Wednesday, August 14, 2013

SPY-3 For Frigates?

Various commentators have discussed the feasibility of putting the SPY-3 radar on notional frigate designs.  SPY-3 is an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) that, in its current US Navy guise, is an X-band radar with volume search omitted. 

Here is a cost data point that may affect people’s outlooks on this.  From the Navy’s FY14 budget justification document we see the cost of a single SPY-3 for the DDG-1002 is $185M ($258M with support and “other” included).  That’s a big chunk of money to devote to a frigate whose main design criteria should be affordability and, hence, numbers!

I don’t know, does that change anyone’s mind?


  1. I think it would be a good idea to put ASEA on a Frigate. It has been done very successfully with the Royal Dutch Navy's Iver Huitfeldt-class frigate, Germans and their Sachsen-class frigate and the Netherlands, De Zeven Provinciën-class frigate. which has APAR Radar on their ships. If the Germans, Dutch and the Netherlands can put APAR Radar on ships. So can the US Navy and US Coast Guard as well.

    1. Nicky, you may have missed the point a bit. It doesn't matter whether it's technically feasible to install the radar on a frigate. It doesn't even necessarily matter whether the radar is superior or not. The question is whether the radar is worth the cost. Does the SPY-3 materially contribute to a frigate's value?

      A frigate is a low end ship, especially in a Navy with Burkes/Ticos, and would only be expected to provide self-defense AAW, not area air defense. It would be mainly an ASW/patrol/escort vessel. Is a higher end radar needed?

      From a cost perspective, does a frigate really need to cost $200M before the first ounce of steel is added? Can an SPY-3 frigate be affordably built in a run of 50+ which is what's needed for a frigate?

      Other countries may build SPY-3 higher performing frigates but it may be because they don't have 80 Aegis ships in their Navy and they're only building a relative few frigates. In essence, an SPY-3 frigate becomes their capital ship.

      What do you think?

    2. At the way the US Navy prices out frigates, maybe we can follow Europe and see how they build a reasonable priced Frigate. The APAR radar would be appropriate for a Frigate, and it has been done. Now if we added SMART-L, it would jack up the Price to an Early Burke.

    3. Nicky, don't accept published prices at face value. Ask what's included in the price. Just hull? Hull and everything? Are the requirements the same? Are the materials and methods of construction equivalent? What's the dollar exchange rate? What does another country's dollar buy? For example, China's stated costs are less than ours but their labor force is subsidized and, therefore, the cost is significantly understated.

      The few cases that I've costed out true comparisons for have shown that there is no real difference between our shipbuilding costs and other countries.

      Answer those questions and then tell me whether other countries are building significantly cheaper frigates.

    4. Nicky, you still didn't tell me how an SPY-3 adds value to a frigate in US service. Just because you can add an item doesn't make it useful or valuable. Adding a battleship's 16" gun to a Coast Guard patrol vessel (assuming it could be done!) would not add value to the main missions of patrol, rescue, anti-smuggling, etc.

      How does an SPY-3 enhance the frigate's main missions of ASW/patrol/escort?

    5. It would be nice to have SPY-3 on a frigate, but it isn't worth $185 million. I wonder how much of that is due to the small number built? SPY-3 will also go on the Ford class, so maybe once additional units are built the price would come down.

      In any case, isn't SPY-3 somewhat of an orphan, what with the ongoing AMDR-X program?

      How does the price compare to, say, SPY-1F plus a pair of SPG-61s for illumination and an SPQ-9B to handle the close in work? (One nice thing about SPY-3 is that it can do all of those jobs simultaneously.)

      If I were designing a frigate, I would want a ship that could handle itself in a limited AAW role, even though that's not its focus. Maybe a shrunken SPY-3F and a long-range rotating radar? Or the SPY-1F/SPG-61/SPS-9B combo above.

      The ability to operate even a handful of SM-2s or SM-6s would give pause to any enemy MPA or 4th gen fighter looking to harass an independently-operating frigate. It would also add value to the frigate as an escort. Obviously those missiles would be quickly depleted in combat. But again, AAW is not the frigate's primary mission.

      Sticking with AEGIS would reduce training and potentially spares and support costs, given the large pool of AEGIS experience in the fleet and its significant support pipeline.

    6. It is worth pointing out that the APAR is not at all comparable to the SPY-3. The SPY-3 has both significantly more functionality and is much larger than the APAR. Range capabilities of the SPY-3 are reportedly 2x that of the APAR.

      The primary problem with using SPY-3 on a frigate is that a frigate is unlikely to have the weapon systems that can make use of the capabilities of the SPY-3. The only gun in service that can use the range capabilities of the SPY-3 are the DDG1K's 155mm guns. And you would need at least SM2s and likely SM3s to really use the range functionality against air target.

