The past year was one of great anticipation in naval circles as the US Navy considered how to up-gun, lethalize, improve, expound or expand on its littoral combat ship concept. Not that the service wanted to do it — the effort was directed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, reacting to critics who derided the LCS as an under-armed, short-legged, non-survivable, overpriced folly.
In February, Hagel told the Navy to develop “a capable and lethal small surface combatant [SSC], generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.” The service was to consider new and existing designs and versions of the LCS. The defense secretary also told the Navy to issue no more LCS contracts after the 32nd ship — short of the total buy of 52 ships.
The directives set off nearly a full year of speculation. The Navy itself said next to nothing — other than a press briefing in April by the head of the SSC task force describing the process. Officials and anyone remotely close to the SSC effort were sworn to secrecy, many forced to sign non-disclosure agreements.
A cone of silence descended around the work — extending, in many cases, to the LCS itself, where no one wanted to be accused of openly discussing concepts or systems that might be part of the SSC effort.
That left industry, critics and gadflies to expound on what could be done for the SSC. Industry teams from the two LCS producers — Lockheed Martin and Austal USA —talked at length about how their designs could incorporate sophisticated combat systems, even Aegis, along with vertical launch systems and bigger guns.