The US Navy’s Frigate Problem

The USN has a problem. That problem is a gap in capability as a result of a lack of frigates. Currently the USN has only one commissioned frigate, and it is out of date by approximately 200 years, and is currently in dry dock. Some jobs don’t justify using a destroyer, or cruiser when that capability could be put to better use elsewhere, or the vessel is being pulled from its primary duties as an escort for an amphibious vessel or a carrier. So how far does the US Navy’s frigate problem go?
An example is my last deployment. My ship spent a significant time away from the Bush who we had deployed with as a part of her escort. Nearly an entire month in the Black Sea conducting interoperability operations with the Romanians and Bulgarians building bonds with other nations’ militaries, government, and people. Then there was the 11 Suez transits to escort subs, and maritime interdiction operations. The LCSes don’t have the range and stamina necessary to conduct long term operations away from a friendly naval base, so something between LCS and DDG is required.

the US Navy's frigate problem

There are several ideas being thrown around about how to rectify this situation and fill the gap. What we’ve seen suggested so far has been the reactivation of the Oliver Hazard Perry class FFG, upsizing one or both of the LCS hulls for greater capability, endurance and range, utilizing a frigate variant of the USCG’s National Security Class Cutter, to opening the door for competition for new designs, and purchasing designs in use with foreign navies. Let’s take a quick look at some of the pros and cons of these options.

OHP Reactivation

Pros-Likely to be the cheapest option, allowing for more of each year’s budget to be allocated to training and maintenance.
Quick by comparison to the options as well.

Cons- Old. Let’s face it, at a certain point hulls become obsolete and useless as do general designs. The OHPs were retired and deactivated for a reason, at the time they were already reaching the end of their service lives. Part of their age is that in their most useful configuration, the original configuration they’re simply outdated. We don’t have any more rail launched missiles being produced, or any more launcher turrets. In the configuration they were decommissioned in, they were little more than glorified patrol boats. Their total utility and usefulness is very questionable in the modern world.

the US Navy's frigate problem

Upsized LCS

Pros- Simple adaptation of a current design. It should be relatively easy to scale the design up and it in with systems to give it better capabilities than the LCS class.

Cons- The LCS design and project has been haunted and plagued with issue after issue, and I personally cannot condone a more time and money be spent on a similar design until all of the LCS issues have been discovered and worked out.
NSC Variant

Pros- Design is finished and just waiting to be picked up by someone so R&D on it will be minimum, and keels can be laid as soon as approved. The hull and basic equipment and systems have already been proven in real world conditions through service with the USCG

Cons- The USN has already said that the hull doesn’t meet its standards for shock testing.

the US Navy's frigate problem

New Designs

Pros- Competition, opening up the field allows the USN to pick the best designs, and have a design that will keep future developments in mind to keep the ships relevant for decades to come.

Cons- Cost, like all recent R&D projects the USN has embarked on it’s likely to be very expensive. The design will be unproven, and untested which considering the number of issues the LCS and Zumwalt projects have seen leaves a risk at the efficiency of the chosen designs.

 

Buying Foreign (very abbreviated)

Pros- Completed designs and hulls that are tested and proven. Little to no R&D required.

Cons- The focus of other navies has been very different from the focus of the USN over the last two decades or so, meaning those designs may not be able to successfully fill the roles needed.

 

 

4 Comments

  1. JohnPJones on 07/05/2017 at 6:10 AM

    I apologize for the wall of text, but I’m still trying learn how to use all this fancy technology as i’ve never posted articles to a website before. Trying to get it into a more readable format.



  2. Scryer-JC on 07/08/2017 at 3:02 PM

    Well… in a way to address the USN’s frigate problem, my best bet from the aforementioned options would either be the OHP or the LCS. So here’s my opinion.

    Yeah the OHP is already outdated, decommissioned and either scrapped or sold to foreign users. But in an effort to address the problem, why not revise/update the hull to suite the modern USN? Surely it would be cheaper than R&D’ing a new frigate, since there’s already the blueprints of the original OHP, especially the longer Flight III variant. Make a some revisions here & there, add this, add that, that sort of thing. Stretch the hull forward, add a 76mm or 127mm gun, add a VLS launcher behind the gun(similar to how Huntington Ingalls added a 12-cell VLS to the NSC design as a proposed replacement for the LCS in the frigate role), add whatever capabilities the USN wants, & voila! You get the Oliver Hazard Perry II-class frigate!

    As for the LCS, its still very new, many teething issues from what I’ve read. But the only thing we can hope for is just give them time to iron things out. Once that happens, the navy could just then take the LCS design a step further.. have it enlarged & add some more capabilities to suite its frigate needs, like a VLS launcher.

    The NSC frigate variant would have been a good bet as well, just revise the hull to be more shock resistant, since the design itself is originally meant for Coast Guard usage.



    • JohnPJones on 07/10/2017 at 10:19 PM

      The problem with simply updating the design as I understand it, is that the design requires a very specific weight distribution, so extending the hull for a longer bow with VLS and a gun could be very problematic potentially.

      Like I said in the article until the LCS issues get worked out building frigates based on that design just seems like a waste.

      Personally i think the frigate version of the NSC would be the best short term option.

      The website’s founder and I are working on a follow up article that will contain our idea for a frigate design or two that we think would work well as a long term option.



  3. tekteam26 on 07/29/2017 at 10:46 AM

    Actually, adding a VLS to the existing OHP class is not really all that difficult. In fact, it has already been done by two navies, the Australian Navy and the Turkish Navy. They simply put in an 8-cell Mk 41 self-defense length VLS for quad-pack ESSM. In fact, the ships still kept their Standard/Harpoon Mk 13 launcher to boot. It should be a relatively easy task to take the existing OHP flight III design, replace the Mk 13 with a 32 cell tactical length Mk 41 VLS, add the 8-cell self-defense length VLS for ESSM and then modernize the electronics. There is always the possibility of adding an integrated mast with a lightweight active phased array radar system like what the Israelis have on their latest corvette/light frigate designs to give the updated OHP the ability to defend itself at extended ranges. The tactical length Mk 41 VLS gives this design the ability to fire Vertical Launched ASROC and Standard SM-6 missiles for increased versatility.