The U.S. Navy's Master Plan For Its New Constellation-Class Frigates


The U.S. Navy's Master Plan For Its New Constellation-Class Frigates

These warships will be able to carry out a wide variety of tasks and will help free up larger and more powerful destroyers for other missions.

Deck mounted guns, drone operations and an integrated network of “meshed” sensors are all likely to operate as key components of the Navy’s new FFG 62 Constellation-class Frigate. These new warships will be tasked with many missions, including a requirement to find and destroy small swarming boat attacks, support carrier strike groups, conduct dis-aggregated operations, attack enemies with an over-the-horizon missile and engage in advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare.

Significantly, the Navy’s emerging weapons structure for its new Fincantieri-built Frigate, now nearing completion of its initial design phase according to a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command, likely aligns with the service’s initial vision for the ship.

A Navy statement several years ago said the platform will “employ unmanned systems to penetrate and dwell in contested environments, operating at greater risk to gain sensor and weapons advantages over the adversary.”

A well-armed ship, which is what the emerging structure of the ship clearly seems to be according to Fincantieri graphic renderings published by NAVSEA, is consistent with the Navy’s previously articulated plan for the ship, which envisioned a platform that could travel in substantial aggregated combat scenarios such as Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups. At the same time, in a manner likely aligned with the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations strategy, the concept for the ship also likely incorporates a requirement for the ship able to operate somewhat autonomously or separated from other ships in close proximity and operate drones to enable more disaggregated, independent missions. At its inception, Navy developers referred to the new Frigate as the FFG(X).

“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 (ISR&T) efforts,” Naval Sea Systems Command FFG(X) documents said.

The Navy vision for the ship, first articulated several years ago, seems to emphasize warfare networking priorities through use of terms like “blue force sensor and weapon influence.” Navy plans have long called for the establishment of a local sensor network using passive onboard sensors and “embarked aircraft” to act as a “gateway to the fleet tactical grid,” as Navy documents describe it. This Navy vision was expressed by the service’s call for a netted-system of sensors called Cooperative Engagement Capability, intended to connect radar systems to other sensor-derived information, according to Raytheon data.

A concept of networking is integral to the idea of linking the new Frigate with other large surface platforms such as cruisers, destroyers and even carriers to accomplish what the Navy’s initial Request For Information identified as a need for area air defense and an ability to defend against raids of small boats.

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.

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