US Navy Selected Fincantieri Marinette to Build FFG(X) Frigate

The U.S. Navy on Thursday announced that it has selected Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Wisconsin for a massive contract to build the Guided-Missile Frigates FFG(X) that replaces the current LCS design.

The contract will be at least worth $795 million, however between the lead ship and options for up to nine others that total would be worth $5.5 billion if all options are exercised.

Austal USA expresses ‘extreme disappointment’ over Navy FFG(X) decision to select European FREMM Frigate design.

The contestants are nationally diverse, offering enormously varied platforms. Wisconsin-based Fincantieri Marinette Marine is championing the Italian-French Fregata Europea Multi-Missione (FREMM) frigate. Maine-based General Dynamics Bath Iron Works GD is proposing a variant of the Alvaro de Bazan class frigate, a solid design from the Spanish shipbuilder Navantia. Alabama-based aluminum-ship specialist Austal USA is proposing a variant of the Independence class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS 2), which is, in itself, a variant of a commercial car ferry. The surface combatant-focused Ingalls Shipyard, a Mississippi yard owned by Huntington Ingalls Industries HII , is proposing something mysterious, but, given the range of potential platforms the yard is positioned to offer, nobody knows what it is. The general consensus ranges from a variant of the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter, to a reworked, de-scoped version of the famed Arleigh Burke class destroyer, to a variant of a forthcoming British design.

These are all strong designs, but the strongest offers—the best mix of platform performance, positioning and political expediency—come from Fincantieri Marinette Marine or Austal. The most desperate offer comes from Austal, where a dry order book would mean existential catastrophe for that portion of the Navy’s industrial base, while the strongest offer would be a FREMM derivative built in the 2020 battleground state of Wisconsin.

The primary reason Fincantieri is favored to win has nothing to do with the platform itself. The overarching factor that favors Fincantieri’s FREMM offering is politics. It’s simple — if the Trump Administration fails to win Wisconsin in November, then the Trump administration won’t receive a second term.

A big new manufacturing contract would help win over this battleground state.

Put bluntly, a big shipbuilding contract is one of the biggest nuggets of political pork a President can deliver, and Secretary Esper, a former Raytheon RTN executive who has always been acutely aware of political positioning, would be loathe to fritter away such largesse on a politically insignificant state.

Outside of politics, the FREMM is a strong platform in itself, and, with Fincantieri Marinette Marine under the capable leadership of Admiral Richard Hunt, a former Raytheon executive, the base FREMM design has been substantially modified. It now offers additional performance margins required to keep the ship effective in the decades to come, and it may even have additional capabilities beyond those that were identified as naval requirements for the future frigate.

Hunt, who spent some of his happiest years in the Navy aboard frigates, has actively worked his naval customer base, reaching out to friends and former shipmates to help shape his offering. The Americanized FREMM will fit the less formalized needs and requirements of a scrappy surface ship community that has, for years, felt betrayed by the troubled Littoral Combat Ship Program.

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