The U.S. Navy Does Not Need an Air-Defense Frigate
Powerful interests opposed to the U.S. Navy’s current Frigate plan and continued production of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) are again compelling the Navy to undertake yet another study in hopes of somehow proving that a more powerful air-defense frigate; a 21st century version of the Navy’s now retired Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate is a better choice than the upgraded Frigate now being designed as the service’s future small surface combatant. Two recent naval force architecture studies from the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) and the MITRE Corporation also demand that the Navy’s current Frigate program be shelved in favor of a heavy frigate better capable of conducting high-end naval combat than the LCS-based frigate. Unfortunately, these calls for an air-defense frigate are at odds with a number of important, current conditions. The present budgetary and U.S. political situations suggest that this high-end ship is unaffordable in the numbers that must be built to meet Navy Force Structure requirements. Larger frigates were the product of unique European strategic changes and financial limitations rather than being based on any change in threats. European frigates support the specific naval needs of each nation. As such they are not necessarily the most efficient or effective design for the U.S. Navy to imitate. Even the larger European air-defense frigates (that can displace 7,000-9,000 tons) lack the capability to stand “in the line of battle” as an integral part of the carrier and amphibious groups, yet advocates for these types of ships routinely assign it to these higher-end roles. The LCS and its highly-capable frigate variant remain the best, most affordable, and most straightforward way of increasing the number of Navy small surface combatants in the timeliest manner. FF/LCS is better equipped to serve in the emerging operational doctrine of Distributed Lethality and will help to sustain America’s small combatant shipbuilding base, which was catalyzed by the advent of the LCS program.
Financial and Political Situations Limit New Construction:
The current political climate, including the recent Supreme Court nomination battle, has created a veritable “no man’s land” where both political parties are locked in unremitting partisan conflict. It is unlikely that either side will give ground in this highly-charged environment. While Republican members have asked to lift Budget Control Act (BCA) caps on defense spending, their Democratic counterparts have demanded an equal lifting of domestic spending limitations. The nation’s budget deficit cannot withstand such an avalanche of spending, and hence there is an uneasy truce on Capitol Hill in regards to current appropriations. Given these conditions, the Navy must make do with present funding. The service also faces serious readiness and maintenance challenges that must be addressed in the near-term to ensure continued operations of the existing force structure.