The Navy’s emerging FFG 62 Constellation-class Frigate is now nearing completion of its design phase, something likely to raise interesting questions about the kinds of weapons, sensors and technologies the new ships will incorporate. The Navy’s new FFG(X) ships are intended to bring what could be called a new hybrid mixture of surface warfare attack, reconnaissance and deep water maritime warfare abilities.
Now being built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, the new platform may quite likely be armed with an MH-60R helicopter, Fire Scout vertical takeoff and landing drones, SeaRAM interceptor missiles, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air weapons such as 30mm guns, Hellfire missiles and perhaps even an over-the-horizon missile to attack targets at longer ranges. Navy plans for the new Frigate have called for the ship to be integrated with anti-submarine surface warfare technologies including sonar and surface-to-surface weapons. Perhaps this could include a 30mm gun and closer-in missiles such as deck-launched Hellfire missiles.
Added to the equation is the possibility that the Navy will include an over-the-horizon missile chosen by the Navy originally for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The Naval Strike Missile by Kongsberg-Raytheon, so it certainly seems this kind of long-range offensive strike weapons might also prove useful for the new FFG 62. Going back to the early conceptual phases of the ship, it was decidedly determined by the Navy that the new platform will be armed much more significantly and heavily than an LCS and operate with a more strongly reinforced hull. Subsequently, the Navy expanded its plans for the ship to include some elements of air defense and drone operations.
Whatever the precise configuration of the new Constellation-class Frigates, the Navy plans to build many of them quickly, as the service’s thirty-year Shipbuilding Plan calls for the construction of as many as fifteen of the new ships over the next five years. The shipbuilding plan document says the Navy plans to make “investments in FY2022 in long lead time material and the stand up of a ‘follow yard’ in FY2023 to increase FFG production to three ships in 2023 and up to four new frigates by 2025.”
The Navy’s fast-growing fleet of drone ships, increasingly capable of new levels of autonomy and manned-unmanned teaming, have also been emphasized as fundamental to the Navy’s vision for the new Frigate. While the new ship is of course, by design, quite distinct from the LCS and be built for heavier combat, it may nonetheless be similar in the respect that it will operate drones. The LCS continues to operate large numbers of surface and undersea drones to hunt for mines and submarines and scout targets as needed.
“FFG(X) will be capable of establishing a local sensor network using passive onboard sensors, embarked aircraft and elevated/tethered systems and unmanned vehicles to gather information and then act as a gateway to the fleet tactical grid using resilient communications systems and networks,” a NAVSEA from several years paper states. In addition, that text offers some clues as to the kinds of configurations and missions likely to be used by the Navy’s Constellation-class Frigates.
Evolving plans for the frigate over the years have considered “space armor” configurations, a method of segmenting and strengthening ship armor in specific segments to enable the ship to continue operations in the event that one area is damaged by enemy attack. This would make sense, given that the ship is intended to operate effectively if needed in during a major war wherein large surface combatants may need to maintain operations even if hit by enemy attack.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University