The Navy’s New Frigate

Italian FREMM Bergamini. photo by Fabius1975–no its not going to look like this

The US Naval Institute has a one page description of the new Navy frigate in the July 2020 issue of Proceedings, including a nicely annotated side view of the ship (you can see it here). Other than the diagram and the intro, the article is behind the paywall. It not only illustrates how the ship is equipped, it also explains the differences between the US version and the Italian version. I will summarize and include some observations.

The already large FREMM frigate grows to 7,400 tons and 496 feet in length, an increase of “more than 500 tons” (700 tons according to Wikipedia) and 22 feet in length. Draft is reduced from 24 to 23 feet, but only because there is no bow mounted sonar, so the draft over the rest of the hull is likely greater.

This large size appears to open the possibility of a smaller combatant class of 2,000-4,000 tons which might be dual service (Navy/Coast Guard) ships, or perhaps simply an upgraded Bertholf class.

It appears the power plant is much the same as the Italian version, combined diesel electric and gas turbine. In the Italian ships, that consists of four diesel generators totaling roughly 15,000 HP, two electric propulsion motors totaling 5 MW or about 6700 HP, plus an LM2500 gas turbine rated at 32 MW or about 42,895 HP. The combination is reportedly good for more than 30 knots in the Italian frigates and the US version should not be much different despite the increase in displacement. The USNI report claims only a sustained speed in excess of 26 knots. I would note that this is slightly less total horsepower than the National Security cutters.

The one characteristic of the design that gives me pause is the cruise speed. For the Italian frigate the reported max is 17 knots, limited by the power of the electric motors. The USNI article reports a cruising range of 6,000 nmi at a speed of 16 knots in electric mode. These ships are likely to, at some point, perform escort duty for convoys or amphibious ready groups. Many modern merchant ships and all amphibious ready group ships can maintain 20+ knots. It is entirely possible that they may need to escort convoys with a base speed of 18 knots or more, which would require them to operate almost continuously on their one turbine engine which would seriously degrade their range. It is possible they have included higher power electric motors which might allow a 20 knot cruise, but there has been no indication of this. When escorting an aircarrier, they would be expected to operate on turbine virtually al the time, but in that case at least a tanker can be expected to be near by.

The systems reported on the new frigate include:

  • .50 cal. machine guns, looks like ten positions: four bow, two stern, four in the superstructure.
  • 57mm Mk110, ALaMO ammunition is mentioned as a capability.
  • 32 cell Mk41 VLS for SM-2 and quad-packed ESSM (no mention of vertical launch ASROC but that should be a possibility)
  • SPY-6(V)3 EASR multi-function radar, a smaller version of the radar being used on the latest Burke class DDGs
  • Mk20 Electro-optic gun fire control system
  • Cooperative Engagement Capability Datalink
  • UPX-29 IFF
  • SLQ-32(V)6 SEWIP EW system
  • Mk 53 Nulka decoy launchers
  • 16 (four quad) RGM-184 Naval Strike missile launchers
  • 7 meter RHIB hangar
  • 21 tube Mk49 RIM116 RAM launcher (on the hangar aft)
  • Hangar space for up to two MH-60R or one MH-60R and one MQ-8C Fire Scout
  • SQS-62 variable depth sonar
  • TB-37 multi-function towed array sonar
  • SLQ-61 lightweight tow or SLQ-25 Nixie towed torpedo decoy

Construction is expected to begin in 2022, first of class delivery 2026, and Initial Operational Capability (IOC) 2030. Apparently this is a contract with options for out years rather than a “Block Buy.”

Late Addition: Contrary to what I think I remember about the supposed equipment, there was no mention of vertical launch Hellfire. Notably there are none of the weapons normally associated with dealing with swarming high speed inshore attack craft e.g. no 25mm Mk38 and no 30mm Mk46, which seems surprising. Also don’t see a position that seems likely for a laser weapon, unless it is the small area elevated one deck forward of the RAM launcher and aft of the stack.

