further studies have been contracted to assess requirements for the turreted Scout SV, and the Repair and Recovery variants. Sources: NAO Major Projects Report 2013.

Sept 10/13: -SV Testing. The lead contractor for FRES-SV touts testing efforts to date:

“Since [DSEI 2011], General Dynamics UK has been putting its Mobile Test Rig (MTR) – the precursor to a prototype Specialist Vehicle (SV) – through an extensive series of trials…. The MTR is similar in design to the Protected Mobility Recce Support (PMRS) variant of SV, which itself is capable of carrying a crew of two and up to four dismountable troops.

The MTR began its tests [in June 2012]…. To date, the MTR has undertaken… cold weather and Operational and Tactical (O&T) mobility trials… over 1,800km. The O&T trials demonstrated the vehicles ability to withstand extreme lower temperatures and to meet the demanding mobility requirements of the SV programme, during which the MTR towed a total of 92 tonnes train weight over 300km. The next phase of trialling will be the grueling Accelerated Life Testing (ALT) schedule…. On completion of the ALT activities, MTR will have covered over 10,000km and will have provided crucial reliability and performance data to inform the design and manufacture of the six demonstration phase prototype SV platforms.”

Sources: GD-UK, “General Dynamics UK unveils Specialist Vehicle Mobile Test Rig at DSEI 2013”.

July 2013: Army 2020. The British MoD clarifies its reduced force structure plan under Army 2020. British armored forces will see an especial cut, with 3 mechanized brigades and 16 Air Assault Brigade in the “Reaction Force,” while the “Adaptable Force” would include 7 infantry brigades as its combat force.

The initial 2012 document (q.v. May 26/12) made it clear that FRES-SV would only have a role in the armored cavalry regiments. Each mechanized brigade has just 1 of those, which pairs FRES-SV and Challenger tanks. The rest of the brigade includes 1 full Challenger tank regiment, 2 armored infantry battalions with Warrior IFVs, and a Heavy Protected Mobility battalion with blast-resistant Mastiff vehicles. The HPM battalion might be outfitted with FRES-UV wheeled armored vehicles later on, but neither type of FRES armored vehicle was listed for the “Adaptable Force,” which will supposedly rely on standard wheeled patrol vehicles.

This structure seems to represent a drastic cut to the overall FRES program, but Britain’s government and ministry are avoiding those kinds of details. Sources: UK MoD, “Transforming The British Army: An Update – July 2013” and “Transforming The British Army, July 2012”.

June 19/12: Weapons. At the Eurosatory 2012 show, French operators give the Javelin anti-tank missile high marks for performance in Afghanistan, and the Javelin JV is in talks with 2 French firms to integrate Javelin with the BAE/Nexter CT40 turret. Nexter is the first firm, of course.

At the same time, Panhard General Defense is working with Lockheed Martin UK to develop its Sphinx medium 6×6 wheeled armored vehicle concept for France’s EBRC light tank competition. Lockheed Martin UK expects to leverage its turret work from the British FRES-SV and WCSP programs for EBRC, and the Javelin missile is already a mainstay in British service. Which means that any Javelin integration work performed for the French market could eventually filter back to those British armored programs. Sources: Army Recognition, “Lockheed Martin at Eurosatory 2012”.

May 31/12: Industrial. BAE closes its main armored vehicle production facility at Newcastle-on-Tyne.

“BAE said the proposal to close the Newcastle site at the end of 2013 followed a business review which concluded that there was no prospect of new UK armoured vehicle manufacturing work once production of the Terrier ends next year.”

Sources: Daily Mail, “Tank builder shuts after 165 years because of slump in orders” | Mirror, “Tanks and goodnight: Historic defence factory to close with loss of hundreds of jobs”.

May 26/12: FRES-SV delay? Defense News quotes unnamed British sources, who say that the new Army 2020 plan is likely to extend FRES SV’s GBP 500 million pound demonstration phase, cut the total number of planned vehicles, and delay operational introduction to 2020 or beyond. Excerpt:

“The MoD has never publicly acknowledged the expected in-service date for the Scout vehicle, although Army officers at last year’s DSEi exhibition in London said it was 2015…. A MoD spokeswoman said: …The funding for the [GBP 5.5 billion] vehicle pipeline, which also includes the Warrior Capability Sustainment Program, a [FRES] utility vehicle and improvements to Challenger 2, will be prioritized, according to the Army’s requirements. In the case of Scout, production numbers and delivery dates will be confirmed at Main Gate…”

Sources: UK MoD – Transforming The British Army, July 2012″ [PDF] | Defense News, “U.K. May Delay Major Vehicle Buy”.

May 14/12: Politics. The UK MoD confirms in its Planning Round 2012 (PR12) announcement that GBP 5.5 billion in funding is available for its future Armoured Fighting Vehicle (AFV) pipeline, which includes the FRES-Specialist Vehicle program. GD-UK is predictably pleased:

“We welcome the announcement by the Secretary of State for Defence confirming that the SV programme is secure in the MoD’s future AFV pipeline and core programme of committed funding,” commented Dr. Sandy Wilson, president and managing director of General Dynamics UK…. A recent audit study by Ernst & Young concluded that the SV programme would generate total economic output of over [GBP] 9.8 billion, with a corresponding Gross Value Added1 (GVA) of [GBP] 4.7 billion over the life of the programme. To this end, General Dynamics UK recently invested £12 million in state of the art facilities in Wales, establishing a Centre of Excellence for Land Systems…”

Sources: GD-UK, “UK MoD confirms commitment to Specialist Vehicle programme in Armoured Fighting Vehicle pipeline”.

2010 – 2011

GD’s ASCOD 2 is preferred base design for FRES-SV; Sub-contractors picked; FRES-SV survives SDSR review; Testing contract for novel CT40 gun system.

ASCOD-2 Scout
(click to view full)

May 4/11: Sub-contractors. Curtiss-Wright Corporation announces a contract from Lockheed Martin to provide the Scout reconnaissance vehicle’s servo system for weapon stabilization.

The demonstration phase contract has an option for production deliveries, and continues through December 2013. Curtiss-Wright will design, develop and manufacture the turret drive servo system at their Motion Control facility in Neuhausen, Switzerland.

March 23/11: Industrial. Lockheed Martin UK announces 60 new jobs at their Ampthill site, now that they have secured a contract to deliver the turret for the new FRES SV.

March 6/12: Sub-contractors. ViaSat Inc. is picked by General Dynamics UK Ltd. to design and develop the on-board encrypted data storage systems for FRES-SV, scheduled to begin trials with the British Army in January 2013.

ViaSat has developed the only hardware based data encryption technology approved by Britain’s CESG for the protection of Top Secret data at rest. The system also includes purge controls to delete data encryption keys. Overall, its EDS systems will allow FRES-SV vehicles to securely capture, analyze, store, and share over 6 TB of intelligence data. The Specialist Vehicle Encryption and Purge Solution will be modular, able to be switched out as needed, and more easily upgraded over the vehicle’s lifetime. ViaSat.

Jan 17/11: Political. IHS Jane’s reports that:

“The biggest hit for the British Army in the Government’s economy package falls on what had been known as the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) programme, focused on delivering medium weight armour. Already long-delayed and effectively in abeyance, the programme has now seen army officers drop bids for funding to build both the medium armour [DID: FRES-U] and manoeuvre support FRES variants from the service’s 2011 spending and planning round (PR11) pitch…. “

Being left out of PR11 isn’t a death sentence in and of itself, but the more time FRES variants spend as a lower-priority item, the lower their long-term fielding odds become. Other programs expected to be on the “unfunded” list for PR11 include UOR electronic countermeasures for use against IED land mines, bringing satellite communication equipment into the core force, fielding blast-resistant Wolfhound/ Husky/ Coyote supply vehicles across the wider army, new chemical/biological/radiological/nuclear protective equipment; arming Watchkeeper MK450B UAVs, and funding ongoing improvements to the Bowman communication system beyond 2015.

Dec 2/10: Sub-contractors. Lockheed Martin UK announces that General Dynamics UK has issued a contract to deliver 3 turrets for the FRES Scout reconnaissance vehicle, to be used in the Demonstration Phase Integration and Test efforts.

As previous entries indicate, Lockheed Martin has been working on this for some time. Some of that happened during the bid phase. Other work was covered by UK MoD advance funding ahead of a full contract agreement with prime contractor General Dynamics UK, in order to ensure that the FRES-SV Demonstration Phase schedule remained fully on track. While contract negotiations continue between General Dynamics UK and the UK MoD, Lockheed Martin UK is also in negotiations with its suppliers, in order to finalize industrial arrangements for the turret.

Nov 2/10: UK-France. The “UK-France Summit 2010 Declaration on Defence and Security Co-operation” includes the intent to create “a Combined Joint Expeditionary Force suitable for a wide range of scenarios, up to and including high intensity operations.”

The VBCI may have lost the original FRES-UV competition (q.v. May 8/08), but GD’s Piranha V couldn’t hold on to its win (q.v. Dev 11/08). A combined JEF would benefit from armored vehicle commonality, if Nexter can fix the flaws that cause it to lose in 2008.

UK-France defense MoU

Oct 19/10: SDSR. Britain releases its Strategic Defence and Security Review. Heavy units take the brunt of land cuts, with Challenger tank forces cut by 40%, and AS90 Braveheart self-propelled artillery by 33%. FRES escapes obvious cuts, but the government does not give firm fleet size guidance. It says only that the future force will include:

“…a new range of medium weight armoured vehicles, including Terrier engineer vehicles and the Scout reconnaissance vehicles and in due course the Future Rapid Effects System Utility Vehicle (FRES UV) which will be the core of the Army’s armoured manoeuvre fleet;”

SDSR

July 1/10: A Conservative/Liberal Democrat alliance has become Britain’s government, and their comprehensive defense review isn’t done yet; even so, a major FRES-SV contract is signed by the UK MoD and General Dynamics UK. The GBP 500 million (about $760 million) contract covers FRES-SV’s demonstration phase. The firm will design and deliver 7 prototypes for the ASCOD-2 Scout reconnaissance vehicle, supporting variants built on the ASCOD SV Common Base Platform, and associated training equipment. The Common Base Platform can support variants such as the base Infantry Fighting/ Scout vehicle, a turretless Armored Personnel Carrier, Ambulance, Bridge-Laying, Command, Assault Gun/ Fire Support, Repair, and Recovery, as desired.

The trials of the prototype vehicles are expected to begin with the Army no later than 2013. If and when the demonstration phase is successful, the program can advance to the Manufacture Phase. UK MoD | General Dynamics UK.

FRES-SV Demonstration Phase

June 24/10: Sub-contractors. General Dynamics UK unveils its Scout SV turret for ASCOD SV at Britain’s Defence Vehicle Dynamics 2010 exhibition. The turret is designed around the CT40 Cased Telescoped Cannon System, which was successfully integrated and fired by turret provider Lockheed Martin UK Ampthill at the beginning of 2010. Over 75% of turret-related work will be done in the UK.

The ASCOD SV turret has a turret-ring diameter of 1.7m, which is wider than older vehicles such as the Warrior. The hull is also designed to accommodate a 2.1m turret ring, which would offer the ability to carry a 105mm or 120mm gun in order to field a fire support variant (the CV90 family has already fielded and tested the CV90-120). ASCOD SV’s turret design places the main ammunition feed under-armor, but outside the turret crew compartment. This gives soldiers in the turret more room, even wearing full body armour and future wearable systems, and offers room for additional systems (probably power) to be added inside. General Dynamics UK.

March 22/10: -SV preferred bidder. The UK Ministry of Defence announces that General Dynamics UK is the preferred bidder for FRES-SV, but doesn’t specify the amount. News reports describe a potential GBP 1 billion (about $1.5 billion) contract to provide 580 vehicles in both the Scout variant and the Common Base Platform for other specialty roles like recovery, command and control, etc. Note that Preferred Bidder status is not a contract yet – GD UK had the exact same status for FRES-U, but couldn’t come to an agreement and ended up losing the contract.

The base ASCOD design for FRES-SV is a collaboration between 2 General Dynamics subsidiaries: Santa Barbara Sistemas in Spain, and Steyr Daimler Pusch in Austria. Earlier versions of the ASCOD serve with the Spanish and Austrian militaries, where they are known as the Pizarro and Ulan, respectively. General Dynamics says that their FRES ASCOD-2 design can grow up to 42 tonnes thanks to its drive train – almost the weight of a Russian T-72 main battle tank, and heavier than BAE’s CV90. The firm adds that 80% of ASCOD SV’s full rate production and 70% of its total supply chain will be based in the UK, securing or creating over 10,600 jobs for British workers at headquarters in South Wales, and other regions. General Dynamics UK has sub-contracted Lockheed Martin UK INSYS to produce the Scout variant’s CTAS-based 40mm turret, and will transfer full rate production of the entire ASCOD SV program to DSG in Donnington.

The deal is not wholly out of the woods yet, however. The opposition Conservative Party is criticizing the awards just before a general election, whose aftermath is certain to feature a broad strategic review. The party says that existing programs will be assessed on 5 criteria: affordability, capability, adaptability, exportability and interoperability. UK MoD | General Dynamics UK | UK’s Daily Telegraph | UK’s The Guardian | UK’s The Independent | AP | Defense News.

ASCOD-2 picked for FRES-SV

March 15/10: -SV Competition. BAE Systems announces plans to save and create a total of 800 jobs (400 layoffs canceled, 400 jobs added) at its Newcastle manufacturing site, shifting away from its initial plans to build the base CV90 platform on the current manufacturing line in Sweden, and then fit it out and finish it in the UK. The move comes in response to a March 13/10 report in the Financial Times the British government is ready to award the FRES-SV contract to General Dynamics.

Media reports say that BAE was initially told it was in the “box seat” to win the order, after spending GBP 50 million and 5 years designing a CV90 variant that it believes to be technically superior to its competition, a General Dynamics ASCOD variant. Reports now indicate that the General Dynamics proposal had a more attractive industrial component. Defence Management | Defense News | IBTimes | Reuters | London Telegraph.

Feb 26/10: -SV Competition. Jane’s reports that the FRES-SV industrial programs have become an issue in the competition. General Dynamics UK reportedly said it expects to safeguard or create more than 10,500 jobs in 8 regions of the UK, if its ASCOD vehicle wins. This presumably includes jobs at component suppliers, and possibly economic multiplier effects.

At the same time, BAE Systems had warned that its UK military land vehicle concerns will become a “dwindling support services business” should the group fail to be selected to meet the UK FRES-SV and the Warrior Capability Sustainment Plan. In other words, significant layoffs.

Feb 25/10: -SV Competition. The MoD’s Investment Approvals Board (IAB) meets, with discussions including the GBP 1 billion Warrior Capability Sustainment Program upgrades to Britain’s Warrior IFVs, and MoD Defence Equipment & Support’s recommendation in the FRES-SV competition. Jane’s report | PURCON | Defense News re: IAB’s agenda.

Feb 22/10: Weapons. BAE Systems announces that they’re starting to build a GBP 4.5 million Turret Test Rig (TTR) for the FRES Scout and Warrior upgrade programs. The rig is closely modeled on BAE Systems’ Mission Equipment Vibration Table (MEVT) in Minneapolis, built for the US Future Combat Systems program. Indeed, systems modeling and analysis manager Vince Whelan relocated from Minneapolis.

The TTR is designed to take a turret through a 20-year life-span in 12-18 months by subjecting it to “shake, rattle and roll” tests under extremes of temperature. Electronic components in particular tend to dislike vibration, but the life of an armored vehicle makes a lot of vibration inevitable. Testing must be done, but field testing is inefficient and expensive. Hence the development of facilities like TTR/MEVT.

Feb 8/10: Weapons. The CTA International (CTAI) joint venture between BAE Systems and France’s Nexter signs a GBP 11 million contract with the French and British ministries of defence, in order to fund qualification of their 40mmm CTCA caseless cannon system. CT40 qualification will begin in early 2011, including freezing, baking, humidity, “shake, rattle and roll” trials, etc. The UK and France have already signed a Government to Government Technical Arrangement for a jointly-funded qualification program, which will require around 15,000 rounds.

The final ammunition requirements will be defined once the prime contractors are announced in the next few weeks. Nexter has secured an ammunition supply contract from the French government, while BAE Systems Global Combat Systems – Munitions (GCSM), recently submitted a proposal to produce that 40mm ammunition through Britain’s existing MASS munitions supply contract.

While the system has been passed for manned firing and considerable data has already been collected, these trials will formally pass the system for use by the British and French armies. CTCA will be used in the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP), the FRES Scout reconnaissance vehicle for the British Army and in the French Army’s future reconnaissance vehicle. In Britain, however, the WCSP/FRES turrets and the FRES Scout chassis will be selected through competition. BAE Systems release.

CT40 testing

2008 – 2009

GD’s Piranha V wins FRES-U, until FRES-UV is shelved; Boeing & Thales sign integrator contracts; FRES-SV competition bids are in.

CV90, urban camo
(click to view full)

Nov 5/09: -SV Competition. General Dynamics UK announces that its FRES-SV bid is in, and cites the design’s weight and growth potential. Its ASCOD SV will use Lockheed Martin UK INSYS as its turret designer and provider.

Nov 1/09: -SV Competition. A BAE release adds more details about their bid for the initial GBP 2 million “Recce Block 1” FRES-SV phase, including information about expected production. The chassis will be built at the company’s existing production line at Ornskoldsvik, Sweden, using parts from a number of UK suppliers. The Scout turret and UK mission fit will be built in the UK, and integrated onto the chassis in the UK.

According to the release, BAE’s demonstrator vehicle has already begun mobility trials at Millbrook proving ground, and fired its weapon system at the Shoeburyness range.

Sept 9/09: -SV Competition. BAE unveils its FRES-SV Scout demonstrator at DESi 2009. It’s based on a lowered CV90 chassis, with upgraded electronics and the requisite stabilized CTAS 40mm turret.

CTAS will form the foundation for the FRES Scout and the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP), and its 40mm high explosive round has more than 3x the explosive power of the 30mm Rarden that equips the current Warrior vehicles. Testing is underway. The WSCP and FRES-SV turrets will be somewhat different, but will be based on a common gun and electronic architecture. Defence Management.

July 9/09: -SV Competition. The UK Ministry of Defence has announced that it will extend FRES-SV’s draft Invitation to Tender to BAE Systems Global Combat Systems, and to General Dynamics UK. Their competing models are intended to provide reconnaissance and reconnaissance support vehicles to replace the British Army’s existing CVR (T) Scimitar and Spartan vehicles. The final Invitation to Tender is expected to be issued later in July 2009, following this initial assessment phase.

BAE has at least 2 main choices for FRES-SV. Reports to date indicate that it is likely to offer its tracked SEP/Thor modular vehicle, a new design whose wheeled model could easily become the back-door choice for FRES-U/MA – if the tracked variant wins FRES-SV, and if subsequent negotiations go well. The other option is its popular CV90 series, which is already combat tested and in service with several countries. It offers a more proven solution, a wide array of developed variants, and allied interoperability benefits, at the price of having less cross-over potential.

General Dynamics is offering an upgraded ASCOD 2 IFV. This joint project of General Dynamics’ subsidiaries Santa Barbara Sistemas and Steyr-Daimler-Puch has been fielded by Spain (as the Pizarro IFV) and Austria (as the Ulan IFV); several specialty variants are already in service.

Dec 15/08: Industrial. Bloomberg News quotes BAE spokesman Mike Sweeny as saying that BAE will review the future of its UK Land Systems unit following the UK MoD’s FRES decision. BAE had lost 2 critical opportunities to participate in FRES so far, and had pinned its hopes on becoming the manufacturing contractor for the modified FRES- Utility Piranha V design. When talks collapsed between General Dynamics MOWAG and the UK over ownership of the vehicles’ intellectual property, and placed the FRES-UV vehicle on the back-burner, that opportunity evaporated.

BAE is also competing for the FRES-SV scout vehicle, offering its Thor/SEP vehicle which comes in wheeled and tracked variants. The SEP is designed by BAE’s Hagglunds unit in Sweden, however, and would not enter service until 2013 at the earliest.

In November 2008, BAE Land Systems said it would cut as many as 200 jobs because production work has dwindled to the Pinzgauer armored truck and Terrier general support engineer vehicle, plus an unspecified project for a Middle Eastern client. Upgrade and integration work on systems like the AS90 mobile howitzer, FV430 Mk3 Bulldog APC, Warrior IFV, and others wasn’t deemed sufficient. BAE has now said that it said it can’t rule out further plant closures and job cuts in Britain.

SEP, tracked
(click to view full)

Dec 11/08: FRES-UV shelved. The UK Ministry of Defense announces a sweeping set of changes to a number of procurement programs. FRES is the most seriously affected, as GD MOWAG’s refusal to transfer its newest Piranha-V vehicle’s full intellectual property to the UK MoD ownership scuttles the deal. The firm’s preferred bidder status for FRES-Utility is revoked. At the same time, the SoSI integrator position is removed from the program.

The government also concludes that conditions in Afghanistan, which have not been kind to very similar wheeled vehicles, place a higher priority on the FRES-SV, which is very likely to be a tracked offering. UK Defence Secretary John Hutton:

“We have concluded that, in the context of current operations, and bearing in mind the considerable recent investment in protected mobility, the highest priority should now be accorded to delivering the Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme and the FRES Scout vehicle as quickly as possible. Against that background, we have decided to restructure the FRES programme, giving priority to FRES Scout over the FRES Utility Vehicle.”

Hutton admits that this move will delay the FRES program, again. A government looking to move FRES out of the way of other needs would see that as a positive feature. UK MoD | Bloomberg.

SoSI removed, FRES-UV shelved, FRES-SV prioritized

Nov 3/08: FRES-UV. The Financial Times of London writes:

“Six months after selecting General Dynamics [MOWAG] to provide the design for the first variant of the new vehicles, the MoD has been unable to agree final contractual terms with the US group [DID: GD MOWAG is in Switzerland]…. the two parties have been unable to agree certain elements of the final contract. The protracted negotiations have also delayed the competition for the vehicle integrator, the job of assembling the vehicle, fitting it out and making sure it can work with all the other high-tech systems in the forces. BAE Systems, General Dynamics, Lockheed Martin and Finmeccanica are all in the running for the role.”

The article reports that the UK MoD is revisiting the acquisition process, and that elements of FRES could be delayed as a result of the impasse.

Oct 16/08: Lockheed Martin UK announces an study contract from Atkins, the FRES program’s system house. The study will work to help the UK MoD refine the FRES-SV scout vehicle’s user and systems requirements, cost estimates and schedule to delivery, with a particular focus on integrating the FRES mission systems into a combat-effective, affordable and low-risk Scout turret concept. The work will also build upon the FRES Electronic Architecture Technology Demonstrator Programme (EATDP) that Lockheed Martin UK and its teammates delivered for MoD through Atkins in 2007.

