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 Currently the USN has only one commissioned frigate, and it is out of date by approximately 200 years, and is currently in dry dock.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.
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.
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 Part of their age is that in their most useful configuration, the original configuration they’re simply outdated.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.
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.
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.
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.