By Andrea Shalal
WASHINGTON, April 30 (Reuters) - The U.S. Navy on Wednesday asked U.S. and foreign weapons makers for technical and cost data on the design and weapons for a new possible small warship to succeed the Navy's current Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) by 2019.
Companies will have 21 days to respond to two separate requests for information on both ship designs and the radars and other weapons that would go on board, said John Burrow, executive director of the Marine Corps' Systems Command and head of a task force studying alternatives for a so-called small surface combatant.
Burrow told reporters the task force would use the data on what he called "mature design concepts" as well as a separate detailed analysis of the capabilities and operating plans for small Navy warships in order to complete a report by July 31 that will inform the Navy's fiscal 2016 budget deliberations.
Lockheed Martin Corp and Australia's Austal , which build two different models of the current LCS ships, and other companies are keeping a close eye on the Navy's plans after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel ordered a pause in orders after 32 LCS ships. The Navy has ordered 24 ships of the total 52 planned so far.
The Navy is reassessing the $34 billion LCS program that is building small and fast warships to hunt and fight mines, submarines and surface ships, and whether and how to make the ships more lethal and better able to survive possible attacks.
Burrow said the task force would not present senior Navy leaders with a single preferred alternative but a menu of three to five options. He said the effort could lay the groundwork for an accelerated formal analysis of alternatives that would precede a new procurement program.
He said the Navy was not asking companies to launch a new design effort but to share data on present systems and capabilities, as well as designs that would be ready by 2019.
He said the task force would look at possible modifications of both LCS ships - Lockheed's steel monohull design and Austral's aluminum trimaran - as well as other existing ships or mature ship designs, including any submitted by foreign bidders. "We're looking at everything," Burrow said.
The task force is also reaching out to Navy fleet commanders to better understand their needs, he said.
He said the task force would look carefully at what changes could be incorporated into the current LCS designs, and at what cost, or whether the Navy required a whole new ship design to meet future needs and deal with emerging threats.
He said the task force's report would also help senior leaders make decisions on the affordability of new programs.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Prudence Crowther)