Photo: US Navy
Aug 29, 2011 By Michael Fabey aerospace daily and defense report
International interest has picked up steam for an export version of Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) in the wake of the successful deployment of LCS-1 USS Freedom, according to Joe North, vice president of littoral ship systems at Lockheed Martin’s Mission Systems & Sensors business.
“Over 21 countries are interested,” North says. “From deployment on, it easily has doubled.”
Interest, he notes, does not always translate into future sales. Some countries simply lack the resources to ante up for such a relatively large-scale purchase. “There are a lot of people with interest, but not with a budget,” North says.
Moreover, there is competition in the international marketplace that Lockheed doesn’t have to worry about domestically. It leads one contractor team to build one version of the LCS while another team led by Austal USA is building the other. The two ship designs are significantly different and the U.S. Navy has agreed to a dual-block buy from both teams.
One formidable competitor could be the Chinese. Some defense analysts liken the LCS to a frigate, and Chinese frigates have started to generate interest of their own in foreign markets.
“There are a large number of customers for Chinese frigates, including Egypt, Bangladesh, Thailand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka,” say James Bussert and Bruce Elleman in their book, “People’s Liberation Army Navy, Combat Systems Technology, 1949-2010,” published this summer. “Because of Western imports, illegal reverse engineering, and license deals, Chinese computers and electronic systems for frigates are not as far behind as commonly thought,” Bussert and Elleman contend.
Still, they say, most buyers of Chinese frigates “have procured the hulls and basic systems from China, while replacing major combat systems with Western ones.”
Hulls and combat systems aside, what makes the U.S. LCS enticing — to the U.S. Navy and other possible buyers — are the plug-and-play modules, which contain the equipment and other needs for different types of missions. The idea is to switch out the modules instead of doing wholesale, time-constrained and expensive modifications to the ship.
Until recently, the U.S. Navy had separated oversight of the LCS frames and modules in two separate camps. Now the two are combined under one naval entity and North says Lockheed is getting a bit more input on modules and their interaction with the frames since that union.
That kind of greater interaction between the hull-builders and the module-developers will likely become more important as the program progresses. As North points out, the initial modules were relatively risk-free — “state-of-the-existing, as he puts it — while the future modules will be more state-of-the-art and carry more risk.