 

“Cutting Coast Guard funds threatens our security, at home and in the Pacific” –The Hill

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (left) moves in formation with Philippine coast guard vessels Batangas (center) and Kalanggaman during an exercise on May 14. U.S. Coast Guard/Chief Petty Officer John Masson

The Hill argues for increased Coast Guard presence in the Pacific including greater interaction with the nations of the Western Pacific.

After explaining why China is a greater threat than Germany, Japan, or the Soviet Union ever were, the author, Seth Cropsey, explains:

“The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is uniquely situated to act as a bridge between U.S. combat forces and their allied counterparts precisely because of its dual political-legal role. Its engagement in answering grey zone challenges is also a helpful encouragement to the maritime services’ cooperation that allows each service to perfect its unique skills.”

He argues for the 12th NSC.

“As it stands, the Coast Guard’s long-range cutters have been cut from ten in the Pacific to only six (actually we still have six NSCs and two WHECs–Chuck). If Congress does not fund the 12th National Security Cutter, it will undermine the Coast Guard’s mission in the Western Pacific and weaken U.S. security.”

Most importantly, as we have done several times here, he calls for a reevaluation of the services needs and recurrent long term planning.

Even more broadly, U.S. policymakers – within the Coast Guard, the Armed Forces, and the Pentagon – must consider the Coast Guard’s strategic role. The USCG has not produced a fleet plan, termed the “Fleet Mix Analysis,” since 2004. Even in 2008 and 2012, when it revisited the document, it concluded that its fleet could only meet three-fifths of its missions. In 2004, Chinese fighter aircraft seldom conducted night operations, North Korea had not yet tested a nuclear weapon, and the U.S. had toppled Iraq’s Saddam Hussein just a year before; Hamas was a small but noted Palestinian terrorist organization, while al-Qaeda in Iraq was still consolidating power.

After 16 years, any service’s missions and equipment must change as it adapts to new threats; the same is true for the Coast Guard. A robust force review is in order, potentially modeled off the Navy’s 30-year plan which will generate a new fleet capable of meeting the demands of great-power competition, especially in the Asia-Pacific.

France Allocates One Billion Euros to Build Ten Offshore Patrol Vessels

Marine Nationale photo, FS Lieutenant_de_vaisseau_Lavallée, one of seven 80 meter (263′) 1,270 ton D’Estienne d’Orves-class avisos or corvettes being used as Offshore Patrol Vessels that are to be replaced.

France has been building a lot of Coast Guard Cutter like vessels recently and it looks like they will be building more. Naval News reports:

Ten new generation OPVs will replace the A69 type (D’Estienne d’Orves-class) PHM (formerly Aviso / light frigates and then reclassified as patrol vessels) based in Brest (Atlantic Coast–Chuck) and Toulon (Mediterranean- Chuck) and the PSP patrol boats based in Cherbourg (English Channel-Chuck).

Cormoran (P677), one of three 23 knot, 54 meter (177′), 477 ton French navy PSP patrol boats. Brest, Finistère, Bretagne, France. Photo by Gary Houston (Notice the striping similar to that carried by USCG cutters)

The one billion Euro contract awarded to Naval Group (formerly DCNS) would mean a unit cost of approximately 100M Euros ($112M).

Rendering of the future “POM” OPV of the French Navy.

Apparently, based on price, they will be larger than the six recently contracted 70 meter, 22knot “POM” patrol vessels. (224 million euros, 37.3 Euros or about $42M each)

Not long ago Naval Group and ECA group was given a 2B Euro contract to produce twelve 2800 ton Mine Countermeasures ships for the Dutch and Belgium Navies. Given that ship yard prices for similarly complex ships tend to be proportional to their displacement, and that these ships are probably less complex than the MCM, I would suspect that the new OPVs will be about 1,680 tons. That would make them similar in size to the WMEC 270s. Given the ships they are replacing and the character of recent construction, they will probably a bit longer and faster than the 270s, probably about 90 meters long, at least 20 knots but probably more, with a flight deck for a medium helicopter like the NH90, a hangar for a smaller helicopter similar to the H-65 and probably the 700 kilo rotary wing unmanned aircraft planned for POM. There will probably be space for containers. The crew will be small by Coast Guard standards, maybe less than 50, but will likely have additional accommodations for about 30 in addition to the crew.