Lockheed Martin’s principal sub-contractors will be SciSys and Ultra Electronics. Lockheed Martin UK release.

FRES-U:
Piranha-V concept
(click to view full)

May 8/08: FRES-UV. General Dynamics UK’s Piranha-V wins Britain’s FRES-Utility competition, beating Nexter’s VBCI and the ARTEC consortium’s Boxer MRAV. General Dynamics employs prople around the UK, including 1,000 in South Wales at Oakdale and Newbridge.

As noted below, even this win is still a development contract of sorts. Subject to satisfactory completion of the package of work on risk reduction, General Dynamics UK Limited and its team will develop the new Piranha-V 8×8 wheeled armored personnel carrier as the British Army’s FRES Utility Vehicle. The company will now enter negotiations with the MoD to determine the scope of development work required. A spokesman for the MoD said the risk-reduction phase was “aimed at increasing confidence in the maturity of the vehicle design across performance, cost and time issues.” At present, there is no schedule for this next phase; that will be one of the items negotiated. UK MoD release | General Dynamics UK release | Defense News | iCWales news site report | Forbes report.

FRES-UV picks Piranha V

March 11/08: Not Off-the-Shelf. The House of Commons issues its 2007-08 defence equipment report. With respect to FRES, the report describes the MoD’s go-forward approach – which is not about an off-the-shelf purchase:

“We note that the FRES Utility Vehicle design which has been recommended is a “developmental vehicle” and that the MoD considers that this is the best option as it can be upgraded and its capability increased over time. We also note that the MoD considers that acquiring an “off-the-shelf” vehicle would not provide scope for increasing capability and would have a very limited life. While we recognise that these are strong arguments for acquiring a developmental vehicle for the FRES Utility Vehicle, such an option is also likely to involve higher costs and increased risks to the in-service date because of unforeseen problems during the further development. If the recommended design is approved, the MoD needs to ensure that it identifies the key risks on the programme and how these are to be managed.”

Read: “Britain Releases Defence Equipment 2008 Report” for more information and links.

Feb 6/08: SoSI. Boeing and Thales announce that their System of System Integrators contract (see Oct 5/07) has been signed by the UK MoD. The initial 6-month contract is valued at GBP 4 million (about $8 million). It gets the process started, and defines the framework for the firm’s ongoing role in the subsequent phases of the FRES program. Boeing release | Thales Group release.

Integrator contracts

2006 – 2007

Initial study contracts; System integrator finalists & FRES-UV finalists picked, but program delayed.

Boxer MRAV:
in from the cold
(click to view full)

Nov 29/07: Delayed. Bob Ainsworth, the UK’s Minister of State for Armed Forces, announces a slight delay:

“The Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) has a vital role to play in the future of the British Army. We stated that we would announce the outcome of the utility vehicle design trials by the end of November. I am delighted to announce today that these trials have been successfully completed on schedule, and that a recommendation has been produced based on technical design considerations. Further work with all three possible providers will be undertaken over the next few weeks in order to clarify the commercial implications of their proposals. Following this, a definitive announcement will be made on the preferred design to be taken through the remainder of assessment phase of this part of the FRES programme.”

Nov 22/07: Competition. With the stakes growing after 2 losses in the FRES competition, BAE Systems unveils its bid team for the FRES integration and build contract: BAE Land Systems, BAE Insyte, SAIC, QinetiQ, SELEX S&AS, GE Aviation, and Cranfield University.

Nov 6/07: Competition. A Defense News report reads the tea leaves and believes the French VBCI has an edge in the FRES competition. Meanwhile, assessment-phase contracts have been awarded in the tracked FRES-Recon for BAE Systems’ CV90 (not SEP) and General Dynamics UK’s ASCOD for scout, indirect fire control, ground-based surveillance and other roles.

They quote BAE Systems Land Systems Managing Director Andrew Davies as saying that BAE, who has been eliminated from the FRES-Utility finals and Systems of Systems contracts, “must win the last piece of the FRES utility program – the integration-and-build contract – or consider shutting the Newcastle plant.”

Oct 5/07: SoSI. The UK MoD announces that Thales UK and Boeing’s Defence UK subsidiary have been selected as the preferred bidders for the role of System of Systems Integrator (SOSI) for the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) program. The SOSI team is supposed to act as an independent, honest broker between industry and the MoD to co-ordinate FRES procurement, providing service elements including: systems of systems engineering and integration; alliance development and management; development of the MoD’s SOSI competence; through-life capability management; and through-life technology management.

The selection represents the second important loss for BAE in the FRES program, the first blow being the elimination of its SEP wheeled/tracked vehicle family from the finalists’ roster.

The MoD announcement also mentions their appointment of the legal firm Herbert Smith to provide the FRES team with intellectual property, commercial and legal advice. Their role is to ensure that the Intellectual Property, Design Authority, and systems architecture for FRES will reside in the UK, per the government’s Defence Industrial Strategy. UK MoD release | Thales release | Boeing release.

Sept 13/07: Competition. Jane’s reports from DESi 2007 that General Dynamics UK is making an offer its competitors won’t be able to match:

“General Dynamics UK has confirmed that…. there is a potential export market for up to 2,000 Piranha Vs (8×8) over a 10-year period. These would all be supplied from the UK production line, because the UK would have a complete technology transfer package, as well as the full intellectual property rights as stipulated by the UK Ministry of Defence.”

Boxer modular concept
(click to view full)

June 14/07: Politics. Stung by criticism that the MoD has wasted years in order to select off-the-shelf vehicles that may not be survivable enough, Minister for Defence Equipment and Support Lord Drayson fires back in a public forum:

“Yes, the Boxer was a programme the MoD pulled out of when it was known as the MRAV programme. We took that decision in 2002 in light of the requirement at the time. We have since reviewed the FRES requirement in light of recent operational experience in Iraq and Afghanistan. Force protection in theatre now has a higher priority than strategic deployability – I don’t think anyone would argue with that view. When the situation changes our procurement process must be capable of responding to that change….. Iâ€m not going to go into the details of the protection FRES will have in a public forum…. But to suggest that we are ignoring the threats we face in Iraq and Afghanistan today when we set the requirement for our future vehicles is wrong. And the idea that taking into account the full range of threats FRES will be less well protected than the patrol vehicles you list (such as the Mastiff) is also wrong. Finally, let’s all be clear that FRES is neither a protected patrol vehicle nor a replacement for Warrior….”

Given Canada’s poor experiences with wheeled vehicles in Afghanistan, and the Stryker’s emerging difficulties against new IED land mines in Iraq, this may become a recurring subject.

VBCI
(click to view full)

June 8/07: FRES-UV Finalists. Britain’s MoD announces the FRES finalists. Surprisingly, the SEP vehicles don’t make that list, nor do other test platforms. All of the finalists are wheeled: General Dynamics MOWAG’s Piranha V, Nexter (formerly Giat’s) VBCI – and the KMW-ARTEC Boxer, which program Britain abandoned several years ago in order to pursue FRES.

The vehicles will go on to the “trials of truth,” and the MoD says the outcome of the trials will be announced by the end of November 2007. At that point, “one or more utility vehicle designs will go forward for detailed assessment.” UK MoD release | Nexter release | Nexter DESi PDF brochure | KMW release.

FRES-UV finalists

June 5/07: SoSI. The UK MoD recently announced its intention to form a Ministry of Defence/ Industry Alliance for FRES. A key role in this Alliance is that of the System of Systems Integrator. Thales UK and Boeing Defence UK have now announced that they will jointly bid for the SOSI role. Thales UK will be the lead firm in the partnership.

If selected, Thales and Boeing would be partnered with the MoD to deliver a timely and coherent through-life capability to the British Army that would include both the vehicles and long-term support services, while meeting UK industrial goals under the Defence Industrial Strategy and retaining key intellectual property rights for the MoD. Thales UK touts its “excellent understanding of the Armored Fighting Vehicle domain,” systems integration skils, and “in-depth understanding of UK doctrine and concepts.” Boeing touts its “proven experience and expertise in successfully executing system-of-systems integration programs” (it’s one of the SOSI-type leads for the USA’s Future Combat Systems, with SAIC), and “world-class program management… and supply chain management skill.” Boeing release | Thales UK release.

March 19/07: Competition. BAE Hagglunds announced that its new SEP 8×8 modular vehicle system is now ready for the UK Ministry of Defence’s upcoming trials for FRES Utility Vehicles.

Feb 21/07: Report. The UK’s Parliamentary Defence Committee published its Seventh Report of Session 2006-07: The Army’s requirement for armoured vehicles: the FRES programme, HC 159 [PDF] | Committee release: “Make Up Your Mind On Army’s Armoured Vehicles, Defence Committee Tells MoD.” The report is highly critical of the UK MoD’s multiple plans over the years to replace Britain’s medium armor, expresses concern over weight requirements/ air transportability, lack of joint cooperation with any other country, a potential lack of soldier input, and expresses doubts that FRES vehicles can be fielded before 2017.

The UK MoD’s reply asserts that risk reduction requires the current pace, and alludes to the fact that past Parliamentary complaints re: the MoD have involved excessive risk and project overruns.

For a summary of February events, including links to and excerpts from these publications, see the DID article “Britain’s FRES Program has a Full February.”

Feb 19/07: Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that BAE Systems Hagglunds has completed the first of two new 8×8 Integrated Demonstrator armored fighting vehicles on schedule. These SEP-based vehicles were developed using company funding, in close co-operation with BAE Systems Land Systems of the UK. As noted above, BAE is competing against a General Dynamics UK vehicle to meet the British Army’s Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) Utility Vehicle (UV) requirement.

BAE MGV-T

Feb 12/07: Competition. Following the endorsement of the FRES Acquisition Strategy and the publication of the EOI for the Utility Vehicle competitions, the latest FRES requirements documents are now being made available in order to keep industry informed as the requirements mature prior to final release later [in 2007]. See MoD bulletin.

Jan 26/07: Competition. Jane’s Defence Weekly reports that The UK Defence Procurement Agency (DPA) has begun seeking expressions of interest from companies for the delivery of the FRES-UV (Utility Vehicles) phase. The DPA release to industry, via the Defence Contracts Bulletin (DCB) on January 25th, offers an invitation to tender (ITT) for both the vehicle integrator and design packages of the UV programme. The move will end FRES’ initial assessment phase as it begins a transition toward acquisition.

July 31/06: Study contract. The FRES programme is part way through its initial assessment phase (iAP). One of the key objectives is to confirm the requirements for the FRES Initial Operating Capability (IOC) utility variants and enshrine these in an appropriate System Requirements document (SRD). The IOC Variant SRD (V-SRD) will not be finalised until the end of the iAP, but Atkins is “keen to ensure that industry has the opportunity to have sight of and influence the nature of the SRD well in advance of its finalisation.” As such, an initial draft release is available to industry for information and comment. See full release for details.

Initial study contracts

July 17/06: Industrial. Boeing announces that it is expanding its presence in the UK with the establishment of a new facility in Bristol, England, to support its growing defense business activities. The new facility is part of Boeing Defence UK, Ltd. and will support Boeing’s efforts on the Future Rapid Effect System (FRES) program.

Jan 4/06: TD contracts. Thales UK, teamed with Boeing, was selected to lead the Integrated Survivability (IS) programme. “Integrated survivability” is a combination of vehicle design (stealth, shape, layout), sensors, armor, and active defensive systems inside and out. In this case, it also includes something called “electric armor.” Sources: UK MoD | DID coverage all received contracts in this area.

Initial study contracts

Appendix 1 – The British Army’s Armored Vehicle Fleet, late 2006 Vehicle Fleet Size Role Challenger 2 385 Main battle tank AS 90 Braveheart 146 Self-propelled 155mm artillery Warrior 793 Infantry fighting vehicle CVR [1] 1255 Variety of roles FV430 series 1492 Roles include APC, recovery and repair vehicle, mortar carrier and radar
vehicle Saxon 622 wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC) Fuchs 11 Recon, incl. NBC BvS10 Viking 108 Amphibious armoured all-terrain vehicle Striker 48 Overwatch and anti-armour guided weapon Spartan 478 Engineer reconnaissance vehicle Challenger Armored Repair and Recovery Vehicle (CHARRV) 81 Heavy Repair & Recovery (R2) vehicle Chieftain AVRE/AVLB/ARRV 119 Engineer recovery vehicles Combat Engineer Tractor (CET) 73 Clear obstacles, dig gun pits, prepare barriers and tow vehicles Shielder 30 Creates anti-tank barriers Hippo 4 Beach armoured recovery vehicle [1] = Spartan, Scimitar, Samson, Samaritan and Sultan are all variants of the Combat Vehicle Reconnaissance (Tracked)
Source: UK MoD, via Defense Committee Feb 2007 Report “The Army’s requirement for armoured vehicles: the FRES programme, HC 159”. Since that date, the army has placed orders for additional BvS10 vikings to act as UAV transports/launchers, 248 Mastiff mine-resistant vehicles, 130 Supacat MWMIK light recon vehicles, and 400 more FV430 Mk3 “Bulldog” builds/upgrades.

A New Procurement Approach: The System House Challenges

FV432 mortar carrier

The crucial Systems House contract was placed with Atkins on Nov 16/04. Could Atkins cut the fat, successfully slim down the procurement process, and deliver the promised results?

In some ways, it’s hard to determine, because battlefield needs and other pressures ended up taking the entire competition in a very different direction. The broad aims of the Assessment Phase were:

  • To further define the FRES capability required given the military operational concepts that underpin the concept, and develop a series of affordable options for meeting the FRES requirement.

  • To develop optimum procurement and support strategies for future phases in order to present a robust case at the point of go/no-go decision.

  • To manage technology and supplier risk to acceptable levels.

FV430 Mk3, Iraq
(click to view full)

In the UK, some of these goals were certainly achieved. The FRES program has been criticized in Parliament for its delays, but the combination of very new technologies to evaluate and changing requirements on the customer end could hardly have produced anything else. In the USA, the capabilities and effects based (vs. specifications based), system integrator led FCS process has run into difficulties on the very points noted above, plus a couple of areas that are unique to the American program’s vast breadth.

In both cases, however, the countries involved are attempting to sidestep the disconnected and slow processes associated with developing each weapon in the system as an individual military-run project with detailed specifications at all stages. Given that conventional military design and procurement programs can take anywhere from 8-20 years on average, the speed of technology’s advance has made compressing this process something of a necessity.

These kinds of attempts are definitely an industry trend in Western countries. Whether FCS and FRES succeed or fail, procurement structure experiments will continue to be tried around the world as advanced armies embark on “military transformation” projects that tax both existing technology limits and military procurement systems’ ability to deliver.

FRES: Key Challenges for the Contractors

BOWMAN
(click to view full)

The contractors face two key challenges in designing the FRES. One has to do with its electronic architecture, an extremely important facet of any vehicle built with network-centric warfare in mind. The other challenge has to do with balancing the more conventional variables of weight, protection, and firepower in light of modern anti-armor threats that range from increasingly sophisticated anti-tank rockets to IED land mines.

Electronic Architecture Technology Demonstrator Programme (EA TDP) contracts are currently underway for the FRES system. Britain’s Ministry of Defense wrote that:

“The programme, which will last around 18 months, will define a scalable open architecture that may be a candidate electronic architecture solution at the core of the FRES fleet.”

In other words, it is possible that none of the presented electronic architecture solutions will be adopted. The challenging requirements may help to explain why.

The EA TDP solution must look at how FRES could be integrated within the MOD’s network enabled communications system providing enhanced Command and Control, Communications and Intelligence, local situational awareness via integrated sensors plus image and data handling, target acquisition and precision engagement, survivability and mobility. The Electronic Architecture must therefore integrate with the new General Dynamics UK-led BOWMAN communications system and the Bowman Combat Infrastructure and Platform Battlefield Information Systems Application (BCIP) program, providing seamless communications with all combat, combat support and combat service support systems. A sophisticated Health & Usage Monitoring System (HUMS) for the weapons systems is also envisioned, helping to reduce the logistical footprint, increase availability and ensure that the whole life cost for the FRES system is tightly controlled.

As if that wasn’t enough, mission-specific reconfiguration and the ability to grow the electronic system’s capabilities by incremental acquisition are also important target criteria.

Given the extent of these wished-for capabilities, it’s possible that re-prioritization of these electronics requirements will occur down the road.

On the physical side, advanced militaries are finding that their expensive systems need to be amortized over a long service life. In response, they’re beginning to plan for this. Meanwhile, demands for longer service life usually work to drive initial program costs even higher. The US Marines’ Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle (EFV) are looked at addressing this issue through steps like different hardware architectures, but the need to remain compliant with standard off-the-shelf commodity components became an issue. Given that long service life is likely to remain a budgetary necessity, more experiments are sure to follow.

Challenger 2
(click to view full)

With respect to vehicle design, the British Ministry of Defence notes:

“The FRES requirement sets demanding targets including limits to weight and size to allow rapid deployment by air, while at the same time calling for the delivery of military effect and survivability in excess of that currently available from vehicles of this class. FRES will also seek to minimise the logistic footprint and through life support costs.”

In other words, they want something that can be flown in by their C-130J-30 stretched Hercules transports, but it has to be able to survive mine/IED, artillery, RPG, missile, and 25-30mm cannon attacks more effectively than existing modern vehicles like the British Warrior light tank, the U.S. Stryker family, et. al. Oh, and they’d also like a hybrid powered vehicle, rather than diesel or gas.

This, too, is a very challenging set of capabilities to deliver.

Finally, there have been some comments re: having FRES vehicles replace the Challenger 2 main battle tanks when those go out of service. The lessons of urban warfare encounters from the Global War on Terror have made that something of a fantasy, barring some major technology breakthroughs in lightweight armor protection (ACAVP isn’t it yet, and may never be).

In the end, these capabilities proved too challenging to deliver. The weight limits were lifted, the vehicles’ role shifted back to medium armor, and the engine/drive systems are likely to be far more conventional.

Appendix 4 – FRES Experiments: Electronic Architecture TDPs

In Britain’s “Anti-US” Procurement Policies – and the Future Dynamics of Global Procurement, DID looked at one example of political blowback from European defense integration efforts, and highlighted the importance of C4SI platforms to procurement decisions. One of the authors we used as an example was Dr. Richard North, who wrote, inter alia, The end of independence: The implications of the “Future Rapid Effects System” for an independent UK defence policy. He believed that C$SI decisions were forcing Britain toward a European platform.

In September 2005, FRES Systems House integrator Atkins placed two Electronic Architecture Technology Demonstrator Programme (EA TDP) contracts with teams led by Lockheed Martin (UK) Ltd, and Thales UK, plus one contract for vehicle chassis design with General Dynamics UK. Amounts were not disclosed.

For the electronic architecture TDP, placing 2 concurrent contracts was pitched as a better way to address program risks across the huge range of technologies and potential solutions. This may or may not be so; what is clear is the priority being placed on this aspect of the FRES program.

Gary Balthrop is Lockheed Martin’s FRES program director. He leads a FRES EA TDP effort that also includes UK companies Ultra Electronics, Smiths Aerospace, SciSys, PA Consulting and Cranfield University (Team ISIS).

The Thales UK Team includes BAE Systems and QinetiQ, and will be based at the Thales UK site in Staines.

Thales UK proposes to demonstrate the EA by integrating it into a candidate vehicle chassis, and simulation techniques will be widely employed as well through the use of System Integration Laboratories (SIL). This use of simulation is expected to save both time and money and allow for more rigorous de-risking. The Thales UK Team will also be undertaking a competitive selection of suppliers for the sub-systems and work packages that comprise the EA TDP, providing industry opportunities but also introducing potential schedule issues.

At this point, the project is clearly in early stages and it’s difficult to make strong predictions re: the direction of technical compatibility beyond integration with General Dynamics UK-led BOWMAN. The U.S. JTRS program, whose software-defined electronics would allow fast reconfiguration and addition of any communications waveform, is currently in trouble and doesn’t exist as a strong bridging option.

What is clear is that Dr. North’s expressed fears were not realized, and corporations with very strong American ties are participating at all levels in the critical electronic architecture definition process. The overall competition, however, has swerved sharply for reasons that have little to do with electronics. It will be interesting to see what emerges.

Appendix 5 – FRES Experiments: Vehicle-Related TDPs

AHED Cutaway
(click to view full)

Meanwhile, the FRES Chassis Concept (CC) Technology Demonstration Program (TDP) is an 18-month effort to demonstrate the readiness of in-hub electric-drive engine, its ability to meet the FRES platform requirements, and the integration of a third party Electronic Architecture (EA) into the chassis. It’s also an opportunity for the teams to demonstrate their ability to work with SH Atkins, in order to help them meet both the program timeline and the information requirements for main gate go/no-go approval.

Hybrid power architectures are valued for a number of reasons. Lower fuel costs and fuel logistics loads, of course. The potential for lower lifetime maintenance via fewer moving parts, which could mean smaller spares inventories as well if reliability is good. Finally, there’s an important combat-related reason: stealth. While the U.S. Army’s new Stryker vehicle family doesn’t use hybrid engines, other modifications make them significantly quieter than the rival M113 or M2 Bradley APCs. As DID has reported, Stryker Brigade soldiers who served in Iraq considered this an important tactical advantage, and any armored vehicle with a hybrid engine and wheels or rubber band tracks would be quieter still. Indeed, some experimental projects report noise levels comparable to civilian vehicles. A hybrid engine would also reduce FRES’ thermal profile for infrared detection, no small benefit given the proliferaton of thermal sights on today’s battlefields.

The key question for the program to answer is whether the technology is sufficiently powerful and mature to be trusted in an armored vehicle of this size.

Notwithstanding Dr. Richard North’s contention that Rheinmetall DeTec was in the pole position, Atkins awarded the chassis concept project to General Dynamics UK Ltd., in partnership with General Dynamics Land Systems USA. Note that General Dynamics Land Systems was also selected by the USA’s Future Combat Systems (FCS) lead system integrators, forming an integrated design team with BAE Land Systems to create a similar class of FCS manned ground vehicles.

General Dynamics’ Advanced Hybrid Electric Drive (AHED) 8×8 vehicle will provide one baseline from which to evaluate the integration challenges and potential benefits of transformational technologies for the Future Rapid Effect System program. Its interchangeable modular in-hub electric drive, and hybrid power architecture, are intended to dramatically reduce the vehicles’ fuel logistics footprint. It is also hoped to reduce whole life cost of ownership, including costs associated with unique components, large repair part inventories, and training for both operators and maintenance personnel. The AHED vehicle already has over 4,200 km of road and cross-country testing, and General Dynamics intends to conduct over 4,500 km of additional reliability testing for the FRES CC TDP.

