WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday ordered the Navy to build a number of new small surface warships based on an upgraded design of existing coastal warships built by Lockheed Martin Corp and Australia's Austal, skipping a more costly new design.
Hagel said he accepted the Navy's recommendation to make the current ships more lethal and survivable, and said it would buy a total of 52 of the current and upgraded design ships, with the mix to be determined by the needs of the Navy fleet.
He said the new small surface combatants (SSC) would have improved air defense radars, air defense decoys, a new electronic warfare system, an over-the-horizon anti-ship missile, towed array sonar, torpedo defenses and more armor.
"The Navy's new proposal, like the LCS, will continue to have its critics, but considering the context of our broader naval battle force and the current strategic and fiscal environment, I believe it represents our best and most cost effective option," Hagel said in a statement.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)