Weapons: It will almost certainly have the Nexter Narwhal 20 mm cannon and .50 caliber machine guns, but there is no indication if they will have anything larger. French Navy vessels that wear the “Coast Guard Stripe” apparently have no weapons larger than .50 cal. (12.7mm). The seven A69 corvettes to be replaced have 100mm guns, but these ships were not originally designed as law enforcement vessels, and once also had Exocet anti-ship cruise missiles, so a medium caliber gun may not be seen as a requirement. If they wanted to put a medium caliber gun on these at small cost, the French Navy almost certainly has numerous, surplus, still very effective 100mm guns, but their newer ships mount the Super Rapid 76mm, which weighs less than half as much. The quoted French Ministry of Armed Forces statement might suggest they see a need for stronger armament.

“In a context marked by the increase in maritime traffic and the toughening of threats at sea, patrol boats fulfill a very broad spectrum of missions: support for deterrence, presence in areas of sovereignty and interest, evacuation, protection, escort and intervention in the framework of State action at sea.”

The linked Naval News post mentions the European Patrol Corvette program as a possible basis for this program, but given their projected displacement of 3000 tons, they would be beyond the projected budget.

There is a good chance these ships will emerge as an upgraded version of the the 87 meter (285′), 1450 ton L’Adroit (above) which was sold to Argentina along with three similar ships. The Naval News post indicates that the projected cost of the new OPVs is almost twice the cost so of the L’Adroit class, but they were designed for export. Meeting Navy standards with better equipment and improved survivability can substantially increase cost. When the Royal Navy built their River Batch II OPVs it was based on OPVs originally ordered by Trinidad and Tobago. Modifying the design to meet Royal Navy standards caused a great increase in price. The three vessels were built for Trinidad and Tobago cost £150M pound (US$237.8 M). When the Royal Navy contracted for three ships that met their standards, the outwardly almost identical ships came in at a fixed price of £348 million–a few years later, but more than double the price.

“Navy Frigate (FFG[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress,” Updated June 8, 2020, CRS

The Congressional Research Service has updated their analysis of the FFG(X) program. You can view the 38 page pdf here.

The FFG(X) equipment lists, which you might be better able to see here constitutes a list of possibilities for upgrades to the Polar Security Cutters, Coast Guard National Security Cutters, and Offshore Patrol Cutters.

 

A Cutter X for Malta, the P71

Another cutter design fitting about half way between the Offshore Patrol Cutter and the Fast Response Cutter. An unusual feature of this one, is its hybrid propulsion system. Also found it interesting that it used the ABS classification system. Before COVID-19 this vessel was expected to be delivered this year.

The characteristics of the vessel are as follows:
Length Overall – 74.8m (245.3′)
Moulded breadth – 13m (42.6′)
Speed – More than 20 Knots
Displacement – 1800 tons full load
Draught – 3.8m (12.5′)
Classification Society – ABS
Propulsion – 2 x 5440 kW Hybrid with PTI (14,590 HP)
Propellers – 2 x CPP

Given that it will have twice the horsepower of a WMEC270 and is nearly the same displacement, its maximum speed is likely to be about 23 knots.

The hybrid propulsion includes electric motors capable of propelling the ship at up to 12 knots.

It is expected to have a crew of 48 and additional accommodations for 20.

It is expected to operate two 9.1 meter RHIBs, one from a stern ramp and one from a davit, starboard side. It is also expected to operate an AW139, an approximately seven ton gross weight helicopter. No hangar is fitted.

The construction contract, signed 10 Oct. 2018, is for EUR48.6 million (USD56.2 million) funded 75% by the European Union Security Fund.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

Sources:

“Growing Missions, Shrinking Fleet” –USNI

The US Naval Institute has an argument in favor of funding National Security Cutter #12

The author talks about the shortage of ships both because of the failure of the crew rotation concept and because of the shortfall revealed in the Fleet Mix Study. This has been discussed in the Congressional Research Service report on Cutter Acquisition.

