The US Navy’s vision and mission scope for its emerging new combat-capable frigate includes the ability to destroy swarming small boat attacks, operate undersea and aerial drones, support carrier strike groups, conduct disaggregated operations, attack enemies with an over-the-horizon missile and engage in advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare.
These plans for the ship are taking a large step forward, following the US Navy’s recent ship development award to Marinette Marine Corp. for up to 10 new Guided Missile Frigates FFG(X).
Concepts for the ship include an advanced, heavily armed frigate with a stronger, reinforced hull, space armor, over-the-horizon missiles and a wider complement of additional high-tech weapons. Sure enough, according to Navy officials, the ship is now being designed as much more than a “toughened” Littoral Combat Ship, but a ship with an even wider combat scope to include additional air-defenses, Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar, a Baseline Ten AEGIS Combat System, AEGIS radar systems, major missile attack options with Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems, NSM anti-ship missiles, RUM-139 Vertical Launched Anti-Submarine Rocket and and MK 57 Gun Weapon Systems, among other things.
This arrangement forms the core of the ship’s air defense capabilities, with the Navy still saying that the primary weapon for these cells will be quad-packed Block II variants of the RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM). This would give the frigates a full load of 128 of these missiles.
These cells could also potentially accommodate other missiles in the future, including the increasingly capable and multipurpose Standard Missile 6 (SM-6). It is not clear whether the Navy has any requirement to install longer “strike length” Mk 41 cells on the FFG(X), which would also allow it to fire Tomahawk land attack cruise missiles.
This kind of baseline configuration is of course engineered with the technical foundation necessary to integrate new weapons, computer technology, electronics and information warfare systems as they emerge. The Navy described it as having “countermeasures and added capability in the SLQ-32(V)6 EW/IO (Electronic Warfare/Information Operations) area with design flexibility for future growth.” The SLQ-32(V)6 can jam enemy radars, as well as geolocate, identify, and classify those emitters.
The Navy has also now said that it wants the FFG(X) to have adequate space and power generation capacity to accommodate a 150 kilowatt solid-state laser directed energy weapon in the future.
Upon initial conception, it was not instantly determined that the new ship would include VLS; clearly the service saw the need to more heavily arm the new ship, in keeping with its increased lethality and Distributed Maritime Operations strategic approach for aggressively arming its surface fleet for major warfare on the open seas.
Navy officials said that the new FFG (X) “will have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations.” As part of its attack strategy for the ship, Navy officials add the ship will “will incorporate Standard Navy systems across the radar; combat system; command, control, communications, computers and intelligence; and launcher elements.”
Along these lines, arming the ship with EASR radar is consistent with this plan, as the radar is also arming amphibs and some carriers as a Raytheon-built multi-mission air-defense system.
The deal, which is a contract for detailed design and construction, includes a measure of flexibility, meaning the Navy and its industry partners are likely to continue refining requirements and potential weapons and technology for the ship as it further comes to fruition.
Significantly, the Navy’s emerging weapons and technology structure for its frigate seem to align with some of the service’s initial requirements, mission scope and technology for the ship.
A Navy statement several years ago said the platform will “employ unmanned systems to penetrate and dwell in contested environments, operating at greater risk to gain sensor and weapons advantages over the adversary.”
A well-armed ship, which is what the emerging structure of the ship clearly seems to be, is consistent with the Navy’s previously articulated plan for the ship, which envisioned a platform that could travel in substantial aggregated combat scenarios such as Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups. In addition, it is clear that the service seeks a ship able to function autonomously, control undersea and aerial drones and perform disaggregated or more independent missions.
The ship will be manned with a crew of up to 200 sailors, Navy officials say. A follow-on deal is planned for 2026.
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