Home » News & Analysis » Sen. McCain ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Navy’s New Frigate Plans, After Years of LCS Criticism


Sen. McCain ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Navy’s New Frigate Plans, After Years of LCS Criticism

Outspoken Littoral Combat Ship and frigate critic Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said today he is “cautiously optimistic” after reading the Navy’s first official account of what the updated frigate requirements may look like, according to a statement from his office.

The Navy on Monday released a request for information to industry that included significant detail about the revised frigate, which has now been upgraded to a guided-missile frigate program and will included enhanced capabilities such as a more powerful radar and some type of missile launcher system, the details of which have yet to be determined.

The Senate Armed Services Committee chairman said in a statement that “I am cautiously optimistic regarding the request for information on a new Frigate program that the Navy released yesterday. This new Frigate must be more capable than the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, with minor modifications. For example, the new Frigate’s ability to perform local area air defense for convoys of ships would provide a necessary and clear capability improvement over the LCS program. I look forward to learning more about the new Frigate requirements and acquisition strategy, including how the Navy will deliver on time and on budget.”

McCain has long criticized the LCS program, both due to cost overruns and schedule delays and due to the basic role of the ship in the Navy fleet. Back in 2010 McCain said the LCS program “has a long, documented history of cost overruns and production slippages.” In 2014 he nearly blocked the confirmation of former Deputy Defense Secretary Robert Work over the LCS program, which Work had long championed.

In an LCS oversight hearing in December 2016, McCain stated that “Since the early stages of this program, I have been critical of fundamental LCS shortcomings. And here we are 15 years later with an alleged warship that according to [director of operational test and evaluation] assessments can’t survive a hostile combat environment and has yet to demonstrate its most important warfighting functions, and a program chosen for affordability that, as the [Government Accountability Office] has reported, has doubled in cost with the potential for further overruns. Like so many major programs that preceded it, LCS’s failure followed predictably from an inability to define and stabilize requirements, unrealistic initial cost estimates, and unreliable assessments of technical and integration risk, made worse by repeatedly buying ships and mission packages before proving they are effective and can be operated together.”

Littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS 4) patrols the Pacific Ocean during flight operations in the 7th Fleet area of operation on Oct. 6, 2016. US Navy photo.

Though this year in hearings he advocated a quick transition from the LCS to the frigate, McCain noted lingering concerns about the frigate requirements, saying in February that “the frigate acquisition strategy should be revised to increase requirements to include convoy air defense, greater missile capability and longer endurance. When you look at some of the renewed capabilities, naval capabilities, that both the Russians and the Chinese have, it requires more capable weapon systems.”

The Navy had previously decided to build a frigate that would take either the Lockheed Martin Freedom-variant design (LCS-1) or Austal USA Independence-variant design (LCS-2) and turn it from the LCS – with interchangeable mission packages for either mine countermeasures, surface warfare or anti-submarine warfare – into a multi-mission frigate that would have both surface and anti-submarine warfare weapons permanently on the ship, as well as additional self-protection and offensive fire power. McCain did not feel the frigate plans went far enough, particularly disagreeing with the decision to not incorporate vertically launched missiles that could aid the ship in conducting air defense. The Navy’s RFI in may ways does read like the previous frigate plans but does include requirements for a powerful radar and asks for industry input on how to best incorporate vertically launched missiles.

The future USS Detroit (LCS 7) conducts acceptance trials on July 14, 2016. Lockheed Martin Photo

The two LCS builders, Austal USA and Lockheed Martin, released statements Monday following the Navy’s RFI. Both companies intend to compete for the frigate program, which has been opened up to allow other domestic and foreign ship designers to compete as well.

Austal USA President Craig Perciavalle said, “Austal USA welcomes the Navy’s FFG(X) RFI. With our hot LCS production line and highly skilled workforce, we are well prepared and very excited for this great opportunity to take the next step into future warfighting by expanding the capabilities of the Independence-variant LCS. We will work hard to provide a highly capable ship that answers the Navy’s future needs for the FFG(X).”

Lockheed Martin spokesman John Torrisi told USNI News, “we look forward to sharing our vision for FFG(X) based on our Freedom-variant design with the U.S. Navy. Built to U.S. Navy shipbuilding standards, the Freedom-variant was designed from the keel up to be adaptable, scalable and responsive to the fleet’s needs. We look forward to leveraging this flexibility and our naval systems integration experience to deliver a capable and low risk Frigate solution designed to support the Navy’s vision for distributed fleet operations.”

