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Navy Steers Well Away from An LCS Frigate

July 10, 2017

Retired Navy Commander Bryan Clark, a former top aide to the Chief of Naval Operations, gave us his analysis of the requirements — putting particular emphasis on places where the Navy seems willing to accept less powerful, more affordable frigate: “The RFI implies the Navy is still concerned about the cost of the new ship and perhaps wants to use the FFG(X) as something other than a traditional frigate,” Clark wrote in an email. “This RFI incorporates several optional requirements that would reduce the FFG(X)’s capability and cost. For example: “The FFG(X) is not required to do air defense for another ship. (It) would conduct ASW (anti-submarine warfare) and ASUW (anti-surface warfare) and have improved survivability against air threats. The RFI leaves open the degree to which the FFG(X) would be able to do air defense for another ship, asking respondents to propose how they would provide for air defense, and what launchers, such as VLS, they would use to host ESSM and SM-2 interceptors. ESSM would provide the bare minimum capability needed to defend another ship, but only in very constrained geometries where the FFG(X) is very close to the defended ship and between the defended ship and an incoming missile. In other situations, an SM-2 would probably be required.” The Navy is leaving its options open here, Clark said, because it’s leery of installing heavy-duty air defense would increase cost and degrade performance, potentially to the point it knocks LCS-derived designs out of the running. “While Congress is pushing foreign designs such as the Fincantieri FREMM or Navantia F-105 (which already have VLS installed), the Navy likely wants variants of the current LCS to be able to compete for FFG(X),” he said. “To include VLS, the Freedom-class LCS would likely need a hull extension; the Austal LCS may be heavier with VLS and become slower and less efficient.” Similarly, Clark notes, the RFI only requires passive, defensive electronic warfare systems, not active jamming capability, and it puts anti-submarine warfare at a lower priority (“Tier 2”) than either defensive systems or offensive anti-ship weapons. “While the RFI says the Navy wants a ship capable of doing (both) ASUW and ASW,” he said, “this could result in an option for FFG(X) that is less expensive and focused on ASUW.” Overall, Clark said, these requirements suggest less a traditional frigate than a kind of picket ship, a spotter transmitting targeting data to more powerful vessels: “Instead of being a full-up multi-mission frigate, the RFI suggests the FFG(X)’s job is to support Distributed Maritime Operations and Distributed Lethality by hosting unmanned systems and acting as a remote active and passive sensor to support shooters over the horizon” — such as the more powerful Aegis destroyers.

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