The General Dynamics UK FRES industry team comprises General Dynamics UK Limited (project lead), and General Dynamics Land Systems in Sterling Heights, MI, USA.

SEP: tracked, or wheeled
(click to view full)

A second option was pursued via a January 2006 award to BAE Systems for its own chassis concept technology Demontration program (TDP). It will build on work done on the Swedish SEP program by BAE Hagglunds. SEP is a family of modular vehicles, utilizing emerging technologies like hybrid drives and allowing different role modules to be configured on either a wheeled or tracked chassis. The purpose of the TDP is to examine the ability of the electric drive system developed for SEP to meet the requirements of some or all of the envisaged FRES roles.

The BAE Systems Chassis TDP effort will be led from facilities in the UK in close co-operation with BAE Systems colleagues in Sweden, and will be focused primarily on reducing risk to allow a successful transition to the next phase.

BAE also received a “Gap Crossing” TDP for combat bridge-laying.

Additional Readings Background: FRES Program

Background: Existing Platforms

Background: FRES Competitors FRES-SV

FRES-U

News & Views

Future Army 2020. See also Written submissions.

tag: fresvehicles, fresapc

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

Aviators need to breathe | Czech-Israeli pitch for US OA-X program | India requests a multi-million FMS

Defense Industry Daily - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 06:00
Americas

  • The Defense Logistics Agency is procuring support systems for US military aviators. A $49 million fixed-price contract sees for the production of oxygen delivery systems and their spare parts by Pacific Consolidated Inc. Pacific Consolidated manufactures state-of-the-art portable liquid oxygen plants that are used on aircraft carriers and as Aviation Ground Equipment to provide pilot Aviator Breathing Oxygen. Oxygen delivery systems provide fighter pilots with breathable air and provide a function called partial-pressure breathing for G (PPG), which pushes high-pressure air into the lungs during high-g maneuvers, which increases g tolerance. The system provides pilots with sufficient oxygen to prevent hypoxia symptoms. Oxygen delivery systems are deployed on a variety of military aircraft including the F-35, the F-16 and F/A-18. Work will be performed at the company’s location in Riverside, California and is expected to be completed by June 2023. Receiving customers are Army, Navy, Marine Corps and federal civilian agencies.

  • BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair is being awarded a $18.9 million contract in support of the Navy’s LPD 27 amphibious transport dock ship. BAE system will work towards the accomplishment of the post shakedown availability for the vessel. It will provide efforts including program management, planning, engineering, design, liaison, scheduling, labor and procurement of incidental material in support of the USS Portland. The USS Portland was commissioned on April 21st and is a San Antonio class amphibious assault support vessel. Its mission is to embark, transport, land, and support elements of a US Marine Corps Landing Force. It is designed to operate the Marines’ MV-22 Osprey, hovercrafts and amphibious armored personnel carriers. The Portland and its sister ships will operate as part of larger Amphibious Task Forces (ATFs) in conjunction with a full set of airpowers, additional assault ships, and air and sub-surface defense vessels. San Antonio Class vessels are potential command ships for US and joint task forces and could make excellent UAV hosts and controllers. All work will be performed in San Diego, California, and is expected to be completed by July 2019.

Middle East & Africa

  • Israel Aerospace Industries and Czech defense contractor Aero Vodochody are partnering to make a late bid for the US Air Force’s OA-X close air support program. Their pitch is an advanced version of the combat proven L-159. The USAF has already invited Textron Aviation and Sierra Nevada/Embraer to take part in an evaluation exercise this summer with their Beechcraft AT-6 and A-29 Super Tucano, respectively. The two companies will equip the L-159 jet trainer with fourth-generation avionics and several weapons integration systems. If chosen to produce the roughly 350 aircraft, both companies could open up a production line and supply chain for the jet within the continental US.

Europe

  • Estonia is again opting for the Mistral short range air defense missile. The $59 million deal between the Eastern-European nation and the French missile manufacturer MBDA also includes man portable surface to air missiles, training missiles, simulators and testing and maintenance equipment. Under the terms of the contract, Estonia will continue acquiring Mistral SHORAD missiles in their latest generation which provide increased accuracy and longer service life than missiles of previous generations. The fully autonomous ‘fire and forget’ Mistral 2 missile is equipped with a two-stage solid propellant rocket motor and carries a 3kg high-explosive warhead loaded with tungsten ball projectiles. Guidance is by passive infrared homing using an indium arsenide detector array operating in the three to five-micron waveband. Compared to any other low-level air defense missile, Mistral is more reliable and successful. It has a success rate of 93%. The current contract also includes options for additional missiles up to the amount of $117 million, with the first deliveries to expected by 2020.

  • Jane’s reports that Finnish arms manufacturer Patria is currently testing its latest version of its wheeled armored personnel carrier (APC). The Patria AMV is in serial production and more than 1,400 vehicles have been ordered. It has been selected by Croatia, Finland, Poland, Slovenia, South Africa, United Arab Emirates and Slovakia. The AMV product family uses the same hull platform fitted with the turrets and mission systems for each of the variants, including an armored personnel carrier, infantry fighting vehicle. The new 6×6 APC can be fitted with a broad range of weapons including a 120mm turreted mortar system or a protected weapon station armed with a .50 machine gun (MG), in addition a 5.56 mm or 7.62 mm MG can be pintle mounted on the roof of the rear troop compartment. The hull is all-welded steel armor with an appliqué modular armor package that can provide protection against mines and IEDs.

Asia-Pacific

  • India has requested the purchase of six AH-64E Apache helicopters. The possible US foreign military sale is valued at $930 million. The AH-64E Guardian Block III (AB3) is the helicopter’s next big step forward by incorporating 26 key new-technology insertions. If the deal goes through India would receive the newest Block III helicopters and up to 180 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles, 90 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire II missiles, 200 Stinger Block I-92H missiles and other equipment ranging from fire control radars to ammunition. The prime contractors will be Lockheed Martin, General Electric, and Raytheon. This proposed sale would strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of an important partner in a region that is currently highly contested.

Today’s Video

  • Israeli defense contractor Rafael unveils some of its newest military equipment and technology at Eurosatory 2018.

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

LPD-17 San Antonio Class: The USA’s New Amphibious Ships

Defense Industry Daily - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 05:58

LPD-17 cutaway
(click to view full)

LPD-17 San Antonio class amphibious assault support vessels are just entering service with the US Navy, and 11 ships of this class are eventually slated to replace up to 41 previous ships. Much like their smaller predecessors, their mission is to embark, transport, land, and support elements of a US Marine Corps Landing Force. The difference is found in these ships’ size, their cost, and the capabilities and technologies used to perform those missions. Among other additions, this new ship is designed to operate the Marines’ new MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, alongside the standard well decks for hovercraft and amphibious armored personnel carriers.

While its design incorporates notable advances, the number of serious issues encountered in this ship class have been much higher than usual, and more extensive. The New Orleans shipyard to which most of this contract was assigned appears to be part of the problem. Initial ships have been criticized, often, for sub-standard workmanship, and it took 2 1/2 years after the initial ship of class was delivered before any of them could be sent on an operational cruise. Whereupon the USS San Antonio promptly found itself laid up Bahrain, due to oil leaks. It hasn’t been the only ship of its class hurt by serious mechanical issues. Meanwhile, costs are almost twice the originally promised amounts, reaching over $1.6 billion per ship – 2 to 3 times as much as many foreign LPDs like the Rotterdam Class, and more than 10 times as much as Singapore’s 6,600 ton Endurance Class LPD. This article covers the LPD-17 San Antonio Class program, including its technologies, its problems, and ongoing contracts and events.

LPD-17 San Antonio Class: Capabilities and Features Roles and Innovations

LPD-17 Class & ATF
(click to view full)

The LPD-17 Class featured both an innovative development process, and 21st century features that optimize them for a number of roles. These range from an assault ship that carries and sustains Marine Expeditionary Units, to use as a US Navy command node, the ability to play the lead roles in disaster relief operations, etc.

The ships will operate as part of larger Amphibious Task Forces (ATFs) in conjunction with a full set of airpower, additional assault ships, and air and sub-surface defense vessels. They can also be parceled out as the keystones of smaller three-ship Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs)/ Expeditionary Strike Groups (ESGs). At minimum, they can operate independently in low-threat scenarios during “split-ARG” operations, helping the group cover multiple areas of responsibility and respond to more than one contingency simultaneously.

A total of 11 ships of this class are slated to assume the functional duties of up to 41 previous ships, including the USA’s older LSD-36 USS Anchorage class dock landing ships (all decommissioned as of 2004, LSD-36 and LSD-38 transferred to Taiwan) and its LPD-4 USS Austin Class ships (12 built and serving, LPD 14 Trenton now India’s INS Jalashva). The San Antonio class ships may also replace 2 classes of ships currently mothballed and held in reserve status under the Amphibious Lift Enhancement Program (ALEP): the LST-1179 Newport class tank landing ships, and LKA-113 Charleston class amphibious cargo ships.

MV-22 Osprey

The San Antonio Class will also serve in a number of roles beyond combat.

While LPD-17 vessels will have their own helicopter contingent for patrols and transport operations, their large deck also makes them useful inshore “lilly pads” that can quickly refuel and turn around rotary aircraft from elsewhere in order to keep them on station longer. The ships are also designed to function as casualty receiving and treatment vessels, with 24 beds and two operating rooms. With communications capabilities that surpass most US and foreign vessels,

San Antonio Class vessels are potential command ships for US and joint task forces, and should make excellent UAV hosts and/or controllers.

Their 72,000 gallon per day reverse-osmosis water production certainly improves onboard creature comforts. It also allows the ship to operate in a critical lifesaving role in the wake of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina or the 2005 Asian tsunami, when fresh water is often the most urgent and difficult requirement.

Yet the ships’ combat role remains top-of-mind, and reminders of their purpose are deeply embedded in the names – and in some cases, the very fabric – of these ships. The USS New York [LPD 21] incorporated bow steel cast from salvaged remains of the World Trade Center. Later vessels in its class include USS Arlington [LPD 24], named after the section of the Pentagon that was also hit by an airliner on September 11. USS Somerset [LPD 25] is named in memory of United Flight 93, whose passengers’ heroic struggles with al-Qaeda hijackers crashed the plane in a Somerset County, PA field instead of the intended targets of the Capitol building or White House.

Basic Specifications

Specs More Fun Facts

  • The US Navy has taken a tip from the cruise ship industry, and relied on heavy automation to bring down crew size. That frees up more space for troops, but these systems’ performance and resilience have become an issue.

  • The ship auxiliary systems are all electric, including electric heating and water heaters, 7 big York air-conditioning units (which will be appreciated by many troops), and a 72,000 gallon per day reverse osmosis water-generating plant.

  • A new high-power “low-drag” propeller hub design provides improved propeller efficiency, and helps them power the ship to speeds above 20 knots.

  • Within the ship, passageways are 25-30% wider than previous LPDs so combat-loaded Marines can move in full gear inside the skin of the ship just as if they were topside.

  • Those L-shaped berthing spaces have an extra 1-2 feet of headroom, enough for sailors and Marines to sit up in their racks. Personal storage space in all the berthing areas has gone up by 40%, compared to past LPDs.

  • The ships are also designed from the outset to accommodate the modern reality of mixed-gender sailors and Marines.

  • Food service has been modeled for maximum efficiency on both ends via simulation and task/traffic flow analysis that aim to keep both chow line waits and food production humming along.

  • San Antonio Class ships also feature amenities such as a ship services mall to ease long deployments, a fitness center, and learning resource center/electronic classroom enabled by the ship’s improved bandwidth and computing capabilities.

Self-Defense & Survivability: Options & Issues

AN/SPS-48E on LPD 17

In order to survive both their missions and the need for upgrades during their long service lives, LPD-17 ships have incorporated significant advances in ship self-defense, survivability, and C4I systems. The question is whether they will be enough, given the ships’ size and cost.

Step 1 involves making detection and lock-on harder. The San Antonio Class was intended to have a significantly reduced radar cross section signature (1/100th of the LSD-41 Class). Indeed, the San Antonio Class works to minimize its signature across a number of spectra. It optimizes radar cross-section by streamlining topside layout, and incorporating reduced radar signature technologies and design. Relevant design features include a boat valley instead of a boat deck, removable coverings over the rescue boat and fueling at sea stations, and accommodation ladders that fold into the ship’s hull. Meanwhile, the advanced composite-enclosed mast/sensors, which cover the ship’s SPS-48E and SPQ-9B radars and its communications antennas, give the ship its distinctive profile. In the end LPD-17 designs do have a smaller signature than the ship classes that preceded them, but a July 2007 article in the San Antonio Express-News points out that the ship’s radar signature won’t be reduced as much as planned, compromising its survivability in near-shore regions.

A minor consolation of the class’ stealth design is that there are fewer edges and seams to collect rust, and corrosion-resistant paint and composite building materials were expected to reduce future maintenance and painting costs. Unfortunately, serious construction flaws in several ships of class are quickly piling up maintenance costs in other, unexpected areas.

RIM-116 RAM Launch

Step 2 is active defense. The class will use Raytheon’s SSDS combat system, which will control and partially automate a set of air, surface, and navigation radars, as well as electronic countermeasures systems, towed torpedo decoys, missile decoy systems, and air defense that will include the short-range RAM missile system. That single layer of active protection has been highlighted as a weakness in Pentagon reports, which state that the ship’s radar and defensive systems can’t defend the ship reliably against the most advanced anti-ship missile threats. That may prompt the Navy to add bolt-on launchers for the medium-range RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles that equip many advanced NATO warships. For close-in defense, the LPD-17 class will use the MK46 stabilized 30mm autocannon with advanced sensors, as well as traditional .50 caliber machine guns mounted about the ship.

Step 3 involves the ability take a punch and keep fighting. The ship’s design worked to optimize the separation of redundant vital systems, and possesses a diverse suite of fire-fighting options. Fiber-optic wiring throughout the ship is designed for high-bandwidth SWAN (Shipboard Wide Area Network) applications, and features long-term upgradeability, redundancy, and durability. It will also help the automated ship control systems manage ship systems, and quickly make changes in the event of damage. It is also used as part of an advanced lighting system that improves visual stealth, lowers power requirements, and makes it easy to switch the entire ship to specified lighting modes.

Unfortunately, these features have not lived up to their promise. Pentagon reports cite reliability and effectiveness issues with the Engineering Control System (ECS), the electrical distribution system, and the SWAN, saying that they may magnify the effects of a crisis, instead of helping the crew save the ship.

Other shipboard vulnerability upgrades include improved fragmentation and nuclear blast protection, and a shock-hardened structure with upgraded whipping resistance and structural connections.

Overall, Pentagon reports rate the class as more survivable than previous LPDs, but question whether they are survivable enough for the modern environment. This reflects the horns of their basic design dilemma. If a ship is made very large, it offers peacetime efficiencies and better capability per ton, but its cost will rise to a level that pushes it toward the addition of advanced radars, defensive systems, etc. These additions improve the odds that one’s ship won’t be lost and destroy the entire naval mission, but they also drive each ship’s price even higher.

The other classic approach to this problem is to build more but smaller ships, which tends to add costs by using more raw materials and building more hulls. On the other hand, cost per ship drops sharply – foreign LPDs tend to be somewhere between 1/3 to 1/10 the price of an LPD-17. With more hulls in the water, the loss of one ship is less likely to destroy an entire mission, and less expensive defensive systems can be used.

LPD-17 San Antonio Class: Program, Budgets & Timelines

Full flight deck view
(click to view full)

The original December 1996 US Navy contract was awarded to an industrial alliance led by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (formerly Litton Avondale, now Huntington Ingalls Industries), with General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Raytheon Electronic Systems and Intergraph Corporation, to design and construct the first of an anticipated 12 ships under the Navy’s LPD-17 program.

Avondale was supposed to build 8 of these ships, while Bath Iron Works would build 4 ships. In June 2002, however, a revised Memorandum of Understanding was signed with Northrop Grumman and Bath Iron Works. Northrop Grumman would be responsible for the construction of all LPD-17 San Antonio Class vessels, but they would trade construction of 4 of the USA $1.5 billion DDG-51 Arleigh Burke Class destroyers to Bath Iron Works.

LPD-17 production, originally authorized for 11 or 12 vessels as functional replacements for 41 1960s-era ships, dropped to just 9 as cost spirals took their toll, and was eventually forced back up to 11 with extra spending. 2013 Navy budget documents show an average cost per ship of over $1.6 billion through all vessels, which offers the unusual phenomenon of no reduction in cost vs. the first ship of class.

According to official Pentagon budget documents, recent funding for the LPD-17 class has included:

San Antonio Class budgets, 2002-2012
(click to view full)

Excel
download

Even by 2002, Research, Development, Testing & Evaluation (RDT&E) was mostly complete for this class, and the vast majority of funds spent under the program have been focused on building ships. Note that requests for a given year generally include both funds to finish building a ship, and funds for long lead-time items like engines, “government-furnished equipment” that isn’t bought by the shipbuilder, and other items that must be ordered early so construction of the next ship can start on time.

FY 2010 funding would technically buy 0 ships; it finishes LPD 26, and buys long lead time items for LPD 27. FY 2011 funding was the bare minimum, and the LPD 27 order hung on passing a FY 2012 budget. The final shipbuilding contract was placed in July 2012.

Timelines

Current and planned ships in this class, and key milestones include:

San Antonio Class LPDs – Timelines
(click to view full)

For some ships still in progress, we’ve noted discrepancies between announced or estimated dates earlier in a contract, and completion dates for key milestones. For ships that are already in service, noticing the time lapses between key stages for an individual ship, and in the progression of ships through a given stage, provides its own indication of problems that have arisen. The effect of August 2005’s Class 5 Hurricane Katrina can certainly be seen in several of the ship timelines above. So, too, can the effect of manufacturing quality problems.

Flight II: What’s Next

LPD Flight II changes
(click to view full)

The LPD-17s aren’t quite done production yet, but unless the shipyard receives new orders, that time is coming soon. HII’s response has been to look ahead, and look beyond amphibious ships.

An LX(R) competition looks to replace existing LSD-41/49 amphibious ships with up to 10 new amphibious support vessels, in the unlikely event that programs like the F-35 and SSBN(X) don’t gut US Navy procurement. The stated goal is 10 ships, with the 1st ship delivered between 2018 – 2022. HII’s response is the LPD Flight II, which keeps the same basic hull, but carries fewer Marines, holds less cargo, and removes a number of elements that add costs. Their stated target is a 30% cost reduction; unfortunately, that still makes their 23,000t design about twice as expensive as a foreign 17,000t LPD like the Dutch Johann De Witt. The benefits of using a mature production line and many common elements are real, but a $1.1 billion price tag per ship simply may not be affordable amidst hugely expensive programs and fiscal crises.

Fortunately for Huntington Ingalls, they didn’t stop there. Once they had stripped the LPD-17 design down and removed the hangar and some superstructure, they realized that they had a platform for other roles as well.

Joint Command and Control. The US Navy currently operates 4 dedicated command ships, all of which are over 30 years old. At some point soon, the Navy must either replace them of forego them. The LPD Flight IIs begin with advanced communication suites, and contain all the space one might require to house and run a full theater command. HII would have some decisions to make about organic on-board helicopter capability, but otherwise, most of the modifications would involve internal layouts and wiring. The big question remains the same: could this be done more cheaply by using another platform?

Hospital Ship. The USNS Comfort and USNS Mercy are converted oil supertankers, originally launched in 1975 and 1976. The San Antonio Class has an internal hospital with 24 beds; in contrast, the USA’s hospital ships can hold and care for up to 1,000 patients, complete with a full pharmacy, advanced tools like radiology, optometry, testing lab, etc. The LPD Flight II is far smaller than these 65,000t+ behemoths, but it does have a good deal of internal space that could be put to good use, and that capacity may be more than adequate for most deployments. Innovative approaches could even modify the Flight II’s enhanced deck space to stack containerized TransHospital systems, for medical satellite deployments ashore.

USNS Mercy actually sat pierside from 1991 – 2004, whereas a platform that could operate at lower cost would be easier and more tempting to deploy. If the Navy can get beyond its steeper acquisition cost.

LPD Flight II for BMD?
click for video

Ballistic Missile Defense. This seems like the most radical change, but it isn’t if you think of the ship as specialized for this air and space defense role. A Flight II BMD ship would remove the well deck, in favor of a deck elevator that leads down to a helicopter hangar. It would also add a superstructure with the 21′ AMDR-S radar that the Navy considers ideal for ballistic missile defense, but which current destroyers cannot carry. The AEGIS BMD combat system would be installed, and the space cleared by the removal of most LPD-17 Class superstructure would be used to mount vertical launch cells around the edges. Notional designs show a nearly-ridiculous 288 Mk.41 VLS cells, or they could cut the number of cells and improve survivability by switching to the same Mk.57 PVLS on board the DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class battlecruisers.

Effectively, a FLT II BMD aerospace warfare cruiser would create a more potent air and missile defense platform than current American destroyers, at a similar cost, in exchange for less versatility. US Navy 2009 estimates pegged a similar arsenal ship concept at around $2.55 billion, which still seems about right as a starting point. The Flight II BMD design would be more costly than existing LPD-17s, or existing DDG-51 Flight IIA BMD destroyers (around $1.8 – 2 billion). It might be cheaper than the $2.5 – 3 billion estimates rumored for DDG-51 Flight III destroyers, but it would have limited versatility. It has enough VLS cells to act as an air defense ship, but it would lack the speed required to perform the “plane guard” role for carriers on calm days. It’s possible to load some cells with VL-ASROC anti-submarine missiles, and deploy an MH-60R helicopter from the under-deck hangar, but the ship itself wouldn’t have the systems needed to detect and track submarines. It would be a very effective arsenal ship for land attack with cruise missiles, but other ships and submarines can do the same thing, without putting such high-end BMD capability at risk.

That might be an acceptable trade, depending on the Navy’s commitment to leadership of American missile defense efforts. With discussions regarding DDG 51 Flight IV focusing on power-hungry rail guns and lasers, the Flight II’s power generation capabilities could give them a unique defensive niche. On the other hand, Flight II BMD ships would probably have to be paid for by sacrificing DDG-51 destroyers. The class’ lead shipyard Bath Iron Works needs those destroyers to remain a major shipbuilding concern, which means HII would be cannibalizing its own DDG-51 production.

