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Navy Slowing Frigate Procurement To Allow Careful Requirements Talks; Contract Award Set for FY2020

Austal USA frigate design. Austal USA image

The Navy has slowed its frigate procurement timeline, looking at awarding a detail design and construction contract in Fiscal Year 2020 to allow more time to understand what it needs the ship to do and how it might affordably meet those requirements.

Director of Surface Warfare Rear Adm. Ron Boxall told the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee in a hearing today that the Navy is working under time constraints but not cost constraints at the moment, as the current “Frigate Requirement Evaluation Team” works through what is now the second look at future frigate requirements.

A 2014 Small Surface Combatant Task Force deemed that the Littoral Combat Ship was not lethal or survivable enough and that upgrades should be made to the basic LCS designs to create what would become the “frigate.” But Boxall said several things are different this time around.

First, though he said he did not sit on the 2014 SSC TF and therefore didn’t want to criticize its work, he told lawmakers “the Small Surface Combatant Task Force, the environment when they created that task force was, I’ll call it reactive in nature. We were responding to criticisms and to get to a more capable, survivable ship as quickly as possible. And there was also fiscal guidance that was given to them at the time.”

This time, the Frigate Requirement Evaluation Team has not been given any cost guidance. Boxall told USNI News at the hearing that there wasn’t even a date yet for when the Navy would have a cost cap – rather, the surface warfare community is looking at what it needs, and will then engage industry to see what they can provide, and only then will they look at cost.

Second, the mission set as somewhat changed since 2014. Whereas the LCS and the frigate had been envisioned for primarily independent operations near the shore, the Navy now believes the LCS and frigate could be used by fleet commanders to support the carrier strike group out at sea. To support that, while still remaining a low-end surface combatant – compared to the high-end guided-missile destroyers and cruisers that cost upwards of $1.5 billion apiece – Boxall said the Navy is assessing what self-protection systems, offensive weapons, strike group connectivity and more the frigate would need to be the right ship at the right price tag. He described the right role as something between the LCS’s current self-protection air defense capabilities and the destroyer’s wide area air defense, for example. And he said the Navy was looking at some kind of upgrade to the LCS’s rotating radar, but whether the solution would be a fixed or rotating solid state radar is a focus of discussions now.

An artist’s conception for variants of the Freedom-class LCS design provided to USNI News. Lockheed Martin Image

Seapower subcommittee chairman Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) told USNI News after the hearing that the frigate would likely have to have a more sophisticated radar, more firepower and the ability to connect to the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) construct that destroyers have. For example, Wittman said, the frigate wouldn’t need to have the Aegis Combat System, but it would have to have Link-16 or some other way for a destroyer’s Aegis Combat System to send it targeting data. The frigate may not have the eyes to see longer-range targets itself, but it should be able to support a destroyer or other naval platform that can see the target and direct the frigate’s missiles to prosecute a target.

Third, Boxall said in 2014 the Navy discounted foreign frigate designs due to none of them exactly meeting its requirements, and the need to quickly begin work on a frigate that would quell LCS detractors. Today, Boxall said there still doesn’t appear to be any other small surface combatant design, foreign or domestic, that exactly meets its needs, but the Navy is willing to hear more about these designs and understand how expensive it would be to modify them for frigate requirements.

“We have less data on the foreign designs than we do on most of the other designs in the U.S., but having said that, what we learned from the Small Surface Combatant Task Force was that we made some assumptions then that weren’t exactly right,” he said.
“We don’t know if they can or can’t [meet the new frigate requirements] with a foreign design, or U.S. builder with a foreign partner, and so we believe it’s in the interest of the Navy to look at the requirements and to be able to include anyone [in a] full and open competition to get us the best capability at the best price. Having said that, there are challenges with any option” the Navy is aware of and will have to look at the cost to adapt these designs for a U.S. frigate.

Boxall declined to provide more specifics on the steps the Navy would take between now and the detail design and construction contract award in 2020, saying that additional details may be revealed in the FY 2018 budget request, expected to be released later this month. They also had little to say about the fate of LCS acquisition between now and 2020 – the two shipyards need the Navy to buy three ships a year to maintain efficient shipbuilding, but Boxall and Rear Adm. John Neagley, the program executive officer for LCS, would not commit to how many ships the Navy actually hoped to buy in FY 2018 and 2019.

Neagley said at the hearing that the shipyard’s production capacity would play a role in the Navy’s selection of a frigate shipbuilder. The two yards currently building the LCS – Austal USA and Marinette Marine, who previously would have competed against one another in a closed competition for the frigate contract – have made significant investments in their yards for the LCS and frigate program, Neagley said, and “we want to leverage as much of that as possible.”

Though much is still unknown about the frigate, both the Navy officers and the lawmakers noted that time is an important factor. Boxall said the frigate is meant to take some strain off the destroyer force, which will be shrinking in the coming years. The longer it takes to field a frigate, he said, the more strain will remain on the destroyers and the LCSs as they begin deploying around the world.

  • NavySubNuke

    Good news – sometimes slow is fast. Taking the time to do things right now – especially nailing down firm requirements – will save time and money in the long run.

