Thursday, July 17, 2008

Littoral Combat Ship For Israel

As if the shipbuilding discussion wasn't already center stage within the Navy, this news is sure to cut into the dominance the DDG-1000 currently holds as water fountain conversation. It was reported that during Admiral Roughead's recent visit to Israel, the topic of the LCS came up. DSCA posted this arms sales notification the other day.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Israel of Littoral Combat Ships as well as associated equipment and services. The total value, if all options are exercised, could be as high as $1.9 billion.

The Government of the Israel has requested a possible sale of up to 4 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS-I variant): Hull, and all mechanical and electrical functions. Each ship will be equipped with: 2 MK-41 Vertical Launch Systems, 8 cells for each system; 1 Close-In-Weapon System, Block 1A, 1 Enhanced HARPOON Launching System with launchers; 2 MK-32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes; Communications and Sensors; Link 16; COMBATSS-21 with SPY-1F(V) and MK-99 Fire Control System; or Ship Self-Defense System. Also includes design and integration services, hardware and software, spare and repair parts, test and tool sets, personnel training and equipment, publications, U.S. Government and contractor engineering and logistics personnel services, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $1.9 billion.
That suggests the LCS-I costs $475 million per hull, but the price is misleading. For $475 million, Israel is getting SPY-1F(V), VLS, Phalanx, Harpoon, and SSDS. Sounds incredible, but there is more to it than that, the real cost is slightly higher.

According to the LCS-I data sheet
, the Israeli industry is also fitting out systems for the LCS-I, including the ADIR radar, SRLU, ESM, SATCOM, Barak missile system, Typhoon gun, etc... that will be purchased from the Israeli defense industry. Similar modifications could of coarse be done by the US defense industry, but once you factor in the "other systems purchases and integrations" the LCS-I will probably run around the same current estimated cost of the Littoral Combat Ship being produced by the United States, we estimate around $550 million.

But that is the rub. The US Navy could be producing frigates, with SPY-1F(V) and strike length VLS (The LM version of the LCS has strike length VLS, which supports quad packed ESSM meaning this ship can carry 64 ESSMs), for the same price as the current US Navy designed Littoral Combat Ship. Israel is saving money with the Lockheed Martin version by not pushing the speed threshold with some revolutionary propulsion system and keeping things very simple leveraging existing technology. Evolution, not revolution.

Israel is not the only customer either. we have previously covered how Lockheed Martin has already engaged India regarding the development of MK41 as the standard for the Indian Navy. The Barak system is also in use with the Israeli Navy, so in effect the majority of the systems the LCS-I is designed to support scale very well into the Indian Navy infrastructure. As a multi-mission combatant at 3000 tons for around $550 million US dollars, the Lockheed Martin MMC version has excellent potential as a possible export platform for Europe as well, as most European Navies already utilize the same equipment, the scalability is there. There really are not other platforms on the market at this size with anything near the flexibility of a SPY-1F multi-mission frigate.

We have a hard time believing this isn't going to be a major issue in the future, particularly if Lockheed Martin is able to hit cost marks (which we wouldn't bet on). The US shipbuilding industry will soon potentially be building affordable AEGIS frigates, and the US Navy is chasing unrated ships of the same design and displacement that are still having difficultly justifying its mission profile with such a high price tag.

It will get particularly noisy when the Navy realizes the LCS is too small for its needs with unmanned technology platforms. The LCS is a mothership not a surface combatant, we don't build small aircraft carriers, why the hell would small motherships make sense? In the end, if you want to legitimately support the unmanned technologies that represent the future of war, build big motherships or the same reason we build big carriers. Any significant investment in a surface combatant should produce a ship that can fight, not an unrated naval truck, We call it a frigate, but the role is historically known as the cruiser.

Looks like Israel gets it, the US Navy needs to seriously look into it.

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