Navy Rethinking Ship Designations–Time for the CG to do so too?

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Photo: Doesn’t this look like a Patrol Frigate?

The USNI is reporting that, “The modified Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class will be redesigned as frigates, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced on Thursday at the Surface Navy Association 2015 symposium on Thursday.”

Mabus noted, ““It’s not an ‘L’ class ship,” he said. “When I hear ‘L’ I think amphib, so does everybody else.”

The FF designation for the LCS will be the first of a planned set of nomenclature changes for other ships classes as well that will come in the coming weeks, Mabus said.

Apparently he also intends to address the designations of the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), and the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).

I will repost something I quoted in a comment to a previous post regarding an article by Norman Polmar in the US Naval Institute Proceedings “US Navy-LCS, JHSV, MLP…What?”

Quoting his conclusion: “Unquestionably, the LCS, JHSV, and MLP designations must be changed—it is logical and sensible to do so. It can be done with the stroke of a pen by a Secretary of the Navy notice. At the same time, two other ship classes should have their hull numbers changed: The three ships of the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) class and the three submarines of the Seawolf (SSN-21) class should be assigned realistic hull numbers within their respective types, and thus be in accord with the 90-year-old directive that stated ships were to be designated in sequential order within their designation types…“The U.S. Navy’s basic ship-designation system is excellent and deserves to be carried out professionally and logically.”

Perhaps it would be a good time for the Coast Guard to take another look at their designation system too, and bring them back into line with the Navy system. I talked about this earlier, “Ship Type Designations–The Bertholfs are Minesweepers?”

The designations currently chosen for the Bertholf class (WMSL) and the Offshore Patrol Cutter (WMSM) are do not fit within the established and customary designation conventions of either the US Navy or NATO.

I would suggest, W-PFL (CG Patrol Frigate, Large) for the Bertholfs and W-PFM for the Offshore Patrol Cutters or more simply W-PL (CG Patrol, Large) and W-PM (CG Patrol, Medium). We might also apply the new designations to existing WHECs and WMECs as well.

We might also want to take a look at icebreakers and AtoN vessels, but those designations are really less problematic.

21 thoughts on “Navy Rethinking Ship Designations–Time for the CG to do so too?

  1. Trying to call the LCS a frigate is like trying to call a destroyer a battleship. It’s still a turd and it’s still nothing more than a glorified US Coast Guard medium endurance cutter, painted Haze grey. The LCS in mu opinion is not a Frigate but more akin to a high end corvette that you commonly see in Asia, Middle east and Europe.

    • If you read the article carefully, you will see that they will be redesignated frigates only after they are upgraded to include over the horizon ASCMs and other weapons and sensors, so I have no problem with this. I could also see them designated as corvettes, but this Ambivalence is because the current system is ambiguous.

      • I think (if they made me SECNAV for a day?~) that the current and upgraded LCS should be typed as corvettes. To be distinquished from the SSC version which might be a frigate

    • Except it’s not really a corvette either. Typically corvettes are short endurance surface combatants, and they’re smaller than LCS usually.. There are also ASW corvettes, although not as many. Regardless, they are for coastal defense. The LCS is for coastal missions in overseas deployments. Try to find a corvette with the aviation facilities of the LCS or that acts as a minesweeper. They don’t exist.

      Frigate isn’t really accurate either. Even if they add a long range missile. Although that would put it on par in terms of armament with light frigates of Europe. But it’s not really a frigate in terms of function or endurance.

      I don’t know if the tradeoffs the Navy went for with the LCS were the right thing to do or not. No one else does either though. I do know that mines and suicide bombers have been a greater threat to US naval vessels in the past few decades than destroyers or cruisers. MRAP’s for patrols in Iraq were a better option than an Abrams, try selling anyone on MRAP’s instead of Abrams in 1999. Everyone would have said you’re a nut. That’s the whole freaking idea of the LCS, adapting our fleet composition to meet the dangers of the real world, not a game of Battleship. And no, I’m not saying there aren’t real questions about the design and the choices that have been made, because there are. But building 40 MEKO’s makes zero sense for the United States at this point in history.

      From a pure branding and marketing standpoint, the redesignation of these ships is a mistake IMO. LCS is actually fairly descriptive of what the mission of the vessel is. As is AFSB. Changing the names makes it look like the Navy screwed up with these new types of ships. Which the people running the Navy don’t think is true.

      • Then again the LCS is No Frigate and No Corvette. The LCS is not a Frigate in a sense of what we know a Frigate is and it’s not a corvette as well. The LCS is just a ship trying to fit into a Frigate and Corvette role in one. Which the LCS is more akin corvette that is common in Europe, Asia and the middle east.

