Navy delays Littoral Combat Ship contract award

The Navy has extended its Dec. 14 deadline to announce a contract for the Littoral Combat Ship program by more than two weeks to give Congress more time to consider its plans to award 10 ships apiece to two contractors that had been vying for the program.

The sea service, which initially planned to award one contract for 10 ships to either Lockheed Martin or Austal USA, announced a revised procurement strategy on Nov. 3 that would give both companies orders to build a total of 20 shallow-water vessels. The firms' current proposals for the lucrative shipbuilding contract expire on Dec. 14 -- the date by which congressional approval of the new approach is required.

The continuing resolution passed by the House last week gives the Navy the authority it needs to alter its strategy for the Littoral Combat Ship program, but the fate of that legislation is unclear.

In a statement Monday, the Navy said it has asked for and received approval from Lockheed and Austal to extend the deadline to Dec. 30.

"The extension provides time to process the LCS contract award if Congress provides authorization for the dual-block buy or in the event that we proceed to a down-select to one company," the statement said. "This extension does not allow the Navy to continue to work for the dual-block buy authorization beyond December 30, 2010."

Some lawmakers, including Senate Armed Services Committee ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., are skeptical of the Navy's plans to buy two different models of ships. But Adm. Gary Roughead, the chief of naval operations, has called it an "incredible, incredible opportunity with regard to locking in the prices on 20 ships."

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