Past Problems Can't Stop the U.S. Navy From Building a New Frigate
It is not surprising that the Navy might push either of the LCS designs as their desired outcome. After the troubles associated with the previously mentioned carrier and destroyer designs, as well as the significant challenges associated with maturing both LCS designs, the Navy may simply desire to stick with something that is already in production and approaching the “tried and true” stage of its maturation. This method has worked with the Burke-class destroyer line, which has been in production since the late 1980s and has no end in sight. However, each of the LCS designs has inherent restrictions with regard to their size, lethality, range and power production, as well as issues with survivability and continued evolvability over the life of the ship. These are issues that have been recognized within each classes’ maturation process, but as they are inherent in the designs and will not go away.
This is not to say that both LCS designs should considered within the FFG(X) competition. They are, after all, both “mature.” But it does not follow that they should be given “head of the line” privileges. Such a hint raises the question as to whether it is advisable to continue to lodge the new FFG(X) program (PMS 515) within the LCS Program Executive Office. Navy leadership should make it abundantly clear that all of the designs submitted by the industry will be considered fairly and objectively. They should also make it clear that the Naval Sea Systems command is not putting their finger on the scale due to its aversion to the risk that might accompany the startup of another ship production line—or perhaps even a desire to seek validation of much-maligned LCS designs by seeing one of them picked as the new frigate.
What is clear is that the Navy needs a new frigate that is robust enough to cover multiple missions while also remaining affordable enough to be purchased in large numbers. Such a ship will allow the Navy to return to the high-low mix acquisition strategy that characterized it in the past and achieve a balance between war-winning capabilities and peacekeeping capacity. Mature domestic and foreign frigate designs will help us achieve this goal quickly, but all should be considered equally.
Dr. Jerry Hendrix is a Senior Fellow and Program Director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security. A retired Captain of the U.S. Navy, Hendrix previously served as the Director of Naval History and Military Assistant to the Director of the Office of Net Assessment.
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