LPD-17 Program: Performance Problems

(click to view full)

The LPD-17 program has done some things well. Reduced operational costs and an improved capability to incorporate technological advances over its 40-year service life were essential design objectives for LPD 17. In working to accomplish these objectives, the design team incorporated hundreds of suggestions and recommendations from more than 1,000 sailors and Marines in the “Design for Ownership” process. Simulation and modeling were used heavily, and virtual crews drawn from other areas of the US Navy took “virtual tours” of the design zones of the ship via a 3D model at initial reviews, at 50% design reviews, and at 90% design reviews. Cargo functions received particular attention.

Meanwhile, the entire project alliance worked together at the same location along with the project sponsor, in order to maximize communication. Those efforts show through in many aspects of the ships’ design.

Unfortunately, the LPD-17 Class has experienced a number of long-running problems, particularly those ships built at the Avondale shipyard near New Orleans.

Financial. Overall, the class’ financial and budgetary performance has been a long-running failure. The LPD 17 San Antonio was initially budgeted at $954 million, but ended with a final price tag of about $1.76 billion. The LPD 18 New Orleans was budgeted at $762 million, but finished at a similar cost to LPD 17.

Northrop Grumman isn’t solely to blame for these overruns. The need to tear down and rebuild completed sections of the LPD 17 San Antonio was a major cause of its cost increases, while workforce attrition rates as high as 35% annually led to its construction delays. According to San Antonio Express-News, a less obvious but equally consequential source of trouble was a computer design program dubbed 3D CAD, which was touted for its ability to give 3-dimensional views, but was not up to the task of designing an entire ship.

What’s far more disturbing is the fact that these massive cost increases over the original $800 million projections have continued throughout the class’ lifetime. Indeed, they showed no improvement at all. That’s never supposed to happen, but FY 2013 budget documents show an average $1.6 billion cost over the full 11 ships.

Workmanship. The 2nd performance failure has involved ship quality. Northrop Grumman delivered the 1st ship, USS San Antonio [LPD 17], in the summer of 2005, but difficulties with her INSURV inspections and acceptance sea trials forced a delay of almost 3 years before her 1st mission, which featured a major mechanical breakdown. A similar fate befell the USS New Orleans [LPD 18], and those delays are clearly visible in the timelines, above.

In contrast, USS Mesa Verde [LPD 19], which was built at Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls yard in Mississippi instead of its Avondale yard near New Orleans, performed well in sea trials, and has been reliable in service.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of the class’ problems. In 2010 a number of ships of class, especially the Avondale-built ships, discovered very serious problems that took them out of service for difficult repairs. They included USS San Antonio [LPD 17], USS New Orleans [LPD 18], USS Green Bay [LPD 20], and USS New York [LPD 21].

Once again, the bright spot was USS Mesa Verde, built at the Ingalls yard in Pascagoula, MS, which moved to substitute for USS San Antonio on a recent deployment.

Governments have generally ignored this shipyard quality problem. A $50 million grant from the state of Louisiana did help Northrop Grumman modernize production at Avondale, and another $98.6 million in federal funding has also filtered down to local NGSS shipyards in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Nevertheless, scathing Navy inspector general reviews that detailed shoddy construction and basic workmanship problems at Avondale are cause for legitimate concern in areas that will not be fixed by modernization alone.

Eventually, Northrop Grumman spun off its shipbuilding units as Huntington Ingalls Industries, and moved to close the Avondale, LA shipyard. That may finally resolve the issue – after more than $15 billion had been spent on a supposed cornerstone of the future amphibious fleet.

DID will continue to spotlight this issue, in “LPD-17 Reliability Issues Surface Again.”

The Vicious Cycle

The San Antonio class’ problems fit into a larger set of trends. The Navy and Congress make life very difficult for American military shipbuilders, who also operate in ways that come back to bite them. Key challenges include yo-yoing political budget projections and military requirements. That problem leads to “binge and purge” hiring cycles, impairs shipyard effectiveness, and ultimately raises costs, while lowering quality. The growing costs of US Navy ships then feed back into this phenomenon, as budgets and projections break, and require drastic changes to fix.

On the contractor side, lowball initial prices, followed by cost increases once projects begin, leads to inevitable build reductions part-way through. Which means fewer ships per dollar, as R&D dollars are amortized over fewer ships. The Pentagon is often a collaborator in these games, assuring lawmakers of the initial contract’s reasonableness long after outside reports question their realism. Such approaches may ensure shipyard work in the near term, but they also feed into yo-yoing federal budgets, as cost growth makes it impossible for the Pentagon to fund all of the programs it has started.

Poor accountability and oversight can compound these issues, and has, but good oversight alone won’t remove them.

Ultimately, the US Navy loses the most. These escalating requirements and costs mean fewer ships overall. While the resulting fleet may be more capable, the number of contingencies it can cover, and the setbacks that it can safely absorb, drop. Even as the entire process shrinks a US industrial base that no longer builds many civilian vessels, and so has little resiliency.

It’s a vicious cycle – one that is damaging American global power.

LPD-17 San Antonio Class: Contracts & Key Events (1996-Present)

Unless otherwise noted, all contracts were issued by the US Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) in Washington, DC.

FY 2015 – 2018

 

LPD Flight II
click for video

June 14/18: Shakedown BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair is being awarded a $18.9 million contract in support of the Navy’s LPD 27 amphibious transport dock ship. BAE system will work towards the accomplishment of the post shakedown availability for the vessel. It will provide efforts including program management, planning, engineering, design, liaison, scheduling, labor and procurement of incidental material in support of the USS Portland. The USS Portland was commissioned on April 21st and is a San Antonio class amphibious assault support vessel. Its mission is to embark, transport, land, and support elements of a US Marine Corps Landing Force. It is designed to operate the Marines’ MV-22 Osprey, hovercrafts and amphibious armored personnel carriers. The Portland and its sister ships will operate as part of larger Amphibious Task Forces (ATFs) in conjunction with a full set of airpowers, additional assault ships, and air and sub-surface defense vessels. San Antonio Class vessels are potential command ships for US and joint task forces and could make excellent UAV hosts and controllers. All work will be performed in San Diego, California, and is expected to be completed by July 2019.

February 20/18: Contracts-LPD-29 Huntington Ingalls received Friday, February 16, a $1.43 billion US Navy contract for the procurement of the detail design and construction of landing platform dock 29—the latest addition to the service’s San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks. Work will take place mostly in Pascagoula, Mississippi, but also in Crozet, Virginia, Beloit, Wisconsin, New Orleans, Louisiana, with other efforts to take place across the continental United States. Contract completion is scheduled for July 2023.

November 27/17: Contracts BAE Systems has been awarded a $8.7 million US Navy contract modification to complete the fitting out availability process for the USS Portland (LPD-27) and for continued efforts associated with the post shakedown availability for the USS John P. Murtha (LPD-26). Work on the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ships will take place at BAE’s San Diego facility in California with work on the USS John P. Murtha scheduled to be completed by February 2018, followed by the USS Portland in October 2018.

August 24/17: A Huntington Ingalls-built Amphibious Transport Dock vessel has completed sea trails in the Gulf of Mexico. The future USS Portland will be the US Navy’s 11th San Antonio-class when it is commissioned into service next spring. During the trails, conducted by the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey and completed last Friday, the vessel underwent dockside checks and demonstrations of major systems while at sea. Included in the testing was the ship’s main propulsion engineering and ship control systems, combat and communications systems, damage control, food service and crew support. The crew also underwent a full power run, steering, boat handling and anchoring on the ship, before returning to to Huntington Ingalls’ shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The Navy will take possession of the ship this fall.

July 7/17: Future US Navy amphibious transport dock, the USS Portland, has successfully completed Builder’s Trials and has returned to its shipyard in Mississippi. The Huntington Ingalls-built vessel will now be prepared for Acceptance Trials, where the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey will formally assess the ship’s capabilities. The Portland will be the 11th ship of the LPD 17 San Antonio-class to join the Navy fleet next year. It will be home ported in San Diego, Calif., and will deploy combat and support US Marine Expeditionary Units and brigades.

July 6/17: Huntington Ingalls has received a $218 million contract modification for advance construction activities on the San Antonio-class LPD 29 amphibious transport dock ship. Under the agreement, the firm will provide long-lead time manufacturing materials and construction in support of the program, running until February 2018. Work will be carried out at Pascagoula, Miss., Beloit, Wash., and at other sites across the United States.

January 15/16: The US Navy’s San Antonio class warships may be fitted with missile defense radars and lasers according the a spokesperson for Huntington Ingalls. Discussions are apparently ongoing to have the system installed on LPD vessels as they have ample available space to store and create the energy necessary to run the radar and weapons. Such an addition would greatly increase the defensive capabilities of the amphibious transport ship, and certainly fits in line with the Navy’s future plans to make all their vessels more well rounded and capable of operating defensively and offensively.

December 8/15: The US Navy has awarded Huntington Ingalls $200 million to build the next amphibious transport dock (LPD) warship. The advanced procurement contract will fund the final of twelve of the San Antonio class ships to be commissioned by the Navy. The vessels are to be used by both the Navy and Marine Corps and are to be utilized for the embarking and landing of Marines and their supplies as well as supporting them across a variety of operational tasks. The John P. Murtha San Antonio class LPD was launched in March and was the programs most cost effective and advanced to date.

Oct 20/14: LX-R. It hasn’t exactly been a secret that the US Navy has wanted LPD-17 Flight II as its replacement for existing LSD-41/49 ships (q.v. July 25-28/14, Dec 6/13, April 9/13). Now Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus has signed an internal memo recommending the use of LPD-17 Flight II ships to replace existing LSD-41/49 ships, rather than rebuilding existing LSDs with changes or opening competition to other designs. The cost?

Start with an estimate of $2.02 billion for LPD 28, which is higher than the original LPD-17’s final figure, in order to keep the production line going until LX(R). The Navy believes themselves to be about $1 billion short in terms of securing that funding. Regardless of what happens with LPD 28, the estimate is $1.64 billion in construction costs for the lead LX(R) Flight II ship, and $1.4 million for the next 10 planned hulls. Plus any funds required to do further design work that fixes existing LPD-17 issues.

Even assuming a multiyear procurement block buy that cuts costs over 10%, it’s hard to see that as affordable, especially in light of the USA’s expected fiscal situation and the demands of other programs. The next major step for the program is the Q2 FY2015 Milestone A review to settle the final outline, then a JROC review in Q1 2016. Purchases would begin in FY 2020, with delivery of the 1st ship expected in FY 2025. Sources: Inside Defense, “Senior Navy Officials Tell Mabus LPD-17 Variant Is Best Option For LX(R)” and “Mabus Signs Decision Memo: LPD-17 Variant Preferred Platform For LX(R)” | USNI, “Memo: Hull Based on San Antonio Design is Navy’s Preferred Option for Next Generation Amphib”.

FY 2014

LPD 24 & 25 commissioned; Testing reports still negative; Lots of pressure to use Flight II for LX(R) – but can the Navy afford it?

LPD 25 trials
click for video

July 25-28/14: LX-R. The Navy and Marines have finished the LX(R) program’s in-depth Analysis Of Alternatives (AOA) v2.0. Rebuilding a modernized or enlarged version of the current LSD-49 Whidbey Island Class isn’t on the table for some reason. Instead, they’re focused on either a budget-killing LPD-17 Flight II (q.v. Dec 6/13), a license-built foreign design that may have trouble with higher USN survivability requirements, a clean sheet design that would be risky and potentially expensive, or some combination of JHSVs, MLP ships, and others that wouldn’t really duplicate what the LSDs do.

The Us Navy is reportedly aiming for about 11-ship class that will average about $1.43 billion per hull once they’re in production, or almost $16 billion in production costs alone. First, this figure is also substantially more than many other countries have paid for comparable ships. In many cases, it’s twice as much. One wonders where the Navy expects to find this money, given other major programs like aircraft carriers, submarines, the F-35B/C, growing healthcare costs, etc.. All at the same time as demographics start really stressing social programs, and a shaky fiscal posture for the USA as a whole.

Unsurprisingly, some high-level officials think the AoA could wind up having a v4.0 before all is said and done. Or maybe it’s time for a major break with NAVSEA tradition: a serious examination of each requirement’s defensibility, in light of the AoA. There are some signs that the Navy is asking more questions than usual this time. Sources: Breaking Defense, “‘$1 Billion-Plus Short’: Amphib Add Isn’t Enough, So Navy Wants To Repurpose It” | USNI, “Cost Continues To Drive Quest For Next Amphib”.

July 17-25/14: Political. The Senate Appropriations Committee approves a $489.6 billion base FY 2015 budget, plus $59.7 billion in supplemental funding. It includes $800 million to begin funding what would become LPD 28, to fulfill section 123 of S. 2410. Even with $243 million added from FY 2013, the Navy would only have a bit more than half of the monies required, and the SAC is also mindful of the industrial agreement with Northrop Grumman (now HII) and GD Bath Iron Works (q.v. June 8/14):

“While Congress is not a party to this agreement, the Committee directs the Navy to submit a report to the congressional defense committees no later than March 1, 2015, on the Navy’s options and potential courses of action to fulfill the requirements of the SWAP 1 agreement preceding or concurrent with when LPD 28 is placed under contract.”

The House hasn’t voted any money, and the Navy is less enthused. For starters, Sean Stackley makes it clear that they won’t issue an LPD 28 contract until all of the required funds have been appropriated. He adds that the Navy is more interested in funding the RCOH refueling of CVN 73 USS George Washington, and in other amphibious ship programs. Sources: US Senate Committee on Appropriations, “Committee Approves FY 2015 Department of Defense Appropriations Bill – Report: Department of Defense” | Breaking Defense, “‘$1 Billion-Plus Short’: Amphib Add Isn’t Enough, So Navy Wants To Repurpose It”.

June 8/14: Industrial. The Navy, HII, GD-BIW and Congress are all entangled in a ship allocation controversy, as a result of a 2002 MoU that shifted work on 3 LPD-17 ships to Northrop Grumman (now HII), in return for corresponding destroyer awards to GD Bath Iron Works.

Everything was fine until Congress began placing funding in the proposed FY 2015 budget budget for a 12th LPD 28 ship (q.v. May 23/14). If that goes ahead, does HII have to take away one of its destroyers under the current multi-year contract, and give it to GD-BIW? Bath Iron Works says absolutely, yes, and we consider that legally binding. HII says that GD-BIW winning construction of DDG 116 as an extra ship, via competitive bid, satisfies the terms as their 4th extra destroyer. The Navy says “we didn’t want LPD 28, leave us alone.” The lawyers say “job security!” Sources: Defense News, “Fallout From 12th LPD: Fine Print in Old Deal Could Cost Yard a Destroyer”.

May 23/14: Politics. The Senate Armed Services Committee has completed the mark-up of the annual defense bill, which passed by a 25-1 vote. The section relevant to the LPD-17s is explained this way:

“Provides authority for the Secretary of the Navy to use unobligated funds from underperforming programs to transfer up to $650 million for the acquisition of a 12th ship of the USS San Antonio – class of amphibious ships. Acquisition of this ship would enable the Marine Corps to better support the Asia – Pacific defense strategy. Provides permissive authority to incrementally fund LPD-28.”

Sources: US Senate Armed Services Committee, “Senate Committee on Armed Services Completes Markup of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015”.

April 4/14: LPD 24. USS Arlington is commissioned by the US Navy in Philadelphia, PA. During the ceremony and follow-on tours, the ship’s 684-foot flight deck boasted a Marine MV-22 Osprey, UH-1 Huey, AH-1 Cobra and CH-53 Sea Stallion.

The name honors the first responders and the 184 victims who died when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon on Sept 11/01. The ship’s sponsor is Joyce Rumsfeld, the wife of then Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who was in the building when the plane hit. Donald Rumsfeld initially went to the crash scene and offered some assistance, before heading back into the building by 10:00 am. Sources: Wikipedia, “United Airlines Flight 93” | US Navy, “In Emotional Ceremony, USS Arlington Joins the Fleet”.

USS Arlington

March 1/14: LPD 25. USS Somerset is commissioned by the US Navy in Philadelphia, PA.

The name honors United Flight 93, whose passengers won the battle for control of their 757 jetliner on Sept 11/01, albeit at the cost of all of their lives. It crashed in Somerset County, PA. It was reportedly headed for Congress or the White House. Sources: US Navy’s Navy Live Blog, “USS Somerset Commissioning Ceremony” | South Jersey Times, “USS Somerset sets sail down Delaware River after Philadelphia commissioning”.

USS Somerset

Jan 28/14: DOT&E Testing Report. The Pentagon releases the FY 2013 Annual Report from its Office of the Director, Operational Test & Evaluation (DOT&E). The short version re: the LPD-17s:

“The Navy is working to correct deficiencies identified during IOT&E that led DOT&E to assess the ship not operationally effective, not operationally suitable, and not survivable in a hostile environment. However, correction of a number of these deficiencies has not yet been verified by follow-on operational testing and some deficiencies have not been corrected [including issues from Shock Trial Reports].”

DOT&E says that some critical systems have been improved, but “the Navy has not yet demonstrated the Command, Control, Communications, Computers, and Intelligence capabilities needed to support LPD-17 when performing amphibious assault operations,” and the Shipboard Wide Area Network continues to attract scrutiny. they also maintain an interest in “reliability problems with amphibious support equipment and propulsion equipment,” “integration problems with self-defense in multiple warfare areas,” and want demonstrations of improvements re: performance issues created by the AN/APS-48Es radar mast shroud.

Reliability is also an ongoing issue, and DOT&E wants measurements for the ships as a whole, while flagging the gun systems, Magnetic Signature Control System, and SSDS Mk 2-based combat system.

Dec 6/13: LX-R. The US Navy and Marine Corps are working with HII and GD’s NASSCO to understand what’s driving costs for the proposed LX(R) follow-on amphibious ships, after the March 12/13 approval of LX(R) as a pre-major defense acquisition program. The first ship wouldn’t be ordered until FY 2019, and wouldn’t arrive until FY 2025.

CBO and Navy reports of $1.4 – 1.6 billion per ship have to be alarming. First, that’s almost as much as the 27,000 ton LPD-17s, which are already far over budget, to produce a 16,000 ton ship. Second, other countries are building similar 16,000 ton LSD/LPD ships for a bit more than a quarter of that amount. It’s well and good to jaw about a $15.4 billion, 11-ship program for medium size amphibious ships, but its future looks bleak if you project demographic effects, and overlay the other shipbuilding programs that will be underway and competing for limited funds.

The LX(R) alternatives being explored reportedly include resuming production of the LSD-41/49 ships, a modified San Antonio-class LPD-17 ship per HII’s “Flight II” pitch, a wholly new ship design, and an assessment of foreign-designed dock landing ships. Using cheaper commercial components, including propulsion systems, is also a possibility. Sources: Inside Defence, “Eying New Amphibious Ship, Navy Conducts LX(R) Affordability ‘Deep Dive'” | DoD Buzz, “Navy Considers Commercial Technology for New Amphib”.

Dec 6/13: LPD 21 moves. It’s December – time for New Yorkers to head to Florida! USS New York [LPD 21] continues this tradition, as she changes her home port from NNS Norfolk, VA to NNS Mayport, FL.

The entire 3-ship Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) will eventually be based there, as a replacement for the decomMSioned FFG-7 Class frigates USS Underwood and USS Klakring. USS Iwo Jima [LHD-7] and USS Fort McHenry [LSD-45] are slated to join USS New York in 2014. Sources: USN, “USS New York Changes Homeport to Naval Station Mayport”.

Dec 6/13: Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, MS receives a $39.1 million modification for LPD-17 life cycle engineering and support services: planning, repairs, spares, upgrade work, etc.

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by December 2014 (N00024-10-C-2203).

Nov 27/13: Support. Raytheon IDS in San Diego, CA receives a $32.4 million contract modification to deliver ongoing engineering and support services for LPD 17 class integrated shipboard electronic systems. the Pentagon’s descriptive hairball includes:

“…lifecycle engineering and support services, including post-delivery planning, logistics and engineering, homeport technical support, integrated product data environment, data maintenance, equipment management, systems integration and design engineering, software support, research engineering, obsolescence management (both technical and logistics), material readiness support, emergent repair planning, training and logistics support; Planning Yard support of integrated electronic systems, including fleet modernization planning, ship alteration development and installation, material management, configuration data management, research engineering, logistics documentation, and other logistics and executing activity coordination, and management; performance-based logistics support, including providing sustaining engineering and obsolescence management support for unique LPD 17 class integrated shipboard electronic systems.”

$6.2 million is committed immediately, and the award uses a hodgepodge of Navy budget lines: FY 2005, 2012, and 2014 shipbuilding and conversion; and FY 2014 operations and maintenance. $1.8 million will expire on Sept 30/14 (N00024-10-C-2205).

Nov 20/13: LPD 25. General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, CA receives a $12.1 million contract modification, exercising the option for Somerset’s [LPD 25] fitting-out availability. The ship hasn’t been commissioned yet.

$730,431 is committed immediately, and $215,383 will expire on Sept 30/14. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by December 2014. This contract was competitively procured, with 4 proposals received (N00024-12-C-2400).

Nov 15/13: LPD 17. General Dynamics NASSCO-Earl Industries, Portsmouth, VA receives an $11.4 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for the USS San Antonio [LPD 17] phased maintenance availability. They’ll conduct miscellaneous structural and mechanical repairs. All funds are committed immediately, and will expire on Sept 30/14.

Work will be performed in Norfolk, VA, and is expected to be complete by May 2014. This contract was competitively procured via Navy Electronic Commerce Online, with 3 offers received by the Norfolk Ship Support Activity in Norfolk, VA (N50054-14-C-1401).

Oct 18/13: LPD 25 delivered. Somerset is formally handed over to the US Navy at the Avondale shipyard. Sources: HII, Oct 18/13 release.

FY 2013

LDP 24. Weapons.

LPD 23 & LPD 24
(click to view full)

Sept 20/13: LPD 25. Somerset returns from successful US Navy acceptance sea trials. Sources: HII, Oct 10/13 release.

Aug 19/13: LPD 25. Somerset returns from 3 days of builder’s trials in the Gulf of Mexico. Sources: HII release, Aug 19/13.

May 4/13: LPD 23 commissioned. The US Navy commissions LPD 23 as USS Anchorage, in her namesake city of Anchorage, AK. Her home port will be San Diego, CA. US Navy.

USS Anchorage

April 12/13: Naming. The last San Antonio Class ship is among the 7 named by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who actually stuck to class naming conventions this time instead of veering into political partisanship.

