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Navy Restarting Contest for Halted Shipbuilding Program

By David Sharp
Associated Press
Thursday, April 3, 2008

PORTLAND, Maine, April 2 -- The Navy is moving forward with construction of a new type of small, speedy warship after upending the program by canceling contracts last year, officials said Wednesday.

The Navy's formal request for proposals, issued to General Dynamics of Falls Church and Lockheed Martin of Bethesda on Tuesday, calls for construction of three Littoral Combat Ships over the next several years.

The Navy envisions a competition in which the winning bidder is awarded contracts for two of the ships while the other builds a third, Lt. Cmdr. John Schofield said Wednesday.

The Navy, which hopes to eventually build 55 Littoral Combat Ships, wants the smaller warships capable of operating in shallow coastal waters to defend against pirates and terrorists. The ships are a key element of the Navy's goal of increasing its fleet to 313 ships.

But the program has been plagued by cost overruns, and the Navy's handling of the fast-tracked effort has come under criticism.

The Navy put the brakes on the program last year, canceling two ships, after costs of the original ships grew from early estimates of about $220 million to more than $300 million apiece.

The Navy is operating under a congressional cost cap of $460 million per ship, a reflection that the original cost estimates were too low.

Lockheed Martin's LCS-1 is being built by Marinette Marine in Wisconsin, while General Dynamics' LCS-2 is being built at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala.

Lockheed Martin's version resembles a traditional frigate or destroyer but features a sleek, semi-planing hull, while General Dynamics' version is an all-aluminum three-hulled vessel.

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