The Navy awarded the Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri a $795 million contract to design and build the Navy’s newest ship.
Though the FFG(X)’s exact specifications have not yet been determined, the FFG(X) is a guided-missile frigate with an area-defense anti-air warfare system. The FFG(X) is designed to be more capable than both the Independence- and Freedom-classes that make up the Littoral Combat Ship program. Both classes have suffered numerous breakdown and cost overruns, and despite the massive amount of spending sunk into the LCS program, both classes have been deemed unsurvivable in a high-end fight against a peer or near-peer adversary.
In contrast to larger surface ships like aircraft carriers or destroyers, the FFG(X), is intended to operate in lower-threat environments. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service defined the mission scope and capabilities of frigates in general and explained why they just can hang with the bigger ships:
“In contrast to cruisers and destroyers, which are designed to operate in higher-threat areas, frigates are generally intended to operate more in lower-threat areas. U.S. Navy frigates perform many of the same peacetime and wartime missions as U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers, but since frigates are intended to do so in lower-threat areas, they are equipped with fewer weapons, less-capable radars and other systems, and less engineering redundancy and survivability than cruisers and destroyers.”
As part of the Navy’s fleet expansion that began under the Obama administration, the Navy moved to buy twenty FFG(X) ships. The FFG(X) would complement the capabilities of existing cruisers and destroyers already in service with the Navy, and offer more capabilities than the LCSs. According to the Navy, the FFG(X) ships could also be used to provide a “high-end presence” normally carried out by destroyers in different areas around the globe.
Some of the design requirements for the frigate are onboard space for one manned helicopter and another unspecified “unmanned air vehicle.” As a guided missile frigate, the FFG(X) design can accommodate vertical missile launch tubes, though the Navy has hinted that the FFG(X)’s onboard volume and electrical output would be sufficient for future laser weapons.
The FFG(X) will be similar to the Bergamini-class, a joint French-Italian project. Fincantieri lists the vessel’s endurance as forty-five days with a top speed in excess of 27 knots. At a reduced 15-knot speed, range is 6,000 nautical miles.
The class is to be built in Wisconsin and despite its Italian design, is said to be made with 95% American parts.
Vice Admiral Jim Kilby, the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfighting Requirements and Capabilities emphasized just how important the FFG(X) is to the Navy, saying, “This is going to be a real workhorse for the United States Navy supporting distributed maritime operations in the future. So we are super excited about this ship, and I can’t think of a better asset…to give them [Naval commanders] the flexibility to do what we need to do in the future.”
Caleb Larson holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics, and culture.
Image: Fincantieri/USNI News