Thursday, August 15, 2013


ComNavOps has got to put a stop to this, right now, before it gets any further out of hand.  I’m talking, of course, about the current fascination with capital ship level “frigates”.  Everyone wants the Navy to build frigates and load them up with Aegis, 16” guns, flight decks the size of a Nimitz, amphibious capability, and BMD.  OK, I’m exaggerating but not by all that much.  Read back through some of the recent post comments and you’ll see what I mean.  It’s not just commenters on this site, either.  All over the blogosphere people have lost all touch with tactical and budgetary realities (yes, they are related).

Back to basics …  A frigate is a LOW end ship that can do a bit of everything and nothing well.  They are not high end warships.  They’re intended to operate around the periphery of combat and complement the higher end ships or fill some of the lower end missions so as to free up higher end ships for more demanding duties.  As such, they don’t need area air defense, ground support gunfire capability, or long range strike.

Hang on a minute.  What’s that sound?  Oh, it’s the sound of a bunch of people furiously pounding out replies on their keyboards describing how some country or other has a highly capable frigate with all kinds of capabilities and, therefore, suggesting that we should have the same.  Well …  We already do!!!  They’re called Burkes and Ticonderogas and Nimitzes and B-2 bombers and SSGNs.  We’ve already got very high end offensive and defensive platforms and weapons.  No other country has that and that is why they’re cramming as much capability into their “frigates” as possible.

Affordable and Limited Capability

What we don’t have is an AFFORDABLE, competent ASW vessel that can be built in large numbers and that can also offer a little bit of localized escort protection or expand the reach and effectiveness of the Burkes and carriers that it would operate with.  We also don’t have nearly enough AFFORDABLE peacetime patrol ships for maintaining a credible deterrent presence and the ability to show the flag in many, many places around the world simultaneously.  We don’t have any semi-expendable (meaning AFFORDABLE), semi-capable ships to sail into restricted waters and deal with small boats and swarms, scout for minefields, and provide limited escort protection with proper support.  We don’t have an AFFORDABLE low end ship that can provide limited protection for vessels conducting mine countermeasures operations.  I can go on but you get the idea.  We need a low end AFFORDABLE ship – you know, like a true frigate.  Maybe some other countries need a high end “frigate” (not really a frigate, then, is it?) but the US Navy doesn’t.

Did anyone pick up on the key word in the preceeding paragraph?  Hint – it’s also the key characteristic of a true frigate.

For all of you who insist on designing a high end vessel, that’s fine but it’s not a frigate, it’s a Burke and we already have those.  Plus, how are you going to pay for it?

Seriously, look at the tactical needs of the US Navy before you start designing your “frigate”.


  1. It's obvious that the LCS is nowhere what a frigate looks like and is nowhere near what a Corvette should look like. It's why we do need a Frigate for all the low end work that a high end ship would not want to do. A frigate would have to have the same price tag as the US Coast Guard's National Security cutters. Have to be armed to Frigate standard and have to use what is current, off the shelf and can be readily availabe.

  2. ComNavOps, why don't you spec out exactly the kind of frigate you have in mind and then toss out a rough guesstimate as to what it would cost if built in the US?

    You might even decide there is merit in having more than one frigate class. I'm talking two frigate classes here, not a frigate and a smaller corvette.

    Now, if it were up to me, in addition to a frigate, I would also build some number of Jimmy Drennan's Expendable Small Surface Combatant (JDESSC), something along the lines of the Chinese Type 022.

    If nothing else, these smaller vessels would be a good place for budding surface warfare officers to get their feet wet.

    One other point ....

    You are aware I'm sure that Bryan McGrath has made the suggestion that if the US Navy cannot be properly funded well enough to handle all the missions currently expected of it, then the maritime presence missions should be cut back sharply in favor of a force structure geared towards large-scale conflict.

    Under that approach, the active fleet would number roughly 230 operational vessels with some number of other warships being held on standby.

    Under that plan, the standby ships would remain in commission and would be rotated into and out of active service on a regular schedule to keep them operationally functional in case a large-scale conflict breaks out and the Navy must quickly expand.

    1. FACs like the Type 022 are basically useless for the USN. They are basically coast guard vessels that are up weaponed and lack any range capability.

    2. Scott, you've touched on several points each of which is worthy of extended discussion well beyond the range of a simple comment.

      I've read the InfoDissem JDESSC and, while intriguing, has severe problems in the concept, assumptions, and math that underly the conclusion. Regardless, the conclusion merits serious thought. Hughes wrote a book on this and I could write extensively on it so I'll let it go at that.

      You touch on the possibility of multiple, specialized, single function vessels which is something I believe would benefit the Navy but, again, I could write at length on it.

      The 300 ship Navy is an unrealistic dream. We're headed for a 250 ship Navy in the moderately near future - less if you discount the non-combat LCS, JHSV, and the like. That leads, as you point out, to consideration of what type of Navy we should have: Forward deployed or surge only? How many focal points, if any? And so on ... Again, well beyond a simple comment.

      You've offered a great comment but well beyond the ability to answer in a short comment!

    3. "ComNavOps, why don't you spec out exactly the kind of frigate you have in mind and then toss out a rough guesstimate as to what it would cost if built in the US?"

      I would be very curious to see what your opinion is of a Frigate we could build here. This horse has been beaten regularly on this blog but while I have a great idea of what you don't want (LCS; Burke Frigate) and while you give good reasons to back up those opinions, I don't really know what you *do* think the Navy can or should do in an affordable fashion.

      It seems like all the requirements contradict each other:

      A) It has to be affordable
      B) it has to be built tough so it lasts a long time. That is expensive.
      C) We'd like it to be able to take a hit and keep on being functional, which generally either means size, steel, or electronics. All of which go against affordability.
      D) We want it to be upgradable. But that requires modularity which suggests size. Again, goes against affordability.
      E) We'd like it to be designed and built here. Which goes against cost effectiveness...

      Basically, given all the arguments I've heard, and what you've said, I don't think its possible for the Navy to do given the current political/industrial climate. Any Frigate we build. Even one to the relatively modest standards of the OHP or a little lower, is likely going to cost darn near a billion dollars a copy. Especially when you consider weapons and sensors.

    4. Jim, you're mixing and matching statements and requirements. Most of the "requirements" you list apply to larger warships, not the a small, expendable, affordable ASW frigate.

      Affordable - yes
      Tough - no - applies to Burkes and the like
      Take a hit - no - applies to Burkes and the like
      Upgradable - no - won't have more than a 20 yr lifespan
      Built in US - don't care, but if we can't build a small, cheap ASW frigate we should get out of the Navy business or admit that our economic and social policies are failures

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    1. B.Smitty, you say a frigate needs to have size. Why? Size costs money (steel is not cheap and air is not free) and there goes AFFORDABLE. Is it because you think we need to allow for future new weapon systems? A frigate is only going to have a 20-25 year lifespan. The LCS is only claimed to have a 25 year lifespan and you know they won't actually come anywhere near that. Heck, even the Ticos are being early retired. So, I don't see any significant upgrades being applied to a frigate. The Navy would rather early retire/sell/SINKEX frigates and build new ones. Besides, that laser powered anti-gravity photon torpedo launcher that we might someday develop isn't going to be ready in the lifespan of any frigate we build today.

      So help me out here, why does the frigate have to be big?

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    3. B.Smitty, you're quite correct about your lifespan comments, in concept. The reality, though, is quite different, especially for frigates. As of a year ago, the average Perry lifespan on retirement was 29 years and the Navy has described them as broken down, worn out, unfit for further service, and not worth upgrading. Of course, they then turn around and sell them to other countries where they continue to serve. The Ticos are being early retired with an average lifespan of 21 years. LHAs are being retired at 32 years average. The MHCs made it to an average of 11 years. The average SSN lifespan is 33 years. Only the carriers are getting decent lifespans at 44 years average retirement. The Navy is hoping to get extended lifespans from the Burkes that's only hope, at the moment.

