The Navy won’t reactivate any Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates in support of operations in U.S. Southern Command, according to an internal service memo obtained by USNI News.
Instead, the service will support SOUTHCOM’s anti-trafficking missions with Littoral Combat Ships and Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transports (T-EPF) through a commitment to support the Joint Interagency Task Force South by next year, according to the Dec. 5 memo from Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer to Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson.
“We discussed the idea of reactivating FFG-7 ships, but the process of evaluating alternatives identified better solutions using LCS and T-EPF ships,” wrote Spencer.
Spencer called for four ships to be deployed to the region by next year.
“Multiple demands will require prioritization, but this mission must be in the top priority category for these ships, reversing the prior decision to eliminate support [to SOUTHCOM],” he wrote.
“Since the training areas are close to the operational areas covered by the Task Force, it is likely possible that part of the training profile can be real maritime security tasks likely to be encountered many places in the world.”
Earlier this year, Spencer and Richardson both said the Navy was examining the idea of reactivating some number of the decommissioned frigates as a low-cost solution to support the anti-trafficking operations by JIATF South.
However, an internal CNO memo obtained by USNI News found the cost to reactivate the ships could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars per hull. The memo recommended putting more funds in modernizing the Navy’s guided-missile cruisers and into the development of the next-generation frigate program (FFG(X)).
The Navy has not been an active player in the anti-trafficking mission since the Perry’s left the fleet.
Well past their warfighting prime, these frigates provided presence and reconnaissance support to the effort. The ships also hosted U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachments (LEDET) that had the legal authority to interdict and detain suspected traffickers on the high seas.
“This Task Force is a very important element in the control of illegal drug transportation. Navy ceased providing surface ship support at the end of 2015 when the FFG-7 class was retired,” wrote Spencer.
“Since then maritime events have doubled and more growth is expected by the Task Force in the coming years. Clearly the presence of Navy ships had a deterrent effect on the drug transportation process. We must restore this impact now in this vital national priority program.”
Trafficking was considered a mission for at least the Freedom-class LCS early in the program’s history. USS Freedom (LCS-1) transported a Coast Guard LEDET team as part of its first deployment in 2010. As part of the Navy’s shift in the LCS operational vision, all of the LCSs based at Naval Station Mayport, Fla,. will be Freedom-variant hulls.
In addition to committing the ships to SOUTHCOM, Spencer called for equipping both the LCS and the T-EPFs with additional unmanned aerial vehicle capabilities similar to the Scan Eagle UAV arrangement the service used on the afloat forward staging base USS Ponce (AFSB(I)-15) to provide additional reconnaissance and communications capabilities.