A heavy duty LCS for foreign navies. Maybe.

An international export version of the littoral combat ship might look very different from the one the U.S. Navy is buying. But someone would need to want one first.

Lockheed Martin says its second littoral combat ship, the USS Fort Worth, is 87 percent complete. It’ll start work on its third and fourth ships over the coming year. The U.S. Navy wants at least 55 LCSes. From the defense contractor’s standpoint, Lockheed’s return to shipbuilding looks like a success: It is moving toward steady production of a stable design and will likely be able to book many hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the program. (Lockheed’s first LCS, the Freedom, didn’t go so smoothly, and it cost much, much more than initially advertised.)

From the Navy’s standpoint, the LCS concept may not look so good anymore, given the murky prospects for the interchangeable mission equipment the sea service is counting on. But commanders at least seem satisfied that the ships work, and Lockheed officials would like to take that and translate it into a version for international navies. The ship that Lockheed could sell to the navy of Saudi Arabia or another foreign client might have many more features and weapons than the ones flying the Stars and Stripes.

Bob Riche, Lockheed’s vice president for seaframe sea-based missile defense, said the company has looked at designing an LCS like the Fort Worth equipped with the Aegis system, including a SPY-1F radar and sets of vertical launch tubes for SM-2, SM-3, Evolved Sea Sparrow or other missiles. (Neither version of the standard U.S. LCS has any of that stuff.) Riche acknowledged that the additional sensors and weapons would require a lot more power, which would probably mean the Aegis-equipped LCS couldn’t shred the ocean at 45 knots like its American counterpart. But a Saudi or other navy wanting a small air and missile defense frigate might not need the high sprint speed that U.S. Navy asked for. And the international LCS probably would not be able to accept the various mission modules built for the American one.

Although Stevens and Paul Lemmo, Lockheed’s vice president of business development, both said the company was interested in foreign military sales on LCS, they also both acknowledged it would be years before it happens — if it ever does. Meanwhile the best way to entice foreign interest is for Lockheed and the U.S. Navy to keep on time and on budget with the Fort Worth and its siblings, Stevens said.