U.S. Navy Wants More Offensive Weapons

USS Coronado missile

By The Maritime Executive 01-13-2015 09:40:43

The U.S. Navy's surface forces commander on Tuesday called for putting more offensive weapons on a broader range of U.S. ships given escalating threats and concerns in the Asian-Pacific region.

Vice Admiral Thomas Rowden told a Surface Navy Association national symposium in Crystal City, Virginia, that the Navy's test firing of a Norwegian missile off a Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) last year was a significant step toward showing that other smaller U.S. warships could be outfitted with offensive weapons.

Doing so, he said, would more evenly distribute the Navy's firepower across the fleet at a time when budgets are tight and demands on the U.S. naval forces are escalating.

Rowden calls the concept "distributed lethality" and says it would ensure that U.S. ships would be better armed to respond to threats and could operate independently if they are isolated from the fleet.

Rowden told the conference that further analysis was needed to determine the cost and timing of potential weapons changes, but said it would likely be cheaper to upgrade current weapons than buy new ones. Unmanned systems could also help expand naval capabilities, he said.

In addition to buying new weapons and sensors, the Navy could also adopt new tactics for how it uses its ships to keep potential adversaries on their toes, he said. U.S. allies such as South Korea, Japan and Australia could also benefit from adding offensive weapons to their warships, he said.

Rowden declined comment about the prospect of ordering the Naval Strike Missile developed by Norway's Kongsberg Gruppen, for use on U.S. Navy ships, but said the missile's test firing on the USS Coronado, one of two LCS ship designs built by Australia's Austal, was a big success.

Lockheed Martin Corp builds the other LCS ship.

Rowden said he decided to test the missile, which has a range of over 120 miles (200km), on LCS after a paper-based "war game" in March 2014. Adding the missiles to LCS ships dramatically complicated the targeting plans of foes, he said.

The Navy should also examine adding similar capabilities to amphibious ships and others, possibly even including logistics ships that provide supplies to other warships, Rowden said.

"The question is can we do it on other ships, the answer is yes, we can, and I think we should," he said.

Competition for next amphibious ship

Also attending the Surface Navy Association symposium was Major General Robert Walsh who said the U.S. Marine Corps will insist on competition for the next U.S. amphibious warship despite a decision last year to base the ship on the LPD-17 ship designed by Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.

Walsh, who is director of the U.S. Marine Corps' Expeditionary Warfare Division, said the U.S. military owned the design for the LPD-17 class of ships and would launch a competition for the new warship program known as LX (R).

"Competition drives down cost," Walsh said after a speech at the annual symposium of the Surface Navy Association. He said competition was also one of the key goals of the Pentagon's Better Buying Power initiative to improve arms acquisitions.

Navy officials had no immediate comment on the expected terms of the competition, which are likely to emerge after the release of the fiscal 2016 budget request.

Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics Corp are expected to compete to build the ships that would be used to transport Marines to the battlefield. It was not immediately clear which other firms would compete.

The Navy plans to buy a total of 11 new amphibious ships under the LX (R) program, with a goal of procuring the first of the new ships in fiscal 2020.

Beci Brenton, spokeswoman for Huntington Ingalls, said the company applauded the Navy's decision to select the LPD hull form as the basis for LX(R), and said it would reduce costs and risks for the Navy and the shipbuilder.

"With regards to competition, this really is a Navy decision," she said.

Copyright Reuters 2014.