LPD 27 will become USS Portland, becoming the 3rd ship in the fleet’s history to beat that name. CA-33 was a World War II heavy cruiser, named after Portland, ME. LSD-37 was also an amphibious assault ship, which was decommissioned shortly after Operation Iraqi Freedom began. It was named for Portland, ME and Portland, OR. LPD-27 is named after Portland, OR. Pentagon | Oregon Live.

April 9/13: LX(R)? USMC Commandant Gen. James Amos publicly recommends that the Navy replace its 16,360 ton LSD-41 Whidbey Island Class ships with a San Antonio Class derivative, provided it can be made affordable. The question is whether HII’s stripped-down LPD Flight II proposal drives enough costs out of the base platform to make sense. $1.5 billion per ship won’t cut it for LSD replacement, and even HII’s touted 30% savings of $1 billion for a 23,165t ship would be about double the cost of capable foreign LSDs like the 17,000t Rotterdam/JDW Class.

The Navy is currently conducting an Analysis of Alternatives for its notional 10-ship LS(X), which aims to deliver its first ships to the Navy between 2018 – 2022. It’s called LX(R) because they may want configurability for a wider range of missions than the existing LSDs. The AoA is due in September 2013. Sources: DoD Buzz, “Amos: Replace LSD amphib fleet with LPDs” | Defense News, “Different Missions Might Await New USN Amphib” | USNI News, “Second Act for San Antonio?”.

April 9/13: UAV test. Insitu Inc. announces a successful 1st maritime flight for the RQ-21A UAV from LPD 19, the USS Mesa Verde. The RQ-21A is based on Insitu’s Integrator platform, and was picked as the USMC’s small UAV back in July 2010.

The flight comes after 3 months of land-based development testing and operational assessment, and the RQ-21A’s outstanding endurance for its size will make it an important part of the San Antonio Class’ onboard equipment.

April 6/13: LPD 24 commissioned. USS Arlington is commissioned at Naval Station Norfolk, VA. US Navy Live blog.

Dec 14/12: Weapons. Raytheon in Tucson, AZ receives a $12.3 million firm-fixed-price contract modification for 4 refurbished and upgraded Rolling Airframe Missile MK 49 Mod 3 guided-missile launch systems and associated hardware. these 21-missile launch packs will equip LPD 27 John P. Murtha (2 systems), and the Freedom Class ships LCS 9 and LCS 11 (1 each). All funds are committed on award, and there are options for 4 additional launch systems.

At the time of award, a $5.5 million option is also exercised for 2 remanufactured MK 49 launch packs, with Mod 3 updates and associated hardware. They’ll equip the Freedom Class ships LCS 13 and LCS 15.

Work will be performed in Tucson, AZ, and is expected to be complete by December 2015. This contract was not competitively procured pursuant to 10 U.S.C. 2304c1 (N00024-11-C-5448).

Dec 7/12: Support. Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, MS receives a $54.5 million contract modification, to exercising the 3rd of 4 options associated with the Feb 16/10 award. HII will perform Life Cycle Engineering and support services on San Antonio Class ships, with $12.9 million obligated at contract award. The total value of this contract is now $157.9 million.

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by December 2013 (N00024-10-C-2203). See also HII.

Dec 7/12: LPD 24 delivered. Huntington Ingalls Industries delivers LPD 24 Arlington to the U.S. Navy. HII.

Dec 3/12: LPD 24. BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair in Norfolk, VA receives an $11.1 million contract, exercising options for the USS Arlington’s fitting-out and post shakedown work.

Work will be performed in Norfolk, VA (90.53%), and Chesapeake, VA (9.47%), and is expected to be complete by May 2013. Contract funds in the amount of $2.8 million will be obligated at time of award. This contract was competitively procured via FedBizOpps, with 4 proposals received (N00024-10-C-2204).

Nov 27/12: Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in San Diego, CA receives a $41.9 million modification, exercising Option Year 4 for LPD-17 class Integrated Shipboard Electronic Systems life cycle engineering and support services. Last year, it was $40 million.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (98%) and Norfolk, VA (2%), and is expected to be complete by December 2013. $7.3 million is committed on the contract’s award, and $703,893 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/13. US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC manages the contract (N00024-10-C-2205).

Nov 5/12: LPD 24 trials. LPD 24 Arlington successfully completes US Navy INSURV acceptance trials. She is now set to be commissioned in Spring 2013. HII.

FY 2012

LPD 21 to 23.

Osprey onto LPD 21
(click to view full)

Sept 17/12: LPD 23 delivered. HII delivers the amphibious transport dock ship Anchorage [LPD 23] to the US Navy. HII.

Aug 24/12: LPD 24. LPD 24 Arlington returns from successful builder’s sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico. The real key is US Navy sea trials, which are next. HII.

Aug 1/12: Bolted. A new issue involving improperly installed bolts has emerged in the latest ships built by the Avondale shipyard near New Orleans. The Navy’s acceptance of LPD 23 Anchorage is now delayed, and LPD 25 Somerset is also affected.

An Ingalls inspector discovered the issue, which could lead engine mountings to shear under sudden shock, or loosen enough over time to set up damaging vibrations in the ship’s propulsion systems. Fitted bolts that don’t meet the ultra-tight tolerances for engine mountings are being replaced, and the Navy is also checking the 520 applicable bolts on every other Avondale-built ship. The problem is apparently confined to the Avondale shipyard, which has been the source of so many previous problems with the class. Ingalls-built ships from the Mississippi shipyard are unaffected. Gannett’s Navy Times.

More workmanship problems

July 28/12: LPD 25 christened. Nearly 1,800 guests attend the christening of LPD 25 Somerset, at HII’s company’s Avondale shipyard near New Orleans. LPD 25 is named to honor the courage of the passengers and crew members of United Airlines Flight 93, who fought the hijackers and brought their plane down near Shanksville in Somerset County, PA. US Navy | HII.

July 27/12: LPD 27 ordered. Huntington Ingalls Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives the main order contract for LPD 27: a sole-source $1.514 billion fixed-price-incentive contract modification. When added to previous long-lead item orders, the shipbuilding cost is $1.8 billion, with key “government furnished equipment” like weapons on top of that.

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS (82%), Crozet, VA (4%), Beloit, WI (2%), and New Orleans, LA (1%), with other efforts performed at various sites throughout the United States (11%). Work is expected to be complete by June 2017 (N00024-06-C-2222). See also HII release.

LPD 27 main order

June 25/12: LPD 23 completes INSURV. HII announces that LPD 23 Anchorage has returned to her Avondale, LA shipyard, after successfully passing 3 days of Navy trials in the Gulf of Mexico. Delivery to the US Navy is set for Q3 (summer) FY 2012.

May 21/12: LPD 23 trials. LPD 23 Anchorage returns to Avondale, LA from successful builder’s trials in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship will now prepare for acceptance sea trials by the U.S. Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV), in preparation for delivery later in 2012. HII.

May 19/12: USS San Diego. The US Navy commissions LPD 22 into the 3rd Fleet as USS San Diego, based in San Diego. US Navy.

USS San Diego

May 15/12: LPD 27 lead-in. Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives a maximum $133.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for advance buys of LPD 27 long-lead-time materials and pre-construction activities. HII confirms that this is their 5th long-lead materials contract for LPD 27. This brings total long-lead contracts for this ship, from all contractors, to $419.6 million.

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to complete by June 2017 (N00024-06-C-2222).

April 13/12: LPD 19. Small business qualifier MarineTec, a joint venture between Marine Hydraulics International, Inc., and Tecnico Corp. in Norfolk, VA, wins a $10 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract for USS Mesa Verde’s [LPD 19] phased maintenance availability (PMA). They’ll perform miscellaneous structural, mechanical, and electrical repairs, and the contract runs until September 2012. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11.

This contract was competitively procured via the Norfolk Ship Support Activity’s solicitation website, with 4 proposals solicited and 3 offers received (N50054-12-C-1203).

March 27/12: LPD 21 deploys. The Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (IWO ARG) and 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (24 MEU) depart for deployment from Norfolk and Camp Lejeune, NC, headed to the Mediterranean and Persian Gulf/ Indian Ocean areas.

The IWO JIMA ARG/24 MEU includes the amphibious assault ships USS Iwo Jima [LHD 7], USS New York [LPD 21], and USS Gunston Hall [LSD 44]; and is manned by Battalion Landing Team, 1st Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment (BLT 1/2); Aviation Combat Element, Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 261 (Reinforced); and Combat Logistics Battalion 24. USS New York.

March 19/12: General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, CA receives a $29.3 million contract modification for post shakedown work on USS San Diego [LPD 22] and fitting-out work on USS Anchorage [LPD 23]. Work will include program management, planning, engineering, design, liaison, scheduling, labor, and procurement of incidental material.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete by December 2014. US Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, DC, is the contracting activity (N00024-12-C-2400). See also Oct 7/11 entry.

March 14/12: LPD 22 captain relieved. Rear Adm. Gerard Hueber, commander of Expeditionary Strike Group 3, relieves Cmdr. Jon Haydel as captain of the “Pre-Commissioning Unit San Diego,” 1 day before it was due to leave its Pascagoula, MS shipyard for San Diego. Haydel was reportedly well-liked, and the Navy did not disclose the reasons. He was reassigned to Commander, Naval Surface Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet headquarters, pending an investigation into the “personal misconduct” allegations. Stars and Stripes.

March 1/12: LP 27 lead-in. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in San Diego, CA wins a $55.1 million contract modification, exercising the option for LPD 27’s integrated shipboard electronics. That’s actually a long list of items, including the engineering control system; magnetic signature control system; ship control system; navigation data distribution system; shipboard wide area network; wireless portable communication system; integrated voice communication system; sensors; Marine Corps support equipment; and AN/SPS-73 surface search radar.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by February 2018 (N00024-11-C-2404).

Feb 23/12: LPD 27 lead-in. Huntington Ingalls, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives a not-to-exceed $70 million cost-plus-fixed-fee modification for advance procurement of long-lead-time materials in support of LPD 27. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by April 2012 (N00024-06-C-2222). This pushes announced LPD 27 long-lead contracts to $230.8 million.

HII notes that this is the 4th advance procurement contract for LPD 27 since October 2010, adding that these contracts are used for items like main engines, diesel generators, electrical switchboards, deck equipment and fire extinguishing systems. If they’re not ready in advance, they won’t be on hand when HII needs them, which would delay the build.

Dec 20/11: LPD 22 delivered. The US Navy takes delivery of LPD 22 San Diego. The crew will move aboard the ship on Jan 4/11 to begin the certification process, before a short Caribbean sail in mid-March 2012, followed by passage through Panama and then a sail up to San Diego for commissioning in May 2012.

The ship will be homeported in San Diego, alongside USS New Orleans [LPD 18] and USS Green Bay [LPD 20]. Mississippi Press-News.

Dec 6/11: Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in San Diego, CA receives a $60.4 million contract modification to make and test LPD 26’s Integrated Shipboard Electronics, with an option for LPD 27 that would raise it to $111.3 million. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by February 2017 (N00024-11-C-2404).

Nov 22/11: Huntington Ingalls, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS received a $51.3 million contract modification, to provide life cycle engineering and support services for LPD-17 San Antonio Class integrated shipboard electronic systems. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by December 2012. $104,981 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00024-10-C-2203).

Nov 22/11: Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in San Diego, CA receives a $40 million contract modification, exercising an option to continue providing life cycle engineering and support services for LPD-17 San Antonio Class integrated shipboard electronic systems.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (98%), and Norfolk, VA (2%), and is expected to be complete by December 2012. $719,252 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/12 (N00024-10-C-2205).

Nov 18/11: LPD 22 passes INSURV. The US Navy’s future USS San Diego [LPD 22] completes US Navy INSURV acceptance trials. Delivery to the Navy is slated for mid-December 2011. HII.

Oct 7/11: Defense News reports that LPD 22 San Diego was damaged in late September 2011, during builder’s sea trials. A relief valve was installed backwards, causing part of the ship’s ballast system to overpressurize and damage 3 ballast tanks. The ballast tanks are used to lower the ship in the water, in order to flood its well decks.

Despite this mishap, the ballasting and de-ballasting tests were completed successfully, and Navy INSURV acceptance trials are expected to take place in November 2011.

Oct 7/11: General Dynamics NASSCO in San Diego, CA receives a $37.4 million cost-plus-fee contract for USS San Diego’s final fitting-out work, which could rise to $134.5 million if all options are exercised. That’s an unusually large figure.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by December 2014. This contract was competitively procured via FBO.gov, with 2 offers received (N00024-12-C-2400).

FY 2011

Testing troubles. HII spinoff. NSSA suspended.

LPD 24 Arlington launch
(click to view full)

Sept 7/11: BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair in San Diego, CA receives a $12.1 million contract modification for the USS Green Bay’s [LPD 20] FY 2011 phased maintenance availability (PMA). PMAs provide for an extensive renovation and modernization of an LPD class ship, including alterations and repairs as well as inspection and testing to all ships systems and components ensuring safe and dependable operation of the ship. the Pentagon says that it won’t require a dry-docking.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by May 2012. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. The US Navy’s Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego, CA manages the contract (N00024-10-C-4407).

July 13/11: LPD 20 XO relieved. Gannett’s Navy Times reports that USS Green Bay’s Executive Officer was relieved of duty by the Commodore of Amphibious Squadron 1 “after an investigation substantiated allegations of personal misconduct”. The ship is on deployment in the Persian Gulf, and Jones is being reassigned to temporary duties in San Diego with Expeditionary Strike Group 3.

The report also confirms LPD 20’s 1st mission, which began in February 2011.

July 12/11: LPD 27 long-lead. Huntington Ingalls, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives a maximum $98.8 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract modification for advance procurement of long-lead-time materials in support of LPD 27, the 11th ship of the LPD class. This pushes LPD 27 long-lead contracts to $160.8 million, and HII notes that the category covers “main engines and diesel generators and other equipment, including electrical switchboards, deck equipment and fire extinguishing systems.”

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by January 2012 (N00024-06-C-2222). See also HII release, Oct 20/10 entry.

May 25/11: LPD 26 begins. The official start of fabrication on LPD 26 signifies that 100 tons of steel have been cut and fabricated, using Ingalls’ robotic plasma arc cutting machines. Huntington Ingalls says that the next milestone will be the ship’s keel laying, scheduled for the first quarter of 2012. LPD 26 is scheduled to be launched in Q3 of 2014, and delivered to the Navy in Q4 of 2015.

With respect to other ships, LPD 22 San Diego will undergo sea trials later in 2011; LPD 23 Anchorage is currently 82% complete, and is expected to be delivered in Q2 2012. LPD 25 Somerset is more than 50% complete, and will be launched “in 2012.” HII.

May 6/11: Maintenance termination. NAVSEA announces that it has terminated Earl Industries, LLC’s multi-ship, multi-option (MSMO) maintenance contract for the San Antonio Class. The move comes in response to:

“…Navy findings of improper work performed and concern regarding Earl Industries’ quality assurance program and the company’s ability to control the quality and documentation of work it performs. Those concerns were triggered by the number and severity of corrective action reports issued… “The company’s performance on this contract was not in keeping with the type of quality work the Navy expects from our industry partners,” said NAVSEA Commander Vice Adm. Kevin McCoy. “These failures are unacceptable, and we have lost confidence in Earl’s ability to continue successfully performing this same type of work… under the MSMO contract.”

It’s the most severe option – a complete termination of all work in process by the Norfolk, VA contractor, as well as all options for future scheduled and unscheduled maintenance work on the class over a 5-year period. In place of Earl’s contract, the Navy plans to compete scheduled Chief of Naval Operations availability and all necessary Emergent Maintenance/ Continuous Maintenance work for the San Antonio-class ships homeported in Norfolk, among all eligible contractors in the Norfolk area.

The Virginia Pilot’s “Earl Industries’ $75M Navy contract: What went wrong?” has a pertinent examination, which notes that Earl won the contract, despite having a higher bid, on the basis of Navy evaluations of “exceptional” performance on past contracts. The firm retains maintenance contracts involving the USN’s carriers.

April 20/11: USN suspends NSSA’s warrant. The US Navy announces that it has suspended the oversight authority of its Norfolk Ship Support Activity, at Norfolk Naval Station, VA, which is responsible for supervising maintenance work done by private companies on Navy surface ships in the mid-Atlantic region. Investigations are also underway concerning specific repairs to the USS San Antonio [LPD-17].

By suspending the command’s oversight authority – formally known as its “technical warrant” – the Navy essentially said it no longer trusts it to make sure work by contractors is being done properly. The issue is reportedly that the government can’t tell, based on required reports, what work was done and what wasn’t.

Thomas J. Murphy, who had been the command’s civilian executive director since 2004, was replaced in March 2011, and sources outside the Navy said several other officials at the command were also removed. Virginian Pilot | Information Dissemination | UPI.

NSSA suspended

April 1/11: LPD 26 contract. Northrop Grumman spinoff Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives a $1.496 billion fixed-price-incentive contract modification for all detail design and construction of LPD 26. That ship is the future USS John P. Murtha, unless the name is changed during a subsequent administration.

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS (82%); Crozet, VA (4%); Beloit, WI (2%); and New Orleans, LA (1%). Other efforts will be performed at various sites throughout the United States (11%). Work is expected to be complete by February 2016. The contract was not competitively procured (N00024-06-C-2222).

LPD 26 main order

March 31/11: HII Spinoff. Northrop Grumman completes the $6.7 billion spinoff of its shipbuilding sector, which begins trading as Huntington Ingalls Industries, Inc. [NYSE:HII] Bloomberg.

From NGC to HII

March 26/11: LPD 24 christened. Northrop Grumman Corporation’s shipbuilding sector, with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps participating, christens LPD 24 as Arlington, in memory of those who lost their lives during the 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon. NGC.

March 8/11: US Senate Armed Services Committee hearings get a spotlight on the LPD-17 program, as ranking member Sen. John McCain [R-AZ] says in his opening statement:

“From the first ship in this class, this program has displayed major problems in terms of safety, engineering, and the quality of workmanship. Those problems have been so widespread that they give rise to concern about a broader readiness problem afflicting our surface fleet. I am gratified by the leadership of the Atlantic Fleet Commander Admiral Harvey in starting to turn these problems around. But, I am perplexed by how we got to this point. And, as to the LPD-17 class of ships, how (with five delivered and four under construction) we have been left with a class of ships that, according to the Pentagon’s chief tester is ‘not effective, suitable and not survivable in combat.’ In addition to addressing this point, I would also like our witnesses to also address what I see as an overall downward trend in maintenance funding – with the negative impact falling more heavily on the Navy’s surface combatants than on carriers and submarines.”

See: Sen. McCain statement | Hearings Transcripts, etc. | Hearings video [Flash 10].

Feb 12/11: LPD 23 launch. LPD 23 is launched into the Mississippi River. She is about 78% complete, and some new pre-launch installations include items like mechanical completion of the anchor windlass hydraulic system. US Navy.

Building LPD 23 Anchorage
(click to view full)

Dec 12/10: The Washington DC area Sun Gazette reports that LPD 24 Arlington is tentatively scheduled for christening on March 26/10, and is now expected to be commissioned into service as USS Arlington in “mid-2012” after trials.

Nov 30/10: NAVEA issues a pair of contracts for “LPD 17 class integrated shipboard electronic systems.” Services will include planning yard support of integrated electronic systems, including fleet modernization program planning, plus: post-delivery planning, logistics and engineering, homeport technical support, integrated product data environment, data maintenance, equipment management, systems integration and design engineering, software support, research engineering, obsolescence management (both technical and logistics), material readiness support, emergent repair planning, training and logistics support, ship alteration development and installation, material management, configuration data management, research engineering, logistics documentation, and other coordination, and management. The contractors will also provide performance-based logistics support, including obsolescence management support for out-of-production electronics, for “unique LPD 17-class integrated shipboard electronic systems.”

Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives a $43.7 million contract modification. It’s the 1st of 4 annual options associated with the contract referenced in the Feb 16/10 entry, which could grow to $249.4 million. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by December 2011; but $109,947 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11 (N00024-10-C-2203). See also NGC release.

Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in San Diego, CA received a $38 million contract modification. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (98%), and Norfolk, VA (2%), and is expected to be complete by December 2011; but $1,134,760 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11 (N00024-10-C-2205).

Nov 23/10: LPD 24 launched. Northrop Grumman’s Pascagoula, MS shipyard launches Arlington [LPD 24]. The ship launches at 77% complete, and upgrades over previous ships-of-class include a new water purification system, and a new operating system for the ship’s computing environment. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding’s LPD 17 program manager, Doug Lounsberry, says that: “This ship was the most complete LPD to date at time of launch and the schedule was also the shortest time from keel laying to launch.” If that has resulted in lower build costs, however, the budgets don’t indicate it.

Arlington is named for the county in which the Pentagon is located, as a memorial to the heroes and victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The ship’s christening is tentatively scheduled for spring of 2011. US Navy | Northrop Grumman.

Oct 29/10: LPD 26 long-lead. Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in San Diego, CA receives a $7.1 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for the long-lead-time materials in support of LPD 26’s integrated shipboard electronics.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 2012. This contract was not competitively procured, since Raytheon is set as the contractor responsible for that aspect of the ships (N00024-11-C-2404).

Oct 29/10: USN Command Failure. Based on the Bloomberg report, the naval blog Information Dissemination looks at the DOT&E reports from 2006-2009, and matches them with command histories. The results are enlightening, and the op-ed point following those report excerpts is apt:

“There are clearly issues here that raise serious questions of specific industry companies as to why they have been unable to meet requirements. There are also serious questions for the Navy though, starting with why the recommendations made by DOT&E have gone ignored for several years in a row through at least December of 2009… LPD-17 class features networks with single points of failure that appear to be perpetually unreliable, new weapon systems that don’t meet requirements, and unreliable communication and information exchange equipment – all of which piles on top of the incredible number of HM&E problems identified as a result of poor construction and shipyard practices that have had most the class sidelined.

…Admiral Harvey took over Fleet Forces Command in July of 2009, and if you look over the CRS report by Ronald O’Rourke (PDF) that lists the history of construction problems from pages 17-45 (28 pages!), 10 of those pages disclose problems identified and reported over the 15 month time period since ADM Harvey took over responsibility at Fleet Forces Command… from June 2005 until July of 2009 – 49 months – very few of the major problems that are class-wide and often discussed today were apparently identified, or reported. Why did everyone have to wait for Admiral Harvey to assume command of Fleet Forces Command… Why was ADM Jonathan Greenert, who was in charge Fleet Forces Command from September 2007 to July 2009, unable to uncover any of these issues?

