May 31, 2016
By Valerie Insinna
LEONARDO’S DRS Technologies is reviving its call for the Navy to incorporate the OTO Melara 76mm Super Rapid Gun on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).
The pitch isn’t exactly new—the company has been proposing a shift to the 76mm gun since 2014, when former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel charged a task force with helming recommendations that would turn the LCS into a more lethal small surface combatant.
Ultimately, the Navy opted to stick with its current 57mm gun and increase the ship’s ability to take down enemy vessels by adding the Longbow Hellfire and an over the horizon missile. However, DRS executives are hoping that a potential downselect to one LCS builder—either LOCKHEED MARTIN [LMT] or AUSTAL—and the transition to the more lethal “frigate” version of the ship by fiscal 2019 will help drive renewed interest in the 76mm gun.
"You can do it on a budget neutral basis, so there's no added cost in taking out the Mk 110, [also known as] the 57mm, and adding our 76mm,” said Matt Green, vice president of legislative affairs at DRS, which is a subsidiary of Leonardo, previously known as Finmeccanica. “And in the process you get a much more capable gun, much more matched in terms of parity with adversaries out there, and it's got a much better smart munitions set.”
The Navy’s acquisition workforce—including the LCS program office—has showed no increased appetite for the gun, Green admits, but the company is trying to reignite interest on Capitol Hill as lawmakers debate whether to allow a downselect to a single LCS manufacturer.
"We think potentially with the downselect to a single hull that may be an inflection point where you could make a decision prospectively to put this gun on,” he said. “It fits all the technical specs. It fits the ring mount on the bow, and there's no weight issues or sizing issues.”
DRS estimates that the service could save about $19 million by procuring its 76mm gun for the remaining ships in a 52-ship fleet. If Saudi Arabia goes through with its plan to buy a version of the Lockheed Martin-produced _Freedom_ LCS equipped with OTO Melara’s 76mm guns, the United States could leverage the Saudi investment and not have to pay for nonrecurring engineering costs, Green said.
One selling point for the 76mm gun is its range, which can reach 16 kilometers and up to 40 kilometers with guided rounds. Even the basic ammunition outstrips the 8-kilometer range of the Longbow Hellfire missile slated to be added to the ship, he said.
The longer range would be of great benefit for the LCS against swarming boat threats, said Eric Lindenbaum, vice president of Navy and maritime programs. He cited an incident documented in the director of operational test and evaluation 2015 report where—during a simulated raid—an enemy boat was able to penetrate the ship’s “keep out zone” in two of the three encounters.
“If you put the 76mm on there, it solves the problem automatically because I can do my engagement sequence farther out, and they never get within weapons release range,” he said.
Another advantage is that the gun barrel is liquid cooled, which keeps it from overheating more easily, Green said. The gun can fire one shot at a time or a stream of 120 rounds per minute without having to take a break to cool down.