To assure the U.S. Navy’s famously high survivability standards and sustained power, The United States Navy has released its requirements for a new guided missile frigate, a low-end ship designed for less dangerous missions than the rest of the fleet. The new FFG(X) warships will be packed with sensors and weapons (including lasers!), a near 180-degree turn from the current ships the Navy is buying.
Frigates are some of the smallest surface warships around. Smaller than destroyers and cruisers, frigates are meant to operate in under the protection of those higher end ships as part of a task force. Alternately they can operate on their own when a smaller, less capable ship will do, chasing lightly armed pirates, running down enemy submarines, or just generally showing the flag abroad. Frigates provide an affordable alternative to bigger, more expensive ships, for when you don’t need a bigger, more expensive.
The Oliver Hazard Perry Class frigates served navy for decades. Their manuever capabilities, low-cost maintenance and decent armament was impressive. After LCSs are comissioned they are expected to replace O.H.Perry frigates, but it didn’t work. The ships and their “mission modules”—portable equipment sets meant to rapidly shuffle capabilities such as anti-submarine warfare and minehunting between different ships—have suffered cost overruns, technical problems where sometimes the ships literally disintegrate, and delays, with some modules in development for nearly fifteen years. In 2015 the Department of Defense cut the LCS program from 52 to ships to 40, and the Navy requested the last of the ships in the 2019 defense budget.
After deciding to have FFG(X) class frigates instead of LCS, U.S. navy determined requirements for them. New frigates should be larger, more heavily armed, and with a permanent set of equipment not reliant on “mission modules.” As commonly known, frigates fight on 3 dimensions, new frigates should assure that without any defect.
Four shipbuilders, Austal USA, Fincantieri Marine, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, and Ingalls Shipbuilding, are competing to build the FFG(X), each promoting a different design. The Navy will build at least 20 FFG(X) ships, though if the program delivers on its promises the Navy could easily exceed that number.
Among these shipbuilders, FREMM class frigates of Fincantieri stands out first.
Fincantieri’s FREMM is competing alongside three other offerings: General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Navantia’s F-100 variant, which is roughly equivalent to a small Arleigh Burke-class destroyer; a modified, up-gunned version of the National Security Cutter from Huntington Ingalls Industries; and Austal USA’s frigate version of its aluminum-hulled Independence-class littoral combat ship.
As for the FREMM, the extra weight eats into some of the extra space on the ship — its width is one of the defining characteristics of the platform.