…As a reward for ADM Greenert’s apparent ignorance (or intentional concealment) regarding the depth of the LPD-17 class problems – he was promoted to the Vice Chief of Naval Operations. I would also think there are plenty of questions for VADM Kevin McCoy who was the Chief Engineer in NAVSEA from 2005-2008 until he became commander of NAVSEA in June of 2008 – because all of the problems with LPD-17 took place while VADM McCoy was part of the leadership in NAVSEA over the last 5 years.

Problems with the LPD-17 class are similar to problems seen in other classes of ships built and maintained over the last several years, and these are problems that leadership at the time did not address and have gone on to cost the Navy billions to resolve. Noteworthy, as a reward for their work (and the problems listed in the Balisle Report is basically the resume of failure at Fleet Forces Command under ADM Greenert btw), the current CNO promoted these folks and the Senate approved those promotions… Screw up as a leader at sea – You’re Fired! Cost the country billions while leading ashore – You’re Promoted! That is my definition of a leadership culture that selectively applies accountability.”

Naval command failure

FY 2009 DOT&E report
(click to read)

Oct 28/10: Survivability, quality questioned by Pentagon. Bloomberg News reports on a classified report sent to Congress in June 2010, outlining Pentagon testing that found serious issues with the LPD-17 San Antonio Class’ ability to survive combat situations. Their report is based on an unclassified summary of that report, and an email response from Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s director of operational test and evaluation, who described the ships as “not effective, suitable and not survivable in a combat situation.” The core of those reports is that the ships continue to experience widespread, persistent engineering problems, and couldn’t continue to operate reliably after being hit by enemy fire, in part because of the engineering problems mentioned. From the Pentagon’s DOT&E FY 2009 Annual Report:

“Chronic reliability problems associated with critical ship systems across the spectrum of mission areas reduces overall ship suitability and jeopardizes mission accomplishment… Emerging results from [Navy] trials indicate the ships could not demonstrate the required levels of survivability, largely because of critical ship system failures after weapons effects.”

“…Reliability problems related to well deck ramps, ventilation, bridge crane, and Cargo Ammunition Magazine (CAM) elevators… [and] Engineering Control System (ECS), including frequent failures and high false alarm rates, and the electrical distribution system, including unexplained loss of service generators and the uncommanded opening of breakers… The Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) identified similar deficiencies in identical areas (propulsion, auxiliaries, electrical, damage control, deck) during both acceptance and final contract trials across all four of the first ships of the class. Catastrophic casualties recorded prior to the Full Ship Shock Trial in LPD-19 and during LPD-17’s deployment revealed serious fabrication and production deficiencies in the main lube oil service system. The ship is capable of supporting [C4I] requirements in an ESG environment; however, reliability problems with the SWAN(Shipborne Wide Area Network) and the Interior Voice Communications System degrade command and control and are single points of failure during operations.

The LPD-17 exhibited difficulty defending itself against several widely proliferated threats, primarily due to… Persistent SSDS Mk 2-based [DID: link added] system engineering deficiencies… The ship’s RAM system provided the only hard kill capability, preventing layered air defense [DID: in fairness, the ships were designed this way]… Problems associated with SPS-48E and SPQ-9B radar performance against certain Anti-Ship Cruise Missile attack profiles [DID: also a known design limitation]… Degraded situational awareness due to Mk 46 [30mm remotely-operated] Gun Weapon System console configuration… The survivability of the San Antonio class ships appear to be improved over the LPD class ships they will replace. However, problems encountered with critical systems during testing (particularly with the electrical distribution, chilled water, SWAN, and ECS) and difficulty recovering mission capability may offset some of the survivability improvements and have highlighted serious reliability shortcomings.”

Northrop Grumman is the prime contractor and SPQ-9 radar provider, while Raytheon provides some of the items mentioned above, such as the SSDS combat system, shipboard network, etc. ITT makes the SPS-48E radar. The report comes as various firms are considering buying all or part of Northrop Grumman’s shipbuilding business. Pentagon DOT&E FY 2009 [PDF] | Bloomberg | DoD Buzz | Reuters.

Testing troubles

Oct 20/10: LPD 27 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives a $62 million cost-plus-fixed-fee not-to-exceed contract modification, to buy long lead time materials for LPD 27. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by August 2014 (N00024-06-C-2222).

Oct 18/10: BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair in San Diego, CA receives an $11.1 million contract modification for the USS New Orleans’ [LPD 18] FY 2011 phased maintenance availability. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by March 2011. All contract funds will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/11. The Us Navy’s Southwest Regional Maintenance Center in San Diego, CA manages this contract.

Oct 15/10: LPD 19 switch-in. U.S. Fleet Force Command (USFF) Commander Adm. John C. Harvey Jr. announces that USS Mesa Verde [LPD 19] will replace USS San Antonio [LPD 17] in the USS Bataan’s [LHD 5] Amphibious Ready Group (ARG) in the summer of 2011. Mesa Verde, which was built in Mississippi instead of the San Antonio Class’ primary yard at Avondale near New Orleans, returned from a 7-month deployment to the Persian Gulf in August 2010, and wasn’t expected to deploy again until late 2012.

San Antonio is currently scheduled to conduct comprehensive crew certification and sea trials in early spring 2011, but Adm. Harvey would only say that: “San Antonio will deploy when it is operationally sound and ready to go.” The ship’s overhaul at Norfolk was expected to take about 4-5 months and cost $5 million, but bolts in the foundations of the diesel engines and the main reduction gears were improperly installed at the shipyard. That created vibrations in the drive train that could have completely destroyed the propulsion system over time, and repairs are now expected to take about 11 months and at least $39 million, possibly more. USFF | Defense News.

Oct 3/10: Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding loads 100,000 gallons of fuel aboard the San Diego [LPD 22]. That step requires that all of the machinery spaces are prepared and ready, and helps flush the fuel system ahead of the upcoming generator light off in November 2010.

San Diego was christened in June 2010, and is scheduled for sea trials in Q2 2011. NGC.

FY 2010

Flawed construction. Avondale shipyard closed.

LPD-17: Welcome to Norfolk…
(click to view full)

July 29/10: Flaws. Gannett’s Navy Times reports on testimony before the House Armed Service Committee’s readiness panel, indicating unique problems with USS Green Bay’s [LPD 20] steering system. That’s in addition to other problems generic to the class involving metal shavings polluting the lube oil systems and damaging the engines.

Like her sister ships San Antonio, New Orleans, and New York, all of which have experienced major post-delivery problems on top of their cost overruns, USS Green Bay was also built at the Avondale shipyard near New Orleans. Read “LPD-17 Reliability Issues Surface Again” for more.

July 13/10: Closing Avondale. Northrop Grumman Corporation announces plans to consolidate its Gulf Coast shipbuilding operations in Pascagoula, MS, and try to sell its entire shipbuilding business. Its Avondale, LA shipyard will close by 2013, transferring all LPD-related work. With the hysteria surrounding Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath a thing of the past, and a new emphasis on financial performance in the firm’s boardroom, these moves become politically possible at both the corporate and national levels.

“The consolidation of Gulf Coast ship construction is the next step in the company’s efforts to improve performance and efficiency at its Gulf Coast shipyards… Since [early 2008] Gulf Coast organization and leadership, operating systems, program execution, risk management, engineering, and quality have been the focus of intense improvement efforts. Consolidating new ship construction on the Gulf Coast in one shipyard will position Shipbuilding to achieve additional performance improvement and efficiency over the long term. Ship construction at Avondale will wind down in 2013. Future LPD-class ships will be built in a single production line at the company’s Pascagoula, Miss. facility. The company anticipates some opportunities in Pascagoula for Avondale shipbuilders who wish to relocate.

…the company expects higher costs to complete ships currently under construction in Avondale due to anticipated reductions in productivity and, as a result, is increasing the estimates to complete LPDs 23 and 25 by approximately $210 million. Of this amount $113 million will be recognized as a one-time, pre-tax cumulative charge to Shipbuilding’s second quarter 2010 operating income. The balance will be recognized as lower margin in future periods, principally on the LPD 25. The company also anticipates that it will incur substantial restructuring and facilities shutdown-related costs including, but not limited to, severance, relocation expense, and asset write-downs. These costs are expected to be allowable expenses under government accounting standards and recoverable in future years under the company’s contracts. The company estimates that these restructuring costs will be more than offset by future savings expected to be generated by the consolidation.”

Closing Avondale, LA shipyard

June 30/10: Flaws. Gannett’s Navy Times offers excerpts from a US Navy report, which indicated continued problems with basic workmanship aboard the Navy’s billion-dollar San Antonio Class ships:

“Inadequate government oversight during the construction process failed to prevent or identify as a problem the lack of cleanliness and quality assurance that resulted in contamination of closed systems,” said the Navy report, [dated May 20th but] released Thursday. “Material challenges with this ship and other ships of the class continue to negatively impact fleet operations. Failures in the acquisition process, maintenance, training and execution of shipboard programs all share in the responsibility for these engineering casualties… [With its automated systems] not functioning as designed, the ship was unable to effectively operate and maintain the engineering plant.”

The problems reported in January 2010 were traced to contaminated lube oil systems that were damaging their main engines, and USS San Antonio [LPD-17] and USS New York [LPD 21] remain affected, with San Antonio expected to be in dry dock until late 2010 as engineers attempt to repair a bent crankshaft.

Flawed construction

June 12/10: LPD 22 launched. San Diego [LPD 22] is christened. That ceremony formally gives the ship its designated name, but she does not become USS San Diego until later. Biloxi-Gulport Sun-Herald | Mississippi Press | LA Times.

June 2/10: General Dynamics Land Systems, Inc. in Woodbridge, VA receives a $22.3 million firm-fixed-price, cost-plus-fixed fee contract for the MK46 MOD 2 gun weapon systems (GWS) and associated hardware, spares and services. There are several Mk46s in the US Navy, but this one is a 30mm enclosed turret packing a Mk44 Bushmaster chain gun and advanced sights. The turret is operated from a console inside the LPD-17 San Antonio Class amphibious ships, and the Littoral Combat Ship’s surface warfare package. This contract covers both naval platforms.

Work will be performed in Woodbridge, VA (69%); Tallahassee, FL (12%); Lima, OH (12%); Westminster, MD (4%); Scranton, PA (2%); and Sterling Heights, MI (1%). Work is expected to be complete by May 2013. $812,412 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year, on Sept 30/10. This contract was not competitively procured by US Naval Sea Systems Command, in Washington, DC (N00024-10-C-5438).

LPD-22 launch
(click to read)

May 7/10: LPD 22 launched. The future USS San Diego [LPD 22] is launched from Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding’s Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, MS. US Navy.

April 30/10: LPD 26 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives an $184 million cost plus fixed-fee advance procurement contract modification that will provide long lead materials for LPD 26. Equipment bought under this contract includes main engines and diesel generators and other equipment including electrical switchboards, deck equipment and fire extinguishing systems, and the contract is expected to be complete by August 2012 (N00024-06-C-2222). Northrop Grumman release.

This is the second advance procurement contract for LPD 26, totaling $397.8 million; see also June 23/09.

April 14/10: USS John P. Murtha?!? The Navy announces the proposed name for LPD 26. Gannett’s Navy Times:

“Navy Secretary Ray Mabus notified Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead that he had selected “John P. Murtha” for the previously unnamed LPD 26. It’s the latest example of the Navy breaking a convention for naming its warships; the previous ships in the San Antonio class have been named for American cities.

Capt. Beci Brenton, a spokeswoman for Mabus, who is traveling on the West Coast, said she had no comment on the memo… [which] appeared to reflect both [Murtha’s] support in Congress for more of the gators and his service in the Marine Corps… But Murtha might also prove to be a controversial pick: He was accused of ethics violations several times over the course of his career and he caused outrage among Marines in 2005 when he accused troops of 3rd Battalion, 1st Marines, of “killing innocent people” in a shooting in Haditha, Iraq.”

As of April 14/10, 6 of the Marine defendants had their cases dropped, 1 was found not guilty, and SSgt. Wuterich, the last defendant, is scheduled to stand trial Sept 13/10.

April 13/10: BAE Systems Norfolk Ship Repair in Norfolk, VA won a $29.6 million cost-plus-award-fee contract for post shakedown availability of LPD 21, the USS New York. PSAs fix last-minute issues that are found on the initial shakedown cruise, after a ship’s commissioning. BAE will perform program management, planning, engineering, design, liaison, scheduling, labor, and procurement of incidental material required.

Work will be performed in Norfolk, VA (91%), and Chesapeake, VA (9%), and is expected to be complete by July 2010. Contract funds in the amount of $5,000 will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Federal Business Opportunities Web site, with 4 proposals received (N00024-10-C-2204).

Marines Help Evaluate
click to play video

April 1/10: SAR to 11 ships. The Pentagon releases its April 2010 Selected Acquisitions Report, covering major program changes up to December 2009. The LPD-17 program qualifies:

“Program costs increased $4,417.5 million (+31.0%) from $14,241.7 million to $18,659.2 million, due primarily to a quantity increase of two ships from 9 to 11 ships (+$2,075.5 million) and associated schedule, estimating, and other allocations[1] (+$1,291.7 million), and additional full funding and outfitting and post delivery increases associated with the quantity increase (+$484.2 million). Costs also increased due to the addition of cost to complete funding for ships 22 through 25 (+$239.0 million), Hurricane Katrina supplemental funding for ships 20 through 24 (+$192.7 million), and special transfer authority and outfitting and post delivery requirements for ships 21 through 25 (+$132.0 million).”

More ships

Feb 16/10: Northrop Grumman announces that it received a $41.3 million cost-plus-fixed fee contract for Life Cycle Engineering and Support (LCE&S) services on the LPD 17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program. If all options are exercised, the contract has a potential value of $249.4 million.

Under the contract (N00024-10-C-2203), Northrop Grumman will provide the following services: post-delivery planning and engineering, systems integration and engineering support, research engineering, material support, fleet modernization program planning, supply chain management, maintenance and training for certain LPD 17-class shipboard systems. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by December 2010. This is a follow-on contract to one awarded in 2005 (see Feb 11/05 entry), and beyond this year, there are 4 more option years that could increase its total value.

Jan 22/10: Flaws. Following the problems with USS New York, Gannett’s Navy Times reports that:

“Inspectors are rechecking every pipe weld aboard every ship built in the last several years at Avondale, La., or Pascagoula, Miss., including destroyers and small- and big-deck amphibs, after discovering so many problems that all pipe welders and Navy inspectors at both yards had to be decertified and then recertified to work on ships… The disbarring and reapplication took place last summer, when some of the problems were first discovered… A major question was how or why NavSea’s inspectors approved work that subsequent Navy inspections later found inadequate… Inspectors are looking at the entire San Antonio class of amphibious transport docks to determine what has caused systemic lube-oil problems in multiple ships, as well as damage to engine bearings that recently sidelined the newest ship, New York.”

Most LPD-17 class ships have been built at Avondale, near New Orleans, LA – a shipyard that has has demonstrated extensive workmanship problems throughout the program. USS Mesa Verde [LPD 19], which was built at Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, is currently at sea, inspected, and will continue its mission to Haiti and the Middle East. USS New York [LPD 21] is dealing with lube oil and engine problems, and a bowed crankshaft that will need to be replaced in an unprecedented procedure. Northrop will pay for work on USS New York, which is still under warranty. Any problems found in other ships will be subject to negotiation.

Flawed construction

Jan 8/10: Major breakdown. The US Navy announces that a week long, at-sea examination following USS New York’s commissioning has discovered the “premature failure” of bearings associated with the ship’s Colt-Pielstick main propulsion diesel engines. After the damage was found, the ship returned to Naval Station Norfolk under its own power.

The USS New York was built in Northrop Grumman’s Avondale shipyard in Louisiana near New Orleans, as opposed to the Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi. The failed components are under warranty, and will be repaired. It’s currently unclear how long the repairs will take, however, how serious the failures are, or whether the problems affect other ships in the San Antonio class. Virginia-Pilot | Hampton Roads WTKR.

LPD 21 breaks down

Dec 11/09: LPD 23 keel. Keel-laying ceremony for LPD 23 Somerset. USN PEO Ships.

Nov 7/09: LPD 21 commissioned. The US Navy commissions LPD 21 as USS New York, at a ceremony in New York City. The ship arrived in New York on Oct 2/09 and hosted Mayor Bloomberg for the sail-in, after leaving its homeport of Naval Station Norfolk, VA on Oct 29/09. It contains over 7 tons of steel salvaged from the destroyed World Trade Center. US Navy on NYC arrival | US Navy on commissioning.

USS New York

Nov 2/09: Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in San Diego, CA receives an $8.7 million cost-plus-fixed-fee sole-source contract covering life cycle engineering and support (LCE&S) services for LPD 17 Class integrated shipboard electronic systems. This contract includes options which could bring the cumulative value of this contract to $197.1 million.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (95%); Chula Vista, CA (3%); and Norfolk, VA (2%), and the base period is expected to be complete by December 2009 (N00024-10-C-2205).

FY 2009

LPD 17 repairs. LPD 21.

LPD-21, sea trials
(click to read)

July 23/09: LPD 21 passes INSURV. LPD 21 New York returns to its Avondale shipyard in New Orleans July 23 flying 3 brooms, signifying a successful sweep of its U.S. Navy Acceptance Trials. The ship demonstrated a variety of systems including main propulsion including a full power run, engineering and ship control systems, combat systems including self defense detect-to-engage exercises, damage control, food service and crew support. During the tests, its ballast system for flooding the ship’s well deck test setting a new LPD ship record for time to ballast down. Northrop Grumman release.

July 2/09: Northrop Grumman Corporation announces that the New York [LPD 21] successfully accomplished its builder’s sea trials this week in the Gulf of Mexico.

LPD 21 is under construction at the company’s Avondale facility in Louisiana. The ship is especially notable for the fact that its bow stem contains 7.5 tons of steel recovered from the World Trade Center following the terrorist attacks of Sept 11/01. NGC release | NGC video.

June 23/09: LPD 26 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS receives a $213.8 million contract modification for long lead time materials (LLTM) in support of LPD 26, the 10th San Antonio class ship. The award covers early procurement or manufacture, inspection, test, storage and maintenance of these items, which include main engines and diesel generators. A contract for the detail design and construction of LPD 26 is anticipated in mid-2010. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS and is expected to be complete by December 2013.

See also Dec 19/08 entry, and the accompanying NGC release for this contract. The total cost of announced LPD 26 long-lead materials contracts so far is $223.8 million.

May 12/09: LPD 18 fixed. USS New Orleans [LPD 18] prepares to return to sea after completing dry dock repairs at the Arab Shipbuilding and Repair Yard (ASRY) Shipyard dry dock in Bahrain. US Navy photo release.

April 14/09: BAE Systems San Diego Ship Repair in San Diego, CA received a $24.7 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-07-C-2200) for LPD 20 Green Bay’s post shakedown availability tasks, and acceleration of fleet required ship alterations. Work will include:

“…completion of government responsible deficiencies; correction of LPD 19 [Mesa Verde] shock trial related deficiencies, class pipe hangers deficiencies, and FCT trials cards; and the acceleration of fleet required ship alterations such as upgrades to the SWAN GiGE (Gigabit Ethernet) Upgrades, MK46 [30m RWS] Gun System Upgrade, HF-SAR, SSEE Inc E, Joint Biological Point Detection System (JBPDS) and SLQ-32 [ship electronic countermeasures system] ICAD.”

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA, and is expected to be completed by Jan. 2010. Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

April 6/09: LPD 27 postponed. US Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates announces his FY 2010 budget recommendations. They include postponement of LPD 27 funding to build the 11th ship of class.

March 20/09: LPD 18 collision. A collision between the USS Hartford [SSN 768] and the USS New Orleans [LPD-18] in the Strait of Hormuz, slightly injures 15 sailors. Both vessels are able to proceed under their own power after the incident, although the New Orleans suffered a ruptured fuel tank, releasing 25,000 gallons of diesel fuel into the strait. US Navy | US Navy repairs photo.

Dec 19/08: Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, Inc. in Pascagoula, MS received a $10 million firm-fixed-price contract modification to a previously awarded contract, in order to buy long lead-time materials for LPD 26. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS, and is expected to be complete by December 2010 (N00024-06-C-2222).

Dec 4/08: Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in New Orleans, LA received a $16.8 million modification to a previously awarded contract (N00024-05-C-2217) for Life Cycle Engineering and Support services on the LPD 17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program.

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS (60%) and New Orleans, LA (40%); the contract period will end the end of the fiscal year on Sept 30/09, but contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year.

Oct 31/08: Major breakdown. The USS San Antonio [LPD 17] is forced into to a Bahraini shipyard for at least 2 weeks of repairs. On Oct 9th and 17th, leaks were discovered in the pipes that deliver lubricating oil to the ship’s 4 diesel engines. The fault is classified as hazardous, because the leaks drip flammable oil into open spaces. When the ship pulled in, it was greeted by a large team of 30-40 engineers, pipefitters and welders flown to Bahrain from the U.S.

It is rare to find such serious faults in a new ship. Many analysts, including former 3-star rear admiral Rep. Joe Sestak [D-PA], see the problems as further evidence of systemic workmanship flaws.

Oct 22/08: Raytheon announces that the U.S. Navy has exercised the 3rd of 3 one-year options, paying Raytheon up to $23 million for San Antonio Class life cycle engineering and support. The original contract was issued in 2005.

Raytheon’s work on the LPD 17 program is performed at the Expeditionary Warfare Center in San Diego, CA; the Seapower Capability Center in Portsmouth, RI; and by Raytheon Technical Services Company in New Orleans, LA and San Diego, CA. Raytheon release.

FY 2007 – 2008

Initial Operating Capability. First deployment. LPD 18 to 20.

LPD-22 construction
(click to view full)

Aug 28/08: A mission, at last. The USS San Antonio [LPD 17] becomes the first ship of class to deploy on a mission, over 2 1/2 years after the ship was commissioned into service.

The ship will be part of the USS Iwo Jima’s [LHD-7] Expeditionary Strike Group, and is en route to the 5th Fleet (CENTCOM area/ Middle East) and 6th Fleet’s (Mediterranean) areas of responsibility. The Iwo Jima ESG also includes the dock-landing ship USS Carter Hall [LSD 50], the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf [CG 72], the guided-missile destroyers USS Ramage [DDG 61] and USS Roosevelt [DDG 80], and the Improved Los Angles Class fast attack submarine USS Hartford [SSN 768]. US Navy.

1st mission for the class

Aug 1/08: LPD 20 passes INSURV. Green Bay [LPD 20] passes its sea trials and INSURV inspection, clearing the way for the Navy to accept her.

During the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) Acceptance Trials, LPD 20 successfully demonstrated a variety of systems including main propulsion, engineering and ship control systems including the Shipboard Wide Area Network, combat systems, damage control, food service and crew support. Among the highlights of the trial, Green Bay successfully completed a full power run, self-defense detect-to-engage exercises, ballasting, deballasting, and steering and anchor handling demonstrations. US Navy | Raytheon.

