The Congressional Research Service, a non-partisan research and think tank that reports to Congress, recently released a report on the current status of the U.S. Navy’s Constellation-class frigate program. The initiative will push a frigate into service following the retirement of the Navy's older frigates.
Unlike the Navy’s destroyers and cruisers, which are optimized for high-threat environments, frigates are designed to sail in less threatening environments. As a result, 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,” the report explained.
The most recent class of frigates the Navy operated was the Oliver Hazard Perry-class, with fifty-one ships acquired between 1973 and 1984. After their Cold War-era peak, however, the Navy began decommissioning the frigates between 1994 and 2015.
“In their final configuration, FFG-7s were about 455 feet long and had full load displacements of roughly 3,900 tons to 4,100 tons,” the report explains, and added that in comparison, “the Navy’s Arleigh Burke [DDG-51] class destroyers are about 510 feet long and have full load displacements of roughly 9,700 tons.” After decommissioning, the Navy transferred many of the frigates to partners and allies.
The Constellation class is based on the Franco-Italian FREMM (Fregata Europea MultiMissione) frigate, a two-variant ship built for France and Italy. Using a so-called “parent design” helps to keep costs lower by modifying a proven design for U.S. Navy needs.
Compared to the original FREMM design, the U.S. Navy’s Constellation class will be nearly twenty-five feet longer to “accommodate larger generators and future growth.” The bow design is also modified, and the ship’s generator rating has been upped to “support transit speed and future growth.” The ship’s propeller design has also been modified for an improved acoustic signature, and the ship’s overall displacement is increased by about 500 tons and includes deck modifications that accommodate American naval systems.
“The Italians did a very good job in the design of the internal spaces, and the flow of a lot of those spaces,” Capt. Kevin Smith, a program manager for the Constellation class, explained in the Congressional Research Service report. “You could say we bought a bigger house, [but] from a modeling and simulation perspective, it’s exactly the same.”
So while the Navy’s future Constellation-class frigates are not yet in service, they will be soon. Fortunately, given their reliance on the FREMM design, the frigates have a lower likelihood of being over-budget and under-performing.
Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.
Image: Flickr/U.S. Navy.