    • Ctrot

      True, IF this leads to something other than LCS being shoe horned into the frigate role.

    • RTColorado

      The expression is “slow is smooth, smooth is fast” and there is little that has been “smooth” regarding the LCS or new frigate program. Unfortunately, I’ve been involved in a few military procurement processes. Everything starts out with the best intentions, the RFP’s go out, everyone sharpens their pencils and proposals are submitted, reviewed and a winning bid is selected.. the plans are submitted and approved, engineering begins in earnest…then the change orders arrive. This when the “train goes off the tracks” so to speak. The more everyone tries to “tweak” the design…lengthen this, widen that, add two more compartments, mount one more of these aft, stick on one of those here…etc., etc., etc. It’s a lot like the wise adage about husbands and wives, she spends twenty years changing him into a good husband, then complains “What happened to the man I married?”.

      • NavySubNuke

        True – some of that is always going to happen as you learn more and understand what the system is and is capable of. What I can’t believe is when requirements change during construction which causes the design to change which causes rework to the construction. You at least need to have fixed the requirements before you start bending metal!

        • RTColorado

          I wish it were that simple, but what happens is somebody somewhere goes to a symposium or a conference, watches a video and all of a sudden that manthrough that was called out to be 32″ inches becomes 36″ inches (which is just one inch wider than the Mk 182 manthrough stretcher will stretch) and it a new traveller, etc., etc….then…..

  • Desplanes

    The second to last paragraph makes it sound like this will still be LCS based. Hopefully I’m wrong and the Navy will look at other hulls, like the HII Patrol Frigate designs.

    • tpharwell

      You aren’t. They just showed their hand.

      • @USS_Fallujah

        The last two paragraph both telegraph what their intent is (leverage existing production line & quickly move to procurement to alleviate hull shortages), but there is also an enormous amount of pressure being applied from HASC/SASC for a more robust capability and survivability than the LCS hulls can deliver, the review may give them the ammo they need to force a change. What’s unknown is where HACD/SACD are on this, a NSC or DDG based FFG is going to either mean a lot fewer hulls built or a lot more money. The ~$3B the appropriators added to the shipbuilding account for FY17 could mean there will be funds to procure a true FFG, but if they are still wanting to build 2 DDGs, 2 SSNs (w/ SSBN) a year & still support CVN & ‘Phibs production rates….even that bump won’t save the SSC program from the squeeze.
        Perhaps the real tell on this will be when the production cost estimates for the FFG requirement are leaked. If the LCS based FFG costs $700m or less each it will be hard to beat. Likewise if the NSC (or DDG) based FFG design looks to cost over $1B each it won’t be competitive. My guess is we’ll end up with a “stretched” Freedom Class hull with a non-Aegis NIFCA-CA enabled radar/control suite, 8-16 VLS cells with the full LCS ASW suite (tail, 2 helos & indigenous torpedo launch, either ASROC or tubes – or hopefully both).

        • tpharwell

          Pressure, to say the least. But Senators and Congressman come and go, while the faceless bureaucrat fancies he can last a lifetime, and in the contest ‘twixt the two, the nod often goes to the latter. Stackley and his wall of admirals figure they can outlast McCain and Co.

          Though couched in bureaucratic vagaries and subtleties, the meaning of these recent announcements by the acting SECDEF is crystal clear: The Navy he runs does not want any sort of frigate; it wants to keep building LCS. On the finer points, I agree in part and disagree in part, as I will make plain.

          To wit: A review of the record will dispel any doubt as to where the SASC stands. McCain is a longtime opponent of the LCS, and his committee is behind him. They want something else. In the closing lines of his last letter to the erstwhile SECDEF on this subject before Mabus left office, he and the ranking member, Reed, directed the Navy to come forward with a proposal to fund construction of a frigate, in place of either LCS, starting “as soon as possible within the next decade”, which means, by the year 2020. That also means: “get to work”. Stackley’s announcement of last week means “we will think about it, for three years”.

          Were they otherwise inclined, they already have at hand the means by which they could make this change. The super-duper version of the patrol frigate that Ingalls offered, some four years ago, based upon the NSC, features a 16 cell VLS, without hull changes. It also has advanced radars, and the same core combat information and fire control systems as Aegis, according to my sources. The list of state of the art things it would have goes on, but were that hull not to be chosen, there is also the OPC presently in the works. I could name more, but Navy needs only one satisfactory item to choose from. It has at least two.

          The cost of the Ingalls patrol frigate would come in at about $750M. They are currently building the NSC at a cost to the taxpayer of about $500M. It is no trouble to drive up cost with add-ons. That is what Stackley is trying to do by forming a committee which will find that the frigate should have an area-air defense system, so that it can perform critical convoy escort duty over long distances. But, what do you think Ingalls would do, if Navy offered them a contract to build 32 of their frigates, with an option for 8 more, with 16 VLS, ESSEM, NULKA, et cetera, starting two years from now, at a unit price of $800M ? Take it, or leave it. [?]


