A reader on the previous post posed the seemingly simple question,
Why isn’t the Navy building frigates?
I’d like to take a shot a answering that. The simple answer is that with the Navy firmly committed to the LCS, building frigates now would be an embarrassment and an admission of failure. No way the Navy will consider new frigates, at this point. I don’t think that even needs to be discussed further.
However, I think the reader is really asking why didn’t the Navy opt to build frigates back before the LCS program was irreversibly entrenched? There must have been a point in time when the LCS was just a drawing and the Navy could have gone either way. What made them choose the LCS over the frigate?
Before I go any further, let me say that aside from a few conversations with people connected with the Navy but not in any significantly relevant position to answer the question, I have no inside information as to what the Navy’s thinking was. In other words, this post is just speculation.
Further, I’m largely opposed to the LCS and highly critical of the way the program has been executed. That said, I’m going to attempt to answer the question as objectively as I can.
On with the answer …
Let’s go back in time to around the late 1990s or so when the LCS was still just a concept. The Perry class FFGs were in the final third of their lifespan, budgets were beginning to feel the pinch of fiscal reality, shipbuilding costs were escalating out of control, and people were questioning the Navy’s mission since the Cold War was over and China was not yet taken seriously as a naval competitor.
|Why No Frigates?|
The Navy’s solution was to put forth a new enemy. Of course, there was no actual, specific enemy but that didn’t matter. Lacking an actual enemy, the Navy came up with “LITTORAL” – a vague place that the non-specific enemy would reside and create all kinds of havoc. Thus, the Navy reasoned, they could sell Congress on more ships if they pushed the idea of a magical LITTORAL combat ship that could do things that no other ship could do. We’ve already debunked that idea in previous posts but at that time it was a simple public relations exercise to push the LCS as the savior that would do battle with the littoral monster. Thus, the LCS was born rather than a frigate which Congress might reject, citing all the existing Perrys and the cheapness of upgrades relative to new construction.
Further, I think the Navy convinced themselves that the LCS was going to be the new age frigate. Indeed, on paper (or Powerpoint, as the case may be!) the LCS was going to be an effective MCM, ASW, ASuW platform able to transform from one role to the next in a matter of hours. Of course, none of those paper technologies and capabilities panned out and now we have neither a frigate nor the envisioned LCS.
The insightful reader will note the zeal with which the Navy went about retiring and giving away Perry FFGs once the decision was made to go the LCS path. Skeptics among us might suspect that that was done to pre-empt the possibility of Congress or critics suggesting that the Perrys be upgraded. You may recall the way the entire Spruance class was Sinkex’ed to eliminate possible competition with the Aegis program.
So, there’s your answer as to why we aren’t building frigates. The failure of the LCS is so blatantly obvious, at this point, that one can’t help but wonder where the Admiral Harvey of the LCS is. Where’s the Admiral who will stand up and say that the Emperor LCS has no clothes and that a basic frigate would better serve the Navy and the Nation?