What I found new, was information about SOUTHCOM interceptions,

In congressional testimony last year, Admiral Craig Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, noted: “The Coast Guard’s presence any given day is six to eight cutters. . . . But, keep in mind, we’re talking about covering areas the size of the United States—with from six to 10 ships. And so, the interdiction percentage with the current assets we have is about 6 percent of the detections. So, we need more ships.”

that is a lower interception rate than previously reported, and impact on jobs,

The NSC is an indispensable national asset. The economic impact of the NSC production line touches nearly 500 suppliers across 39 states. An additional ship order would help jumpstart the U.S. economy and have an immediate and profound effect on a host of U.S. suppliers, who stand ready to deliver. Moving forward with a 12th NSC is low risk.

If we had been further along with the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), I would say, just build another OPC instead of a twelth NSC, but we were way behind in starting the OPC program and the difficulties at Eastern put us even further behind.

The OPC program is so far behind, that the Bertholf is likely to be 30 years old before the 25th OPC is ready for its first operational mission. Plus we really do need more than 36 large patrol cutters, but the fact we have not done a new Fleet Mix Study in almost ten years does not help our case.

 

“Launch of 600-ton catamaran-hull patrol vessel Anping CG601 for Taiwanese Coast Guard” –Navy Recognition

New patrol vessel Anping CG601 for the Taiwanese Coast Guard launched. (Picture source Jong Shyn Shipbuilding Group)

NavyRecognition reports that,

“…on April 28, 2020, the first 600-ton catamaran-hull patrol vessel, Anping (CG601) for the Taiwanese Coast Guard was launched in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.”

This is the first of twelve ordered for the Taiwanese Coast Guard. The design is based on the Tuo Chiang-class stealth missile corvette in service with the Republic of China Navy.

An earlier post, from 2014, talked about these cutters and included a video of the Navy version of the design underway.

I am a bit surprised this program is not moving more rapidly. According to Wikipedia, work did not begin on these cutters until 2019. It appears the Taiwanese Navy still only has one of the 12 Corvettes planned. They may have had some problems.

Model of Tuo Chiang-class corvette armed with 76mm gun, Palanx CIWS, 8 × Hsiung Feng II and 8 × Hsiung Feng III, and 2 × Mark 32 triple torpedo launchers . Photo credit: Solomon203

“Guangzhou Wenchong Ship Factory to build new 10,000-ton cutter for China Maritime Safety Administration” –NavyRecognition

Drawing of future 10,000-ton cutter for China Maritime Safety Administration. (Picture source China Blog)

NavyRecognition is reporting that China is building an over 10,000 ton cutter for their Maritime Safety Administration (MSA). MSA is the only one of the five Chinese Maritime coast guard like organizations that was not incorporated into the China Coast Guard.

“According to information published by the Guangdong Maritime Safety Administration, the new cutter will have a total length of 165 meters, a width of 20.6 meters, a depth of 9.5 meters, and a displacement of 10,700 tons.”

That is 541 feet in length, 67.6 feet of beam, and 31.2 feet of draft. The displacement is probably light displacement rather than full load.

The China MSA appears less militant than the China Coast Guard. No weapons are evident, but that does not mean they don’t have a plan of how to use the ship in wartime. Like some of the large China Coast Guard cutters, this looks like it could be used as an attack transport.

FFG(X) Contract Goes to Marinette, NSC#12 Less Likely?

200430-N-NO101-150
WASHINGTON (April 30, 2020) An artist rendering of the guided-missile frigate FFG(X). The new small surface combatant will have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations. (U.S. Navy graphic/Released)

The Navy has announced that the contract for the first of the new FFG(X) class frigates has been awarded to Marinette Marine.

“Navy awarded a contract to design and produce the next generation small surface combatant, the Guided Missile Frigate (FFG(X)) today.  The contract for detail design and construction (DD&C) of up to 10 Guided Missile Frigates (consisting of one base ship and nine option ships) was awarded to Marinette Marine Corporation (MMC) of Marinette, Wisconsin, officials announced. “

One of the arguments for continuing the construction of the National Security Cutters (NSC) has been that it kept a production line open that might roll into production of the FFG(X). That is now no longer the case. The argument that we are replacing 12 ships, so we should build 12 is still valid to a degree.