          Concerning the prospect of an LCS-based frigate, the first thing to be noted is that this is an impossibility. Therefore the price is infinitely great. But assuming arguendo that either of these pigs could be dressed up to look like a frigate, the unit cost of such a swine would easily be as much, and in all likelihood, more, given the critical and intractable design problems. As is, when factoring in all the R&D costs, involving open end-ended cost-plus contracts, and the still unfinished combat system packages, or “modules” that they are supposed to carry, the LCS are already pre-destined to come in at a price close to $1B. The bareboat “as is, with no changes” production price alone is almost $500M.

          The Freedom class will not be stretched. It can not be: unless LM goes out and buys a different ship from someone else, and calls it a frigate. Which, incidentally, leads me to point out something else, which is that both Austal and LM would be happy to ditch their designs, and build something else, as long as they got paid handsomely to do it, which they would, on a cost-plus basis, and Navy then would be happy to go along with this, so long as it resulted in a budget increase.

          But back to the subject. Unlike the Ingalls NSC, the Freedom class LCS, despite its 70 odd tanks, has no automated ballasting system to maintain trim. It rides up and down in the water with its live load. It was meant to plane like a speed boat. It has such a hull, though it is 360 feet long. Consequently, it rides rather rough in ordinary seas. As for worse, consult the movie “A Perfect Storm”.

          To counteract this problem, which leads most commonly to pounding, the Freedom class have one, I repeat, one ballast tank. It is fore of midship, on the center line. Now therefore, based on these facts alone, you can conclude what the purpose of that tank is. It is to keep the bow down, and thus to COUNTERACT THE SHIP’S NATURAL TENDENCY”, which is to pound. Captain and crew usually like to cruise with this tank full, and the ship down by the bow, and pretend they serve on a larger ship, or at least, a decent WWII tin can.

          These ships have terrible fuel economy and limited range. They are also at the limit of their design weight margins when yet to be manufactured and delivered equipment is factored in. Presently, they must off-load fuel to make weight for cruising. Also to be noted, is that they have suffered a string fatal (as in towed back to port) propulsion related mechanical breakdowns.

          Added weight, and added hull surface area lead to added resistance from water and added inertia, which leads to increased load on propulsion engine and gears, given constant speed and conditions. Therefore, were the Freedom class to be stretched, this alone would aggravate its range requirement, cost, and mechanical problems, and would require among other things, that MOST OF THE ADDED DISPLACEMENT BE GIVEN OVER TO PROPULSION FUEL TANKS.

          This in turn would aggravate the ballasting, sea-handling and stability problems of the ship. In fact, I submit, this would result in an impossible ship. A new one would be required. And it would be cheaper, for the cost of a stretch LCS is impossible to reckon.

          This is why the USN will not build a frigate based on the Freedom hull. It does not wish to discontinue building LCS, of either variant, all the same. This explains why it is unwilling to consider building a different “small” vessel at this time, or anytime in the foreseeable future.

          I agree that there are multiple fatal problems associated with the current shipbuilding program of the USN, and that this is merely one.

          • DaSaint

            While I enjoyed reading your post and others, I’m still puzzled that no one has stated one other key factor: The Navy doesn’t want all its combatants built by Bath, and HII.

            Bath is again busy with Burkes, and by losing the OPC contract, proved it couldn’t be price competitive for volume production.

            HII is busy with amphibs and Burkes. The Navy doesn’t want to add an FFG line there also.

            The Perry class build strategy was similar: Keep the large yards building major combatants, and find smaller yards for the Perrys, which were built at 3 or 4 yards if memory serves me correctly.

            Further, no one complained, or is complaining, about the armament or survivability of either of the 2 classes of MCM vessels, nor the armament or survivability of the Cyclones, regardless of where or how they are employed. Yet these are the vessels to be replaced by the LCS.

            These vessels clearly have flaws and limitations, but honestly, I felt the same about the Perrys when they were introduced. I mean seriously, who could get excited about a 28 knot, single shaft, songle fas turbine vessel with 2 drop down emergency pods for 6 knots? With a 76mm with extremely limited firing arcs. With a single-arm missile launcher for a load-out of the least-capable of the SM family of SAMs. With a FCS that was barely decent on a PHM, never mind an FFG.

            Yet we grew to appreciate their numbers, their large flight deck and 2 hangars, hull sonar, and eventually upgrades for helicopter handling and CIWS for additional defense. But what really did it was when they survived unexpected attacks and resultant damage on two occasions.

            The LCS may bear a similar fate. Large flight decks, impressive hangar spaces, more speed than really necessary, and the numbers to create a presence in enough places to free up the really useful combatants for more demanding environments.

            And of course, by maintaining the efficiencies of 2 non-Bath/HII yards, the Navy gets to have its cake and eat it too.

          • tpharwell

            Thank you. Different perspective, valuable information, and a number of good points. [But].. Alas, the decline in the number and capacities of skilled naval shipbuilders in America, cited, incidentally, by die-hard proponents of a continuing multi-class LCS program as justification for its existence, is an inevitable consequence of arguably fated historical trends, but also elective procurement management decisions that up until now have consistently led to a smaller United States Navy consisting of mostly larger, more complex, more sophisticated, and more expensive ships. And as we move forward, we will continue to find that the American taxpayer can only afford to keep so many yards that know how to do it right.

