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, what the Navy wanted, the capabilities needed to perform primary naval missions, and what could be delivered for the sums available, have proven nearly irreconcilable. 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.
Modern U.S. Navy Amphibious Assault Ships project power and maintain presence by serving as the cornerstone of the Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) / Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG). LHA/LHD are a key element of the Seapower 21 doctrine pillars of Sea Strike and Sea Basing, transporting, launching, and landing elements of the Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) via a combination of LCAC hovercraft, amphibious transports and vehicles, helicopters, and aircraft.
Designed to project power and maintain presence, LHA-Replacement (LHA-R, aka. LH-X, and now the New Amphibious Assault Ship or NAAS) large deck amphibious assault ships were slated to replace the US Navy’s 6 LHA-1 Tarawa Class vessels. They are based on the more modern LHD Wasp Class design, with the LHD’s landing craft and well deck removed in favor of more planes and hangar space. While its LHA/LHD predecessors were amphibious assault ships with a secondary aviation element, it’s fair to describe the America Class as escort carriers with a secondary amphibious assault role.
As part of Britain’s fiscal rebalancing, The Royal Navy is set to inherent the RAF’s Merlin HC3/3A medium-heavy battlefield helicopter fleet, while simultaneously upgrading its existing set of Merlin HM Mk1s. The entire effort approaches $3 billion for a final total of 55 refurbished helicopters, and these refurbishments will be carried out as part of the AW101 fleet’s long-term maintenance plan.
The navy’s existing fleet is being progressively upgraded and returned to service, adding a range of technological improvements to the helicopter’s avionics, control systems, sensors, and radar. The Royal Navy received 44 EH101 Merlin HM1s between 1998-2002 for training, surface attack and anti-submarine warfare duties, and has since lost 2 in accidents. The remaining 42 helicopters are now expected to remain in service until 2029, though only 30-38 will be upgraded. Another 28 EH101 Merlin HC3/ HC3A medium support helicopters currently serve with the UK Royal Air Force, and they will join the Navy to succeed the Sea King Mk.4 Commandos as the Royal Marines’ battlefield helicopters.
USS Makin Island [LHD-8] was built in Pascagoula, MS, as the last ship of America’s Wasp Class amphibious assault carriers. The keel was laid in February 2004, but all of the changes from the LHD-1 Wasp Class meant that about 67% of the previous line drawings, and 75% of the test procedures, needed to be modified for Makin Island. Then Hurricane Katrina hit the in-progress ship. The labor pool also took a hit, with up to 1/3 of the Gulf Coast personnel leaving the area and the company. The pool of electrical professionals was especially hard hit, and 55-60% of the LHD 8′s final labor force was under the 4-5 year threshold to be considered experienced workers.
Even so, Katrina hit back in August 2005. Which is why Northrop Grumman was surprised at the slowness of its integration and testing progress during final construction in 2008, as part of the ship’s preparation for sea trials. That led to a comprehensive review and audit – and a bill of $320-360 million to fix the ship, which was footed by Northrop Grumman:
Submarines travel underwater, but they all need oxygen. Diesel-electric submarines need it for their engines, and must surface to get it, though modern AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) systems allow moderate power cruising for weeks at a time without surfacing. Nuclear-powered submarines can cruise at full power for years, of course, as their engines do not need air. Their crews, however, do. Hence Electrolytic Oxygen Generators (EOGs), which break up water molecules and keep the oxygen for use aboard ship.
Treadwell Corp’s Model 6L16 EOG was first introduced in 1965…
New Finmeccanica acquisition DRS EW & Network Systems, Inc. in Buffalo, NY received a $6.9 million fixed-price, time and materials contract for a Gigabit Ethernet Data Multiplex System (GEDMS) for DDG 53, a Flight 1 Arleigh Burke Class AEGIS destroyer commonly known as USS John Paul Jones. Some may remember the ship’s namesake as the Scot who became the father of the American navy, and uttered the famous battle phrase “I have not yet begun to fight!”
The GEDMS is a network for Arleigh Burke Class destroyers that acts as a ship wide data transfer network for a ship’s machinery, steering, navigation, combat, alarm and indicating, and damage control systems. It was designed to replace the miles of point-to-point cabling, signal converters, junction boxes, and switchboards associated with conventional ship’s cabling. DRS will also provide a land-based GEDMS trainer, EDMS hardware, and installation and checkout repair for the DDG53 GEDMS, and the contract includes an option which would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $7 million.
USS John Paul Jones
Work will be performed in Johnstown, PA (80%) and Buffalo, NY (20%), and is expected to be complete by December 2009. This contract was procured on a limited competition basis, with 2 proposals solicited and 2 offers received via the Federal Business Opportunities website. The Naval Surface Warfare Center, Dahlgren Division in Dahlgren, VA manages the contract (N00178-08-C-2001).
