The Navy has released its Request for Information (RFI) related to the frigate it apparently wants to acquire in place of the LCS. Of course, we all recognize that the most likely “frigate” will be a modified LCS just as occurred the last time the Navy evaluated small surface combatants. Nevertheless, let’s take a look at the RFI and see what bits of interest it holds. You can read the RFI for yourself through the link below (1).
Of course, the first thing that should have already occurred is the development of a concept of operations (CONOPS) so that the Navy knows exactly what it wants the ship to do. In fact, if they did that and had a solid idea of what the ship was intended to do, they’d already know what equipment it needs and would not need an RFI. So, the fact that an RFI is even issued suggests that a CONOPS was not developed. In fact, I’ve not heard a whisper of a frigate CONOPS. So, the Navy already has strike one against it for this program.
Having failed the first step, there is an interesting statement in the introduction of the RFI that hints at the role the Navy sees for the ship.
“The Navy is interested in the FFG(X) to provide Combatant and Fleet Commanders a uniquely suitable asset to achieve select sea control objectives and perform maritime security operations while facilitating access in all domains in support of strike group and aggregated fleet operations.”
Oops! My bad. That was just an incoherent grouping of buzzwords which someone inserted into the RFT to, presumably, try to seem intelligent and thoughtful. Let’s try again.
“… this FFG(X) small surface combatant will expand blue force sensor and weapon influence to provide increased information to the overall fleet tactical picture while challenging adversary ISR&T efforts.”
Okay, now we have something. This statement suggests that the Navy sees this ship as an information node and, interestingly, as an anti-information node as opposed to a warship. This actually falls right in line with the Pentagon’s Third Offset Strategy which envisions beating enemies with uncontested and unhindered information rather than explosives. It also falls in line with the recent post about the Marine Information Group.
This assessment of the ship as an information node is further supported by this statement.
“The FFG(X) will be capable of establishing a local sensor network using passive onboard sensors, embarked aircraft and elevated/tethered systems and unmanned vehicles to gather information and then act as a gateway to the fleet tactical grid using resilient communications systems and networks.”
So, this ship will be an information node and the mechanism will be via unmanned vehicles.
Side note: Is this beginning to sound an awful lot like the original LCS concept which envisioned the LCS as a node in a vast sensor network (yes, that really was the original LCS concept) enabled by modules consisting largely of unmanned vehicles? But, I digress …
The RFI goes on to note that the ship will “aggregate” into strike groups during the run up to, and initiation of, hostilities.
The meat of the RFI appears in tables of desired characteristics. Here’s a list of some of the more interesting ones.
- Operational Availability = 72%
- Service Life 25 yrs
- Shock hardening of propulsion, critical systems, and combat systems
- Crew size = 200
- Range 3000 nm @ 16 kts
- Reserve power for future energy weapons
- Max speed 28 kts
- COMBATSS-21 combat control system
Air Surveillance Radar Enterprise
- 1x full size helo plus 1x Fire Scout UAV
- 360 degree EO/IR
- 8 cannister launched, over the horizon (OTH), anti-ship missiles; type unspecified
- Mk 110 57 mm gun
The RFI also notes that the Navy is very interested in understanding the trade offs required to incorporate ESSM/Standard AAW missile capability.
We see, then, that this ship will have only short range AAW self-defense unless someone can figure out how to include ESSM/Standard without breaking the budget. This limited AAW excludes the frigate from escort duties, or at least the AAW portion of escort which is a major portion, to say the least! Is it really a frigate if it can’t escort?
The absence of VLS cells limits the ship’s offensive and defensive flexibility.
We also see that the ship will have only a limited OTH anti-surface capability with only 8 missiles. Still, a group of, say, 4-6 ships could generate a significant surface strike.
It’s interesting to note that the requirements for shock hardening, reduced speed, operational availability, and increased crew size all seem to spring directly from the failings of the LCS. Maybe the Navy is capable of learning lessons?
One of the more disappointing characteristics is the very limited range. A range of 3000 nm is not impressive against the backdrop of operations in a Pacific theater where bases are few and far away from relevant operating areas. Maybe I spoke too soon. Maybe the Navy isn’t capable of learning lessons?
The 57 mm gun???? It’s failed miserably on the LCS and the Zumwalt program dropped it. Despite that, the Navy wants it for this ship? The Navy is definitely not learning lessons!
I also see no mention of acoustic quieting that would be necessary for truly effective ASW and I see no mention of any on-board anti-submarine weapon for those shallow water, close up, unexpected encounters. To be fair, this may be a level of detail not really appropriate for an RFI.
My overall assessment is that this is a somewhat beefed up LCS rather than a hard hitting, hard fighting warship. The lack of even a medium range AAW capability is the most glaring shortcoming.
This ship also betrays a Navy mindset that has strayed from firepower and bought into the misguided belief in the primacy of information – almost for its own sake.
In short, the RFI is disappointing and will not produce a warship.
(1) RFI: FFG(X) - US Navy Guided Missile Frigate Replacement Program
Solicitation Number: N0002418R2300,