            Though perhaps the right thing to do, the resumption of the Burke program was a step backwards. (The USMC would call this an advance to the rear.) The USN can not continue to cram newer, heavier, more complex, more resource intensive, more different things in to the Burke hull, and some day, will have to stop building Burkes. As others wiser and more experienced than myself have previously pointed out, the LCS shipbuilders possess the only naval shipyards in America that are presently working at full capacity, and unless these trends abate, and/or the problems associated with them are fixed, it is a pretty safe bet that there will be a further downsizing in this business (attendant either way with soaring costs); and if for the sake of “preserving the shipbuilding industrial base”, the USN continues to send LCS orders to Austal and LM-MM, then some other yards will go without sufficient business. The first will be BIW, and General Dynamics will sell it or close it.

            Such are the problems that will result from making naval procurement decisions on the basis of what is in the best interest of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and the Austal LCS consortium. I aver that they should be based on the well-founded requirements of the US Navy. I further aver that neither LCS fit that bill, except possibly for MCM work, in the case of the Independence class.

            Your third point may be true, but is of no consequence. Ingalls wants to build frigates for the USN. Which yard it wishes to build them in is its business. It also does not want to build them in Istanbul. To the extent that such matters have bearing on this discussion, they only argue against the point you seem to be trying to make, for Ingalls has a yard called Newport News, and it does not just build aircraft carriers; it also builds frigates for the US Coast Guard – referred to as “National Security Cutters”. One such frigate was put in the water a week or so ago.

            This program is nearing the end of its run. Eight were originally planned. Six have been built, or are under construction. Two more will be completed within the next three years.

            The Coast Guard has not asked that this program be extended. Therefore, if all goes as planned, this line will grow cold in three years. In this year’s recent amendment to the 2017 Defense Appropriations Act, however, Congress has seen fit to give the Coast Guard advanced funds for the construction of a 9th NSC.

            This proves that there is presently money available for the construction by Ingalls of patrol frigate for the United States Navy, and a place for it in the ways of the Newport News yard. There also happen to be plans, that have been on the shelf for four years. They need merely be updated. And starting in 2020, construction could begin, as called for by Senators McCain and Reed. All that need happen is that this line item be transferred from the Homeland Security account to the Defense Department.

            This is not happening. Query, why ? Because the USN does not want a frigate to replace the LCS. It wants to continue building LCS of both variants, even though plans originally called for a model down-select. And now as has in so many words been officially stated by the Secretary of the Navy, the reason is that he does not wish to take business away from either of the yards that build them. Handsome is as handsome does. And so we are left with a condition in which the USN and the American taxpayer are working for Lockheed Martin Corporation, and incidentally, the Austal joint venture.

            There will never be a frigate based on either LCS. The SECNAV is fighting a rearguard action in defense of the LCS program, and resisting calls to build a frigate within the current planning cycle which encompasses the LCS. Were this course to be reversed, LM would put Martin Marinette up for sale. It would end up building frigates under license from Ingals, for Ingalls has not the capacity to build frigates in the numbers required. BIW would also build them, or move forward with a CG[x} based on the Zumalt, as it should.

            r/s TPH

          • DaSaint

            Some good points there again. But let me say this.

            1. Neither the Marinette yard nor the Austal yard has the capability to build large displacement vessels the size of a Burke, a Burke replacement, or similar. That puts them out of the running for such a replacement.

            2. LM is a behemoth, but doesn’t own the Marinette yard. It’s called Marinette Marine, and it’s owned by Fincantieri Marine Group Holdings, Inc., a subsidiary of Fincantieri – Cantieri Navali Italiani SpA (Fincantieri). The net purchase price in the all-cash deal was approximately $120 million. LM may be a minority shareholder, but they don’t have the leadership position in ownership.
            3. HII has the ‘benefit’ of sole-sourced CVN production, sole-sourced LHA/LHD production, sole-sourced LSD/LPD/LX production, shared DDG production, shared SSN production, shared SSBN production, and yes, as if they needed the work, NSC production. BIW, a subsidiary of industry giant General Dynamics, has shared DDG production, had CG production, shared SSN production and shared SSBN production. Does one really think they have capacity issues? I’d posit that BIW has a price-issue due to their wage scales, and the fact that they haven’t invested in all-weather interior construction, which constrains their production cycles and drives up costs.
            4. BIW’s ‘issues’ cost them the OPC contract. Bollinger wasn’t going to get it – ‘eggs in one basket issues’, and Eastern won due not only to design, but as or more importantly due to their investment in production facilities and proven commercial cost controls and delivery schedule adherence.
            5. The LCS is flawed. Granted. Given. Agreed. But it, it’s modified versions, or it’s successors, will not be coming from a major yard. Both designs have flaws, but both are correctable – to some extent. They are not major warships, and should never be considered as such, and we all need to see that. I’d be astonished if we outfitted our MCMS with a 57mm and SSMs, or even a helipad and hangars, but we just did. Or if we fitted the Cyclones with the same. But we just did. So be it, they are up-gunned small craft…that grew to be not so small. Remember the Street Fighter Concept? Well, somehow steroids entered the picture.
            6. There is a reason that Austal USA is even in existence, and it goes back, way back to the SecNav from the 600-ship era. It’s not an accident that that yard started producing lightweight catamaran ferries here in the US for commercial use, and then for the Hawaii Fast Ferry (that’s another story), then ‘voila’ the JHSV and the LCS. They’re not going anywhere, as the infrastructure put in place to build AND support those unique aluminum-based craft will NOT be supported anywhere else. Plus, too many are involved with that production and launch services, not the least of which include BAE.
            Bottom line, there will be a FFG, but I have no idea whether it will be a derivative of current LCS or a new design. Considering the Navy’s stated intent to complete the 40 LCS/FF designs, the FFG may just be limited to 12 vessels, and who knows, it could be a derivative of the NSC, which I guess would keep everyone happy: Marinette, Austal USA, and Ingalls. Problem solved.