May 8/08: Raytheon announces a $32 million contract to develop and integrate the total ship electronics systems for LPD 25, the 9th ship of the U.S. Navy’s LPD 17 class. Under the contract, awarded by Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Raytheon continues its role as the total ship electronics systems integrator for all ships of this class. Raytheon IDS will provide the Shipboard Wide Area Network, integrated product data environment, total ship information management, and integrated ship electronics architecture.

May 23/08: CRS on LPD-17s. The US Congressional Research Service releases an updated version of “Navy LPD-17 Amphibious Ship Procurement: Background, Issues, and Options for Congress” [PDF]. See also Information Dissemination’s excerpts at “Thinking LSD (X) and Motherships“.

May 5/08: IOC for LPD-17s. MarineLink reports that The LPD 17 class has reached Initial Operating Capability. The USS San Antonio is reportedly on track to deploy with the USS Iwo Jima [LHD 7] Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) later in 2008.

IOC

March 1/08: LPD 21 launch. The US Navy christens and launches LPD 21 New York at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in New Orleans, LA. The ship is named New York in honor of the state, the city and the victims of Sept 11/01. A unique characteristic of the ship is the use of 7.5 tons of steel salvaged from the World Trade Center wreckage that was incorporated into the construction process. The steel was melted and formed to make the bow stem of the ship. US Navy | DefenseLINK.

Dec 21/07: LPD 25 order. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Inc. in Pascagoula, MS received a $1 billion fixed-price incentive modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-06-C-2222), to finish design and begin construction of the 9th LPD 17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock ship [LPD 25 Somerset]. The contract includes design and engineering efforts, material procurement, testing and quality assurance required to support ship construction, initial spares and technical documentation loadout, plus management efforts – including subcontract and risk management – during the entire period of construction and testing.

Coupled with the advance procurement contract funded for LPD 25 (q.v. Nov 6/06 entry) total contracts for the ship to date are valued at more than $1.2 billion. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA (85%) and Pascagoula, MS (15%), and is expected to be complete by November 2011. NGC release.

LPD 25 main order

Dec 15/07: LPD 19 commissioned. LPD-19 is commissioned as the USS Mesa Verde. She will ultimately join the fleet in its home port of Norfolk, VA.

LPD 19 is named for the Mesa Verde National park in Southwestern Colorado. Congress established Mesa Verde, meaning “green plateau,” as the first cultural park in the national parks system in 1906 to preserve the notable cliff dwellings of the ancestral Pueblo culture dating back 13 centuries ago. Northrop Grumman release | US Navy release.

USS Mesa Verde

Dec 15/07: The crew of the USS New Orleans [LPD 18] executes the ship class’ first amphibious launch and recovery of the USMC’s new expeditionary fighting vehicle (EFV). US Navy release.

Dec 7/07: LPD 19 Mesa Verde receives LCAC certification. The ship has already received a newly modernized hovercraft [LCAC 39], which has been through the service life extension program upgrades. See US Navy story.

Nov 26-30/07: LPD 17 passes INSURV. An INSURV (Board of Inspection and Survey) underway material inspection examines San Antonio for the 3rd time, and finds her fit for sustained combat service in the Fleet. US Navy | MarineLink.

Mesa Verde, trials
(click to view full)

Sept 28/07: Raytheon Co. in San Diego, CA received a $27.1 million cost-plus-award-fee modification under previously awarded contract (N00024-06-C-2207) to exercise an option for Life Cycle Engineering and Support (LCE&S) services on select electronic systems for the LPD 17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete by September 2008. Raytheon release.

Sept 28/07: Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in New Orleans, LA received a $13 million cost-plus-award-fee modification under previously awarded contract (N00024-05-C-2217) to exercise an option for Life Cycle Engineering and Support (LCE&S) services on the LPD 17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program.

Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS (60%) and New Orleans, LA (40%), and is expected to be complete by September 2008.

Sept 20/07: LPD 19 passes INSURV. Northrop Grumman announces that its 3rd San Antonio Class ship, the Mesa Verde [LPD 19], has successfully completed its acceptance trials for the U.S. Navy. The ship will be delivered later in September 2007, and is scheduled to be commissioned as USS Mesa Verde in Panama City, Fla. on Dec 15/07. Northrop Grumman gave no further specifics, noting only that “the ship performed well”; U.S. Navy Cmdr. Shawn Lobree, LPD 19’s prospective commanding officer, said that the ship “passed all major testing events.” Northrop Grumman release.

Aug 13-16/07: LPD 19. Mesa Verde [LPD 19] successfully completes builder’s trials in the Gulf of Mexico, in a collaborative effort involving the U.S. Navy and Northrop Grumman. The ship’s compartments were 100% complete, and all systems and certifications were completed and tested 100% to pre-trial requirements. Testing was performed on the ship’s main propulsion, communications, steering, navigational, radar and other systems. Other exercises included anchor handling, flight operations, compartment air balancing, and ballasting/de-ballasting of the well deck that launches amphibious landing craft.

Note that unlike her predecessors, Mesa Verde was built at the Pascagoula, MS shipyard, rather than at Avondale near New Orleans. Next month, the U.S. Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV) team will conduct acceptance trials aboard LPD 19, which will involve more rounds of extensive testing of the ship’s major systems. Northrop Grumman release.

June 30/07: Flaws. The Virginia Pilot runs another article about LPD 17’s test failures and program issues. An excerpt:

“Secretary of the Navy Donald Winter criticized shipbuilder Northrop Grumman Ship Systems for substandard work and, in a letter last week, questioned the future of amphibious and destroyer ship programs under contract with the company. “By taking delivery of incomplete ships with serious quality problems, the Fleet has suffered unacceptable delays in obtaining deployable assets,” Winter wrote to Ronald Sugar, Northrop Grumman’s chief executive officer.

Two years after accepting the San Antonio, “the Navy still does not have a mission capable LPD ship,” Winter wrote… In March 2006, chief of naval operations Adm. Mike Mullen also attacked Northrop Grumman over its work quality. The average cost per ship has risen 50 percent over original estimates, according to the Navy… The worst problems were in the propulsion, auxiliary and aviation systems. Nearly two-thirds of those serious problems were discovered during an earlier inspection, reported as fixed, but still existed during the later check.

The second ship in the amphibious class, the New Orleans, has fewer problems but was still incomplete when accepted by the Navy, Winter wrote to Northrop Grumman. The company’s “inefficiency and mismanagement of LPD 17 put the Navy in an untenable position,” according to Winter.

He has assigned a deputy to perform quarterly reviews on the shipyard and all ships under contract with Northrop Grumman.”

April 14/07: Flaws. The Virginia Pilot reports that LPD-17 continues to have reliability and workmanship issues, with major failings in 3/17 tests and no ability to be sea-tested during a five-day inspection period because one of its two steering systems completely failed. See The Virginia Pilot report | full DID coverage, incl. June 30 follow-up.

Flawed construction

April 9/07: SAR Increases. The Pentagon releases its April 2007 Selected Acquisition Report, and the LPD-17 Class is one of the systems covered. Program costs increased by $1,107.4 million (+8.9%) from $12,486.6 million to $13,594.0 million, due primarily to the addition of Hurricane Katrina Supplemental funding (+$1,155.4 million).

Cost jump

LPD 18 New Orleans
(click to view full)

March 10/07: LPD 18 commissioned. USS New Orleans is commissioned at a ceremony in New Orleans. The ship’s sponsor is Carolyn Shelton, wife of Gen. Henry H. Shelton, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. See USN release | Northrop Grumman release. As of December 2007, the ship has yet to be assigned to an operational mission.

USS New Orleans

Feb 27/07: BAE Systems in San Diego, CA received an $11.3 million cost-plus-award-fee contract for accomplishment of the Fitting-Out Availability (FOA) for the Amphibious Transport Dock Ship New Orleans [LPD 18]. The contract includes performance of specified work items inclusive of tests and post repair sea trials. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete by July 2007; contract funds in the amount of $1.2 million will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The contract was competitively procured and posted on Federal Business Opportunities website, with 3 offers received (N00024-07-C-2200).

Nov 6/06: LPD 24 ordered, LPD 25 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems in New Orleans, LA received a $1.45 billion modification under previously awarded contract N00024-06-C-2222 to exercise two fixed-price incentive options for construction of the 8th LPD 17 Class amphibious transport dock ship [LPD 24 Arlington], with long lead time materials and associated labor for the 9th ship of the LPD 17 Class, LPD 25.

In addition to ship production, this effort will include procurement of long lead material and also inspection, testing, storing and maintaining the long lead material. The contractor will perform material sourcing, material ordering, vendor interface and material quality assurance. The contractor will also provide management efforts, including subcontract and risk management. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS (90%) and New Orleans, LA (10%), and is expected to be complete by March 2011. See also Northrop Grumman’s press release.

LPD 24 main order

Dec 22/06: LPD 18 delivery. Northrop Grumman representatives and Navy officials signed documents officially transferring custody of the LPD 18 New Orleans at the company’s New Orleans facility. The ship is scheduled to be commissioned in March 2007. See Northrop Grumman release.

FY 2005 – 2006

LPD 17 commissioned.

LPD-17 commissioning
(click for full size)

Sept 29/06: Raytheon Co. in San Diego, CA received a $26.7 million cost-plus award fee modification under previously awarded contract N00024-06-C-2207, exercising an option for Life Cycle Engineering and Support (LCE&S) services on select electronic systems for the LPD-17 Class as ships are delivered and commissioned. Under this contract, Raytheon will establish integrated support services for sustainment of the complete shipboard mission systems suite that the company delivers to this class of ships. Raytheon is the prime contractor for life cycle engineering and support for electronic systems on the LPD-17 Class; see this article’s June 27/06 contract entry. Work will be performed in San Diego, CA and is expected to be complete by September 2007. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., issued the contract. See Raytheon’s October 18 press release.

Sept 29/06: Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, New Orleans, LA received a $13.3 million cost-plus award fee modification under previously awarded contract (N00024-05-C-2217) to exercise an option for continued Life Cycle Engineering and Support (LCE&S) services on the LPD-17 Class. Services include: post delivery planning and engineering, homeport technical support, Class Integrated Product Data Environment (IPDE), data maintenance and equipment management, systems integration and engineering support, research engineering, obsolescence management, material readiness team operations, emergent repair provisions (including warranty enforcement), training and logistics support. Support services include: Fleet Modernization Program planning, ship alteration development and installation, material management, operating cycle integration, availability planning, configuration data management, research engineering, logistics documentation, and other logistics and executing activity coordination, and management of all related data within the Class IPDE. LPD 17 Class Engineering: engineering, logistics, and technical studies of shipbuilding requirements and design change development. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA, and is expected to be complete by September 2007. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC issued the contract.

July 15/06: LPD 20 christened. Christening ceremony for LPD 20 Green Bay at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems’ Avondale operations in New Orleans, LA. As one might imagine, the famous Green Bay Packers American football team featured prominently in the ceremonies.

June 27/06: Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems is subcontracted by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems to provide the electronic systems and integration for the next 3 ships in the LPD-17 class: USS San Diego [LPD 22], USS Anchorage, and USS Arlington [LPD 24]. Work also includes the shipboard wide area network, voice and video systems, et. al. The $218 million subcontract extends Raytheon’s role as the ship electronic systems integrator for the class. See Raytheon release.

June 1/06: LPD 22 & 23 ordered. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received $2.49 billion fixed-price incentive contract for construction of two LPD-17 Class amphibious transport dock ships (LPD 22 San Diego and LPD 23 Anchorage), with long lead time materials and associated labor for a third (LPD 24 Arlington). In addition to ship production, this effort will include procurement of long lead material and also inspection, testing, storing and maintaining long lead material. The contractor will perform material sourcing, material ordering, vendor interface and material quality assurance. In addition, the contractor will provide the management efforts including subcontract and risk management. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, MS and New Orleans, LA, and is expected to be complete by October 2011 (N00024-06-C-2222). See also N-G corporate release, also Navy PEO ships release.

LPD 22 & 23 main orders

Jan 27/06: Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Corp. in Norfolk, VA received a $6.8 million cost-plus-award-fee modification under previously awarded contract (N00024-05-C-2224) to exercise an option for the Post-Shakedown Availability (PSA) of the Amphibious Transport Dock Ship USS San Antonio [LPD 17]. The contract is for services and material for total fitting-out availability (FOA) and PSA efforts for LPD 17. Specific efforts include: engineering and management, labor and procurement of material to correct government responsible deficiencies and accomplish system upgrades; perform specified FOA/PSA work items inclusive of tests and post repair sea trials; task additional man-hours and material in order to complete emergent repairs. Work will be performed in Norfolk, VA and is expected to be complete by April 2007.

Jan 11/06: LPD 17 commissioned. The ship becomes USS San Antonio.

USS San Antonio

Nov 1/05: Raytheon Co. in San Diego, CA received a $19.2 million cost-plus award fee contract for Life Cycle Engineering and Support (LCE&S) services on select electronic systems for the LPD-17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program. Work will be performed at San Diego, CA, and is expected to be complete by September 2006. Contract funds in the amount of $250,000, will expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington Navy Yard, D.C. issued the contract. (N00024-06-C-2207)

Oct 18/05: LPD 22 & 23 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received a $50.7 million modification to previously awarded contract N00024-01-C-2224. It covers additional long lead-time materials in support of two Amphibious Transport Dock Ships, LPD 22 San Diego and LPD 23 Anchorage. The contractor will procure long lead material necessary to prepare for construction of LPD 22 and LPD 23. The effort will include not only procurement but also inspection, testing, storing and maintaining long-lead material. Contractor will perform material sourcing, material ordering, vendor interface and material quality assurance. Limited advance construction activities for LPD 22 San Diego are also included. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA (88%) and Pascagoula, MS (12%), and is expected to be complete by January 2010.

Sept 30/05: Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received a $22.4 million cost-plus-award-fee modification under previously awarded contract (N00024-05-C-2217). It exercises an option for life cycle engineering and support services on the LPD-17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA (80%) and San Diego, CA (20%), and is expected to be complete by September 2006.

Aug 30/05: Norfolk Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp., Norfolk, VA, received a $5.2 million cost-plus-award-fee contract for the Fitting-Out Availability (FOA) of the Amphibious Transport Dock Ship LPD 17 San Antonio. The contract will provide services and material for the total FOA and Post Shakedown Availability (PSA) efforts for LPD 17. Specific efforts include: engineering and management in support of the FOA/PSA; labor and procurement of material to correct government responsible deficiencies and accomplish system upgrades; performance of specified FOA/PSA work items, including tests and post repair sea trials; task additional manhours and material to complete emergent repairs. Work will be performed in Norfolk, VA, and is expected to be complete by February 2006. This contract was competitively procured and advertised via the Internet, with three proposals received (N00024-05-C-2224).

April 19/05: Raytheon Co. Integrated Defense Systems’ (Raytheon IDS) role as a mission systems integrator for the LPD-17 San Antonio Class of amphibious warfare ships took another step forward, thanks to a $12.5 million subcontract from lead integrator Northrop-Grumman. Raytheon IDS will “provide performance-based logistics and establish integrated support services for sustainment of the complete shipboard mission systems suite” that the company delivers to this class of ships. Raytheon is also creating battle management systems for the Navy’s new DD (X) destroyer and CVN-21 future aircraft carriers. This will provide all three classes of vessel with a common system, improving coordination among different types of ships in the U.S. fleet. See DID coverage.

Feb 11/05: Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received a $26.9 million cost-plus-award-fee contract for LPD-17 Class Amphibious Transport Dock Ship Program Life-Cycle Engineering and Support (LCE&S) services. The LPD 17-class life-cycle engineering and support contract, worth $26.9 million, combines the expertise of shipbuilder Northrop Grumman and electronic-systems integrator Raytheon to manage critical life-cycle cost/performance ship-class drivers such as technology upgrades, software support and ship-systems integration by managing ship-class hardware and software as a single entity.

Services will include: post delivery planning and engineering, homeport technical support, Class Integrated Product Data Environment, data maintenance and equipment management, systems integration and engineering support, research engineering, obsolescence management, material readiness team operations, emergent repair provisions, and training and logistics support. Work will be performed at Pascagoula, MS (58%) and New Orleans, LA (42%), and is expected to be complete by September 2005. This contract was not competitively awarded (N00024-05-C-2217). See corporate release.

LPD 17, Dockside

Jan 15/05: LPD 19 christened. Christening ceremony for LPD 19 Mesa Verde at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems’ Ingalls Operations in Pascagoula, MS.

Dec 23/04: LPD 22 & 23 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received a $165.1 million maximum-priced modification to existing letter contract (N00024-01-C-2224) for to procure additional long lead-time materials necessary to prepare for construction of two Amphibious Transport Dock Ships, LPD 22 San Diego and LPD 23 Anchorage. The effort will include inspection, testing, storing and maintaining long lead material. The contractor will perform material sourcing, material ordering, vendor interface and material quality assurance. In addition, contractor will provide subcontracting and risk management. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA, and is expected to be complete by December 2008.

Dec 11/04: LPD 18 launched. New Orleans [LPD 18] launched. Note that this does not mean the ship is finished, and indeed the ship was not yet ready to leave the New Orleans yard when Hurricane Katrina slammed into the Gulf Coast in 2005.

Nov 19/04: LPD 19 launched Mesa Verde [LPD 19] is launched, at Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, MS.

FY 2004 and Earlier

First orders.

From WTC to LPD-21
(click to view full)

Sept 10/04: LPD 21 keel. Keel-laying ceremony for the New York [LPD 21]. The ship will include steel in the bow section cast from salvaged portions of the World Trade Center in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

Aug 17/04: LPD 23 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received a $107,121,910 letter-contract modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-01-C-2224) for additional long lead time materials necessary to support build preparation for the Amphibious Transport Dock Ship LPD 23 Anchorage. The effort shall include not only procurement but also inspection, testing, storing and maintaining the long lead material. The contractor will perform material sourcing, material ordering, vendor interface and material quality assurance, and will provide the management efforts including subcontract and risk management. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA, and is expected to complete by December 2008.

May 26/04: LPD 22 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received a $100,414,220 modification to previously awarded contract (N00024-01-C-2224) for long lead material and associated effort for LPD 22 San Diego. Work will be performed in Avondale, LA, and is expected to be complete by October 2008.

Nov 25/03: LPD 21 ordered. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received an $816.6 million cost-plus-incentive/award-fee contract for the detailed design and construction of the LPD 21 New York. Included under this effort are provisioning spares, design engineering services, research and development for future product improvement and the creation of a sustained engineering environment for the ship wide area network.

LPD 21 will become USS New York, and steel from the destroyed World Trade Center has been saved for its construction. It will be melted down, and included in her bow.

Work will be performed in Avondale, LA (87%); Pascagoula, MS (12%); and Gulfport, MS (1%), and is expected to be complete by August 2007. The contract was not competitively procured (N00024-04-C-2204).

LPD 21 main order

Aug 11/03: Keel-laying ceremony for the Green Bay [LPD 20]

Feb 25/03: Keel-laying ceremony for the Mesa Verde [LPD 19].

Oct 14/02: Keel-laying ceremony for the New Orleans [LPD 18].

July 30/02: LPD 21 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received a $171.05 million modification to previously awarded letter contract (N00024-01-C-2224) for long-lead time materials for the New York [LPD 21]. Work will be performed in Avondale, LA and is to be complete by February 2003.

March 28/01: Litton Avondale Industries, Inc., Shipyards Division, New Orleans, LA, received an $11.3 million modification to previously awarded cost-plus-fixed-fee contract (N00024-97-C-2202) for 159,065 man-hours of engineering services in support of the LPD 17 Program. The contractor will provide product engineering, logistical analysis, and technical studies to support the LPD-17 Class ships. Services will be provided to support the integrated product data environment, engineering change analysis, life cycle support planning, and total ownership cost reduction efforts. This contract contains four options, which if exercised, will bring the total cumulative value of this contract to $41.6 million. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA, and is expected to be complete by March 2005.

July 19/01: LPD 21 & 22 long-lead. Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Avondale Operations in New Orleans, LA received a $113.2 million cost-plus-fixed-fee contract for advance procurement long lead time material in support of amphibious transport ships New York [LPD 21] and San Diego [LPD 22]. The effort shall include procurement, inspection, testing, storing and maintaining long lead material. The contractor will perform material sourcing, material ordering, vendor interface and material quality assurance. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA (50%), and Bath, ME (50%), and is expected to be complete in October 2002. This contract was not competitively procured (N00024-01-C-2224).

LPD-17 construction.
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May 30/00: LPD 20 ordered. Litton-Avondale Industries, Inc. in New Orleans, LA, received a $477.7 million cost-plus-incentive-fee option for the construction of the Green Bay [LPD 20], the fourth LPD-17 Class amphibious transport dock ship. Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA (83%); San Diego, CA (12.2%); Waynesboro, VA (4.6%); and Bath, ME (.2%), and is expected to be complete by December 2004. This contract was not competitively procured (N00024-97-C-2202).

LPD 20 main order

Feb 15/00: LPD 19 ordered. Avondale Industries, Inc. in New Orleans, LA received a $491.9 million cost-plus-incentive fee option to previously awarded contract N00024-97-C-2202 to exercise an option for the construction of the LPD 19 Mesa Verde. Work will be performed in Bath, ME (85%); San Diego, CA (9%); Waynesboro, VA (4%) and places yet to be determined (2%), and is expected to be complete by March 2005.

LPD 19 main order

April 28/99: AlliedSignal Technical Services Corp., Columbia, Md., received an estimated $5.9 million indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity, cost-plus-fixed-fee, delivery order contract to provide systems engineering and integration support services including design, development, integration, installation, test and evaluation, certification, maintenance, modification and logistics support on a wide variety of electronic equipment, systems, and subsystems. These systems are communication systems installed on LPD 17 San Antonio, CVN 76 Ronald Reagan, and TADC (X) & JCC (X) class ships. Work will be performed in Charleston, SC and is expected to be complete by April 2000. The contract contains options, which, if exercised, will bring the cumulative value of the contract to $30 million. This contract was competitively procured with 107 proposals solicited and 3 offers received by the Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Charleston in Charleston, SC (N65236-99-D-3813).

Dec 18/98: LPD 18 ordered. Avondale Industries, Inc. in New Orleans, LA received a $312.8 million modification to previously awarded contract, exercising an option for the construction of the LPD 18 New Orleans. Given the ship’s total cost this is just an initial payment, on top of previous orders for long lead-time, early construction items like engines etc.

