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?

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    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...

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    10. 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.

  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.

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    3. 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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