A new task group will study alternatives to the littoral combat ship. Both types are shown, as the Independence (LCS 2) leads the Freedom (LCS 1) into port. (Navy)
WASHINGTON — The effort to re-evaluate the Navy’s small surface combatant program is underway under the direction of a new Small Surface Combatant Task Force (SSCTF).
As directed Feb. 24 by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the task force will examine the littoral combat ship (LCS) and compare it with other designs, all with a goal to buy “a capable and lethal small surface combatant generally consistent with the capabilities of a frigate.”
The task force replaces the LCS Council, a now-defunct, high-ranking group convened in August 2012 to give the LCS program added direction and focus.
Unlike the council, which was led by a three-star admiral, the task force is being led by a civilian, and does not include a flag officer.
John Burrow, executive director of the Marine Corps Systems Command, will lead the task force, according to a March 13 directive from Adm. Jon Greenert, chief of operations (CNO), and Sean Stackley, the Navy’s chief acquisition official.
Burrow, a member of the Senior Executive Service, now provides direction and oversight of command-wide resources, programs and management systems, and is engaged in all aspects of ground equipment and systems acquisition for the Marine Corps, according to his official biography. It is not clear if he has previously been involved with the LCS program.
Six experienced captains, one commander and another civilian, all from OPNAV — the offices reporting directly to CNO, or the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) — make up the rest of the task force membership.
A flag-Senior Executive Service advisory group will assist the task force. Co-chaired by Allison Stiller, chief surface ship acquisition officer, and Rear Adm. Thomas Rowden, director of surface warfare, the group is made up of OPNAV or NAVSEA representatives, with one civilian from Norfolk-based Fleet Forces Command.
What is perhaps unusual is that neither group features a representative from the active-duty Naval Surface Force command. Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, head of the San Diego-based command, was a member of the council and previously identified the need to study alternatives to the LCS designs.
The SSCTF task force is directed to develop an analysis plan by the end of March. As directed by Hagel and Greenert, the group will consider modified LCS designs, existing designs or a new ship design.
In order to create a baseline, the task force is directed to prepare a “side-by-side comparison” of the requirements and capabilities of Oliver Hazard Perry FFG 7-class frigates and the LCS.
The once-numerous FFG 7s, designed in the 1970s, are soon to leave service. Only about a dozen remain active, and all will be gone by the end of 2015. The ships were to have been replaced by new LCSs, but only four of the new ships are active, and only about six will be in service when the last frigates are decommissioned.
The March 13 task force directive did not specify a date as to when its work should be completed. Hagel said Feb. 24 that the work should be done in time “to inform” decisions for the 2016 budget, which would lead to a fall 2014 time frame.