Currently eleven NSCs are seen as replacing 12 WHECs, but we have yet to hear that 25 OPCs are not enough to replace 32 WMECs: 13 WMEC 270s, 16 WMEC210s, Alex Haley,  Acushnet, and Storis. Maybe what we need is 33 OPCs, to make up for the shortfall in replacing both 12 WHECs and 32 WMECs, 44 ships to replace 44.

Thanks to Secundius for bringing this to my attention. 

“Considerations for a Future Patrol Boat” –USNI

Photo: a Navy MkVI

The April edition of U.S. Naval Institute Proceeding has a short article written by Coast Guard Lieutenants James Martin and Jasper Campbell discussing the recapitalization of the 87 foot WPB fleet and suggesting adaptation of the Navy’s MkVI patrol boat as a replacement.

Any choice of a new class of ships for the Coast Guard must depend on how it will integrate into the legacy fleet. Choices are strongly influenced by the strengths and weaknesses of the other assets available.

Marine Protector class cutter, USCGC Barracuda (WPB-87301), USCG photo

In FY2021 the Coast Guard expects to decommission eight of the 87 foot Marine Protector class without replacement. This change is justified as follows,

 This initiative decommissions eight 87-foot Marine Protector Class CPBs. This initiative is based on the acquisition of the Fast Response Cutter (FRC) and Response Boat – Medium (RB-M), both of which are more capable than the legacy assets that they replace. Decommissioning these assets focuses patrol boat funding on operating and supporting new assets, such as the FRCs, as well as other strategic priorities. Forecasted material condition as assessed by the Coast Guard’s Patrol Boat Product Line will be a factor in identifying the specific cutter hulls to be decommissioned, ensuring that the cutters with the best material condition remain operational.

Overall fleet performance degradation will be minimized since FRCs outperform previous patrol boats and RB-Ms are more capable than previous boats. Finally, the decommissionings will focus on areas where the combination of FRCs and RB-Ms provides sufficient capability to remove the operational need for an 87-foot CPB

What they really seem to be saying is that RB-M, unlike the boats they replaced, are able to do some of the missions the WPBs were intended to do. On the other hand the 110 foot Island class WPBs were already more capable than the 87 footers so its not like the 87 footers were doing missions the 110s could not. The real difference here may be that, because we now have more larger patrol craft, both Webber and Island class than we did previously, we don’t need as many Marine Protector Class.

Nevertheless it does appear that the Coast Guard sees a need for some WPBs. The USNI article refers to a 2018 statement by the Commandant that, “Recurring Depot Availability Program (RDAP) is anticipated to extend the service life of the 87s well into 2030.”

The capability gaps between the Marine Protector class and the smaller boats below them in size, now RB-ms, has shrunk, while the gap between them and the larger Patrol craft, soon to be all FRCs, has grown. This suggests that any replacement should be, if anything, more capable than the Marine Protector class, not less. While faster and more heavily armed, than the 87 foot WPBs, it appears that the MkVI is less capable in terms of characteristics the Coast Guard values. They have less endurance, appear less seaworthy, and as currently configured, the only boats they can launch are flat bottomed rubber raiding craft.

It appears, any WPB replacement’s capabilities should move closer to those of the FRC rather than the RB-M. Still I see their role as much different from that of the Webber class. The Webbers would be used primarily on regularly scheduled patrols while the WPB replace would be the true “Fast Response Cutters,” on standby for developing emergencies. 

I offered a description of my concept of a WPB replacement earlier, including concepts of operation and manning, explaining why it should be larger, faster, and better armed. There was additional discussion about the concept here. My suggestion was that it should be one and a half to twice as large as the 87 foot WPBs and about half the size of the 353 ton Webber class…136 to 182 tons full load, or roughly 100′ (30.5 meter) to 130′ (39.6 meter) in length, not too much different from the Island class cutter, 110 feet (33.5 meter) loa and 168 tons. 

I also saw it being uniquely equipped to fill a current gap in our Port, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission, that of being able to defend our critical ports, by being able to forcibly stop any vessel, regardless of its size, speed, or maneuverability.

Such a ship would also be both of interest for Foreign Military Sales and as a reserve element for potential combat roles.