* Says Singapore deployment may add momentum to foreign
* Pentagon report: ship not "survivable" if hit in combat
* Lockhed sees possible foreign sales of 200-plus MH-60
By Andrea Shalal-Esa
WASHINGTON, Jan 15 Lockheed Martin Corp
sees good prospects for selling new coastal warships and
helicopters it is building for the U.S. Navy to other countries,
especially given a planned U.S. pivot to the Asia-Pacific
region, company executives said on Tuesday.
The U.S. Navy's plans to send Lockheed's first Littoral
Combat Ship, or LCS-1, to Singapore in mid-April, could deepen
international interest in the new warship, said Michele Evans,
vice president of business development for Lockheed's mission
systems and training business.
"When LCS gets over in the region, we might see more
momentum and acceleration," Evans told Reuters at a conference
hosted by the Surface Navy Association. She said she was
optimistic that an initial foreign military sale could be
reached within the next two years.
Lockheed and other U.S. weapons makers are scrambling to
increase foreign military sales to maintain revenue in coming
years as they brace for cuts in U.S. military spending after
sharp growth over the past decade.
Lockheed's upbeat view comes as its first LCS ship, the USS
Freedom, a steel single hull vessel, prepares for a six-week
voyage to Singapore, where it will be deployed for nine months.
Unlike earlier warships, littoral combat ships can operate
in shallower coastal regions, have smaller crews and can be
easily reconfigured for different missions, such as surface
warfare or mine-hunting.
The U.S. unit of Australia's Austal is also
building a separate LCS ship for the U.S. Navy, based on an
aluminum trimaran design.
The Navy is proceeding with the Singapore deployment of LCS
despite continued problems with the ship's 30 mm and 57 mm guns
and a mine countermeasures system identified in a new report by
the Pentagon's chief weapons tester.
The report also noted that "LCS is not expected to be
survivable" since it was not designed to continue operating if
it took a significant hit in a hostile combat environment.
The Pentagon's office of Operational Test and Evaluation
said it was deferring tests of the ships' overall survivability,
and separate shock trials for at least a year.
Vice Admiral Tom Copeman, commander of Naval Surface Forces,
told the conference he was aware of criticisms of the LCS ships,
but said the program was important because it was affordable and
would enable the Navy to expand the size of its fleet.
Lockheed executives said they were in talks with six to
seven possible foreign buyers in the Middle East and Asia for
the ship, down from 22 countries that initially were interested.
The Navy plans to buy 55 of the new smaller warships in
coming years, a key part of its drive to replace aging vessels
and increase the overall number of ships in the Navy.
Joe North, Lockheed's vice president of littoral combat
ships, said the program was showing continued progress and
Lockheed should be building a new ship every six months by 2015.
Lockheed is also proposing possible integration of ballistic
missile defense capabilities on the LCS ships in the future,
which could enhance their attractiveness to foreign buyers.
Lockheed officials also see bright export prospects for
MH-60 maritime helicopter that it builds with Sikorsky Aircraft,
a unit of United Technologies Corp, forecasting that it
could sell over 200 of the helicopters overseas in coming years.
Australia and Denmark are already buying the aircraft, and
Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and India are looking at
possible orders, they said.
Austal spokesman Craig Hooper said his company was also in
early discussions with foreign countries interested in buying
its LCS model, but the Australian parent company could also sell
a different model to other countries directly.
Austal's Joint High Speed Vessel, a less expensive ship
being built for the Navy, was also attracting international
interest, he said.