Firing over-the-horizon deck-launched missiles, intercepting incoming enemy fire, and serving as a crucial networked information “node” are but merely a few of the missions for the Navy’s emerging fleet of new frigates.
The U.S. Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan outlines an ambitious and fast-moving plan to fund as many as fifteen of the new ships over just the next five years, a high speed effort to bring the new ship online in just the next several years. The Navy documents states its 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.”
In development for several years now, the Navy’s new FFG ships are intended to bring what could be called a new hybrid mixture of surface warfare attack, reconnaissance and deep-water maritime warfare abilities.
“The FFG(X) small surface combatant will expand blue force sensor and weapon influence to provide increased information to the overall fleet tactical picture while challenging adversary Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Tracking (ISRT) efforts,” previously released Naval Sea Systems Command FFG(X) documents said.
New applications of sensor and reconnaissance technology certainly introduce the increased prospect that the new Frigate will support the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations strategy which, among other things, calls for a more dispersed and much better-networked surface fleet. Longer range sensors are also naturally a large part of this equation, as more dis-aggregated missions, enabled by hardened information-sharing networks, will rely upon advanced applications of command and control.
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.
“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 paper states.
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. The new Frigate, now being built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, will also quite likely be armed with an MH-60R helicopter, Fire Scout vertical take-off and landing drones and SeaRAM interceptor missiles. The ships will also come with a range of surface-to-surface and surface-to-air weapons such as 30mm guns, HELLFIRE missiles and an over the horizon missile to attack targets at longer ranges.
Navy plans for the FFG(X) also call for advanced electronic warfare tech along with both variable depth and lightweight sonar systems. The new ship may also have seven 11-meter Rigid Inflatable Boats for short combat or expeditionary missions such as visiting, searching and boarding other ships.
Interestingly, the Navy plans for adding large numbers of Frigates to the force is in part due to a plan to “free up” major warships.
“Increased numbers of a small multi-mission combatant such as FFG(X) enable more efficient distribution of missions across the surface fleet, freeing up more capable assets (CGs and DDGs - cruisers and destroyers) for critical high-end missions,” the plan states.
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.