05 May 2020

U.S. Navy Awards Next Generation Frigate Contract

fincantieri, ffgx

An artist's conception of the FFG(X). 

In an atypical move, the U.S. Navy has commissioned a next generation frigate based upon a European design that entered service in 2012, scorning U.S. based proposals. 

At 6,000 tons, the next generation U.S. Navy frigate (not yet assigned a name for the class) will be about midway in size between the previous and now decommissioned Oliver Hazard Perry class frigate (4000 tons), and the Arleigh Burke class destroyers (up to 9,700 tons) which are the main stay of U.S. Navy surface combatants. It will have a crew of about 145 sailors (compared to 329 for an Arleigh Burke class destroyer). The diesel-electric propulsion system has a blue sea ship range (11,000 kilometers) and its top speed (50 km per hour) and cruising speed (29 km per hour) are comparable to existing U.S. surface combatants. It will be marginally slower than the Arleigh Burke class destroyers, but have a somewhat longer range.

The ship would be more modern, less expensive, and come on line quickly (i.e. in six years) with only modest development costs or technology risk. But it does not represent any breathtaking innovations or capabilities relative to existing U.S. and NATO warships. 

The French design carries 40 guides missiles customized for anti-air (16), surface to surface (16), and anti-submarine (8) missions, a 3" naval gun, two torpedo tubes, two or three 20mm grenade canons, defensive anti-torpedo, decoy ordinance and electromagnetic jamming systems, and a small, armed helicopter. The French design also has advanced air, surface and submarine sensors. The U.S. version would carry a comparable complement of weapons and sensors and aircraft from designs used on other U.S. warships. 

The most notable difference in capabilities between the FFG(X) and the Arleigh Burke destroyer appears to be that the frigate will have about half as many missiles as the destroyer, although I am not aware of any situation in which an Arleigh Burke destroyer has ever needed to fire anywhere close to half of its missiles before having an opportunity to resupply.

The anticipated total cost of this new warship (including development costs amortized over the total purchase) is about $795 million U.S. dollars for the first frigate and $525 million for each of the next nine ships in the class (compared to about $1,843 million per new Arleigh Burke class destroyer with a design that entered service in 1991).

UPDATE May 6, 2020:
According to Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts, the first hull will cost $1.281 billion, which includes the design money for both the ship and for the work needed at the shipyard to set up a production line. It also includes all the government-furnished equipment, including things such as Raytheon’s AN/SPY-6-derivative radar and Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Combat System. 
Of that $1.281 billion, $795 million will go to the shipyard. The next hulls in the buy should cost significantly less. The Navy is aiming for a price tag of $800 million in 2018 dollars, with the threshold at $950 million. But Geurts thinks he can beat both numbers. An independent cost estimate found the follow-on hulls should cost about $781 million if all 20 are built. 
“The study shows this ship as selected and the program as designed delivering underneath our objective cost per platform,” Geurts said on a May 30 phone call with reporters. 
2) The timeline. Detailed design of the future frigate, known as FFG(X), starts right away, Geurts said, and construction will begin no later than April 2022. The first ship should be delivered in 2026 and should be operational by 2030, with final operational capability declared by 2032, Geurts said. 
The contract should be wrapped up — all 10 hulls — by 2035. The intention is to buy 20 hulls, though it’s unclear whether Marinette will build all 20 or if the Navy will identify a second source.
From here.
* The U.S. Navy has selected a Franco-Italian frigate design as the basis for its next generation guided missile frigate, FFG(X). 
* The ship will be European in basic design but with U.S. made weapons and sensors. 
* The Navy will buy an initial 10 ships with up to 40 or more purchased over the next two decades. 
The U.S. Navy officially selected Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri to produce the service’s first guided-missile frigates in more than 30 years. The service awarded the company $795 million to begin construction on the first of at least ten frigates, with the lead ship entering service in 2026. The new, unnamed ship will fill a hole in the U.S. Navy’s fleet structure for an armed, small surface combatant capable of tackling both low- and high-end missions. 
Fincantieri beat out three other companies, including Austal USA, a partnership of General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Spain’s Navantia, and Huntington Ingalls Industries, to win the FFG(X) (fast frigate, guided, “experimental”) contract. The winning ship design is based on the FREMM class of European missile frigates, with variants of the design already in service with the Italian, French, Moroccan, and Egyptian navies. . . . 
aquitaine fremm class fregate europeenne multi-missions frigate french navy marine nationale 18x

