The U.S. Navy is considering the installation of surface-to-surface missiles in the next two littoral combat ships (LCS) scheduled to be deployed to boost their weapons system, a Navy spokeswoman said on Monday.
The littoral combat ship program is one of the Pentagon’s biggest acquisition projects. Initially designed as a small, fast and affordable ship to augment larger ships in the fleet, the LCS program has had numerous cost increases and schedule delays, although Navy officials say production costs are now down sharply and the fielded ships are performing well.
There have been calls by some Navy officials for more offensive weapons on the LCS after a major U.S. Army missile program was cancelled in 2010.
A Navy spokeswoman, Lieutenant Commander Megan Shutka, said that the Navy was “exploring options” for over-the-horizon surface-to-surface missiles but did not elaborate because it was still “in the analysis phase.”
The possible move comes amid heightened tensions in the South China Sea as the U.S. Navy plans to send a destroyer within 12 nautical miles of artificial islands built by China .
On Sunday, Defense News reported that the Navy plans to install missiles on the ships. It cited a directive issued by Rear Admiral Peter Fanta on Sept. 17.
The directive called for the missile to be “aboard all in-service (littoral combat ships) deploying to forward operating stations starting in fiscal year 2016” and on ships under construction, according to the Defense News.
The report added that the plan was to try both Boeing Co’s Harpoon missile and the Norway-based Kongsberg Gruppen ASA’s Naval Strike Missile.
Pål Bratlie, executive vice president of Kongsberg Defence Systems, said the company had test-fired its Naval Strike Missile off a U.S. LCS ship last year and was ready to deliver an advanced over-the-horizon missile.
Boeing did not immediately comment.
The Littoral Combat Ship program was initiated in 2002 and has two versions: one built by Lockheed Martin Corp and the other by Australia’s Austal.
The plan was to initially buy 52 of the warships but was reduced to 32 ships after cost overruns. The Navy now plans to add weapons and other features to the remaining 20 ships.
( By Idrees Ali, Additional reporting by Andrea Shalal in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis)