This is interesting. The Navy has decided to place a big order for a Littoral Combat Ships, a new class of high-speed warship desgined for use in near-shore waters. Even more interesting, the order will be split between two shipyards, each of which will use a different design. The Independence-class, shown at top, is an aluminum trimaran. The Freedom-class, shown beneath, is a semi-planing steel monohull. Both are designed to be fast, versatile, highly networked, and highly automated.
Navy officials said that if it exercises all of its options under the contracts, Lockheed Martin would assemble 10 of the coastal warships for $3.62 billion over six years and Austal USA, a unit of an Australian company, would build 10 for $3.52 billion.
The average price for the ships, including combat equipment furnished by the government and other costs, should be about $440 million, or well below a Congressional cap of $538 million per vessel, said Sean J. Stackley, the Navy’s assistant secretary for acquisition.
A week ago, Congress approved the Navy’s plan to use both shipyards instead of buying a smaller number of ships from one of them. The Navy said last month that the bids were surprisingly low and asked the companies to give Congress time to consider the change.
Naval warfare has shifted from the high seas to coastal areas in recent years, and the ships are supposed to be quick enough to run down small patrol craft and diesel submarines. They are highly automated, with crews of 75 people and equipment modules that can be swapped for different missions, like sweeping for mines or gathering intelligence.
But the companies’ designs are strikingly different. The Lockheed Martin ship, built in Marinette, Wis., has a steel hull, while the Austal model, built in Mobile, Ala., is an aluminum trimaran, a three-hulled vessel unlike any previous Navy design. Over the long term, the Navy hopes to buy 55 of the ships.