An Aquitaine class FREMM in French service from the link below.
Fincantieri’s frigate is based on the FREMM “Fregata europea multi-missione” design operated by France and Italy, with exports to Egypt and Morocco. FREMM weighs 50 percent more than the Perry-class frigates, tipping the scales at 6,000 tons. The ships use a hybrid electric drive system that gives them a top speed of 30+ knots and a range of 6,800 miles. As multi-mission ships, the FREMM ships carry anti-air, anti-ship, and anti-submarine weapons, though some are optimized for anti-submarine missions. French FREMM frigates carry MdCN land attack cruise missiles and launched them against Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles in April 2018.

Although a foreign design, the American FREMM will be thoroughly Americanized, with U.S.-made sensors and weapons installed throughout the hull. The new Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR), developed by Raytheon for the new USS Enterprise aircraft carrier, will be the primary air sensor. The EASR will be coupled with the Aegis Combat System, a computer system that allows surface ships to detect, track, and engage a variety of surface and air threats, from high-flying ballistic missiles to low-flying cruise missiles.
From Popular Mechanics.

Does It Make Sense?

The U.S. military's sense of itself, and what it devotes a huge amount of its resources to doing, has only a dim connection to what it actually does. 

The U.S. Navy, to a great extent, is operating on a replacement cycle for a structure put in place in World War II and never really seriously rethought since then. As I noted in a June 11, 2018 post:
Notwithstanding the fact that D-Day was an Army operation, the Marines see massive amphibious assaults in the image of D-Day as core to their mission and acquire ships, amphibious armored vehicles, landing craft, helicopters, STOVL fighter aircraft and more to carry out that mission. Never mind that the last time that a large scale amphibious assault was important to the outcome of an armed conflict for the U.S. military was more than sixty years ago during the Korean War. And, neither has anyone else.
In World War II, the U.S. Navy fought a lot of battles in which one blue sea warship tried to sink another blue sea warship. You can count on your fingers the number of times that has happened since then with any military force in the world. But, the U.S. still has a fleet of blue sea warships designed to dominate and vastly outnumber of handful of blue sea navies in the world that still exist. Never mind that aircraft and submarines and cruise missiles and long range missiles and sea mines are almost always better at sinking warships than other warships, which are to a great extent sitting ducks that have avoided catastrophe mostly because no one has wanted to be so definitively at war with the nuclear armed United States. The Navy, like the Air Force, has not given as much attention as it should to sealift, sea basing and coastal firepower support for coastal ground troops.
Another important role of the U.S. Navy is anti-piracy, smuggling interdiction, for which billion dollar destroyers, are expensive overkill, but littoral combat ships may not be very effective.
The Navy, of course, isn't the only Department of Defense bureaucracy at fault, as I also noted in the same post:
The Air Force's elite ranks are disproportionately made up of fighter pilots who trained to engage in air to air combat, and so those are the missions it focuses on preparing the Air Force to carry out, whether that is really what we need to carry out the foreseeable missions the military might be called upon to carry out. Never mind that the U.S. military has had only about two instances of air to air combat in the last twenty years. Other missions have atrophied. The Air Force has again and again tried to shirk its responsibility to provide close air support to ground troops. The Air Force has underinvested in transport aircraft and failed to coordinate with other services to make sure that the planes that carry troops and weapons systems are optimized to the needs to the troops and weapons systems that they carry and likewise ground troops have insufficiently tailored their resources to the aircraft available to carry them.
Wikipedia sums up the post-World War II history of naval warfare as follows:
World War II had seen the United States become the world's dominant sea power. Throughout the rest of the 20th century, the United States Navy maintained a tonnage greater than that of the next 17 largest navies combined. 
The aftermath of World War Two saw naval gunnery supplanted by ship to ship missiles as the primary weapon of surface combatants. Two major naval battles have taken place since World War II.  

