A Lockheed Martin proposal for an upgunned Littoral Combat Ship features an installed vertical launch system. (Lockheed Martin)
WASHINGTON — For those of you with July 31 marked on your calendars as a red-letter day in the Navy’s Small Surface Combatant (SSC) program — hold that thought.
It appears the Navy is not yet prepared to begin talking about what’s next for the SSC — the alternative to the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) that may or may not look something like what’s already being produced.
By order of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, a special SSC task force was convened earlier this year to examine the LCS program and recommend potential ways ahead — whether to pick one of the two existing designs now in production, modify either of those designs to a more powerful, “up-gunned” variant, or to consider an entirely different design.
The deadline to submit a report is Thursday, but Pentagon sources are saying not all senior Navy officials have yet been briefed on the task force’s findings, and the Navy is not commenting for the record.
“It’s still an internal process that will be part of our 2016 budget deliberations,” is all Cmdr. Thurraya Kent, spokesperson for the Navy’s acquisition directorate, would say Wednesday.
Even after top Navy officials sign off on the recommendations, they still have to be reviewed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) and presented to Hagel, who has directed that decisions involving the future of the program be incorporated into the 2016 budget submission.
John Burrow, the senior executive service official heading the task force, spoke to reporters April 30 about what to expect from the group’s efforts.
“My job is to give design alternatives that include design concepts or capability concepts, design alternatives, cost and performance,” he said during a media roundtable at the Pentagon. “I want to make sure everybody understands, I’m not coming in at the end of the day to say here’s your ship design and here’s your point design and this is what we want to do. That’s not what we’re doing.
“What we are going to do is present a few capability concepts, and with those capability concepts we’ll be able to talk specifically about here’s what it means for an LCS Independence mod, here’s what it will mean for LCS Freedom mod, here’s what it will mean from a new ship design. Here’s the technical feasibility and risk associated with it, and here’s what we think the costs are.
“At the end of this game I’m not going to come in and say here’s your ship and here’s your justification for your ship,” Burrow said April 30. “What I am going to come in and do and say is, if these are the missions and capabilities that are of value for a small surface combatant, then here’s what the design and costs associated with those are. And then that will feed the 2016 deliberations.
“What we are doing is coming up and saying for these capabilities and missions — which will be a set of several, three, four, maybe even five — this is what is feasible and not feasible. Then our leadership will make the decision on one, is this capability that we need? If it’s not, then they’ll decide to do something else. If it is a capability that we need, then here’s the next step that we need to take to pursue that.”
It is not clear whether Navy or Pentagon officials have a plan to talk about the report in public.