          • tpharwell

            There is much here that we should be able to sort out as falling in to the category of accidental or unimportant differences, for the sake of narrowing them down. Unfortunately, that plays to my weakness, which is an abundance of thoroughness, to the point of seeming longwinded and vain. These matters require some picking through, and thus require more patience on the part of the reader as is usual. Please understand, therefore, that the intent is not to lecture, nor to argue, but on the contrary, to apply the Golden Rule, and to show at least as much respect to those who favor me with a response to my writings, as they have thus shown to me.

            That said, to make it brief but thorough:

            1. I have not said, nor implied, nor wish to, that the Marinette yard is large enough to build a Burke. I furthermore do not regard that issue of any relevance, pro or con, to the arguments I have been making. The same goes for the Austal yard. Quite frankly, those matters are beyond my ken. But outside of matters of faith, I do not make it a practice of taking as given factual matters of importance to me that a reasonable man exercising due diligence in the conduct of his own business, would inquire in to himself, before acting in reliance thereon. I have never been in the Navy, nor mastered a ship, but believe me, I would never steer a Burke in to Green Bay just because you told me the channel was deep enough.

            What I did say, or imply, was that the Marinette Yard could build a frigate of lesser displacement than a Burke, specifically, a navalized version of the NSC, which comes in at about 4,400 tons, FLD, currently. I should surely hope so, for I think it is a great thing that ships are being built on the Great Lakes again, and now that this investment has been made, I feel that it would be detrimental to the interests of the United States Navy, and to the American taxpayer, for this yard to be proven useless to same. For this very reason, were you to tell me that that yard was not fit to produce anything bigger or better than the Freedom class LCS, I would regard this as very bad news, for as I have made clear and need not explain further, I am opposed to building more of these ships than are actually under construction at this time: and by that, I do not mean, as some do, that the ship’s bells have been ordered for the next sixteen.

            2. Regarding the ownership of Marinette, I suggest that we both might wish to check our facts. Please elaborate if you feel you have good authority on this subject. It is my understanding, however, which has been confirmed by numerous conversations like this, and never before challenged, that Fincantieri sold out to Lockheed Martin a long time ago. I am not talking about splitting hairs as to whether it was an asset sale, or a stock sale, nor in playing corporate shell games. You mention a sale price as if it were a transaction between a parent corporation and a controlled subsidiary, but then go on to mention LM, and state they do not have a controlling interest. My understanding is to the contrary. All the builders trials have been run by LM. The press releases have come from them. On this subject, I will be happy to do more homework, and report back.

            3. In contrast, your third paragraph consists largely of an abundance of information none of which is news to me, followed by a rhetorical question that poses a challenge to what I have said before, and thus is merely argumentative.

            Yes, I have it on good authority that the Huntington Ingalls yard in Virginia is not working at full capacity. I have seen evidence of that. Therefore, I say so. Furthermore, it is common knowledge which you have not seen fit to challenge, and which I will therefore ask our readers to take note of without exception, that Ingalls is scheduled at this time to build no more than three more NSC for the Coast Guard, and possibly only two, which when completed by about 2020 will constitute the final ships built in this class, and that therefore, the portion of the yard at which those ships are being built will be idled at that time, leading to excess capacity, unless they find something else to build there. That is the relevant time frame under consideration for purposes of discussion of the issue of what to build next and where for the USN. QED: under capacity given the Navy’s current plans and those of the Coast Guard.

            4. I have said next to nothing about the OPC, and nothing concerning it in connection with BIW. On this subject, you have done all the talking. I have no idea where this is all coming from, or where it is headed. If you wish to make that plain, please do so. I am disposed to finding your information on this subject credible, as a matter of first impression, but I do not see how it has any relevance to the arguments concerning that LCS that I have raised.

            5. I do have a serious problem with what you have stated in your paragraph numbered 5. Perhaps it is worthwhile that you stated it, just the same, for it raises the crux of the matter.

            Opinion is opinion. Predictions are predictions. And so far as matters of fact are concerned, conclusory statements are not evidence where I come from. I therefore reject the following statement for the reason that it simply presumes the matter in controversy:

            “The LCS is flawed. Granted. Given. Agreed. But it, it’s modified versions, or it’s successors, will not be coming from a major yard.”

