WASHINGTON — A revised decision on a contractor to proceed with a major component of the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) antisubmarine warfare (ASW) mission module could be imminent, several sources said – a key step in moving ahead with two of the package’s most significant underwater sensors.
The decision, which could come before the end of January, will replace an earlier choice made in November that was vacated after a protest from a losing vendor.
Three companies, L-3, Raytheon and Advanced Acoustic Concepts (AAC), are vying for the award. All have been working under contracts awarded in July 2015 to develop systems and approaches to reduce weight in the ASW escort mission module (EMM), which includes the multi-function towed array acoustic receiver (MFTA) and a variable depth sonar (VDS). The requirement was to develop systems that, along with all associated systems and handling gear, would weigh no more than 105 metric tons.
On Nov. 2, the Navy informed Raytheon its approach had been selected to proceed to the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase. The service considered the decision to be exercising an option under the original 2015 contract and not a competitive award.
But, sources said, a competitor argued that the move was in effect a source selection — which was not an explicit option in the contract — and filed a protest with the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which issued a stop-work order on Nov. 14.
The Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) then agreed to changes in the selection procedure, withdrew the selection of Raytheon and required revised submissions from the three companies. The protest was dismissed on Nov. 22 and a new submission deadline set for Dec. 23. The date was subsequently extended to Jan. 9, when all three bids are expected.
Contractor teams have released few details about their ASW packages, citing proprietary information concerns. AAC’s VDS partner Thales, however, has been very active promoting their CAPTAS-4 sonar system, which was an early choice by NAVSEA in terms of performance. The system was tested on an LCS but was seen as much too heavy for the LCS package.
In October, Thales unveiled a new Compact CAPTAS-4 aimed at the LCS and the French Navy’s new Frégate de Taille Intermédiaire (FTI) program. Thales claimed similar performance to the heavier model with a 20 percent weight reduction and 50 percent reduction in the space the system required aboard ship. The reductions were accomplished by decreasing the size of the towed array, shortening the towing cable and modifications to the handling system.
Raytheon has declined requests to describe its VDS, which was developed by the company for the LCS program.
VDS systems are effective in finding submarines hiding in thermal layers, or thermoclines, which trap sounds from passing much higher or deeper. The VDS, towed on a cable trailing from the ship, can be raised or lowered through the layers, much like a dipping sonar from a helicopter. Similarly, the VDS operates with reduced noise radiating from its own ship.
Numerous foreign navies field VDS systems. The US Navy does not currently operate a VDS, although it has in the past. The VDS chosen for the mission package is also expected to outfit the follow-on frigates based on the LCS.
The other ASW EMM component, the MFTA, is under development by Lockheed Martin.
Testing of the EMM is to begin in fiscal 2018, Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley told Congress last month, while the system is to enter initial operational capability (IOC) in fiscal 2019.
A surface warfare package has been fielded on Freedom and Independence-class LCSs that have deployed to Singapore, incorporating Mark 46 30mm guns, 11-meter rigid-hull inflatable boats, an MH-60R helicopter armed with Hellfire missiles and a MQ-8B Fire Scout unmanned aerial vehicle.
A Hellfire missile installation is being developed for LCS to complete the surface warfare package, and at-sea testing will be carried out on the Freedom-class ship Detroit. According to Stackley, the full surface warfare package should reach IOC in 2020.
Progress on the mine warfare package was slowed by the Navy’s February 2016 decision to end development of the Lockheed Martin Remote Minehunting System. A revised effort to produce a full mine package in four increments is expected to reach full IOC in 2021, Stackley said in December.