      Realistically, the only reason that the european frigates even has APAR is that they are required to do the functionality of what the US has Burkes and CGs for.

    7. B.Smitty, while I don't disagree with you in concept - hey, make every ship as capable as possible - the reality is that after we start adding everyone's favorite equipment we no longer have an affordable frigate. We've already got plenty of Burkes and Ticos. We don't need area air defense. We need ASW, patrol, and a limited close range ASuW. We need an expendable ship that can operate in conjunction with larger units.

      Take the LCS as a known starting point. That's a $500M ship without a module (meaning without any capability). Add capability to perform a mission (towed arrays, sonar, torpedos, Nixie, VLS, 5" gun, Griffon/Hellfire missile, etc. and you've probably got a $760M ship. Then add a $200M SPY-3 and you're up to nearly a $1B frigate. That won't get us the number of ships needed.

      I just don't see SPY-3 as NECESSARY; desirable, yes, necessary, no, and the cost negates the frigates primary characteristic which is affordability.

      Most people don't recognize that a true frigate is a very limited, compromised ship. Too many want to turn a frigate into a mini-Burke without factoring in the impact on cost.

      Further thoughts?

    8. Well it all depends on what AMDR actually turns out to be. Its entirely possible that SPY-3 ends up being AMDR-X. Its also important to point out that SPY-3 is being build into every new design ship currently that requires long range radar.

      There is still the unsettled question of what will be the radar control suite for the AMDR which has lots of variables still up in the air. Do they stick with the aging and likely past its prime LM system or switch over to the Raytheon system that underpins every new design the US Navy is building...

    9. I don't think adding a $200 million radar makes sense on a frigate either, unless it's just an initial price spike that will come down once production ramps up. However if that one radar replaces more than its worth in other components, it may still make sense. Or if it significantly reduces life cycle costs.

      LCS is a bad starting point. So much of its cost goes into its absurdly high top speed.

      IMHO, it's hard to look at just a frigate in isolation. A 'notional' frigate's roles and missions can vary greatly by navy. IMHO, you have to look at how it fits in an overall fleet architecture.

      In my notional fleet architecture, it is a build-to-cost ship, where the final full-rate price is more-or-less fixed up front. Putting something extra in the design will require taking something else out.

      I allocate $600 million a copy assuming multi-year buys at > 2 per year. Initial ships will undoubtedly be higher. That should be expected.

      I want a reasonably well-rounded ship that emphasizes undersea warfare (ASW, MIW), but can contribute to AAW (negotiable), NSFS, ASuW, presence, and other missions. I'd also like room to grow, so healthy margins are mandatory.

      The class that best reflects this combination right now is the RN Type 26.

    10. ATS,

      It is doubtful Flight III Burkes will have SPY-3/AMDR-X. They will probably get AMDR-S plus SPQ-9B. It may show up elsewhere in the future, but SPY-3 is just going in the Fords and DDG-1000s at the moment.

      Also, SPY-3 is not technically a long-ranged radar. It is the short-range/illumination component of the DDG-1000s original Dual Band Radar. The long-range component was the Volume Search Radar, which was deleted from the DDG-1000s to reduce risk and save cost. Apparently VSR will still go on the Fords.

      My money is on an evolved AEGIS for the Flt III combat system. There's too much already invested.

    11. The first 12/13 AMDR are scheduled to to use the SPQ-9B. After that, the AMDR-X will be used. Effectively, the current plan is for a flight III and then a flight IIIA.

      The SPY-3 is pretty long ranged (up to 200 mi). And the only thing the VSR brought to the table was full volume search and weather radar. The SPY-3 can perform robust but limited volume search and every other function required by a warship except full volume search and weather mapping.

      There are a lot of issues with continuously extending AEGIS, not the least of it is discouraging competition. AEGIS is getting pretty long in the tooth and is the poster child for a vendor lock-in system.

    12. I'm not exactly sure what "robust but limited" means. ;)

      The Navy obviously thought it was insufficient when they originally drew up the DDG-1000. VSR is MUCH larger than SPY-3, and S-band so it has better weather propagation.

      Take that range figure with a grain of salt. Remember, SPY-3 with no other volume radar has to perform many functions simultaneously. It can only devote a fraction of its energy budget to volume search. I could see pairing it with a cheaper volume search radar like SPS-48/49 or one of the Euro radars to let it focus on what it's good at, but at $200 mil a pop, it's hard to justify on anything short of a cruiser or destroyer.

  2. Three points:

    1) USN phased array radars, including actively scanned arrays, are a component of, Aegis, not the Aegis combat system in its entirety.

    There are real benefits to phased array radars that could be incorporated into the design of non-Aegis combatants, without incurring the cost, electrical, cooling, and manpower loads of a full blown Aegis combat system.

    2) While it is a given that every ship now needs some sort of defensive missile system, the USN would be better focused on building ships that strongly emphasize a single mission area.

    3) The modern frigate is something of a bastardized moniker, the USN has certainly abused the term (remember the "nuclear frigates"). Personally I think the USN should avoid classifying ships as frigates, and for the purposes of discussion, we should concentrate on ship mission.


  3. The alternative to the SPY-3 would be to go with the APAR Radar and SMART-L for a Frigate. It would give the Frigates a near parity with a DDG and CG that have Aegis. At the same time Frigates by nature are independent ships, that should have Aegis like technology and the Aegis cost.

    In terms of cost, I would not want the Aegis cost for a Frigate, but would want Aegis like gear, but at a cost that is cheaper and comparable to the Aegis system.

    That's why for a Frigate, it should have ASEA or APAR Radar, that is on parity with Aegis. For me, I want a frigate that can Escort ARG's & Merchant Marine ships. Protect vital shipping channels. Conduct Anti Piracy, counter drug ops. Show the flag around the world. Conduct ASW, ASUW, Limited AAW and NGFS for Marines ashore. Have enough room to carry a platoon of Marines and special forces. Must have room for future growth.

    1. Nicky, you left out the flight deck with catapults and arresting gear and also the 16" guns.

    2. The Nansen-class ASW frigate uses SPY-1F and AEGIS. Personally, I would be happy with that on a Flight I frigate. Eventually replace it with an AMDR-F, once prices come down.

      However I could see going even lower, given my build-to-cost restrictions.

      Maybe Smart-S/Artisan 3D and an ESSM-only director like Ceros 200. Or CEAFAR/CEAMOUNT.

      IMHO, both are less preferable than sticking with SPY-1F/AEGIS.

      At the lowest end, TRS-3D/Sea Giraffe AMB and just RAM is also a possibility, though I would still build in space and weight for a higher end fit in later flights.

    3. IMHO, ship air defense largely breaks down into the following Levels:

      Level 0 - Air defense? What air defenses?
      Level 1 - Passives, plus maybe MANPADS
      Level 2 - Integrated point defenses (e.g. RAM, Phalanx)
      Level 3 - Local area air defenses (e.g. ESSM)
      Level 4 - Area air defenses (e.g. SM-2/6)
      Level 5 - BMD (SM-3/6)

      You have to be at Level 3 or above to be useful as an AAW escort. The problem is, at Level 3, you can't "shoot the shooter", unless the aircraft are dropping dumb bombs.

      The frigate I spec'd is a "Level 4-minus", meaning it can reach out in an area defense role on a limited basis but doesn't have the aperture power or cells to be good at it.

      Still, if my notional USN Type 26 had SPY-1F/AEGIS, and 32 strike-length cells, it could be configured as a useful backup AAW vessel. 24 SM-6s and 32 ESSMs is nothing to sneeze at.

      Obviously if "build-to-cost" says this won't work at $600 million each, then dropping down to Level 2-3 makes sense.

    4. If I wanted a Frigate, that can do Escort ARG's & Merchant Marine ships. Protect vital shipping channels. Conduct Anti Piracy, counter drug ops. Show the flag around the world. Conduct ASW, ASUW, Limited AAW and NGFS for Marines ashore. Have enough room to carry a platoon of Marines and special forces. Must have room for future growth. My options would be either the Fridtjof Nansen-class frigate, Álvaro de Bazán-class frigate or the Incheon-class frigate. The other option is to take the US Coast Guard's National Security cutter and upgrade the design to Patrol Frigate standards.

  4. Nicky you seem to be more interested in LABLE than you are in fuctions. You want Frigates so you list the what frigates reportibly do. That is backward to how thing should be done. What should be done is determine the needs of the USN, what is needed to accomplish those function. Then give thos ship some non-historical title to aviod confuction over their purpose.

  5. A little belated, but let's put it this way... the SPY-3 is a $185M radar because we are building just 4 sets of them -- 3 for the Zumwalts and 1 for the Gerald Ford. The way cost-plus contracts works is that the government ask's Raytheon how much it (honestly) costs to build something then gives them a little profit on top of that. It costs a certain infrastructure and headcount to maintain the capability to build the SPY-3 radar. When you build less than ONE set a year that fixed cost is most of it. If we start building 4~5 Frigates, 2~3 Burkes a year all using the same radar, it won't be a $185M radar. It won't be quite 185 divided by 7. But it'll be significantly less.


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