Most military programs don’t coordinate news releases with major motion pictures. With Iron Man in theaters and getting reviews that may get DID’s staff to go see it, Raytheon is taking the time to promote its US Army-funded exoskeleton suit. Originally funded under a 7-year, $75 million DARPA program, the suite has now gone on to the next stage under a 2-year, $10 million follow-on Army grant:
The problem they’re trying to address is no stunt. The weight of a soldier’s equipment easily approaches 80-100 pounds, far higher than the 30 pounds recommended for maximum mobility. As we load our soldiers down with more technical gadgets, that weight tends to go up, not down. The USA and Japan are only a couple of the countries working on aspects of a mechanical exoskeleton that would give its wearers vastly improved strength and endurance. While Japanese demographic and cultural trends in particular are giving concepts like individual soldier augmentation a push, we can still expect a very long wait before we see exoskeletons that can deliver the required performance to justify their cost, can handle military conditions, and can be maintained in the field at reasonable cost. It’s far more likely that first fielding, if there is one, will involve more limited use by disabled soldiers, or be used like Cyberdyne Japan’s HAL-5 in private, para-public, and first responder roles. Raytheon release | Raytheon feature | Popular Science [PDF].
At present, F-35 Lightning II/ Joint Strike Fighter production is led by Lockheed Martin, with BAE and Northrop-Grumman playing major supporting roles, and many subcontractors below them. F-35 main production and final assembly is currently slated to take place in Lockheed Martin’s Fort Worth, TX plant, though Italy and Britain may end up getting Final Assembly and Check-Out (FACO) plants of their own.
In order to cut F-35 production cycle time, and hence production costs, the team currently produces major sections of the aircraft at different feeder plants, and “mates” the assemblies at Fort Worth. This is normal in the auto industry, but it’s a departure from the usual fighter-building process which has raw materials and individual parts or small sub-assemblies feed into production lines, then rolls finished fighters out the other end. The precise tolerances required for a stealthy fighter, however, are much more exacting than even high-end autos. To cope, Manufacturing Business Technology reports that the team has turned to an integrated array of back-end IT systems in order to manage this new process, from CATIA CAD, to Visiprise MES, TeamCenter PLM, SAP ERP, and even a locally-designed Production & Inventory Optimization System (PIOS) for manufacturing resources planning and supply chain management.
This ‘digital thread’ has been very successful for the team, with part fits showing incredible precision, and successful coordination of plants around the end schedule for key events like the Dec 18/07 F-35B rollout. The system’s ultimate goal is to cut a plane’s production cycle time from the usual 27-30 months to about a year, and lead time from order creation to printed, matched manufacturing orders from 15-20 days to 6-8 days. Read MBT’s “Fly high on a thread” to learn more.
Submarines travel underwater, but they all need oxygen. Diesel-electric submarines need it for their engines, and must surface to get it, though modern AIP (Air Independent Propulsion) supplemental systems allow one to cruise at moderate power for over a week without surfacing. Nuclear-powered submarines could cruise underwater at full power for years, of course, as their engines do not need air. Their crews, however, do. Hence Electrolytic Oxygen Generators (EOGs), which break up water molecules and keep the oxygen for use aboard ship.
Treadwell Corp’s Model 6L16 EOG was first introduced in 1965. It breaks up distilled water by passing an electric current through an electrolyte solution (30% potassium hydroxide) in 16 high-pressure cells, connected in series. This equipment can produce 150 standard cubic feet per hour of oxygen, and variants remain the primary oxygen producers aboard the USA’s SSN-688 Los Angeles Class fast attack submarines and SSBN-726 Ohio Class ballistic missile submarines. Treadwell also produces Oxygen Generation Plants (OGPs) for the new SSN-21 Seawolf Class fast attack submarines, which include OGP electrolysis modules that depend on proton exchange membranes for oxygen separation.
The US Navy is moving to upgrade both of these systems.
Russia’s Type 877 Kilo Class diesel-electric submarines have gained a reputation as extremely quiet boats, and are in service with Russia (24), China (2), India (8), Iran (3), Poland, Romania and Algeria. India’s Type 877EKM Sindhugosh Class submarines [S55-S62] began to travel to Russia for refits in 1997, with S58 INS Sindhuvir as the first candidate. A German-designed, Indian-built main battery has replaced the Russian batteries in all vessels, and India’s submarines have also received either a Russian upgrade package of missiles, sonar, and machinery & weapon control systems, or India’s indigenous Panchendriya package. The goal is to bring them closer to parity with the more advanced Type 636 Improved Kilo Class variant – S65 INS Sindhushastra, and possibly S63 INS Sindhurakshak, are already rumored to be at or close to that level.
Now a serious incident has put a brake on the refit program, as India has returned S62 INS Sindhuvijay to its Russian contractor, citing unacceptable performance with its new sub-launched Klub missiles. With the $1+ billion Admiral Gorshkov carrier refit already in trouble, and Russia making hostile foreign policy moves, the last thing the relationship needs is another problem – but that’s what it has.