By Andrea Shalal
MARINETTE, Wisconsin (Reuters) - Lockheed Martin Corp on Friday welcomed the U.S. Navy's decision to use Lockheed's integrated combat system for future frigate-class ships to be built beginning in fiscal 2019, saying it would allow greater commonality across the entire Navy fleet.
"It's great news," Joe North, vice president of Littoral Ships and Systems at Lockheed, told Reuters in a telephone interview. "Now we get to move out and get the fleet on one system."
Neither the Navy nor Lockheed provided an estimate for the value of the combat system, but North said each system accounted for less than 10 percent of the cost of the ship. The last three ships ordered by the Navy ranged in price from $345 million to $441 million.
The decision will make it easier for the future frigates that will succeed the current Littoral Combat Shipsp (LCS) to work together with U.S. Navy destroyers, which are already outfitted with Lockheed's Aegis combat system.
Lockheed's Freedom-class LCS ships use a modified version of the Aegis system, while the Independence-class LCS ships built by Austal Ltd use a combat system built by Northrop Grumman Corp.
The Navy plans to build 32 LCS ships and then transition to a modified, beefed-up version to be called a frigate in fiscal year 2019 for the final 20 ships in the larger program.
Navy officials have not yet decided whether to move to a single supplier for that phase of the program, but have said they plan to shift to a single, common combat system.
U.S. Naval Sea Systems Command announced its plan to award Lockheed a sole-source contract for development and construction of two initial combat systems in a federal notice earlier this month. The news was first reported this week by the U.S. Naval Institute News earlier this week.
The contract will include options for two additional systems, as well as work on the hardware and software needed to retrofit the systems on the existing LCS ships.
Navy spokesman Chris Johnson said a review showed that only using Lockheed's Combat Management System Component Based Total Ship System – 21st Century (COMBATSS-21) would avert "unacceptable delays" to the planned schedule for the new frigates.
Navy officials had no immediate comment on whether Northrop could challenge the decision. Northrop had no immediate comment.
The contract to be awarded runs for five years, covering the period through fiscal 2021, according to the federal notice.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal)