The Buzz

The U.S. Navy Wants to Build a Super Frigate

The Navy is exploring the possibility of adding Local Air Defenses, new weapons and enhanced protection technology to its requirements for a new Frigate slated to emerge in the early 2020s.

While the new Frigate was conceived of as a more survivable adaptation of the Littoral Combat Ship, new analysis is no longer restricted to the idea of loosely basing the "hull design" upon the LCS. Furthermore, new requirements analysis underway by a Navy Frigate Requirements Evaluation Team is examining the feasibility of making the ship even more lethal and survivable than what previous plans called for.

"As a result of the Navy's 2016 Force Structure Assessment, increased emphasis on Distributed Maritime Operations, and increasingly complex threats in the global maritime environment, the Navy continues to assess the capabilities required to ensure the Frigate outpaces future threats," Alan Baribeau, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, told Scout Warrior. "The Navy is pursuing an update to the analysis performed by the 2014 Small Surface Combatant Task Force to reassess Frigate requirements and capabilities."

This new analysis, which will be briefed to Congress and Pentagon leadership later this Spring, may lead to a larger, more reinforced hull able to better withstand enemy attacks. Existing plans for the Frigate have called for "space armor" configurations, a method of segmenting and strengthening ship armor in specified segments to enable the ship to continue operations in the event that one area is damaged by enemy attack. 

While Navy officials did not specify details of new technologies now under consideration, they did say the new examination could lead to a different kind of hull design, as well as new offensive and defensive weapons. Stronger air defenses and enhanced survivability initiatives open the door to a wide range of offensive and defensive weaponry, such as emerging low-cost laser weapons able to incinerate incoming enemy attacks or launch offensive strikes.

News of this new Frigate analyses was first reported by Chris Cavas of Defense News.

This revised assessment of the Frigate transpires as the Navy is finalizing the weapons, sensors and technologies it plans to engineer into its new Frigate - a  more survivable and lethal Littoral Combat Ship variant designed to perform anti-submarine and surface warfare functions at the same time, service officials said.

The Navy already plans for the new Frigate be integrated with anti-submarine surface warfare technologies including sonar, an over-the-horizon missile and surface-to-surface weapons such as a 30mm gun and closer-in missiles such as the HELLFIRE.

Some of the over-the-horizon missiles now being considered by the Navy include the Naval Strike Missile by Kongsberg-Raytheon, a Harpoon or the Long-Range Anti-Ship missile (LRASM) made by Lockheed and the Pentagon's research arm, DARPA.

It is not yet known whether the Frigate will be engineered with Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) to fire larger, longer-range missiles such as a Tomahawk or Standard Missile 6, among others. However, that could be a possibility depending upon emerging Navy requirements for weapons on the ship, developers have said. It is certainly conceivable that these kinds of considerations could inform ongoing deliberations. The LCS hull is not engineered to accommodate VLS. However, should a different hull form be considered for the Frigate, the prospect of VLS or other kinds of ship-launched weapons could emerge. 

Alongside ongoing efforts to specify weapons for the emerging Navy Frigate, the service is also hoping to integrate additional weaponry on the LCS itself. As a result, weapons development for both the new Navy Frigate and existing LCS are distinct, yet also interwoven initiatives. 

Along these lines, Baribeau added that while the design for the Frigate matures, "the Navy remains firmly committed to execution of the current LCS program of record, in order to maintain the viability of both shipyards, maximize competition for future ship contracts, and deliver critically needed capability to the Fleet as quickly as possible."

Some of the weapons such as the Kongsberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile, however, may still be configured for both Frigate and LCS platforms.. 

Distributed Lethality

Engineering a more up-gunned, lethal and survivable Frigate than previously planned is unambiguously consistent with the Navy's often articulated "distributed lethality" strategy. This concept, underway for a year or two now, involves numerous initiatives to better arm its fleet with offensive and defensive weapons, maintain a technological advantage over adversaries such as the fast-growing Russian and Chinese navies, and strengthen its "blue water" combat abilities against potential near-peer rivals, among other things. 

Arming the Littoral Combat Ship, and its more survivable and lethal variant, the Frigate, is designed to better equip the LCS for shallow and open water combat against a wider range of potential adversaries, such as enemy surface ships, drones, helicopters, small boats and maneuvering attack craft, at beyond-the-horizon ranges.

The LCS is already equipped with 30mm and 57mm guns to destroy closer-in enemy targets such as swarms of small boats and the Navy is also engineering a maritime variant of the HELLFIRE Missile aboard the ship to destroy approaching enemy targets from "within the horizon."