            Firstly, to repeat what I have repeated, I am not in favor of a modified version of the LCS intended to serve as a frigate, coming from any yard, large or small. Is that clear ? As for a successor to it, I would admonish you not to be argumentative, nor to presume that you can take the fatherly and superior approach to dealing with me by simply averring the opposite of what I have, and telling me in which yard such a successor can, or can not be built.

            The successor can be a navalized version of the NSC. It can be built where those vessels are currently being built, starting soon. That is a major yard. You are frankly asserting that your say so is all that matters, and therefore inviting me to engage in a childish argument with you, as if you sat in judgment over this question. A successor can be built. Somewhere. Where exactly, it is not my aim to settle. Maybe Wisconsin. Maybe Mobile. Maybe Halifax, where frigates are currently being built. Maybe Bath. Surely, Ingalls.

            That the LCS are not major warships is besides the point. I say that they are not satisfactory small warships. I am not alone in this. Having debated this issue at this and other forums for more than four years, I am not interested in rehashing it. There are many who know more than I that I have relied upon in coming to this conclusion. I am also of the conviction that the USN needs MCM vessels, which in my opinion should be dedicated to that purpose. The modules concept has been discredited, and the Navy front office has pretty much conceded that it has been tossed aside. There is not going to be more than one mission package for every LCS that is built. The question is whether there will ever be that many. I hold to the position that the Navy should make use of every LCS that has been built, FOR OPERATIONAL PURPOSES; and that none be consigned to “reserve status”, or in other words, the mothball fleet, because they have since been deemed to be developmental prototypes [ha,ha]; but I understand that this may not be possible for some that have since suffered drivetrain failures. If you ask me, they all should be devoted to MCM work. And they should have good equipment aboard them. And if we can not find it here, or make it soon, perhaps we should acquire it from allies who have more extensive and up-to-date such systems.

            I hold that a frigate should have a bigger gun. But all the same, as others have satisfactorily shown, the problem with the 57 aboard the LCS is the fire control and sensors system. Also there are some mechanical and geometrical problems, associated with such things as trying to shoot at a ship you are running away from, and returning ammunition to the magazine. I have heard of the Streeter Fighter concept. It has been consigned to the dustbin of history, and I am glad of it. I think the Cyclones were good. I admit, however, to having no qualifications for saying so, so make of that what you please. Neither LCS, on the other hand, do I consider to be formidably “upgunned” small craft, or impressive “gunboat”. On the contrary, at about 3,400 tons FLD, and 360 feet, I consider them to be under-endowed and under-performing full sized (though small) warships that are costly to build and to maintain and operate, and which are useful for little more than MCM work. If you differ, just say so, and let us not debate this subject further.

            6. I do not hold the Austal corporation or their products in low regard. They are good shipbuilders, and they gave the USN what it asked for. Their design approach was simple and therefore sensible. The ship has speed, stability, and a simpler propulsion solution than the Fincantieri design. In any case, I am glad to hear that they are here to stay. Functioning shipyards are not for burning. Since they have commercial business and know how to build ships, returning to the earlier issue raised, the fate of this shipyard and its operator should not be tied hopefully, to the fate of the LCS version they make. But ASW is principally what a frigate is needed for, and the Independence class LCS can not be made in to a satisfactory long-range ASW frigate.

            So, if you have no idea what will, take my word for it. If it comes at all, it will come from the Ingalls NSC design. If you have misgivings about this, or think the Navy should, as I said, relax, for they will have to share the business. But take note, that 40 LCS is about 30 too many, whereas 12 frigates is not enough. Again, what you are saying reinforces my original point. Navy’s present leadership has no intention to stop building LCS. They are fighting a rearguard action in defense of this program against McCain & Co, and other critics such as myself, or greater or lesser influence. They will give up no ground without a fight. Their strategy has all along been to stall, and whenever necessary, run the toll booth in order to build as many LCS as possible. No good news here, but at least the problem is found, and the road to reform begins with that.

    • Curtis Conway

      If Arctic operation capability is in the requirement, then Austal USA and Marinette Marine will have some more capital investments to make. At least they will still have jobs. Perhaps there will be a Frigate Leader that can be manufactured by HII. I hope HII is busy replacing LHA/LHDs with new USS America (LHA-6) Class vessels with and without welldecks.

  • tpharwell

    Another three years for the Navy to figure out what it wants in the way of a ship, other than the LCS. Another three to seven, or eleven, for a contractor to come up with it under a cost-plus design/build contract. And then another 20 for serial production. Sounds reasonable.

    Because the admirals say Navy does not know what it wants; but on the other hand, is sure enough to know that there is nothing currently available “foreign or domestic” than can meet those still unknown requirements.

    Hmmm. Quite agnostic if you ask me. Meanwhile, Ingalls offers to build a patrol frigate that can do all these things, whether Navy cares, or not. Careful not to stumble over it.

    • @USS_Fallujah

      By my reading the intent is to procure/award the FFE/FFG in 2020, no details on when the decision on what option (LCS+, NSC or foreign design, etc) would be given, only that the intent was to award in 2020 vice 2018.