  • Lazarus

    I hope Senator McCain is ready to pay over $1b to get his direct Perry class replacement. The Navy FFG(X) RFI does not suggest that the ship has an area air defense requirement.

    • Cheech

      Well – it sounds like it has more than a SeaRAM as I’m doubtful that’s sufficient for escort duty. •· “Support transoceanic logistics movements by serving as a force multiplier to area air defense capable destroyers. If equipped with weapons providing the required capability and capacity, the ship will independently escort logistics ships during transit through low and medium threat regions.”

      • DaSaint

        If we wanted a more cost-effective way to protect our logistics movement, we would start by equipping each logistics vessel with a SeaRam, 2 Phalanx CIWS, ESM and ECM. Now how expensive is that vs Billion dollar escort ships?

        Seriously.

        If one assumed each of those components added up to $100 million, which is doesn’t, you could suitably equip 10 logistics vessels accordingly. But we don’t. Why? Because its not sexy, and because we like shiny billion dollar ships. Our priorities are screwed.

        • tpharwell

          In ten years, the Navy wont have any more logistics vessels left to protect. Problem solved.

        • Ken Long

          The older, USN operated, logistics ships did have self defence weapons. When these ships were transferred to MSC, the weapons were removed, because the civilian mariners can’t operate these weapons. Also, the civilian crew size was much smaller than when they were USN ships.

          • DaSaint

            Yes, they did. We should change that, and have self-defense weapons plus a contingent of Navy sailors to operate them.

            Aternativlely, the weapons and their control systems could be containerised and added as needed.

      • Lazarus

        The Navy wants to explore an ESSM capability in the new frigate, and hopefully there will be space/weight for that. McCain seems trapped in a 1980’s concept that is not now affordable in the necessary numbers.

    • NavySubNuke

      Hmmm so the choice is between spending $1B for two basically unarmed lightweight ships that have no hope of survival in a fight against any close to its weight class and has a history of severe engineering casualties or spending $1B for a ship actually capable of facing the enemy and not only winning but bringing its crew home alive —– seems like a pretty easy/straightforward choice to me.
      Especially when you consider the Navy’s cowardly decision to keep both LCS types and double the logistics costs associated with maintaining those ships. The extra maintenance from two independent tails is close to if not more than the cost of the extra crew the frigate will carry.

      • DaSaint

        Unfortunately, it’s rather simple.
        The Freedom class costs almost $600 million, without GFE.
        The Independence class costs almost $600 million, without GFE.
        The NSC costs over $750 million, without GFE
        Shoot, the new USCG Offshore Patrol Cutter is going to cost over $400 million when all is said and done.

        And we think that a ‘suitably equipped and armed’ FFG is going to cost under $1 billion. Try $1.5 billion, and we’re just about in Burke territory. And the choices will lead to fewer Burkes, mark my word, unless the USN’s shipbuilding budget gets doubled, which isn’t likely with the cost of the Fords, the cost of the America-variant class, the cost of the new LX, and the cost of the new SSBNs. Something has to give. So what will it be?

        Carriers? No.
        Amphibs? No.
        SSBNs? No.
        Hmmm, what’s left?

        • NavySubNuke

          It comes down to national will. We either have the will to support a Navy capable of deterring conflict and should deterrence fail to fight and win the nations wars or we don’t.
          The previous administration and congress made it clear they were not interested in fighting and winning wars — all they cared about was building a paper tiger fleet that looked big on paper but couldn’t hold its own in a fight.
          The current administration and congress is saying the right words but it remains to be seen if they will back it up with actions. The extra billions this year to O&M and other related line items to restore readiness is a good start. We will see what follows.
          I still have hope that we have learned on lesson from fiascoes and failures such as the little crappy ship and are ready now to start making the right decisions —- but I’ve been disappointed before.

          • DaSaint

            The ‘will’ is great, but look at the F35 fiasco. Can they beat anything else in the air? Probably, but we’re all bitching about their cost, delays, and software issues due to their complexity. Some favor more F18s but argue that they’re outclassed by the F35. We can do both, but there’s a finite amount of cash, no mater how we describe ‘will’.

            We’ve let our national infrastructure deteriorate badly nation-wide. Effects? Our major engineering and construction firms are no longer world leaders, and no longer garner the bulk of large-scale international engineering projects. Now it’s the Swedes (Skanska), or the Chinese (too many to list), garnering most of the international projects. We’ve lost the ‘will’ to lead there too.

            But I digress. The FFG can’t be a DDG. Period. Even if a survivable hull is defined and designed, some will always argue that it isn’t armed or equipped ‘enough’. The hull is not the greatest expense, but it does factor, particularly when the size of the vessel can impact the number of yards that can realistically participate in a complex naval vessel vs. a commercial one. There is a finite limit to that as well, and Eastern Shipbuilding just broke into that exclusive club with their USGC OPC offering, against all odds (technically, but not really. I saw it coming – Bollinger wasn’t going to get any large-scale USCG work, and BIW was too damn expensive).

        • Stephen

          I think you just described how the OHP Class came into being. Knox-class was out-dated & too expensive. Build something smaller & cheaper=OHP.

    • DaSaint

      Agreed. The RFI states (paraphrasing) the ability to provide cover to nearby vessels. That’s NOT area air defense. McCain, ironically, will go ballistic when the price tag hits $1.5 billion per FFG, and then will question why we need all those bells and whistles for convoy protection or showing the flag.

      Just for the record, ‘convoy protection’, you know in that 70+ year-ago scheme of things, is dead. There won’t be a ‘resupply’ of England by sea for ‘years’. There won’t be a need to bring thousands of troops to retake US or allied islands. That’s a fallacy. There will be a need to protect certain assets, but that’s in the early stages, not for 4 years worth of convoy duty, dodging hundreds of enemy submarines. When will folks end this myth?

      • Stephen

        Frigates need to be quick & carry about half of the weaponry of a Destroyer. They need to be an effective sentinel when deployed in a group & a force to be reckoned with during interdiction. Unleash the Naval Architects & bean-counters…

        • DaSaint

          I’m with you, but let’s understand that some will say that with a ‘suitably equipped FFG’ we’re getting 1/2 the capability at 2/3 the price – and at 2/3 the lifetime operational costs.

          That’s why the Navy is so fixated on, well, fixing the LCS. If they had suitable anti-ship missiles, if they had a suitable ESM/ECM suite, if they had a suitable self-defense capability, we’d all breath a little easier WITH a complementary FFG class.

          • the_artist_formerly_known_as_m

            …except LCS reliabity is crap. It also has practically zero margin for growth.

            LCS’s operating and support (O&S) costs are completely unknown. So hard to claim it’s 2/3 price of anything.

            I’d also challenge whether the Navy is fixated on fixing LCS. The CNO has been rather mute in his praise of late.

          • DaSaint

            Good points. Let’s see what the O&S costs are. Time will tell.

    • Corporatski Kittenbot 2.0

      Better than spending almost $1bn on the little crappy ship.

      Spend a billion and get something VS spend nearly a billion and get next to nothing.

  • Marc Apter

    Why isn’t a single anti-LCS Politician ignoring the fact that this new ship will have no armor, and too small a crew to save it if hit. The Cole had what, 2.5 to 3 times the crew of an LCS, and they almost sunk.

    • DaSaint

      So are you proposing a vessel with a larger crew that the Cole?
      Nothing has ‘armor’ in the traditional sense any more. It’s steel or aluminum, backed by various grades of Kevlar liners. Just like the ‘beloved’ Perry’s (steel hull, aluminum superstructure, Kevlar liners, single gas turbine, single shaft, poor firing arcs, single-arm missile launcher, poor FCS).

      • Scott

        FFG’s have two gas turbines.

        • DaSaint

          Scott, you’re absolutely correct. 2 LM2500 gas turbines, connected to a single shaft.

      • Marc Apter

        Not larger than the Cole, just larger than an LCS!

    • Bud Wyllie

      One important fact you seem to have overlooked. The Cole has a steel hull, the LCS is all aluminum. Get aluminum good and hot, and it burns up.

      • Cheech

        The Freedom class is steel hull/aluminum superstructure vs the all Al Independence class

        • Bud Wyllie

          Agree, all variables must be considered

  • Ed L

    not a mention of the HII design—called the FF4923, which is based on the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, would be a long-endurance patrol frigate that could potentially offer greater combat capabilities as well as range and endurance for a lower price. The work could be divided among Huntington and the LCS shipyards. There could be 6 new frigates in 3 years.

  • DaSaint

    I’m so tired of this. Build a better plane. But not an expensive one that’s technologically complex and will have overruns.

    Build a better LCS vessel. But don’t call it that (agree there!), and arm it appropriately (agree there too), but don’t let it be expensive. Ok. Design an FFG, and make it do everything a Burke can do, but not at a Burke price. Huh? Like reducing the loadout of SAMs, while keeping the electronics and combat systems saves significant cost of construction. That’s silly. It’s not the hull that’s expensive, it’s the electronics, combat systems, and to a lesser extent, the propulsion system.

    We can’t have it both ways. Either put up with the oversize patrol craft we call the LCS, upgun them with SSMs, SAMs, ESM, ECM, and whatever, and/or build a ‘real’ FFG, but be prepared to pay over $1 billion, and most likely pushing 1.5 billion when all is said and done. ALL of the foreign frigates at least $1 billion, and many of them are NOT built to the same survivability standards of most USN major combatants.

    Look at the USCG’s OPC. That’s a foreign design, built originally to ‘commercial’ standards. They didn’t cost New Zealand or Ireland $400 million, but they will by the time they are built here. Yes, I know someone is going to say they’re not the ‘same’ design, and they’re not, but they are built to a ‘parent design’, and enlarged, and equipped to complement the USGC and USN systems.

    Need another example? The USCG’s Sentinel class FPB. They too are based on a Damen ‘parent craft’. Lots of other navies and coast guards use them: Mexico, Honduras, Jamaica, Netherlands, UK, Bahamas, and more. NONE of them cost $60+ million to build, but all of them cost that here, fully triple the international cost. So when I hear folks talk about mature foreign designs, sure they exist, but NOT at the cost of building them HERE.

    Each French FREMM is already $1 billion (check Wikipedia), and that’s without US systems, and before they are redesigned to US shipbuilding standards, and before they are converted from metric, and before they are US weaponized. So seriously, what will it be?

    I’m ok with more Burkes.
    I’m ok with billion dollar FFGs, but something will have to give, and at some point, someone in Congress or the Navy is going to say we can get 3 FFG for 2 Burkes, and we need the numbers….

    • RTColorado

      Excellent argument…I wish I could have put it as well as you did.

    • Benjamin Chung

      There are cheaper foreign FFGs though – the De Zeven Provinciën class, for example, is about $800 million, and the Fridtjof Nansen class ended up at around $650 million inflation adjusted. You’re right, though, the USN could never get them this cheap, and would probably end up at around the $1 billion mark.

  • Bubblehead

    The USN is caught in a good old catch 22. Any “good” frigate will cost almost as much as a Burke, with not nearly the capability. And then all the crooked politicians will scream, it is over priced. Based on the Navy’s updated requirements you are easily topping a Billion a copy. The truth is the Navy will never get greater bang for the buck than they do with the Burkes. And while that is good, it creates this nasty dilemma of how to build a worthy frigate that doesn’t encroach on the price of a Burke.

    I’m placing my bets on a Navalized NSC. It has a hot production line, already meets 90% of USN survivability standards, and it is the only hull that can probably meet the tight time frame requirements. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t the ferrari frigate, but it checks all the boxes. Still when you add enterprise, VLS, ESM, all the ASW, it will easily top $1 billion. The only other logical choice out there is going in with the Saudi’s on their upgraded Freedom. But that hull design still lacks survivability, range, and would require significant revisions.

    • Scott

      How fast is it?

      • Bubblehead

        Who knows after they add VLS, Enterprise, all the ASW systems, etc. A Naval version is going to put on some weight, & probably be lengthened some for VLS. Certainly not as fast as LCS. But then again, LCS is not that fast when it has to have a refueler fallowing it around for its lack of range. NSC has a range about 3 X the LCS. Speed is the only endearing quality to LCS (OK, also its low draft) but it can’t outrun a ASCM.

        • Stephen

          LCS may have to be redefined as an Intermediate-range, coastal patrol frigate. Paint half of them white & transfer to the USCG or friendlies.

  • Angie Nathan

    I hope you guys are sitting down.

    According to National Priorities Project’s Cost of War Publications page.

    Analysis of the Fiscal Year 2012 Pentagon Spending Request

    Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)

    $2,168.5 million requested for four vessels
    $1,866.3 million– per unit cost
    $3,732.5 million — total program cost
    NOTE: “Total Program Cost” for LCS reflects only the cost of Research, Development, Testing and Evaluation (RDT&E).

    • DaSaint

      Yeah, but can’t really embrace the accuracy of that site vs. the actual budget. Sorry.

  • James B.

    The LCS can be “modular” as long as all the desired configurations are barely armed. For all the preaching about incorporating different equipment packages, no provision was made for a Mk 41 VLS–the most universal modular launcher in the USN.

    Correcting that deficiency will go a long ways to giving the FFG(X) tactical flexibility and future potential. Even if next-generation weapons require different launchers, it’s much easier to replace existing VLS than squeeze something onto an LCS that was never designed for it.

  • Dave

    How about leaving the “littoral” to the Coast Guard and just up-weapon the NSC long endurance cutter instead of a USN patrol craft that is 400 feet long?

    • Stephen

      This makes an awful lot of sense. We let the USCG languish for too long. Nobody does interdiction like the USCG. Their Homeland/Law-Enforcement specialties are invaluable. Given more ships & raising personnel numbers would make them more effective. Their small-boat operations have always been impressive; ‘Deming’ leadership qualities applied & functioning. (As a reminder, USCG was deployed in Vietnam.)

  • Mark Burns

    John McCain needs to retire

  • Pseudocool

    I’m going to burst some bubbles here.. sorry to say it. I served on TWO OHP’s, one on each coast. Deployed Three times on them (2 Med/Red/Gulf, 1 WestPac/Gulf). I’ve also served on a destroyer and a cruiser, and an AE. I can tell you HANDS DOWN, the OHP is a vastly survivable platform. If the Roberts didn’t prove it, nothing will. What the Navy needs to do is look at a refit program for the OHP’s, bring them up to speed with the current ECM/ESM standards, remove the MK13 and replace it with a resized VLS (and it’ll fit the same spot as the launcher and magazine, and probably have room to spare),reduce the mast height by about 20′ to help offset the top heavy sail of the OHP design, upgrade the CIWS, for the love of GOD upgrade the 3″ Otto, and THEN you have a survivable PROVEN platform to go out and project power, survive the fight, and bring her crew home. I would even wager this could be done in a quicker time than building from the ground up, at budget, and within a shorter time frame. And, all of us tin can sailors will continue to snub our noses at that completely useless LCS.. pffbt.

    • Chesapeakeguy

      Here here..

  • Chesapeakeguy

    This will be a lengthy post, but it can’t be helped. I’m gonna throw it out here. Much to say. The real problem as I see it is that in recent decades, the Navy let’s ‘perfect be the enemy of the good’. They take basic, common sense requirements and then pile on the ‘gold plating’. I remember when the LCS was being called ‘Streetfighter’, or at least it had a smaller derivative called that. The original ‘Streetfighter’ proposal I remember was basically an updated PT Boat of WWII (I say that somewhat
    tongue-in-cheek, but it is accurate to a degree). Various issues of ‘Proceedings’ would show contributors embracing it, but some ‘suggested’ various ‘touches’ to it as time went by. Heck, one article even had them with ejector seats for the crew! The whole idea for ALL ‘LCS’ type vessels was that they be cheap enough to build in bulk, so that numbers of them could be tasked together to provide some basic coverage in the traditional naval warfare areas (ASW, ASuW, AAW), and some newer ones (protection from pirates, drug intervention, anti-terrorist, etc.) that take place closer to shore and in waters where shipping traffic is prevalent. Somewhere among all that came the ‘modules approach’, and well, we all know the rest.

    But another key aspect of the Streetfighter/LCS was that they, if need be and in worst-case scenarios, be ‘expendable’. The grouping of them was envisioned to allow for that, in that if any of them became casualties, the group had redundancy to compensate for those losses and still get their mission(s)
    accomplished. Now, ‘expendable’ is not a concept the American people are comfortable with, and that along with other factors have contributed to the requirements and hence the equipment (and costs) needed for them. Certainly, other things changed as they were being developed, like 9/11 and the fallout from that. But the result has been a ship that was SUPPOSED to be ‘cheap’ that has now turned into the proverbial boondoggle.

    All that leads into the thinking about what will comprise a new FFG. So what about it? The recent Perry class carried 40 missiles, had a 76mm gun, a CIWS, ECM, various decoys, and could operate 2 LAMPS 3 helicopters. They carried ASW torpedoes. It could operate towed array sonar equipment, as well as having its own hull mounted sonar. Now, its size did not allow it to hold a sonar like
    those in the Spruance and Ticos. So what? It WASN’T a Spruance or Tico. Size matters in such things. They didn’t have AEGIS. Again, so what? The Navy did pretty well with the ‘Hi-Lo’ mix that had the Perry’s and other ships at the ‘low end’ while they could operate under the ‘umbrella’ of the ‘high end’ ships, of which the AEGIS equipped vessels were part of. Why not start with similar parameters,
    at least as minimums, and build from there? The Perry’s had a length of 453 feet in their ‘long version’. They were 45 feet wide. Obviously, the missile magazine of this new class will be emplaced in VLS cells. I would place the main gun forward, not on the superstructure. But the Perrys would be a good starting template to consider as the design is fleshed out.

    I’m confident the Navy can come up with a decent design if they don’t gold plate the heck out of it and don’t try to make it into a DDG-light. And this is NOT advocating for returning any Perrys from mothballs. It about starting points for new construction ships.