  2. Chuck (it feels funny calling an officer chuck) I like your idea of calling them CG Patrol Large and CG Patrol Medium. I think that is the most appropriate and understandable description. When I joined the Navy, before switching to the CG, frigates were called destroyer escorts. Basically 1/2 the propulsion plant and 1/2 the armament of a destroyer and designed to escort convoys. Easily understandable. In the 1970’s the Navy changed the designation to frigate to match our NATO allies. As far as aton vessels go because of the large working deck and crane they were designated lighters. CG Lighter Big WLB and CG Lighter Medium WLM. In the Navy tugs and lighters were B for big, not large. I think their designation is just fine. As far as the new Sentinel class go they are WPCs (CG Patrol Coastal) and should be called that, not Fast Response Cutters. Any way I’m rooting for WPL and WPM for the NSC and OPC.

    • The only reason to prefer the W-PFL and W-PFM designations vice W-PL and W-PM is that they convey that these ships have some frigate characteristics and are more capable than the average patrol vessel. In fact with some modifications, it would be reasonable to classify them as frigates.

      • At this point, W-PFM might be the perfect hull designation for the OPC since it seems the only way they might get built is by “pure f—-in magic.”

  3. WPC is the correct designation for the Webber class. Fits perfectly in the existing system.

    The icebreaker and AtoN vessel designations are less important because they have a long history and they don’t really work with the Navy or NATO very often.

    The “WMSL” and “WMSM” designations are at odds with the existing system. They are misleading in that they indicate mine warfare ships. They are totally useless as a way to inform. I avoid using these designations.

  4. “””””It can be done with the stroke of a pen by a Secretary of the Navy notice.””””

    Yes and no. Yes a signature will get the process started but each ship will have to spend X number of thousands of dollars and many man hours to do it. I was at a small shore command that had its name changed and it was a big pain and some paperwork was still being found and changed more then a year later.

    Its too bad that previous naval command had not followed the established naming conventions from the beginning since money and manpower would have been saved and maybe a frigate replacement would have been better thought out instead of a last minute ploy that adding a few weapons and sensors to the LCS would turn it into a frigate.

  5. Well I suppose that if the LCS is going to be a frigate, then the NSC which is just as capable as the present LCS given to the CG would be WFF. But considering the LCS’s checkered past, perhaps a CG version of the LCS would be …WTF…just kidding.
    Actually I see nothing wrong with the same scheme we have used for decades now. The NSC would be WHEC, the OPC would be WMEC, and the Webber WPC or possibly WSEC (short endurance)
    These descriptors are pretty accurate and give both an indication of capabilities while the W at the front and the C a the end remind everyone its a Coast Guard cutter.

    Neither the LCS nor the NSC is a Frigate at the moment, as they have no ASW capabilities. I’d love to see that mission returned to the CG but for the moment they don’t.

    And to the LCS fans, just landing a SH-60 carrying a torpedo does not make it a frigate. If landing an SH-60 was all it took for ASW then every ship in the navy is a frigate including amphibs, carriers, and half the supply fleet.

    • Then again the LCS isn’t NO Frigate either. It’s not even a Corvette and their are Corvettes around the world that are MORE armed and deadly than the LCS. The LCS now is nothing more than a 270/210 US Coast Guard Medium Endurance cutter, painted Haze grey. Their are Frigate’s out their that would dominate the LCS and I am all for the US Navy making a deal with the Brits on the Type 26 GCS, France with the FREMM frigate and South Korean on the FFX Batch II. Leave the LCS for the PC, special forces and MCM forces and Never ever let them sail with the Big Navy.

    • Apparently they are getting an active/passive towed array variable depth sonar. If you have that for initial detection, the helicopter and supporting facilities for it, and weapons storage for the MH-60 that would allow it to attack a sub, then yes you have an ASW ship.

      That also means it would not be too hard to make the Bertholfs and OPCs viable ASW ships.

  6. Hi,

    Can someone please explain to me what a WFF is? From what I’ve read online in the past few hours I take it the W refers to the Coast Guard and the FF is a Frigate. So would a WFF be a Coast Guard Patrol Frigate?

    Ideally I would like a thorough Naval acronym for worldwide ships/vessels (not dissimilar to this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hull_classification_symbol) but more thorough, as I need it to determine some of the vessels used in the game Sub Command (you may have guessed already that I am not a naval person – though my grandfather (HMS New Zealand and HMS Albatross) and uncle (HMS Exeter), who have both long passed on, both served in the navy during WWII.

    Many regards,

    Martin U.
    of Torquay

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