The Navy's new Frigate, to be operational by 2023, will be armed with a wide range of new weapons to include long-range missiles. electronic warfare ability and anti-submarine technology.
The Navy is now finalizing the weapons, sensors and technologies it plans to engineer into a new, more survivable and lethal Littoral Combat Ship variant designed to perform anti-submarine and surface warfare functions at the same time, service officials said.
“You will be able to employ both of those mission areas simultaneously,” Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer, Frigate Program Manager, told Scout Warrior in an interview months ago in 2016. “This provides the fleet with flexibility because you can employ those ships in multiple ways and multiple venues.”
The new ship, called a Frigate, will be integrated with anti-submarine surface warfare technologies including sonar, an over-the-horizon missile and surface-to-surface weapons such as a 30mm gun and closer-in missiles such as the Hellfire.
“You will be able to have both the long range over-the-horizon missile and the Hellfire on board at the same time,” Brintzinghoffer said in a special discussion with Scout Warrior several months ago.
Some of the over-the-horizon missiles now being considered by the Navy include the Naval Strike Missile by Kongsberg, a modified Tomahawk missile, a Harpoon, Extended Range Griffin Missile or the Long-Range Anti-Ship missile, or LRASM made by Lockheed and the Pentagon's research arm, DARPA.
It is not yet known whether the Frigate will be engineered with Vertical Launch Systems to fire larger, longer-range missiles such as a Tomahawk or Standard Missile 6, among others. However, that could be a possibility depending upon emerging Navy requirements for weapons on the ship, developers have said.
Alongside ongoing efforts to specify weapons for the emerging Navy Frigate, the service is also hoping to integrate additional weaponry on the LCS itself. As a result, weapons development for both the new Navy Frigate and existing LCS are distinct, yet also interwoven initiatives.
For example, some of the weapons such as the Naval Strike Missile, however, are able to fire from a specially configured LCS deck-mounted launcher and will therefore not need vertical launch tubes. Lockheed is also in the early phases of desiging an LCS deck-mounted launcher for its LRASM.
In fact, the Navy plans to deploy two seperate long-range over-the-horizon missile weapons aboard its Littoral Combat Ship later this year as part of an effort to better arm the vessel and give it an ability to attack longer-range land and ocean targets than it is currently configured to do, according to industry sources familiar with the ship's development.
The Kongsberg-Raytheon Naval Strike Missile will soon deploy with the flat-bottomed "Freedom" variant LCS and a Harpoon Block IC missile will deploy on the Navy's trimaran "Independence" variant of the ship; the idea is to further assess each weapon in an operational setting as a way to better determine the ideal over-the-horizon weapon for the ship's future.
At the same time, the Navy is also weighing the prospect of arming the LCS and Frigate with the emering Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile or a laser-guided Extended Range Griffin Missile.
A formal competition among industry is expected at some point in the future, per Navy statements which indicate that no formal decision regarding which weapon will ultimately be integrated onto the ship has been made.
In September 2015, Director of Surface Warfare Rear Adm. Peter Fanta directed the installation of a technologically mature, over-the-horizon capability across in-service littoral combat ships to support the Navy's distributed lethality concept. Priority was given to Coronado and Freedom as ships preparing to deploy in fiscal year 2016.
The Navy's distributed ethality strategy involves numerous initiatives to better arm its fleet with offensive and defensive weapons, maintain a technological advantage over adversaries, such as the fast-growing Russian and Chinese navies, and strengthen its "blue water" combat abilities against potential near-peer rivals, among other things.
Arming the Littoral Combat Ship, and its more survivable and lethal variant, the Frigate, is designed to better equip the LCS for shallow and open water combat against a wider range of potential adversaries, such as enemy surface ships, drones, helicopters, small boats and maneuvering attack craft, at beyond-the-horizon ranges.