      • tpharwell

        Yes and no. Careful reading also means careful not to leap to conclusions. Yes, the stated intent is to procure a contract “to design and construct” such a vessel commencing in 2020. But this will be perforce a preliminary contract: an RFP for a DEVELOPMENT contract to produce a design for a ship, and perhaps a model of such, which the USN may then approve of, and enter in to negotiations for, or not. In other words, an RFP not unlike the one that went out for the LCS fifteen years ago. And nothing found here precludes the possibility of multiple awards, once again.

        That much we find in the opening statement of this article. No more is warranted, for the USN no longer designs its own ships nor is it presently calling for designs of such. Thus, that process will take about a year. And then, as I said, based on experience, it should take the contractor anywhere from three to seven years to come up with something. And then, serial production might begin. Circa 2026.

        All the Navy is really saying is that it intends to take another three years in order to decided what if anything it wants other than LCS. Since the Ingalls design is extant, and NSC are already at times providing escort services to Navy vessels, we can presume Navy is not interested in it at this time.

  • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

    As I understand, the Navy has:

    1. Recognized that the mission and world have changed and LCS may not longer be the solution basis.
    2. It will study what it actually needs and whether it can be built or converted.
    3. It will not constrain itself to a design basis (LCS hull) that may not meet needs or is not fit to purpose.
    4. It will not tie itself to arbitrary cost ceilings. Capability is what matters.

    Huh. A refreshing bit of common sense from the LCS front.

    • tpharwell

      I hate disappoint you, but Lazarus has submitted this explanation of the decision in question, which is at variance with your hopeful conclusions:

      “This decision is motivated more by a desire to keep both shipyards open longer and push back s frigate down select then by any real capabilities change for the frigate. There is no $$$ for the larger, more capable frigate that some in Congress want. The financial conditions will not likely be any better next year.”

      • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

        That is an… interesting explanation considering we have absolutely little idea what LCS-FF will cost to acquire let alone it’s operating and support (O&S) costs.

        Conversely: I would imagine we have a pretty good idea of what some of the foreign options might cost.

  • Lazarus

    This decision is motivated more by a desire to keep both shipyards open longer and push back s frigate down select then by any real capabilities change for the frigate. There is no $$$ for the larger, more capable frigate that some in Congress want. The financial conditions will not likely be any better next year.

    • JohnQTaxPayer66

      You sir won the internet today, congratz, you nailed it. Need to keep buying f35’s.

  • Curtis Conway

    Finally, sanity in the process that honors the sacrifices of the “Greatest Generation”! Throwing away the Survivability Standard for Surface Combatants out of budget pressure, and ignoring the dangers of the modern battle space, never was the way to go, and that equational change started all the way back in the ’90’s. Then a budget based, narrowly defined, specification that was not based upon reality (one must survive [defend ones self] to make a difference) in the modern battle space what ever, and where ever, that battle space is located (e.g., 30 mm guns on Strykers).

    I recall the first time the USS Ticonderoga got underway with an all navy crew, and we went to Puerto Rico for a missile shoot. The first submarine that popped up a periscope and took a look at the ship say hundreds of little red lights all over the ship, because the designers thought that an indicator light top side on EVERY communication box was important. It was not! Reality ladies and gentlemen is what is important, not some little pet theory or idea about what they think is best. THAT is what FOT&E is all about. THAT group should participate in this definition process.

    Hopefully the new frigate will be able to steam anywhere (including the Arctic/Antarctic) with confidence during Independent Steaming Exercises maintaining/providing Presence Missions. A non-rotating 3D AESA radar should be the foundation of that combat system, but it should have a huge Multi-Spectral Passive capability. The time has come for the introduction of Directed Energy Weapons in a big way on a Surface Combatant.

  • Robert Pyle

    Let us re-look at some of what we have used in the past, take best practices and look at an approach to what the needs are. The Perry class frigates were good ships, but I would say a similar hull but upgraded weapons suite would do very well for what the Navy is looking for. Some times we throw away as obsolete designs that can be utilized for the information needed to build something new.

    • William Sager

      The LCS hulls are even better shaped and it is designed to use a tiny crew. It’s biggest problem is it’s designed to go 46 knots. Remove it’s two inner turbines and replace them with small diesel/electric hybrid drive which would free up room for anti submarine systems as well as provide power for a laser when the Navy starts handing them out. Indeed in a few years I predict someone will perfect a small (5 to 700lb Navy Drone) which could be programmed to automatically fly along and dip it’s sonar into the ocean. This way the SH-60 doesn’t need to be everywhere.

    • El_Sid

      The Perrys weren’t designed for easy upgrades but for easy construction, which meant they are highly compartmentalised. That’s made it a nightmare for people like the Aussies to upgrade them.

      Also they wouldn’t be accepted under modern habitability standards and eg increased HVAC – other navies have found that you need to add 10-15% to the displacement to account for those things.

      So an upgraded Perry is not an option.