Work will be performed in New Orleans, LA and is expected to be complete by February 2004. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, VA issued the contract (N00024-97-C-2202).

LPD 18 main order

Dec 4/98: Raytheon Systems Co., Naval and Maritime Systems Div. in San Diego, CA received a $22.5 million cost-plus-award-fee letter contract for three ship self-defense systems (SSDS) for MK 2 equipment shipsets in support of CVN 76 Ronald Reagan, LPD 17 San Antonio, and LPD 18 New Orleans. The SSDS implements an evolutionary development of improved ship self-defense capabilities against high-speed, low-flying, anti-ship cruise missiles for selected non-AEGIS ships including the US Navy’s new Nimitz Class carriers (CVN 76 USS Ronald Reagan and CVN 77 USS George H.W. Bush). SSDS will be an integration of all the ship’s self-defence systems including sensors, weapons, radars and electronic warfare, data links, the ship’s Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) with the rest of the fleet, and the Shipboard Wide Area Network (SWAN) which is a fiber-optic ship wide area computer network including both classified and unclassified components.

Work will be performed in San Diego, CA (90%), and Portsmouth, RI (10%), and is expected to be complete in February 2000. This contract was not competitively procured. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, VA issued the contract (N00024-99-C-5108).

Aug 4/98: Avondale Industries, Inc. in New Orleans, LA received a $9.7 million modification to previously awarded contract for research, development, test and evaluation of new technologies potentially applicable to the LPD-17 Class ship. This modification will cover the exploration of various emerging innovative production processes, shipboard automation techniques, and system design concepts with emphasis on reducing maintenance, manning, and radar cross section and improving structural design concepts, electronics integration and habitability.

Work will be performed in Bath, Maine (38%), San Diego, CA (32%), and New Orleans, LA (30%), and is expected to be complete in July 1999. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, VA issued the contract (N00024-97-C-2202).

Oct 2/97: TRW, Information Services Div. (ISD), Fairfax, VA received a $11.6 million modification to a previously awarded contract N00024-91-C-6456 to provide for technical and management services to support PMS 377, Amphibious Warfare Program Office and PMS 317 LPD-17 Amphibious Transport Docking Ship Program Office. This contract contains options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $24.8 million.

Work will be performed in Fairfax, VA (62%); Arlington, VA (22%); Alexandria, VA (5.5%); Chantilly, VA (4%); McLean, VA (3.5%); Severna Park, Md. (2%); and Fredricksburg, VA (1%), and is expected to be complete March 1998. This modification combines purchases for the US Navy (99%), and the Government of Japan (1%) under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, VA issued the contract.

Dec 17/96: LPD 17 ordered. Avondale Industries, Incorporated in Avondale, LA received a $641.4 million cost-plus-award-fee contract for detail design, integration and construction of the LPD 17 Amphibious Transport Dock Ship, with options for construction of LPD 18 and LPD 19. Teaming with Avondale on this contract are General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works, Hughes Aircraft Company, and Intergraph Corporation. Bath Iron Works will participate in the detail design and will construct the LPD 19. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of the entire contract to $1,526,134,594. It actually ends up costing more than that for just the 1st ship.

Work will be performed in Avondale, LA (48%); Bath, Maine (32%); Fullerton, CA (16%); and Waynesboro, VA (4%). The expected delivery of LPD 17 is 67 months after contract award (June/July 2001). This contract was competitively procured with full and open competition and two offers were received. The Naval Sea Systems Command in Arlington, VA issued the contract (N00024-97-C-2202).

LPD 17 main order

Additional Readings & Sources LPD-17 Class Ship Background

Background: LPD-17 Ancillaries & Issues

Official Reports

News and Views

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

Estonia Chooses New SHORAD Air Defense System

Defense Industry Daily - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 05:56

Giraffe AMB radar
(click to view full)

In recent years, the Baltic States have made efforts to implement short-range air defense programs, though to date these have mostly been efforts to defend vital targets within their countries as opposed to any effort at national air defense. While Latvia and Lithuania opted for Sweden’s unjammable laser-guided RBS-70, Estonia went in a different direction.

After narrowing the competition to Raytheon’s FIM-92 Stinger and MBDA’s Mistral, the Estonian government announced the winner of a 1 billion Kroon (currently about $84.5 million) contract on Feb 28/07 for Mistral missiles, networked via Saab’s Giraffe 3D radars. Now the first systems are being delivered, and a Finnish decision will also help deliver complementary long-range radars to Estonia.

Estonia’s New Systems

SAF Mistral firing post
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The winners were MBDA and Saab, who will deliver Mistral man-portable anti-aircraft missiles, linked to coordination posts and Saab’s Giraffe AMB radars. The delivered system will be fully NATO-compatible by using NATO data links such as Link 11B and LLAPI, integrated by Saab Microwave Systems.

MBDA data gives Mistral a maximum range of about 6.5km, and a maximum intercept altitude of 3km, making it a A VSHORAD (Very SHOrt Range Air Defense) system. Estonia brings the number of countries who have bought Mistral to 27; the missile is also packaged for use by ground vehicles (Atlas, Albi), ships (Sadral, Simbad) and helicopters (Atam). MBDA is jointly owned by BAE Systems (37.5%), EADS (37.5%) and Finmeccanica (25%).

Estonia’s 1st Infantry Brigade will receive the systems in accordance with the 2005 “National Military Strategy” [RTF format] and 2004-2006 Defence budget [Excel format] in order to defend the brigade against air attack in Estonia and/or during NATO missions. See also this summary of Estonia’s security policy & memberships.

MBDA France and Saab AB will deliver their products to the Ministry of Defence over the next 2 years. In an unusual move for Estonia, which is often touted as a classic success story for free-market policies, the government is also requiring equivalent EEK 1 billion industrial/ research offset contracts from the winners. See government release [English version] | Saab release.

Updates

Ground Master, mobile
(click to view full)

June 14/18: Purchase again Estonia is again opting for the Mistral short range air defense missile. The $59 million deal between the Eastern-European nation and the French missile manufacturer MBDA also includes man portable surface to air missiles, training missiles, simulators and testing and maintenance equipment. Under the terms of the contract, Estonia will continue acquiring Mistral SHORAD missiles in their latest generation which provide increased accuracy and longer service life than missiles of previous generations. The fully autonomous ‘fire and forget’ Mistral 2 missile is equipped with a two-stage solid propellant rocket motor and carries a 3kg high-explosive warhead loaded with tungsten ball projectiles. Guidance is by passive infrared homing using an indium arsenide detector array operating in the three to five-micron waveband. Compared to any other low-level air defense missile, Mistral is more reliable and successful. It has a success rate of 93%. The current contract also includes options for additional missiles up to the amount of $117 million, with the first deliveries to expected by 2020.

March 26/13: GM400. An official ceremony is held on Muhu island in Estonia to mark the entry into service of Estonia’s first Ground Master 400 long-range air defense radar system. The GM 400 is designed for both fixed site operation under a radome at Muhu base, and for rapid deployment in the field on a Sisu truck.

This GM 400 will be connected to NATO’s wider battle networks, and can be interconnected with all the other air defense radars deployed across Europe.

May 5/09: GM400. ThalesRaytheon Systems announces a EUR 200 million ($265 million equivalent) contract to deliver radars and upgrades to Finland, and provide Estonia with long-range air defense radars that can cue their SHORAD defenses.

ThalesRaytheon will deliver 12 Ground Master 403 radar systems to Finland, and exercise an option to work with Finnish vehicle-maker Sisu to deliver another 2 systems for Estonia. The S/I/J band Ground Master 403 radars have a surveillance range of about 440km/ 273 miles, and are designed for deployment in remote areas and hostile climates. Mounting them on Sisu trucks will make them fully mobile.

This will be the largest order so far for the Ground Master family, which has already been purchased by France, Malaysia and Slovenia.

Aug 14/08: SHORAD. The Estonian Ministry of Defence confirms that the new SHORAD systems arrived in Tallinn in the end of July 2008. The first consignment included firing equipment, Mistral training missiles, simulators and testing and maintenance equipment. The spare parts kit was also delivered in July, in a separate shipment.

Air Defence Battalion officers and NCO training will begin in September 2008, organized by MBDA and SAAB instructors. The first training cycle will be taking place at Tapa Air Defence Battalion and the second in France. The next weapon system consignment is expected to arrive in the beginning of 2009.

Categories: Defense`s Feeds

AH-64E Apache Block III: Evolving Battlefield Roles

Defense Industry Daily - Thu, 06/14/2018 - 05:54

AH-64 in Afghanistan
(click to view full)

The AH-64 Apache will remain the US Army’s primary armed helicopter for several more decades, thanks to the collapse of the RAH-66 Comanche program, and the retirement sans replacement of the US Army’s Armed Reconnaissance Helicopter (ARH). Apaches also serve with a number of American allies, some of whom have already expressed interest in upgrading or expanding their fleets.

The AH-64E Guardian Block III (AB3) is the helicopter’s next big step forward. It incorporates 26 key new-technology insertions that cover flight performance, maintenance costs, sensors & electronics, and even the ability to control UAVs as part of manned-unmanned teaming (MUT). In July 2006, Boeing and U.S. Army officials signed the initial development contract for Block III upgrades to the current and future Apache fleet, via a virtual signing ceremony. By November 2011, the 1st production helicopter had been delivered. So… how many helicopters will be modified under the AH-64 Block III program, what do these modifications include, how is the program structured, and what has been happening since that 2006 award? The short answer is: a lot, including export interest and sales.

The AH-64 Apache Program: Sunset, Sunrise Executive Summary

The AH-64E/ Block III has gone from its 2006 development contract to full production, with no major deficiencies noted in testing. By the end of 2014, all Apache helicopters rolling out of Mesa will be AH-64Es. Features like full UAV control are keeping this 1980s airframe at the leading edge of technology, and interest has been brisk.

The AH-64A/D Apache has become a dominant attack helicopter around the globe, in service abroad with Britain, Egypt, Greece, Israel, Japan, Kuwait, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, and the UAE. All are strong candidates for AH-64E upgrades at some point, and some have already placed formal export requests.

Work at the Mesa, AZ manufacturing facility has been running steadily since the AH-64 program’s inception in the early 1980s, but a large share has involved less expensive refurbishment and upgrades. The Block III program continues that tradition, and most AH-64Es will be remanufactured. Countries who buy the AH-64 for the first time, or expand their fleets, will receive new-build helicopters.

There is a market for that. In recent decades, Boeing’s AH-64 Apache has eclipsed Bell Helicopters’ AH-1 in the market Bell founded, and has dealt likewise with new competitors like Eurocopter’s Tiger, AgustaWestland’s A/T129, and Russia’s Mi-28/ Ka-52. Russia’s Mi-24/25 family, which also dates back to the 1980s, is the only platform with similar customer reach, but their customer pools don’t overlap much.

The AH-64E/ Block III has been ordered by the USA (701 planned), Indonesia (8) South Korea (36), Saudi Arabia (up to 70), and Taiwan (30).

Formal DSCA export requests without any confirmed orders yet include India (22 new), Qatar (24), and the UAE (60), with more expected to follow.

AB3 Program

Excel
download

The US Army aims to perform Block III/ AH-64E upgrades to all of the current Block I and II Apaches, their 68 wartime loss replacements, and recently-built AH-64 Extended Block II/+ helicopters. War replacement helicopters bought after FY 2012 will be new-build AH-64Es.

According to Boeing, Low-Rate Initial production involved 2 lots, and totaled 51 helicopters. LRIP Lot 1 was for 8 helicopters. LRIP Lot 2 was divided up into 3 tranches of 16, 19, and 8 helicopters. The Lot 3 contract was delayed so long that Lots 3-4 began Full Rate Production in 2014.

The original plan involved the AH-64’s 2nd re-manufacture program at around $16 million per helicopter. That isn’t cheap, but it’s much cheaper than a new-build AH-64E’s price tag of $40 million or so. The Army still needed new-build production of 56 helicopters, however, in order to reach the program goal of 690.

International AH-64E sales are expected to be a combination of re-manufacture and new-build orders, depending on whether the countries in question already field AH-64s, and how large they want their fleet to be. To date export customers include Taiwan (30 new-build) and South Korea (36 new-build), and Saudi Arabia has begin placing orders. Formal DSCA requests have been made for up to 183 more by India (22 new), Indonesia (8 new), Qatar (24 new), Saudi Arabia (70, most new) and the UAE (60, incl. 30 new).

The AH-64E Apache Guardian

(click for video)

The AH-64E Apache Guardian incorporates 26 new technologies designed to enhance the aircraft’s capabilities.

Flight performance: One set of advances are tied to helicopter’s flight performance. They include enhanced -701D engines with improved digital electronic control (DEC); upgraded drive systems including a split-torque face gear transmission, which increases power throughput by more than 20% (to 3,400 shp) without taking up more room; and a new composite rotor blade. The new composite rotor blades, which successfully completed flight testing in May 2004, work with the improved engines to increase the Apache’s cruise speed, climb rate and payload.

Overall, the front-line payoff is a higher hover ceiling altitude, at greater gross weight, on a 95F-degree day. That’s very useful in places like Afghanistan, Iraq, etc. The new avionics will also help, by allowing the new Block III helicopters to fly in clouds and inclement weather that would have grounded earlier models. Pilots in pre-training noticed the additional power very quickly, and pilots on the front lines found that they could now keep up with CH-47F Chinook heavy transport helicopters on escort missions.

Sensor performance: Block III upgrades are designed to extend the Apache’s sensor range in all domains, and may eventually be paired with new extended range weapons like the planned JAGM Block 1.

The mast-mounted radome that defines the current Apache AH-64D Longbow houses the AN/APG-78 Longbow fire control radar. Its millimeter-wave sensing improves performance under poor visibility conditions, and is less sensitive to ground clutter. The short wavelength also allows a very narrow beam-width, which is more resistant to countermeasures as it’s trying to guide the helicopter’s missiles to their targets. Block III will extend that radar’s range, or give commanders the option of trading it for an Unmanned Aerial Systems Tactical Common Data Link Assembly (UTA) that’s mounted in the same place on the mast.

UAV Synergy: The UTA will provide advanced “Level IV MUM” control of UAVs’ flight, payloads, and even laser designators from inside the helicopter, while streaming their sensor feeds back to the Apache’s displays. That level of control is causing a rewrite of existing tactics, techniques and procedures. U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command capability manager Col. John Lynch offers one example of what can be done when UAV sensor and flight control is added:

“For example, with the Block III Apache you might have a UAS that’s overhead looking down into urban canyons; with Manned-Unmanned Teaming you have the ability to designate targets and you can see what is in the area where you are going to operate.”

That would have been very relevant to operations in Iraq, before the USA’s destruction of Iranian intelligence networks in that country neutralized the shoulder-fired missile threat.

Electronics & displays: Behind those sensors, AH-64D Block IIIs will add open systems architecture electronics to create more standardization and “switchability,” embedded diagnostic sensors to improve maintenance, extended range sensing, wideband network communications for high-bandwidth networking, Link 16 for shared awareness, and high capacity data fusion computers to merge off- and on-board sensor imagery into a single shared picture of the battlefield.

Other electronic systems will be added over time, and will take advantage of the new electronics architecture. A new and improved IHADSS helmet display is one example. The prototype Ground Fire Acquisition System, (GFAS) is another, and will soon undergo a “user evaluation” in theater. GFAS cameras and infrared sensors detect the muzzle flash from ground fire, classify the firing weapon, and move the information through an Aircraft Gateway Processor into the cockpit. Pilots immediately see the enemy icon on their display screen, integrated with Blue Force Tracking maps. GFAS is expected to find its way into the entire US Apache fleet, but the Block III’s open architecture electronics and convenient rebuild status will make it an attractive destination for early installs.

Upgraded versions of the AN/ARC-231 Skyfire system will form the core of its initial radio capability. SATCOM (Satellite Communications) and Link-16 will supplement those capabilities, improving the helicopter’s ability to receive or share data. New AMF JTRS radios won’t become part of the AH-64E’s communications system until the SALT terminal is added; a full production decision is expected in 2016.

Changes in Production Lots 4-6 will include better embedded diagnostics, APG-78 Longbow radar improvements to add range and over-water capability; and STT Link-16 to share the same view of enemy and friendly units with participating fighters, ships, air defense systems, etc. A Cognitive Decision Aiding System (CDAS) is a cumbersome name for a usegful system, designed “to help the pilot and the crew with some of those tasks that tend to get a little cumbersome at times.”

Contracts and Key Events

Unless otherwise noted, the Army Aviation and Missile Command at Redstone Arsenal, AL manages these contracts. Note that Longbow LLC is a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

FY 2016 – 2018

Taiwan’s Apache fleet Rusting; First AH-64E destined for South Korea.

AH-64E & Mi-35P
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June 14/18: India requests FMS India has requested the purchase of six AH-64E Apache helicopters. The possible US foreign military sale is valued at $930 million. The AH-64E Guardian Block III (AB3) is the helicopter’s next big step forward by incorporating 26 key new-technology insertions. If the deal goes through India would receive the newest Block III helicopters and up to 180 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles, 90 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire II missiles, 200 Stinger Block I-92H missiles and other equipment ranging from fire control radars to ammunition. The prime contractors will be Lockheed Martin, General Electric, and Raytheon. This proposed sale would strengthen the US-Indian strategic relationship and to improve the security of an important partner in a region that is currently highly contested.

June 8/18: Indonesia support Boeing has outlined its industrial collaboration engagement with Indonesia as part of its foreign military sale contract to supply the nation with eight AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters. The AH-64E Guardian Block III incorporates 26 key new-technology insertions that cover flight performance, maintenance costs, sensors & electronics, and even the ability to control UAVs as part of manned-unmanned teaming (MUT). The contract includes supporting the Indonesian Army with technical reach-back support, spares and repairs. The helicopter purchase also includes the training of Indonesian Army maintenance personnel training provided by Boeing and the US Army. Boeing is currently in negotiations with the Indonesian aerospace firm PT Dirgantara, which is looking to play a role in supporting the Apaches in operation with the Army by providing spare parts and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) services. Indonesia will use the helicopters to defend its borders, conduct counterterrorism and counter-piracy operations, and control the free flow of shipping through the strategic Straits of Malacca.

April 23/18: Army deliveries halted! Quality control issues at Boeing has caused the US Army to halt deliveries of AH-64E Apache helicopters to the service. The issue in question involves a strap pack nut on the main rotor that is corroding in coastal environments. According to Brig. Gen. Thomas Todd, program executive officer for Army aviation, the nut in question holds very large bolts that subsequently hold the rotor blades on the helicopter and is therefore determined to be a critical safety item. While Boeing had already commenced redesign efforts of the bolt in the second half of 2017, the Army decided in February to not accept Echo models of the Apache, adding in March that it would stop taking receipt of helicopters permanently until the company began fielding a new and improved, acceptable strap pack nut. Todd added that Boeing had been working at a “very thorough but expeditious pace over the last six months.” “We are in testing as we speak.” In addition to the Army, the Apaches latest model has found customers in the government’s ofIndia, Indonesia, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Taiwan.

February 27/18: FMS-India The Indian government has issued a Letter of Request (LoR) to the US government for six additional AH-64E Apache helicopters. Funding for the purchase had been cleared in August 2017 as an option to a 2015 contract for 22 Apache helicopters and 15 CH-47 Chinook heavy-lift helicopters for its air force, however, the LoR officially kicks off the formal foreign military sales request with this batch of helicopters destined for the Indian Army. The first of the choppers are expected to be delivered in 2019 and will replace the mainly Russian-made platforms currently in its inventory.

February 22/18: FMS-Upgrade/Remanufacture A Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) statement released Tuesday announced the US State Department’s clearance of the possible foreign military sale in support of the upgrade/remanufacture of AH-64D Block II Apache Attack Helicopters to the AH-64E configuration for the Royal Netherlands Air Force. Worth and estimated $1.191 billion, the package will see 28 Apaches under the deal, as well as 51 T700-GE-701C engines to T700-GE-701D, 17 new AN/APG-78 Fire Control Radar and subcomponents, 28 AN/ASQ-170 Modernized Target Acquisition and Designation Sights, twenty-eight AN/APR-48B Modernized Radar Frequency 70 Embedded Global Positioning System/Inertial Navigation Systems, plus associated training support and equipment. Boeing and Lockheed Martin have been listed as the contract’s principal contractors.

January 26/18: Contracts-Helmets EFW—a subsidiary of Israeli defense electronics specialist, Elbit Systems—has received a $12.6 million Department of Defense (DoD) firm, fixed-price contract to provide Apache Aviator Integrated Helmets (AAIH) and associated spare parts for the US Army. Worn by pilots of AH-64 Apache helicopters, the helmet boasts a heads-up display that delivers targeting information and infrared imaging to the helmet display. Work locations and funding will be determined with each order, with an estimated completion date of January 31, 2022. In July 2017, it was announced that Gentex Corp. would upgrade the AAIH, with contract completion expected for June 2022.

January 23/18: Taiwan-Operational Units Following a series of rigorous operational testing and evaluation, the Taiwanese Army’s 601st Brigade is expected to enter its second AH-64E Apache unit into service later this year, an anonymous officer has told local media. Based on the island’s north-western Taoyuan district, the command’s 601st Brigade has been training personnel and upgrading its equipment since 2013, with the first Apache unit formally commissioned in June 2017 under the Second Apache Combat Squadron. 30 E-model Apaches were delivered to the 601st Brigade between November 2013 and October 2014, however, one was lost in a crash during a training flight in April 2014.

December 20/17: FMS-Deliveries Indonesia has received the first of eight ordered AH-64E Apache Guardian attack helicopters, with the rotorcraft touching down in Semarang on the island of Java in a USAF C-17A Globemaster III airlifter on Monday. The $1.42 billion sale also includes associated equipment and spares that included the Northrop Grumman AN/APG-78 Longbow Fire Control Radar and 140 Lockheed Martin AGM-114R3 anti-tank missiles, and will help Jakarta “defend its borders, conduct counterterrorism and counter-piracy operations, and control the free flow of shipping through the strategic Straits of Malacca,” according to the 2012 foreign military sales (FMS) request. The Apache’s manufacturer Boeing is also continuing to market its CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopter to Indonesia, with meetings conducted last week between Indonesian Defence Minister Ryamizard Ryacudu and Boeing Defence and Space’s regional director and vice president for Indonesia and Malaysia, Yeong Tae Pak over future defense procurement cooperation. As well as discussing an offset program that will boost Indonesia’s domestic defense industry,Pak extolled the virtues of the Chinook as a multi-mission platform capable of roles ranging from special forces support to disaster relief.

November 15/17: Testing