"The Navy is in the process of researching and defining requirements for a shipboard anti-ship missile. Competition will absolutely factor into any acquisitions strategy to ensure that we fulfill the requirement at the best value to the government," Navy spokeswoman Lt. Kara Yingling told Scout Warrior in an interview.
The LCS is already equipped with 30mm and 57mm guns to destroy closer-in enemy targets such as swarms of small boats and the Navy plans to deploy a maritime variant of the HELLFIRE Missile aboard the ship by next year to destroy approaching enemy targets from "within the horizon"
While the Navy is, perhaps more th While the Navy is, perhaps more than ever, still committed to freedom of navigation and working to ensure safe passage in strategic areas in international waterways, the new strategy is aimed at ensuring the entire fleet is engineered with the sensors, computer technology, radar, communications gear and weapons systems to over-match any potential near-peer competitor such as Russia or China. The strategy seeks to ensure the U.S, Navy retains its technological advantage amidst a fast-changing global technological landscape.
Part of the rationale to move back toward open or “blue water” combat capability against near peer competitors emphasized during the Cold War. While the strategic and tactical capability never disappeared, it was emphasized less during the last 10-plus years of ground wars wherein the Navy focused on counter-terrorism, counter-piracy and things like Visit Board Search and Seizure. These missions are, of course, still important, however the Navy seeks to substantially increases its offensive “lethality” in order to deter or be effective against emerging high-tech adversaries.
Having longer-range or over-the-horizon ship and air-launched weapons is also quite relevant to the “distributed” portion of the strategy which calls for the fleet to have an ability to disperse as needed. Having an ability to spread out and conduct dis-aggregated operations makes Navy forces less vulnerable to enemy firepower while. At the same time, have long-range precision-strike capability will enable the Navy to hold potential enemies at risk or attack if needed while retaining safer stand-off distance from incoming enemy fire.
Yingling said requirements for a ship-launched weapon of this kind were still being determined.
Navy Frigate - 2023:
The Frigate is slated for delivery to the Navy by 2023; the platform is an outgrowth of the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship effort which originally planned to build 52 shallow-water multi-mission ships equipped with interchangeable groups of technologies called “mission packages” for mine countermeasures, anti-submarine technologies and surface warfare systems.
However, lawmakers, analysts and some members of the Navy argued that the LCS was not “survivable” enough, meaning despite its speed of 40-knots and numerous advantages, the ship would be far too vulnerable to enemy attack. The concern, ultimately echoed by then Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, was that the ship did not have enough weapons, armor fortifications and what’s called “blue water” combat capability to challenge near-peer adversaries.
“LCS as designed is a focused mission ship. It can do one specific mission at a time and the combat capability to do that mission is provided by the mission packages,” he added. “We are going to take a modified LCS and take that as the baseline and then add changes or modifications to improve its lethality and survivability.”
The new ship will also have seven 11-meter Rigid Inflatable Boats for short combat or expeditionary missions such as visiting, searching and boarding other ships.
At the same time the anti-submarine technologies planned for the ship include a multi-function towed array sonar, variable depth sonar to detect submarines and sensors combined with a submarine hunting MH-60R helicopter.
While the LCS, which is currently in service with the Navy, is credited for its speed, maneuverability and shallow draft which enables it to access shallow water ports larger ships are unable to reach. The LCS ships in service this far have performed quite well, Navy officials explained. Six LCS vessels are currently in service, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command told Scout Warrior.
The initiative to engineer a more survivable and lethal LCS variant emerged out of a multi-month effort directed by Secretary Hagel and the formation of an entity called the Small Surface Combatant Task Force. There has been a chorus of concern from Pentagon leaders, members of Congress, analysts and some Navy officials about whether the existing LCS will be "survivable" enough to withstand and prevail in large-scale surface combat. Could the ship continue to function if struck by enemy fire? Does it have the needed long-range offensive strike capability? Will its maneuverability and 40-knot water speed enable it to avoid enemy attacks?