  • Ed L

    2020? Really. No mention of the NSC National security cutter Huntington is building. Nothing about the four different frigates variants that Huntington worked up and proposed proposed for the NSC Frigate. I wondered if this board is even consider looking at that or they’re being paid not to look at the Huntington NSC variants Huntington’s FF4923

  • JohnQTaxPayer66

    What a total load of crap. Translation, we’re buying the full production runs of the LCS, we’re going to completely ignore the FFG problem and pretend it will go away and we have no choice but to build more LCS and call them FFGs. Meanwhile, that whole need to replace the Tico cruisers we’re already behind on, yeah we’ll make sure that will be a rush job that way when we retire and pick up our cushy jobs at the ship builders, we can totally cash in on the mess we created. Only one place on earth worse than Congress in doing it’s job, it’s NAVSEA. #facepalm

  • Grimwald

    The LCS was not designed for the frigate role. It’s purpose was for littoral combat and escort. It seems that may be barely appropriate for LHA(D) and LSD escort but never as a deep water fleet unit. I believe the Navy knows this (perhaps always has). The USCC Legend Class is a logical starting point.

    • PolicyWonk

      While I fully agree that the HII Legend-class NSC represents a solid starting point for a frigate, when it comes to the deceitful designation that refers to the “littoral combat ship”, one only need review the interview on Breaking Defense with former CNO Adm Jonathan Greenert, who declared (or admitted) that the “littoral combat ship” was “never intended to venture into the littorals to engage in combat…”.

      This mind-boggling revelation stunned those of us who follow these matters (for hopefully obvious reasons). Then the notion (from the USN) when answering criticism w/r/t to incredibly light armament (even with the SuW package installed) that LCS wouldn’t travel alone, and would have to be protected by a Burke, made us wonder what good this immensely expensive sea-frame would be to the navy overall.

      A $400M sea-frame (not counting mission package) to protect against $150k worth of speed boats seems, um, insane. Especially given that it would have serious difficulty defending itself against a naval peer.

      Hence – for many of us – most of us – the USN still lacks a littoral platform – and has no frigates in the pipeline.

      • Ed L

        Huntington Ingalls did a presentation in January 2017 the FF4923 version of the NSC National Security Cutter. You can U tube it.

    • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

      Using LCS as an escort is a stretch — given it’s limited range.

    • BlueSky47

      The key problem here is that no one can really say what “littoral combat” really is. Perhaps if someone could give us some real life examples of littoral combat (and not power point battle please), then perhaps we’ll can finally understand the deeper meaning of the LCS (or maybe a tok on a joint would work just as well). 😛

  • @USS_Fallujah

    The LCS is what it is, the Navy is going to wind up with 32 or whatever of them and hopefully will find ways to get out money’s worth out of them. Now for the 12ish FFGs that congress clearly wants (though that’s misleading, HASC/SASC are adamant, but the appropriators get the final word…). I see this going one of two ways, and expanded LCS hull to accommodate radars/cooling & 8-16 VLS to accommodate ESSM four packs or a true FFG either based on the NSC or a cutdown DDG-51 hull design. If I had to bet (and I’m not a betting man) I’d put money on a the stretched Freedom Class hull proposal.

  • Matt

    My understanding of frigates are that they are the work horses. Don’t get wrapped up with semantics here, a frigate is just a smaller ship. LCS is a frigate. So what are we going to do if we need frigates and we are still yapping about the ones we should have already built? I have yet to read an article bringing light to this serious issue. What if the Army had no troop carriers? Or the Air Force decided to retire the F-16 before replacements were flying? Our Navy is seriously under-equipped without frigates, why in the world isn’t this an issue? We are missing 50 ships…. come on people.

    • tpharwell

      So the LCS are workhorses, are they ? They are frigates, because all a frigate is is a small warship ?? And so the LCS are frigates as they stand now, because you choose to equate the two terms, and then tell your readers not to engage in semantics ?? Come on yourself, and start making some sense.

      • Matt

        You make no sense ?? ?? ??

    • BlueSky47

      but Matt, the sea going vessel formally known as the LCS is a
      “Battle Frigate!” of the Sir Robin class. 😛

      • Matt

        Sir Robin Class? Is that a Brit joke…? The LCS attracts some extreme hate… i get it. But the size of the ship makes it a frigate. And any frigate is better than Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah frigates. Which is basically the real problem, we don’t have any… 12 is a joke. Where is the anger at the fact that our Navy has no frigates at a time when our Navy is being challenged?

        • BlueSky47

          It’s fast so it can run away when danger rears it’s ugly head LOL. But seriously, being an retired Frigate sailor myself, I find the lack of frigates appalling. The Perry’s were a great and very tough platform, but they weren’t modernized (look what the Aussie’s have done with them-amazing). We’d still have a fleet of very tough and battle proven frigates if only the Navy had put a few $$ into them over the years. But the LCS is no frigate, size withstanding. It can’t do anything my old frigate could do. In fact my old Knox class would destroy LCS frigates with ease. Bottom line, we’d be better off with no frigates at all than having a bunch of very poor LCS running around pretending to be warships when in fact they would be a huge liability.

  • BlueSky47

    Soooooo, the new Frigate formally known as the LCS, is no longer a Frigate while we try to figure out what a Frigate really is. Sounds like the LCS is really confused about ‘who’ it is…Perhaps we should put the LCS, er the Frigate, in safeplace while we figure this out. But overall, I’m glad this madness is finally starting to subside. 😛