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8 Apr 03. At least six companies are expected to submit proposals to build a new multibillion fleet of shore-hugging U.S. combat ships on Monday, with the Navy set to whittle the field to two or three finalists by July.

The Navy wants the first of the new littoral combat ships, or LCS, in the water as early as 2005 as it prepares to defend against possible terrorist attacks, mines, and other emerging threats, said Lt. Brauna Carl. Units of Lockheed Martin Corp., General Dynamics Corp., Northrop Grumman Corp., Textron Inc. and two private companies in February submitted competing design proposal for what the Navy initially called a “focused mission ship,” which will operate close to shorelines.

The competition is fierce, and although the contracts the Navy awards in July will each be valued at just $10m, they could be a stepping stone to a much larger deal, as well as possible follow-on business with the Coast Guard. The US Army is also expected to issue tenders for the build of up to 6 catamaran ships following the success of the leased Australian-built HSV-XI Joint Venture (See BATTLESPACE NEWS, Volume 5, Issue 9&10, November/December 2002 U.S.ARMY DEPLOYS HIGH-SPEED WATERCRAFT HSV-XI ‘JOINT VENTURE’)

Navy officials have said they hope to decide by February 2004 whether one or two companies will build the ship, which will be a key part of the Navy’s fleet for decades to come. The Navy is working on an accelerated schedule to develop, test and deploy the ship, which will be part of its DD-X family of new combat ships, and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark has said the Navy needs as many as 30 to 60 such craft.

Few details have been set in the fast-moving acquisition program, but Navy officials have said they want the new warship to be able to swap out equipment modules for specific missions, including mine warfare, surface warfare in areas close to shore, and anti-submarine warfare. The Navy wants the ship to be able to carry out significant intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance functions, support for special operations forces, maritime interception operations, homeland defense and anti-terrorism protection.

The first “flight” of LCS would include two ships due to begin production in 2005 and 2006, with an unspecified number of ships to go into production in 2008, the Navy said.

Contractors working the preliminary design were told that each ship should cost no more than $220m, according to industry and defense officials. Northrop, which won a $2.9bn contract to design the DD-X last April, has unveil its preliminary proposal for the LCS – a stealthy, all-composite monohull ship based on the Visby-class stealth corvette made by Sweden’s Kockums, a unit of Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft AG (HDW). General Dynamics said its design was based on an existing ship made by Austal Ltd., an Australian shipbuilder, although it would be larger and could be made of a variety of materials, depending on the Navy’s preference.

Spokesman Kendell Pease said the ship was a trimaran capable of speed of up to 50 knots, and provided landing space for two H-53 Navy helicopters. “It’s extremely flexible, mission modular, and affordable,” he said. One industry source said the Coast Guard would be watching the competition closely since it just awarded Lockheed and Northrop a contract valued at over $17bn over 30 years to revamp its fleet of ships.

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