      The point is that your assumption of 40 years seems to be significantly off from the reality of Navy lifespans.

      You seem to be wanting to build a mini-Burke. We already have all the full Burkes we need. What is your notional frigate's main purpose? It's reason for being? Answer that and all the technical issues fall readily into place.

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    5. B.Smitty, what you're describing is not a frigate. OK, that's just a matter of semantics and naming convention. The ship you're describing and the roles/missions you want it to perform are fine - it's a mini-Burke. In fact, it's akin to the WWII cruiser which supported the BB (now Burke) and could operate independently under certain circumstances. I have no problem with it other than cost. If a Burke restart costs $2B and a Flt III will cost $3B+, where do you see your ship fitting in, cost wise? I know you say $600M but an LCS costs several hundred million and has only a fraction of the capability you want. I think your ship is going to cost $1B-$1.5B, realistically, in today dollars.

      We can wish for cheaper shipbuilding costs but they are what they are. Given the known costs of various classes, you're not going to be able to build your mini-Burke for $600M.

      In contrast, I'm looking at the construction costs versus capabilities, recognizing the budget limitations, and suggesting a very narrowly focused, small (true) frigate with very limited capabilities whereas your proposal is a far more capable ship at a wishful-thinking cost (no offense meant!).

      Let me give you some specifics that could save money. You propose a 5" gun so the ship can contribute to NGFS. We have around 90 ships with 5" guns already plus three (soon) Zumwalts with 155 mm guns. Do we really need 5" guns on your "frigate"? Won't there always be plenty of 5" or 155 mm guns available? Drop the gun and save money.

      We've got 90 some Aegis ships. They'll be used for serious escort. For the limited escort you suggest, ESSM should be adequate. If you want a bit more, SM-6 with a TRS-3D or some such radar is sufficient. We don't need to put SPY-3 on ships that are only going to deal with the occasional popup threat. This is what the Perry had, in essence. We can save a couple hundred million dollars.

      And so on. What do you think?

      Your concept ship is fine if we had the budget.

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    7. If we want limited range NGFS there are a lot of cheaper options than a $1B FFG. The reality is that the 5" guns aren't that useful these days. They are really a last resort weapon.

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    9. Just to put things into perspective, $600 million won't even get you a baseline un-equipped Type 26 Frigate. The reality is you aren't going to get an outfitted 5Kt warship for under $600 million. Oh, and the cost for the Type 26 doesn't included the sonar array and related equipment as that is to be transferred from existing ships...

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    11. My source is that the 350M# price tag is about as realistic to the real cost as the $450M price tag for the LCS is. AKA, they aren't getting a fully outfitted ship for anywhere near that. Lets put it this way, a fully outfitted LCS with module is in the 700-800 range, I highly doubt our costs are that much higher.

    12. The estimated price for the Type 26 is around £350M plus some equipment transfered from the Type 23s, just like B.Smitty said. It is very unlikely that the cost will be higher than this. If for no other reason than it would just be unaffordable by the RN. However there is no reason to think the cost will be more based on previous RN ships.

      The Type 45s cost around between £550m and £650m, however this an estimated £200m for the radars and Sea Viper missile system.

      While the last Type 23 that was commissioned just over 10 years ago, cost ~£130m.

      As for what can be called a frigate, in RN terms, a Frigate and a Destroyer are based on their role, not their size. For the Royal Navy a destroyer is a anti air warfare ship, while a frigate focuses on ASW (and general roles).

  4. Hi UK here, very interesting debate you have here. frigates are a bit of a pet subject and historically their rolls have morphed and morphed over the years.

    Traditionally the RN has operated quite powerful frigates right back beyond Nelson and HMS Victory. And the new type 26 really is just a mini more multi roll Type 45 give or take. but this is giving us the problem of two few hulls to do the missions. And hence calls for a Corvette \ OPV doing effectively a frigates jobs ( so a smaller frigate class by any other name, see Type 26 C2 C3 variants )

    I am myself torn. cheap an numerous is where we are lacking too. but a frigate to support capital ships and to escort convoys must be able to do more than simply take care of itself. It must be a potent enough threat to actively draw fire \ concentration away from the target it is protecting and the potential to take the hits and remain operational ( see Falkland’s war )

    I think oliver hazard perry started well but have unfortunately fallen by the way side ?

    Draw up a spec and we can debate.

    1. Anon, first, a long distance welcome to you! Glad you stopped by.

      You make an interesting statement about powerful frigates dating back to Nelson. The RN has certainly had highly successful frigates - no question. On paper, though, the Nelson era frigates were not particularly powerful compared to naval ships of the time. For example, a 32 gun frigate was one third the size of a 90 gun ship of the line and perhaps a quarter of the size or less in terms of weight of shot delivered since they mounted smaller cannon.

      If we were to project that to today, would you consider a frigate with one quarter the capability of a Type 45 to be desirable?

      You make an incredibly insightful statement about a frigate must be able to do more than just defend itself. You're quite right. A frigate (any ship, for that matter!) must have a purpose and fill a specific role. It may take on many secondary roles and missions but it should be designed and built to fill a primary purpose. Too many people just want to load as many weapons as possible on a "frigate" and be done with it without considering what the ship's purpose would be.

      I can't speak to the RN needs but the US Navy needs a small, expendable ASW vessel. Secondary roles would be small boat and swarm defense, limited escort duties, and a peer attack (Harpoon) capability along with the usual peacetime activities.

      Using a frigate to support capital ships, as you suggest, is not a traditional frigate role. Going back to Nelson, frigates operated independently and were never part of the line of battle. If they played a role in a major engagement, it was on the periphery rather than actively supporting ships of the line. What you're describing as a support ship is more properly a modern cruiser acting to support a battleship or a modern destroyer acting to support a battle line as often seen in WWII battles. Setting aside the carrier, the modern "destroyer" like a Burke is the new capital ship. Does it need a support ship? That's a good question. A traditional frigate, though, is not a support ship.

      Any of this make sense?

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    3. B.Smitty, think back to WWII. The vast majority of ASW was provided by covettes, DE's, trawlers, and other very small craft. They were expendable but served to find and disrupt enemy subs. Even in full task forces, when a sub was spotted, the BBs and cruisers turned and ran. The destroyers, being expendable, were left to deal with the sub.

      Asking a $2B+ Burke to play tag with a sub is a foolish cost/benefit decision. We need an expendable ASW platform. Look to WWII and you'll see what I'm thinking. The corvette or DE was the frigate of its time and that's what we no longer have but desperately need.

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    5. B.Smitty, you seem to think that I'm arguing against capability. I'm not. I'm all for as much capability as we can AFFORD which, at the moment, is almost none. Hence, a very minimal ship capable of performing the single most pressing need - shallow water, anti-diesel ASW. One could argue that mine countermeasures are the single most pressing need but that would not (should not) be a frigate mission and that's a topic for another time.

      Your criticisms of smaller ships are valid and in an unlimited budget of course we'd build bigger ships. The question is what to do now in the face of budgetary restrictions.

      Of course a lot about ASW has changed since WWII. What hasn't changed is that subs are afraid of surface ship detection and will go to great lengths to avoid them. That's the value of large numbers of small reasonably capable ASW ships - their mere presence will force subs to go well out of their way and will, probably unknowingly, disrupt their operations. Plus, the ships are essentially invulverable. No sub is going to waste a torpedo on a small frigate/corvette and give away their position with a flaming datum. This was true in WWII and is still true.

      You still haven't grasped what a small frigate truly is. It's an inexpensive (AFFORDABLE), limited capability ship that will have a very short lifespan. Upgrades will never happen so that isn't an issue.

      What would you have us perform ASW with? Billion dollar platforms? That's not a very cost effective way to perform ASW against modern subs which have so many advantages. Losing a Burke (or your mini-Burke) not only costs us a multi-billion dollar ship but costs us our main AAW and BMD platform. Sending a Burke to play tag with a sub is going to be a losing proposition far more often than not.

      Are you sure you can't see the value to a small ASW frigate?

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    7. B.Smitty, tactically, trading a low end, AFFORDABLE (meaning expendable) frigate for a sub is a win. An SSN or even SSK is far more valuable than a low end frigate. For a SSN/SSK to announce its location by sinking a frigate would be tactically stupid for the sub.

      Your example of the Korean incident is a peacetime, sneak attack, world public relations event rather than a wartime scenario. Had it been war, that sub might or might not have succeeded and would have been quickly destroyed and the balance sheet would call it a win for the surface fleet.

      I have no particular problem with size other than as it impacts cost. If someone can build a 1000 ft long frigate for a few hundred million dollars then great.

      Frigates of the type I'm proposing would not generally operate with a combat fleet (carrier group) and if they did (if someone thought they added sufficient value to the group) they would simply have to be refueled more often. Remember my description of a frigate? - Operating around the periphery of combat, conducting patrols and ASW in shallower water and chokepoints, providing low end protection for passage of ships, dealing with small combatants, etc.

      It appears to come down to this: you want to build a combat vessel to fight with the fleet side by side with Burkes and Ticos - a mini-Burke with what you hope will be a lesser price. I want to build low end ASW focused ships for a relatively very small price to fill a gaping tactical need.

      As I said, there's nothing wrong with your idea other than cost.

    8. "Hence, a very minimal ship capable of performing the single most pressing need - shallow water, anti-diesel ASW. "

      Are you talking a ship that can protect against AIP boats in restricted water ways, like the Persian gulf?

      Didn't the British build a class of Frigate/Corvette in WWII that was a wooden fishing trawler design? Flower class maybe?

      If that's all you want, why not go with that route?

      The biggest problems I see is that this ship might be great for ASW in the littorals; but it won't have the ability to keep up with the fleet (so you have $2B Burkes doing ASW duty for the Blue Water navy). And in the littorals, it will be very vulnerable to almost any other small class ship capable of operating in the littorals (Soviet era missile boats come to mind. Heck, the boghammers). So it will need bigger ship support, which then brings the 'Burkes back into the picture...

      However, they would provide the ability to protect shipping in the blue water. Its an interesting idea...

    9. Jim, you state, as a weakness, that a notional small ASW frigate wouldn't be able to keep up with the fleet. I guess my answer would be, IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO! Everyone wants to turn a frigate into a mini-Burke. That was the point of my post.

      Cyclones can't operate with the fleet, either - but they're NOT SUPPOSED TO!

      A small ASW frigate would have as its primary mission shallow water ASW, patrol of shallow waters and chokepoints, anti-small vessel ASuW, and limited escort duties. None of that says operate with the fleet!!!!!!!!!!!

      Small doesn't mean impotent. Four or eight bolt on Harpoons can provide sufficient means to deal with the small class ships you mention without adding undue cost or size. Alternatively, I think (might be wrong?) that both ESSM and RAM can function in an anti-surface mode.

      A modernized and somewhat beefed up Flower class is conceptually in the ballpark of what's needed.

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    11. B.Smitty, people seem to think that if I don't say we DO need something that I must think we DON'T need it. Of course, we could use a smaller, cheaper blue water ASW platform - something we could afford to risk more than a multi-billion dollar Burke. - but that's a different topic.

      What I said was that shallow water ASW was our most pressing need (acknowledging mine countermeasures!) and, given the budget restrictions, that's what we should be pursuing. That does not mean we don't need blue water ASW supplements to the Burke. I'd like to see us develop an S-3 Viking replacement, a less expensive blue water ASW vessel, more SSGNs, a buttload of MCM vessels, more MCM helos, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, budget restrictions mean most (all) of those are off the table unless we are willing to radically alter our acquisition priorities (which I think we should!).

      You're quite right about the different requirements for shallow versus deep water ASW. Hence, my continual use of the phrase, "shallow water ASW frigate", to differentiate it from a blue water vessel.

      A blue water ASW frigate would be identical to the shallow water ASW frigate except that it would be bigger for better range and seakeeping and would probably have a bit more AAW capability in acknowledgment of the likelihood of being involved in fleet actions.

      Does that make it clear and does that make sense to you?

    12. "Jim, you state, as a weakness, that a notional small ASW frigate wouldn't be able to keep up with the fleet. I guess my answer would be, IT'S NOT SUPPOSED TO! Everyone wants to turn a frigate into a mini-Burke. That was the point of my post."

      I suppose the source of my confusion is that the ships you design aren't what I had in mind for a Frigate; which was essentially an OHP class ship. You've stated before you'd love to be able to upgrade the OHP's instead of new construction.

      The ship you describe is decidedly different; from my understanding.

      The OHP's could do fleet defense ASW as they had the size and speed to keep up. Yet they could also do merchant ship protection. They were built to lvl II standards and could take a hit. They could operate to some extent in the littorals.

      What it seems you are describing is a mating between the OHP, the FLower, and the LCS.

      Built to Lvl I standards, operate in the littorals, not keep up with the fleet.

      Do you see the difference? And I think that might be the source of frustration. Most of us are thinking of ships that are primarily focused on doing ASW for the fleet in the blue water like the OHP's were. Where what you are describing is a littoral ASW ship.

      Don't get me wrong; its not a bad idea at all, but its an idea in a different direction from what I'd thought.

      In that guise, maybe the NSC is the way to go. The hull has been designed and built already. You might be able to bolt on some harpoons. And you might be able to tow a towed array from it. I don't think it could do ESSM very easily, but maybe just RAM.

    13. Jim, I cover many different topics in my posts and comments. Yes, two decades or so ago when the Navy made the decision to commit to the LCS and let the OHPs die, I believe a better decision would have been to upgrade the OHPs. That would have been a great option during the last two decades but that's no longer an option. Hence, my focus in this topic is on small, shallow water ASW frigates.

      And yes, what I'm describing is radically different from most people's idea of a frigate but that's because they aren't viewing a frigate in the context of the overall capabilities of the Navy and, more broadly, the military. If we want to discuss real options, we need to consider budgets and tactical needs. Instead, most people want to design a theoretical "frigate" that is unaffordable and only marginally useful when compared to actual needs. The Navy has 90 or so Aegis ships with many thousands of VLS cells. Does it really make sense to build more? What we need to build are ships that fill needs - like anti-SSK ASW (and mine warfare!).

      Designing super-capable "what if" frigates is fun but not realistic.

    14. "And yes, what I'm describing is radically different from most people's idea of a frigate but that's because they aren't viewing a frigate in the context of the overall capabilities of the Navy and, more broadly, the military. "

      Okay. I'm on the same page, and I agree. I've been an advocate of the 'Burke frigates' in the past just because I had assumed (wrongly) that we could leverage existing manufacturing capability to cheapen costs. Again, my experience is in the auto industry and companies there do it all the time. You've shown how shipbuilding is different.

      I like your idea. It does make sense to limit capability to limit cost. My knock against the LCS isn't that its not uber capable, its that its expensive and not capable at all.

      A modern day 'Flower Class' would be great. A towed aray, RAM and/or ESSM, and some Harpoons and a gun to defend itself would be fine.

      I think you could get away with a more COTS towed array and try to use decent software to do the ASW work.

      The base hull for such a vessel I worry about. I had mentioned the NSC. Its all steel, already has some EW gear, some weapons, and good range. If you could put a TAS and Harpoons on it, it would be great. It also has decent speed and great range. But the last copy was $750, without the Harpoons and TAS. So that would seem to be out of the picture.

      "if we can't build a small, cheap ASW frigate we should get out of the Navy business or admit that our economic and social policies are failures"

      We may be at that state. I don't know that I honestly trust the Navy and military procurement to be able to build even a low level 'Neo-Flower' cheaply. I see another $1B ship coming out in 10 years after years of contractor over runs.

      Look at the LCS. Its big, does very little, and is horrificly priced.

      Why would it be impossible to try to save whats left of the OHP's? We still have some. It might provide a cheaper stop gap until we can come up with something.

    15. Ok, problem with the current OHPs is that they cannot really do anything that LCS won't be able to do after the first of type issues are wrung out. OHPs are basically used as mobile Helo platforms. Almost all the important work is carried out by the towed array and the Helos. The LCS can do that just fine. In fact, its a much better aviation platform than the OHPs.

      Now if you want to go to something else, a reasonable starting point is probably the RSN Formidable-class. Right tonnage, not as good aviation facilities, but could get the job done. Likely going to cost more than the LCS.

      And that's the problem with a lot of the whole anti-LCS brigade. Yes, the LCS doesn't have a lot of weapons, it wasn't designed to need a lot and got a little fubar'd due to weapon system it was depending on being cancelled. But it wasn't spec'd nor designed to be a heavy fighter, at least not initially, though there are designs that would give it greater offensive power than anything but the big and small deck carriers out there. The LCS was designed as a flexable cheap aviation and UMV centric platform.

      Yeah its probably more expensive than it should be, but it invariably generally costs less than what most people propose to replace it with. Yeah its probably not got enough offensive or defensive capability, but its got as much if not more than what its replacing.

      The things to knock about the LCS are the things that flat out don't work because of reliability issue or program management issues. The general concept is actually reasonably sound.

      So to replace the LCS, you have to come up with a ship with close to the same manning that costs under $500m in current dollars and provides the same general level of aviation facilities and flexible mission capabilities. Good luck with that...

    16. Well, this is as I understand it but:

      It was my understanding that the LCS is basically all helo and rigid boat at this point.

      The OHP's when they started out at least had Standard and Harpoon, as well as lvl II survivability. In addition to that they had towed arrays, a bow sonar, torps, better range, and the helo.

      Put the LCS's in the actual littorals that they were supposed to operate in and they are very vulnerable to missile boats that many nations in those areas seem to have in abundance. That's not to mention shore based stuff. They don't have a native ability to fight subs, or much of anything. And their mission modules are *really* expensive and frankly not working out.

      And, given its small crew, low build level, and extensive use of aluminum, if it gets hit it is likely in big big trouble.

      Now we see that the ship is having big problems just remaining active while deployed. Sure. Some of this is teething problems. Some of it is the fact that it just isn't set up for long foreign deployments without a tender.

      From what I've read, for the minimal mission module stuff we are getting, its going to add anywhere from 200-300 million per ship. Which brings the LCS with poor mission modules and good helicopter facilities close to a billion dollars.

      Not a fan.

    17. ats, you're comparing the LCS (after if works out the bugs - if that ever happens) to the current stripped down OHP! In the interests of fairness, why don't you turn that around and compare the current LCS to the OHP after it got the bugs worked out and before the Navy stipped them. I won't bother citing how superior the OHP is in that case - you know it as well as I do.

      In what way is the LCS superior to the OHP as an aviation platform? Depending on the source, the LCS can operate a max of 1 or 2 SH-60 type helos. The OHP can operate a max of 2 SH-60 type helos. The LCS flight deck is larger but you can still only operate 1 or 2 helos. I'm missing how the LCS is superior.

      You say the general concept is reasonably sound. How so? The speed requirement is tactically useless. It has no offensive capability. The ASW module was abandoned and there is not even a plan for a replacement that is superior to existing technology. The ship is vastly oversized and overpriced for MCM even if the module worked which it doesn't. It can only operate in low threat environments which is a 180 degree reversal of the intended concept of operations. How is any of that a reasonably sound concept?

    18. Can we get rid of the whole offensive capability canard. Most US warships don't have meaningful offensive capability. The burkes currently only have their 5" gun. That's it. The entirety of the US Navy fleet outside of the big and small deck carriers has a distinct lack of offensive capability. There are numerous FAC with better offensive capability than any of the DDG/CGs currently in the US fleet.

    19. "Can we get rid of the whole offensive capability canard. Most US warships don't have meaningful offensive capability."

      I hope not! warhips have to be able to fight!

      I don't know if what you say is entirely accurate. While the Flight IIA 'Burkes don't, and can't, carry Harpoons, I believe that the Flight I and II 'Burkes can. As well as the Tico's. They also have weapons to deal with subs like ASROC and 'normal' Torps.

      But still, you bring up a good point that could be a blog post in and of itself: The offensive capability of our Navy is aging.

      We didn't get the Harpoon Block III; are waiting on the LRASM and hope it works. Heck, some are even talking about bringing back the TASM. (Why we love subsonic missiles so much, I don't know. There must be a reason).

      To bring this back to the Frigate discussion, we have to ask ourselves what the role of the ship is: Will it possibly, realisticly, fight without a carrier present?

      For some ships, I think the question is yes. My buddy was on a Flight I 'Burke and it deployed alone alot. If something happened, it might have to fight alone.

      For these ships specifically, we are talking about building affordable ships to go into environments where we don't want to risk multi billion dollar assets. Having a 'Burke risk getting shot by a Shipwreck fired in the open ocean is something it was designed for. Having it get swarmed by 15 different old soviet missile boats, while it dodges old mines and might get plonked by a shore based AShM or '50's era torp fired by an AIP sub is quite another.

      So these ships are, IMHO, *very likely* to fight in a situation where they won't have easy help from their big brothers. As such, they'll have to have *something* to counter an enemy.

      And I think this is true for any ship that could fight alone.

      The US Navy doesn't need a gazillion dollar Brahmos or Sunburn copy. The LRASM would do nicely. Or maybe see if we can get a canister launched version of the HF-3 or put a warhead on a Coyote. But it needs something.

      Just my $0.02

  5. Everyone is mssing the real problem here as the MICC (Military Industrial Congressional Complex). The MICC does not care about cost or effectiveness. They only care about eh size of the money to be spent that now of these overly expensive things gets damaged or lost on the front page during their re-election campaign. It is much much easier to support and defend an few expensive technological marvels rather than a numerous effective fleet.

    From the Service "Leadership" side, when is the last time that a wargame was conducted that factored in the time to repair or replace these complex "captial" ships? Or even get them ready to sail and fight as the maintenance budgets are being slashed? Until you get a revolt (awaenking?) of the "real" fighting admirals you are never going to get a reliable, affordable ship that can sail into harms way and be commnaded by the future Issac Hulls.

    Sorry but things start at the top and flow down.

    1. Anon, you are correct that ships are being designed for many reasons other than warfighting. Ship design and construction is being used as a jobs program, equal opportunity (women) social program, etc. We've covered this in numerous posts and that's one of the main reasons I started this blog. Thanks for checking in!

    2. My point here is that the discussion is about making a good tactical decision, i.e. spec'ing out an affordable, effective frigate. But if you do not take into account the strategic situation, your good tactics are useless.

      Think of how Boyd and Christie got the Air Force to accept the F-16, which they didn;t want competing with teh F-15. They found the plum, increased force structure (number of Air Wings) that would be supported BECAUSE they could afford them with the F-16.

      This is the most important question to be discussed: How to get the MICC to think and support an inexpensive capable ship as a good idea. Otherwise, they will take you good spec and warp it into a bloated technology pig that is unaffordable.

      I look forward to seeing ideas on how to convince the MICC, there are smart people on this board so it should be good reading.

    3. Anon, you raise a very good point that having a good design is only half the battle. It must still be "sold" to Congress and gain the support of the Navy.

      In a sense, the Navy already did this with its sale of the LCS. Congress bought the program hook, line, and sinker. Unfortunately, the product turned out to be useless. Still, the rationale of the need for a patrol, ASW, and small boat ASuW vessel holds true and Congress has been receptive to that.

      The President's administration and Navy leadership are desperate to give the impression that the Navy is growing (or at least not shrinking!). It's why they're starting to count JHSVs and hospital ships as fleet ships. A bona-fide frigate would allow a legitimate claim that the Navy is growing (or not shrinking) which would be a major political benefit.

      One could argue that a large number of capable, though lesser, ships will be needed in the event of a war with China. Attrition will play a major role and numbers, even of frigates, will become important as both sides slowly lose their capital ships. Frigates could become the defacto capital ship.

      Another argument is that submarines are one of the most serious threats we face. Sending multi-billion dollar Burkes to perform ASW is a foolish tactic. Having a large fleet of much cheaper (expendable) ASW frigates will ensure the survival of the more expensive and capable ships while still providing a credible ASW capability.

      From Congress' perspective, a construction program of large numbers of frigates is an excellent jobs program and might even justify new shipyards and construction facilities.

      Any of those ideas ring your bell?

    4. Excellent statement of the Frigate, Navy numbers, and Congressional jobs issues. Now take it the next step and show how to do this within the $15B a year shipbuilding budget. Remember it ain't going up no matter what they smoke or drink in those building on BOTH banks of the Potomac.

      Can we get allies in state delegations OTHER than traditional (big complex technical ship leeches) Navy ship building state delegations?

      Small shipyards for the hull only to increase industrial base? Small businesses to fabricate and integrate the off the shelf weapons and C4ISR+ (whatever it is now) systems? Again non traditional state delegation benefit?

      Emphasize the economic benefits of having more ships in the fleet for ports. Build a realistic shipbuilding plan that fits within the budget AND gives the traditional ship contractors and states a steady lower rate of production, and then show that we can afford more of the cheaper ships.

      Some kind of a bargin like this has to be put together and presented so that everyone thinks it is their idea and THEN you will get a new effective frigate!

  6. How about a modernized OHP with a 16 cell Mk 41 VLS like with the Aussies did with there OHPs.

    1. USSHelm, that's actually a pretty good example of a frigate. The upgrade cost $100M or so, I'm led to believe, which is still way less than new construction.

  7. Greetings from Blighty, ComNavOps,

    Given the power of your Carriers and Destroyers it makes sense that you boys would consider a light Frigate.

    A main gun, 16xESS for air defence (or even defense), a towed array for ASW work and a hangar for a Helicopter which would aide ASW as well as extending the ships surface search and attack ability should do you guys just fine.

    Anything more than that seems a waste, given the vast array of other tools you have in your toolbox.

    1. Finally, someone who gets it and they're not even on the same side of the ocean! Well said. Thanks for stopping by.

    2. I would go with the following:

      Mk 110
      24-32 VLS(Tac length) for a combination of ~32 ESSM, 8-16 ASM, 8-16 VL-ASROC.
      1 SEARAM.
      1-2 20-30mm RWS
      2 M2s in manned mounts
      2 M134s in manned mounts

      Towed Sonar array

      COTS CODAG engine setup.

      4Kt or under.

      Deck and facilities for an MH-60 or AH-1.

    3. And if that config list looks familar, it probably should, its basically the config list for the international config LCSes.

      Just a reminder, that while there may be a lot of things wrong with the LCS, they were at least in the right ball park.

    4. @ ATS,

      Why would you need an AH-1? Why so many VLS cells? You don't need AShM, ASROC, or "Tac" length cells. You have the Arleigh Burkes, Tico's and Carriers for most of that.

      The frigate just needs to be able to protect itself against a small air attack and use the helicopter for most of its offensive needs.

    5. Why AH-1? Why not. It is fully navelized and having the option to use an AH-1 instead of a MH-60 opens up a lot of options. The AH-1 is a much deadlier weapon than a MH-60.

      Why so many VLS? Because in an actual war you are going to want even your frigates with enough fight power to be effective against likely enemies. The most likely enemy is a FAC like the Type 022. You need to be able to defend and engage. Defense will require around 32 ESSM which is 8 VLS cells. Then you will want to be able to engage with ASM which will require having enough ASM to be effective, which is roughly 8-16. So at that point we are up to 16-24 cells. And it never hurts to have some extras.

      The roles frigates fulfill means that they generally need to be somewhat self sufficient. They are what you send away from the fleet to probe.

    6. We do not need to put AH-1s or AH-64s on ships, in fact, the bulk of ASuW against small craft, was performed by AH-6s (little birds), or fixed wing TACAIR and MPA.

      Next generation ASCMs are going to be much larger than anything even an H-60 can carry.

      An H-60 with a radar and EW capability is far more capable than adding an attack helicopter.

      If we need to fly AH-1s, etc., the right answer is to bring in an LPD and run attack helicopter operations off of that platform.


    7. @ ATS,

      "The AH-1 is a much deadlier weapon than a MH-60."
      -- In a very limted set of scenarios, such as assisstance to landed forces. For the bulk of the work at sea you're going to want something like Seahawk, which is a massive asset in ASW (which the AH-1 can't do), surface search with its radar (which the AH-1 can't do) and surface attack at range of various craft with proper (naval) anti-surface weapons (which the AH-1 can't do).

      You don't need Harpoon or that large amount of ESSM, because as ComNavOps pointed out above, you have plenty of other assets that can do the AAW/AShW roles. If you're sending a cheap Frigate into a massive warzone without fleet support then your doctrine is the problem, not your ships.

    8. One of the likely adversaries for a frigate operating in the literals is going to be FACs. FACs generally carry 8-16 AShM with a range of 100-200 miles. Without ESSM and your own AShM, your only option will be to run and pray. That isn't an effective strategy. The FACs can easily and quickly reach a base or staging ground and re-fuel/re-arm.

      Therefore to be effective in its duties, a frigate is going to have to be able to engage a FAC and have a reasonable chance of survival and winning. In order to do that, it is going to have to have relevant defenses and fire power. That means ESSM and enough quantity of ESSM to prevents its destruction and AShM to engage with.

      Because of this, building or designing any frigate class vessel without VLS capability for ESSM and AShM going forward is a losing proposition.

      Not that doesn't mean each frigate needs a full complement of ESSM and AShM all the time. Empty VLS cells have relatively little cost. But it needs to have the capability of those cells when it gets into reach combat scenarios.

      As far as equipping a frigate with an AH-1, it wouldn't be a full time thing, but it does add a rather interesting capability to the frigate in various scenarios and should be contemplated. Bringing in an LPD is a pretty concentrated and heavy weight move that requires a lot of support. A frigate with 1-2 AH-1Zs is much more self sufficient.

    9. @ ATS,

      There are very few FAC that are able to carry much more than four missiles.

      The bigger question again is what is your Frigate doing wandering into such an area on its own? Frigates are supposed to be vessels that operate independently only in low intensity environments. In a much higher intensity environment you'll need the Frigate near the Carrier group to provide ASW coverage, not pottering about in Littoral regions.

      If, for some reason, it does find itself in that kind of region, you would expect it to have the Seahawk up, which provides the ability to search for and engage the FAC. Keep in mind that just because a FAC may be carrying a missile with medium-long range, without a sensor to guide it it will be limited to the range of its radar horizon. Which, would mean having to pass through the radar horizon of the Frigate and in range of its main gun, providing the helicopter hasn't already trashed them.

      As for the AH-1, you'd use it on a such a rare basis that it would be absolutely pointless. Maybe an interesting training opportunity for the pilots, but useless for 99% of the time the Frigate is deployed, and significantly hampering the Frigates ability to perform its main roles.

    10. Chris, without explicitly stating it, you bring up a very good point. People tend to view ships in isolation when they should be viewing them in relation to not only the rest of the fleet but the rest of the military, as well.

      The goal is not to design the most powerful frigate one can.

      The goal is not even to design the most powerful frigate that one can afford.

      The goal is to design the frigate that actually fills a tactical need when the capabilities of the rest of the fleet and the rest of the military are considered. Ships don't operate in a vacuum. They operate in conjuction with other ships, aircraft, submarines, and even Air Force assets. What's the point in duplicating capabilities that not only already exist but may exist in excess?

      In the real world of severly limited budgets, the real goal should be to design ships that have the absolute minimum equipment/weapons/sensors to perform the desired mission. That's how you get an affordable ship. Rather than ask, can we add this weapon/sensor, we should be asking, why do absolutely have to add this weapon/sensor?

      Good comment!

    11. Chris, I'm assuming that the FACs will be using medium to high altitude UAVs. Its becoming pretty standard on a lot of smaller navy vessels.

      As for the AH-1, the only area I thought it would be interesting to have would be in some of the high density small island areas in the South China Sea. Being able to have a small detached Marine force with 2-3 small troop boats and a smalls helicopter carrier for force recon and surveillance.

    12. @ ComNavOps,
      Cheers. I think your phrase "Ships don't operate in a vacuum. They operate in conjuction with other ships, aircraft, submarines, and even Air Force assets", is the critical one.

      @ ATS,
      "I'm assuming that the FACs will be using medium to high altitude UAVs."
      -- Why? How many nations actually own a usable capability like this? Nobody, not even the US, has managed to deploy a UAV with radar capable of surface search at sea. The only country that has the ability right now to pass the target tracks from such UAV to a warship is.... the US. And again, it ignores the fact that you shouldn't be sending a vessel like this on its own into that environment. Where is the air support for example?

      "... in the South China Sea. Being able to have a small detached Marine force with 2-3 small troop boats and a smalls helicopter carrier for force recon and surveillance."
      -- Force Recon? Maybe I'm misunderstanding your use of the term (British vs US) but you do not want to be running around loosing off rounds in the South China Sea. Such a small force like that would be basically useless for anything other than boarding operations.

      A Seahawk would give you far more flexibility. It's non-aggressive, it has the radar to do wide sweeps and actually be a factor in intelligence gathering, it can aid ASW work, search and rescue, carry small teams. An AH-1 would be an utter waste of time and hangar space.

    13. MQ-8B has surface search radar capability and is being upgraded with an advanced SAR capabilities. It is scheduled to complete flight testing with the new radar early next year. Fighting a peer/near peer, we have to assume that the adversary has or is developing similar capabilities.

    14. A drone is no replacement for a Seahawk. That Seahawk is one of the best "sub-systems" the Frigate would have. Trust me, if you send a frigate crew out on deployment with a MQ-8 and an AH-1, and they'll come back to you in six months time begging to trade both for a Seahawk.

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    16. You guys buying our kit? Are you sure Congress will allow that? I mean, the AW101 (Merlin) is widely recognised as the worlds current leader in Anti-Submarine work, but there's no jobs in the districts to be had, which would likely block a buy.

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    18. If there's work to be done Stateside it might get through. It's a good little helicopter really. Gearbox (made in Italy) is a bit rubbish, because it doesn't allow the use of the full power of the three engines, but with ASW systems it's world class and the cabin room for troop transport is a leap ahead of any of the Hawk variants.

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  8. My FFG's Mission:
    Escort of small groups of ships in an A2AD Environment. In order to do this, it must provide limited protection against submarines, small boats/go-fasts, limited anti-ship ballistic missile and ASCM raids.

    What I'd Need:
    A hull mounted active sonar or VDS
    A towed array
    Two helicopters w/dipping sonars and hellfire missiles.
    A 5" gun (76mm or 50mm is fine) and a magazine full of HE-ET and KE-ET or similar rounds.
    Lots of crew served weapons
    An NLOS-like missile.
    A radar which can detect aircraft, ASCMs and ballistic missiles simultaneously with sufficient range to enable terminal defense against ASBMs.
    A small magazine filled with SM-6 missiles (for terminal defense against TBMs, ASCMs and airplanes)

    What about this can't be somehow fit into an OHP sized ship? Could OHPs be upgraded to perform this mission? To me, it looks sort of like a hybrid of the LCS-ASW and the LCS-SuW packages.

    1. Anon, your list of "wants" and roles is pretty good except for the BMD. The Navy is struggling right now to get the needed performance out of Aegis to enable BMD. In fact, AMDR is a response to Aegis' limitations in the BMD role.

      BMD would, by itself, take your idea from a neat little frigate package to a billion-plus dollar ship and we already have those. Drop the BMD and I'm on board.

      Could OHPs be ugraded (if the BMD requirement is dropped)? Technically, yes. Realistically, no. At this point, they're too old and we've given most of them away.

    2. Then using any ship with any terminal-intercept only BMD means accepting the potential loss of any ships the escort is assigned to protect to ASBMs. People talk a lot about ABSMs targeting carriers. Those will always be protected by a ring of DDGs. A hypothetical escort oriented FFG would be much more about the SLOCs. What about protecting the CLF ships? If the escort can't do BMD, then you have to take DDGs away from the carriers to protect them. Does that now mean that the carriers are more vulnerable? If it does, and you need a DDG to protect CLF from ASBMs, why do you need an escort FFG anyhow?

    3. with any -> without

    4. Anon, you're assuming that China (the only potential enemy with a credible intermediate range anti-ship ballistic missile) would launch ASBMs at any lowly merchant ship that wandered by? Ballistic missiles are expensive and would be saved for use against carriers and amphibious assault groups - high value targets, in other words. The type of ship that would be escorted by a low end frigate would be run of the mill cargo ships and the like. They would need protection from the occasional airplane or unexpected small boat or missile boat, not the entire weight of the combined Chinese military. If the ship to be escorted is that important a target to warrant that kind of attention from the Chinese then, yes, it would have Aegis/carrier/Air Force/submarine protection.

      So, yes, if an enemy wants to waste an expensive ASBM on a lowly merchant ship then our notional frigate would be unable to stop it. However, even in that unlikely case, I refer you to the posts/comments we've done on ballistic missile targeting challenges and the current inability to make effective tactical use of ASBMs.

  9. Range.
    The US, and to a much lesser extent the UK, is a global force.
    We build our ships with an 8000mile range.
    The average is around 3000miles.
    Thats a lot of space required for more fuel, food and facilities.

    8000miles is a long way to send a ship armed with only a pop gun and fishing sonar.

    Capital Vs Operating costs.
    The problem with low spec equipment is, although its cheaper to buy, it not really any cheaper to operate.
    Seriously, what are the operating costs of a 4inch gun compared with a 6"?
    An Astor 30 box compared with an Astor 50.
    An SPY to an SPS

    An 80% solution at 50% of the cost may be a good thing
    A 50% (or a 0%) at 80% of the cost is very bad

  10. There was a plan for the Royal Navy to use a class based on the old Castle class patrol boats to have TAS and act as a lilly pad for ASW helos. Interestingly since going to Bangladesh they now have a 76mm and AShMs.

    Okay, not quite the frigate we are discussing here but demonstrates what could be achieved cheaply.

  11. Here's a price comparison data point for everyone's consideration. The Perry FFG was estimated in 1973 to cost $64M per ship. By 1978 that cost had climbed to $194M per ship.

    A few points stand out here. Serial production savings never materialize (I'm going to have to do a post on this because everyone keeps trying to claim serial savings).

    The present day cost of the Perry's 1978 $194M is $695M (2013 dollars - from an inflation calculator).

    B.Smitty, this suggests that if you want to build a $600M frigate, it will have to be on par with a Perry. Is that what you want or are you a bit on the optimistic side in your price for the capabilites you want?

    1. The last batch OHPs, cost 335M each. That translates into 785M in 2013 USD. That comes from the 83-84 of Jane's Fighting Ships

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    2. B.Smitty, where to begin? You've described the reasons why serial production SHOULD produce cost savings. Now, here are reasons why they rarely, if ever, do.

      -the Navy continually changes the design so that true serial production doesn't get a chance to be fully realized

      -future labor and material costs are ALWAYS more expensive than estimated

      -there are always unforeseen disruptions to construction schedules which negatively impact costs

      -initial acquisition quantities are almost invariably reduced resulting in higher per unit costs

      Referring to your quote from the GAO report, you undoubtedly noticed the word "estimated" in the second sentence. Well, of course the shipyard is going to submit estimated costs that show future savings. What's the reality? Before I answer that, let's acknowledge that the LCS is atypical in several ways.

      For starters, the first two ships were 300% over budget due mainly to the Navy not having an actual ship design during construction. With that kind of staggeringly poor performance the costs had nowhere to go but down.

      Second, the contract covers only the initial contracted amount not the final cost of the ship. You noted in the GAO report that the contracts provide for cost overruns to be shared between the builder and the Navy unless the overrun was the Navy's fault in which case the overrun would be borne by the Navy. The fixed price contract was anything but fixed! Info on the amount of overrun is hard to come by. My best estimate from bits and pieces is that the overruns are quite large which makes the actual construction cost very difficult to quantify.

      Nevertheless, here is initial contracted amounts for several of the individual LCSs that I've been able to document.

      LCS9 $357M
      LCS11 $357M
      LCS13 $348M
      LCS15 $348M

      LCS10 $345M
      LCS12 $345M
      LCS14 $341M
      LCS16 $341M

      Those are actual contracted amounts (final costs are higher and unknown). Do you see any significant serial production savings?

      The contracted amounts are, as a group, lower than the first several ships but, as I stated, they started from a 300% overrun and no actual construction design. The initial cost decreases are just from actually having a drawing among other reasons. That's not serial savings. Serial savings, if present would show up in the costs for the eight ships cited above.

      Finally, you noted in the GAO report that the Navy is now planning to make significant design changes. Woops! There goes any serial cost savings.

      The serial production savings occur in theory but not in practice. My impression is that there has never been an example of serial production savings in a Navy acquisition program (or Air Force?). I may have to research that and see if my impression is actually true. Do you know of any program that actually saw serial savings?

    3. With the way the US military does accounting and purchasing, it is unlikely we'll ever see actual serial production cost decreases. That isn't to say that the cost of production doesn't decrease, just that it is rare that it is actually passed down to the government.

      A large portion is the procurement model used is completely foreign compared to a commercial procurement model. When you compare to say commercial aviation procurement, it is as different as night and day. And it can't really be argued that naval ships are really any more complex than say a Boeing 787 or Airbus 380/350.

      A 787 or a 350 is sold initially as a loss leader, Boeing has lost money on every 787 delivered so far as has airbus on every 380 sold so far. But each plane has lost progressively less money than the last, and eventually they'll make money per plane. All these contracts are fixed price, any overruns, Boeing eats.

      In contrast, with naval ship contracts, not only does the US navy end up paying all R&D costs upfront, the US Navy is largely on the hook for a highly disproportionate amount of the risk of the project. There is little incentive for any of the shipyards to sell first models as loss leaders nor for them to cut any meaningful costs over time.

      In fact, the only US military contract with even close to commercial procurement terms I am aware of is the KC-46 contract where Boeing is eating substantial R&D upfront costs on the contract.

      Its long past time that most of the current US military procurement infrastructure be completely scrapped and replaced with more of a commercial procurement structure. R&D generation should be handled through DARPA. And we should negotiate commercial sale terms instead of the nearly open ended contracts we currently use. If the F35 was a commercial project, LM would be sitting in bankruptcy currently.

    4. ats, your observations are valid but I have to differ with you a bit about conclusions. Most importantly, there is a huge difference between the fundamental basis of commercial and military programs.

      In concept, a commercial company like Boeing develops a product completely on their own and then tries to find buyers for it. In contrast, the military develops a product design and then looks for companies to sub-contract out the actual construction. Thus, commercial companies produce, then sell which places the entire burden of R&D, pricing, and ultimate profitability squarely on their own shoulders. The military develops the product and contracts the construction which places the costs squarely on the military's shoulders (there is no profit). So, we see that in each case the entity that develops the product is totally responsible for the costs.

      It is not the responsibility of the shipyards to reduce costs - quite the opposite, in fact; they're in business to make the largest profit they can. It is the responsibility of the military to find the best contractor they can and issue construction contracts IF AND ONLY IF they costs are acceptable. If they can't find an acceptable contractor they can look outside the US, open the bidding to other companies (sure, not just any company can build nuclear carriers but given time a new company could learn), or simply not issue a contract. Going 5 or 10 years without building a new -whatever- wouldn't be the worst thing in the world if the alternative is paying through the nose. Take some time to focus on maintenance and training while the lesson to contractors hits home or while you develop alternate contractors.

      So, I disagree with your conclusion that we, the military, should negotiate commercial contracts. We are the commercial company in that it's our product. We already have the ability to ensure fair pricing - we just don't exercise it.


    5. ats, just to hammer the point home, your comments suggest that you view the shipyard as "selling" ships to the military. They do not. They provide a construction service. If you hire an electrician to do work in your home, he is not selling you a product, he is providing a service. Your control of the cost is the ability to select the contractor with the most favorable price or, alternatively, forego the work if you can't find an acceptable price.

    6. Except that the entire burden and benefit of the R&D isn't on the military. The military funds lot of R&D but they almost never get the benefit of that R&D. The only way that the model you propose works is if the military actually owns the R&D and the designs. That is not the reality of any of the contracts.

      The model that you attribute to the military is very similar to the model employed by commercial companies, with Apple being a good example. They design and develop product, but do not do the manufacturing. They contract that out. They maintain control over the R&D, the intellectual property, etc. If a given manufacture isn't doing a sufficient job, they shift the contract to another manufacture. It also means that the manufactures do whatever they can to cut the costs while delivering the required product.

      In contrast, the US military does basically no R&D. What little R&D they do, is via contract to other entities. The US military designs almost no actual products. They did not design the F35. LM designed the F35.

      The US military is by and large buying and paying for complete products, of which they have little to no control over. The US military didn't design either of the LCS. They didn't design the F22 or the F35, nor any of the US military helicopters or V22. They have competitions where they pay not only for the development of the prototypes, but also the cost overruns and mismanagement (in for example LM's X35 prototype development).

      The US military likes however to have the illusion that they are the developers, and that results in massive procurement divisions and program offices, that don't really do anything but add incredible overhead to the whole process.

      I think it would be great if the US military would actually just contract out the manufacture of products and actually own the design, development, and intellectual property of their designs. This would actually have great benefits, for example, AEGIS wouldn't be LM's AEGIS system, but the US Navy AEGIS system. That would mean that they could for instance, choose whoever they wanted to contract out manufacturing to for AMDR without any strings attached. But that isn't the reality, if ADMR is based off of AEGIS then LM owns ADMR, there is little capability for anyone else to get the contract.

      If LM was mismanaging F35 manufacturing and testing, the US military could just shift it to Boeing, GD, etc. But they cannot, because LM or the sub-contractors owns just about everything about the F35.

      So the problem with US military procurement, is that they treat everything as a work for hire but don't actually get any of the benefit of do that.

      The US military either needs to own the designs and contract out the manufacture OR buy products from companies. Right now they have all the downsides of owning the designs with none of the benefit while eating all the risks and all the downsides of buying products from companies without any of the benefit while eating all the risks. They are in a procurement no-mans land. Why would a company try to cut costs if increasing costs will be paid for, why would they try to meet schedule if schedule overruns will be funded. There is no upside for the companies for being on time and on cost. The companies own the designs, once they get the contract, its just gravy from then on. Whats the US military going to do? Walk away and do the R&D and development all over again? So what? Everything the company has done has already been paid for, and they've made a nice profit out of it and now have all the R&D from it.

    7. ats, I'm not proposing a model of procurement, I'm describing the actual system. The only aspect I'm unsure about is whether the military retains the rights to intellectual property and designs. That's standard practice in industry and the military would be total idiots if they didn't do the same - which means they probably don't.

      When a company needs a circuit board design, for example, they contract out the design if they can't do it in-house but they retain all and exclusive rights to the resultant design. It would be disappointing in the extreme if the military is not doing the same.

      You've suggested that they don't retain rights. I've never seen any documentation one way or the other on this. Do you have any documentation showing that they waive design and intellectual property rights?

      It would be idiotic in the extreme to pay another company to perform R&D and not retain the rights to whatever is developed; you paid for it, it's yours. If we aren't retaining the rights, we shouldn't be paying for the R&D. I don't want to believe it. Show me some evidence if you believe this is what's happening.

      Of course, this all ties back to the demise of the General Board and BuShips as pointed out in a previous post. The Navy opted to get out of the design business for reasons I can't begin to fathom.

    8. AEGIS is like a poster child of an example. Its one of the major issues with ADMR, in that if its based on AEGIS, then do to LM's control of everything AEGIS, no one else really needs apply. Same with the F35.

      For the circuit board example, the equiv of what the US Mil is doing is paying for the design and manufacturing to a third party, but then only getting a finished circuit board and maybe an ultra-high level diagram of the circuit board. They cannot then take that ultra-high level diagram and then get someone else to make it without doing almost all the design work over again.

      About the only area where the US Gov retains hard ownership control is US DARPA related contracts. For example, the R&D for the J-UCAS project is owned by the US government. But in general for products, the US Gov has very little or any at all ownership control. And then you run into the issue that the US Mil has very few people that are actually experienced in doing the R&D and design for the products they actually use. In the Corporate example of outsourcing research/dev/design, there are experienced people from the company working with the outsource R&D/Design so that they can easily apply it on future projects or with different sub contractors.

      I haven't seen any documentation, hard at least, on right retaining but the actions and behavior are those of a group/company that doesn't have full rights across a broad number of military projects. It the US Mil retained rights and experience, then the dynamic with the so called contractors like LM/Boeing/etc would be dramatically different. Instead the US Mil farms almost everything out and keeps no local organic experience, which means they don't actually learn anything.

      And I certainly agree that getting rid of the General Board and BuShips was a horrible mistake. It basically means that the US navy has no organic experience with developing and designing ships and therefore no control. The US Mil could learn a lot by studying how a company like apple designs, develops and then manufactures there products. They keep everything of high value internal and contract out the labor intensive parts of actual assembly.

      Maybe what the US Mil needs to do is actually go ahead and create quasi-government design companies that handle the R&D and design work for future projects in order to keep control of the process and maintain control of the knowledge.

  13. The kind of Frigate the US navy should go for is something along the lines of the La Fayette, Formidable, Valour, F-124, F-125 or Anzac class. Their roughly the same size and tonnage as the LCS, minus the Speed requirements.

    Even Blohm+Voss is coming out with a Frigate that would suit the needs to replace the LCS called the Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate. Here's the link It's based on the current Germany Navy F-124 Frigate

    Which is why for an affordable Frigate, I would go with along the lines of the La Fayette, Formidable, Valour, F-124, F-125 or Anzac class. Even the Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate would be something the US Navy should have a serious talk with the Germans on.

  14. The 600 class is close to 2x the size of the LCS. It is a 5Kt+ frigate/destroyer. The comparable MEKOs to the LCS are the A200 and CSL.

    1. Which is why I think the alternative to the LCS is the Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate or the Blohm+Voss MEKO® A-200 Class Frigate in the Valour class frigate or ANZAC class frigate configuration. Though I do think the Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate, which is a variant of the Blohm+Voss Class 124 Frigate is a perfect alternative to the LCS. A more viable alternative would be the Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate or the Blohm+Voss MEKO® A-200 Class Frigate in the Valour class frigate or ANZAC class frigate configuration

    2. Here's the specs on the Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate

      Technical Data
      Main Dimensions

      Length o.a.
      143.0 m
      Beam max. 17.4 m
      Draught 5.0 m
      Displacement (approx.)
      5,800 t
      28 kn
      Range 6,000 nm/15 kn

      CODAG (COmbined Diesel And Gas)
      CPP 2
      Diesels (MTU) 2
      Gas Turbine (GE)


      10 t

      Theatre C3I

      Sensors and Weapons for AAW, ASW, ASuW

    3. The 600 class is realistically to big for what the US Navy actually needs. The US navy has plenty of 5Kt+ class ships( almost as many as the rest of the world combined!). What they need is a fleet of 3Kt class ships.

      While there are many things to dislike about the LCS, the general size of the ships is about right where they should be. Build them a little stronger and relax the speed a bit, and they have all the characteristics as far as size that the USN needs. What they need to do with the ships is add 16-32 VLS cells for ESSM and ASM, added either torpedoes or VL-ASROC, and they become pretty formidable ships.

    4. The other option would be to go with the Blohm+Voss MEKO® A-200 Class Frigate in the Valour class frigate or ANZAC class frigate configuration. Though I do like the Blohm+Voss MEKO® 600 Class Escort Frigate and the Blohm+Voss Class 124 Frigate. I think that is something the US Navy could look at. Though realistically, the MEKO® A-200 Class Frigate in the Valour class frigate or ANZAC class frigate configuration is something that can replace the LCS.

      As for the LCS, they should either be cancelled or be relegated to PC and MCM role. They should never be allowed in Overseas without a protection of a Frigate or a DDG.

  15. "While there are many things to dislike about the LCS, the general size of the ships is about right where they should be. Build them a little stronger and relax the speed a bit, and they have all the characteristics as far as size that the USN needs. What they need to do with the ships is add 16-32 VLS cells for ESSM and ASM, added either torpedoes or VL-ASROC, and they become pretty formidable ships."

    I hear what you are saying, but I think that's hard to do. Even if you add those things, the ship is still all or partially aluminum; has a jet drive (that has to be fun for ASW); and propulsion issues.

    Fixing all that is going to practically require a new ship. Freedom's already got weight issues, so just replacing the aluminum parts with steel ones won't work out well, I'm guessing. Going to a prop can't be easy. And switching propulsion just sounds expensive.

    1. Actually, there are several ships designed for stealth that utilize waterjets. Waterjets can actually have lower acoustic signature levels than propellers and do it while providing higher overall efficiency.

    2. ats, everything I've read suggests the opposite, that waterjets are exceedingly noisy by comparison but I've never found a direct comparison study. Do you have any documentation or sources that back up your statement? I'd love to find something definitive one way or the other.

    3. best I've found is:

    4. ats, that's a fascinating paper, however, I note a couple of points. First, the paper is written by the manufacturer so the likelihood of bias certainly exists. Second, the comments about noise were made without any reference to published data and no data was presented in the paper. Finally, the article's summary statement is a very tepid pronouncement that it is "plausible" that the jet offers improved underwater acoustic performance - hardly a definitive statement! The unsupported comments also suggest (my interpretation of their vague statments) that the jet is quieter only at high speeds and may be noiser at the lower speeds that ASW would usually be performed at.

      So, the article is fascinating but is a long ways from being a definitive statement about noise and, in fact, may actually suggest that the jet is noisier in the relevant ASW speed range.

      Best article I've seen, though, about jets in general. Many thanks for the link!

  16. Having recently served on a FFG I have to say that the areas I wanted improvement in to perform the missions we did would be: swap the standard 7m RHIB with an OTH RHIB, move the gun mount from the O2 to the fo'c'sle where the SM 1 launcher was and update the sonar/combat suite. In place of the gun on the O2 add port and stbd Mk38 mod 2's and maybe some Harpoon canisters and you've got everything you need to accomplish the low end missions. My two cents anyways. -TP

    1. TP, that's a real down to earth (or the sea, as the case may be!), common sense, realistic suggestion. It would be easy to accomplish, uses no new technology, and maximizes the usefulness of the class. One can't help but wonder why the Navy can't come up with that kind of thinking. Thanks for stopping by!

  17. 100 comments! A ComNavOps blog record. Grats. :D

    1. TR, yeah it's funny. Some topics that I think will generate discussions, don't, while some that I think won't, do. Still, frigates and LCS topics seem to get people riled up! Thanks for stopping by!


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