The US Navy, burned in the past, takes a step back to reinvent – even redesign – the wheel.
This is why the Navy’s new Constellation class of frigates might be reminiscent of the warships currently deployed on the high seas by European countries. It was based on the Fregata Europea Multi-Missione (FREMM) family of ships from Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri for the Italian and French navies.
When proposing the new contract, the Navy asked bidders to consider adapting an existing design for the program – then known as FFG (X) – and, in April 2020, awarded the subsidiary American Fincantieri, Fincantieri Marinette Marine, a contract of 5.5 billion dollars for the lead ship and nine additional ships.
The first ship will be the USS Constellation.
The whole approach marks a radical departure from the Navy’s struggling littoral combat ship program, a radically different concept for a small surface fighter that was seen as essential to the evolution of the Navy’s mission. , but which has been plagued by cost overruns and mechanical issues for years.
âThere are always challenges when you build a first class ship, but we started with a phenomenal mother design – the FREMM – which is internationally known as a reliable, versatile and operationally proven warship,â Dario Deste, president of Fincantieri Marine Groupe, said in a statement.
The Constellation class will be able to perform multiple missions, including confronting enemy planes, ships and submarines as well as electromagnetic warfare. Unlike LCSs, the new frigates will be able to operate both close to shore and in the depths of the ocean.
The new frigates, known as the FFG 62, however, are not an exact copy of the FREMM design. The hull has been lengthened by approximately 23 feet to accommodate larger generators and future growth. The bow design was changed to remove a sonar dome for more stability and the propeller was changed for what Navy officials called “improved acoustic performance.”
Retired Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, who commanded the USS George Washington aircraft carrier strike group during his 32-year career in the Navy, said officials were clearly thinking of the headaches of the program LCS when considering how their new frigates would be produced.
“It’s a way to bring multi-mission surface fighters into the fleet and at a reasonable pace,” said Admiral Montgomery, now senior director of the Foundation think tank’s Center on Cyber ââand Tech Innovations. in defense of democracies in Washington, DC “This could easily be a purchase of 20 to 40 ships over time.”
Analyst Alexander Wooley, a former Royal British Navy officer, said US Navy officials hoped the LCS’s innovative design would in theory result in a “Swiss Army knife-style ship.”
Instead, the real-world product “manages to combine a lack of firepower with severe defensive vulnerabilities and routine mechanical failures,” Wooley wrote in a new analysis for Foreign Policy.com.
âTwo key systems – to counter mines and submarines – never became operational,â he noted. “LCS costs doubled during construction, the original class size of 52 was reduced to 35, and the Navy is withdrawing the lead ships after only a dozen years of service.”
Admiral Montgomery said he was encouraged by the Navy’s plan to add frigates to the fleet. But, he warned, navy officials will have to guard against “mission slippage.”
“They are absolutely going to have to temper the appetite for more changes and not have the last minute changes,” he said. âIt will kill the cost. They have to lock it.
Littoral Combat Ships were designed as fast warships capable of operating in close coastal environments and performing a range of missions, from anti-submarine warfare to mine clearance, thanks to customizable modules that can be switched based on the operation. But that concept was ultimately deemed unworkable after the Navy spent millions trying to get out of it.
The Navy has already decommissioned the lead ships of the two LCS variants, the USS Independence and the USS Freedom last month, after only about a decade of service. Officials said decommissioning ceremonies remained low-key – only former crew members were invited – due to concerns over COVID-19.
The LCS program was supposed to herald a radical change in approach to naval shipbuilding. Rather, the Constellation-class frigate is a return to the standards of the Navy acquisition program.
âIt is recognized that we needed this type of surface fighter. The design selection clearly reflects some risk mitigation based on the LCS experience, âsaid Admiral Montgomery. “I think it was an intentional effort to be successful.”
The Constellation class of frigates will be the model for how the Navy builds its next class of destroyers, said Admiral Michael Gilday, chief of naval operations.
âI cannot afford (Constellation-class frigate program) to be anything other than stepping out of a world-class production line that produces a ship we can depend on,â ADM Gilday said during this year’s Surface Navy Association annual convention, according to Defense News. âThese have to be world-class efforts that deliver on time, on budget, with the right capacity. [and] with the right skills that we need.