In the 1982 Falklands War between Argentina and the United Kingdom, a Royal Navy task force of approximately 100 ships was dispatched over 7000 miles from the British mainland to the South Atlantic. The British were outnumbered in theatre airpower with only 36 Harriers from their two aircraft carriers and a few helicopters, compared with at least 200 aircraft of the Fuerza Aérea Argentina, although London dispatched Vulcan bombers in a display of long-distance strategic capacity. Most of the land-based aircraft of the Royal Air Force were not available due to the distance from air bases. This reliance on aircraft at sea showed the importance of the aircraft carrier. The Falklands War showed the vulnerability of modern ships to sea-skimming missiles like the Exocet. One hit from an Exocet sank HMS Sheffield, a modern anti-air warfare destroyer. Over half of Argentine deaths in the war occurred when the nuclear submarine Conqueror torpedoed and sank the light cruiser ARA General Belgrano with the loss of 323 lives. Important lessons about ship design, damage control and ship construction materials were learnt from the conflict.  
The Indo-Pakistani Naval War of 1971 was the first major naval war post World War II. It saw the dispatch of an Indian aircraft carrier group, heavy utilisation of missile boats in naval operations, total naval blockade of Pakistan by the Indian Navy and the near total annihilation of almost half of Pakistan's Navy. By the end of the war, the damage inflicted by the Indian Navy and Air Forces on Pakistan's Navy stood at two destroyers, one submarine, one minesweeper, three patrol vessels, seven gunboats, eighteen cargo, supply and communication vessels, large-scale damage inflicted on the naval base and docks located in the major port city of Karachi. Three merchant navy ships; Anwar Baksh, Pasni and Madhumathi; and ten smaller vessels were captured. Around 1,900 personnel were lost, while 1,413 servicemen (mostly officers) were captured by Indian forces in Dhaka. The Indian Navy lost 18 officers and 194 sailors and a frigate, while another frigate was badly damaged and a Breguet Alizé naval aircraft was shot down by the Pakistan Air Force. 
At the present time, large naval wars are seldom-seen affairs, since nations with substantial navies rarely fight each other; most wars are civil wars or some form of asymmetrical warfare, fought on land, sometimes with the involvement of military aircraft. 
The main function of the modern navy is to exploit its control of the seaways to project power ashore. Power projection has been the primary naval feature of most late-century conflicts including the Korean War, Suez Crisis, Vietnam War, Konfrontasi, Gulf War, Kosovo War, the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, and the Iraq War.  
A major exception to this trend was the Sri Lankan Civil War, which saw a large number of surface engagements between the belligerents involving fast attack craft and other littoral warfare units.
There have been some small skirmishes in addition to these involving warships in the Persian Gulf, and with pirates near Somalia and in Island Southeast Asia. But, the last time a submarine sunk a full sized warship, a warship sunk a submarine, or two full sized warships engaged each other in anger, anywhere in the world, was 38 years ago, and the conflict before that was 49 years ago.

The United States hasn't engaged in the kind of blue sea naval warfare against a naval near peer, i.e. the kind of conflict that its navy is designed around, since World War II ended 75 years ago. 

One could imagine a conflict with Iran in the Persian Gulf, with North Korea or China near the coast of East Asia, or with Russia in variety of places in the Northern hemisphere. But, after that, it is increasingly difficult to imagine a military conflict involving real naval warfare.

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