Jan. 16 (UPI) -- The U.S. Navy has exercised a contract option with Lockheed Martin for construction of LCS 31, a Freedom-variant littoral combat ship that completes its plans for LCS procurement for the fiscal year.
The award was announced Tuesday by the Department of Defense, though the amount of the contract award was not released as the Navy said it is source-selective confidential information.
The acquisition completes a contract option to purchase one ship in fiscal year 2019, the Navy said, bringing the total number of LCS vessels procured by the Navy to 35.
Work on the new vessel will mostly be performed at Lockheed's Marinette, Wis., facility, with additional work performed at 14 locations across the United States. As with previous Freedom-variant LCS vessels, Lockheed will be responsible for all design, planning, construction and test and trial activities before delivery to the Navy.
Although the LCS program has had issues and delays, the Navy said Monday that three littoral combat ships will be deployed by the fall, after an overhaul of the program kept the vessels sidelined last year.
The USS Montgomery and USS Gabrielle Giffords, which are two Independence-variant ships, would deploy from San Diego to the Western Pacific, and the Freedom-variant USS Detroit will deploy to the East Coast from Mayport, Fla., beginning use of a vessel class the Navy considers vital.
"The LCS is a small surface combatant that plays a vital role in American maritime security," Naval Sea Systems Command said in a press release on Tuesday. "The ship provides the Navy the ability to rapidly counter small boats, submarines and conduct mine countermeasure operations close to the shoreline."
There are two types of littoral combat ship, the Freedom-variant that is produced by Lockheed Martin and the Independence-variant by Austal and General Dynamics.
The Navy's 2016 Force Structure Assessment called for 52 small surface combat ships, including frigates and LCS. Thirty-five have been procured through fiscal year 2019 -- including LCS 36 and LCS 38, which were awarded to Austal in December. LCS 36 and LCS 38 each carries a Congressional cost cap of $584 million.
The Navy on Jan. 12 commissioned the USS Wichita, the 13th littoral combat ship and seventh of the Freedom-variant. The next Freedom-variant LCS, the USS Billings, is expected to be delivered this spring, according to Lockheed.
LCS 31 is expected to be completed by February 2026.