Friday, October 6, 2017

Frigate Budget

Let’s continue our budget data examination.  Here’s some budget numbers on the new LCS frigate from the 2019 initial frigate construction.  It’s interesting that the budget data is included in the LCS account line.  Is that telling us what ship the Navy will select as the basis for the new frigate?  Hmm …  Anyway, here’s the budget numbers for the first frigate scheduled to be funded in 2019 (1).

Net Procurement                $822M
Cost To Complete                $84M
Total Obligation Authority     $906M
Outfitting and Post-Delivery   $218M

Total                         $1124M

Thus, we see that while the Navy will report some lesser cost, the “true” cost, if there is such a thing, is $1.1B for the first frigate.  Bear in mind that there is no finalized set of requirements, no design, and no company has been selected to build the ship so the cost is just the Navy’s estimate, based on almost nothing.

What do we know about Navy estimates?  We know that they’re always ridiculously underestimated.  Thus, the first frigate will likely cost around $1.5B or more!  This is the dilemma that has been pointed out before.  We’re likely to get a ship that has 50% of the capabilities of a Burke at 80% of the cost – not a good deal.


(1) Dept of Defense 2017 SCN Budget, Exhibit P-40, LCS, FY2019 data column


  1. 50% of the capability at 80% of the cost is a very poor trade off. Should be at least 1:1 in capability to cost. We should very clearly define those capabilities. Example, high speed is a very low priority for a frigate. The LCS most notable feature is it's extreme speed. So basing a frigate off the LCS is already creating a negative design compromise by sacrificing capabilities we will need for excess speed. FF does not stand for "fast frigate"

    Why do I see visions of costs overruns which result in a ship not suited to its mission?


    1. A prior post here proposed the need for a ASW / mission oriented ship with lower cost.The LCS/frigate was not designed with ASW as the primary mission.
      It was not designed for the open ocean escort role.

  2. Sobering numbers.

    And optimistic, also. Capability will be more like 10-15%. No area AAW, no LACMs of note. A noisy-ass hull. No room for growth. Even in limited frigate roles, it will fall short (based on endurance if nothing else). As MM-13B states, the design compromises driven by the speed requirement infected the whole thing. Doubling down on that now is just compounding the bad decisions already made.

    And the biggest irony is, a foreign alternative wasn't pursued (or won't be pursued) because it would be too 'expensive'.

    License produce 2 dozen Absalons, and 2 dozen more Iver Huitfeldts, at multiple yards to introduce competition - and you'll have a cheap OHP replacement capability. Vessels that can actually fill a role, not just darken a pier.

    And you won't be wasting Burke sea days off the HOA chasing pirates in skiffs.

  3. If the Navy is planning / budgeting this level of spend the 7,000 ton AAW frigate versions become an option, eg FREMM and Type 26, with the Navy specified Raytheon EASR S band three flat panel arrays with 27 Radar Modular Assemblies, RMAs, (Flight III SPY-6 uses 37 RMAs) ~70% capability of the Flight III Burkes and equal if not better radar capabilities than the Flight IIAs with their older generation SPY-1 radars. No doubt if optimized the 7,000 ton frigates could accommodate 40/48 Mk 41 VLS cells for use with SM-2s & ESSM as per the RFI. This option would give Navy major saving in operating costs compared with the Burkes which basic design dates back to the early eighties, with a ~ halving in crew numbers and fuel consumption allowing increased operating range.

    As the Navy is planning for 104 AAW Large Surface Combatants, Ticos and Burkes, for the 350/355 fleet would have thought the frigate would be ASW centric to counter the new numerous new generation of quietened submarines in build, not an AAW centric frigate, but it appears not.

    (SM-2 Block IIIA and IIIB missiles, June Raytheon restarting production to fulfill order for 280 / $650M for the Netherlands, Japan, Australia, and South Korea, deliveries to begin in 2020, USN stated keeping SM-2 viable until 2035.)

    1. "AAW frigate versions become an option"

      Why would we want AAW frigates? We already have all the AAW Burkes/Ticos we need and we're building more Burkes every day! We have no operational need for an AAW frigate that has half the VLS capacity of a Burke.

    2. "equal if not better radar capabilities than the Flight IIAs with their older generation SPY-1 radars."

      This is a highly questionable statement of a few levels. First, claims are easy, performance is not. The new radars may or may not prove superior. The performance claims are, undoubtedly, overstated by a significant amount.

      Second, the radar is only one component of the system and, in a sense, the least important. The software that takes the raw signal, performs all kinds of magic manipulations to detect and create an actual contact from the electronic noise and clutter, and then co-ordinates and integrates the weapons and fire control is what makes the system good or bad. The radar, by itself, is just an electronic paperweight. Whether we would install the full Aegis software and hardware on a frigate is questionable. Heck, we aren't even upgrading all the existing Aegis Burkes with the latest software! It's far from certain that we would install full Aegis systems on frigates. If we did, that further increase the cost of that already unrealistically low construction cost number.

      Third, the Navy has been unable to maintain the current Aegis/SPY-1 system in peak operating condition. The Aegis system was found to be degraded to a significant enough extent to warrant one of the Navy's infamous Admiral panels to attempt to correct the problem. The problem is that Aegis is so complex that the Navy didn't even know the system was degraded. The story on how this came to be and how the Navy came to recognize the problem is an absolutely fascinating one. I've yet to hear what came of the Admiral panel. I suspect nothing since the problem was not solvable. The problem was a complete absence of qualified technicians to diagnose, test, operate, and maintain the system. When Aegis was first introduced, the systems were maintained by highly skilled Ph.D contractors. Those people are long gone and the system degraded. The Navy has no ability to produce the level of technical expertise needed to maintain the system.

      This is a long-winded way of saying that the new radar is, undoubtedly, even more complex and likely to suffer the same or worse levels of degradation.

      Finally, note that the AMDR is of insufficient size to meet the Navy's own stated requirements. A frigate sized unit will be even smaller and less capable. Where that will fall in comparison to older Burkes is unknown but questionable.

      Considering all of the foregoing, it's highly risky to make the blanket statement that the new radar will produce equal or better results.

    3. CNO "Why would we want AAW frigates?"

      Totally agree, but FFG(X) RFI Tier 1 requirements are AAW, ASW is only Tier 2. The expensive option of the Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) 3 face fixed array (3x3x3 Radar Modular Assembly) included in Tier 1, MFTA and VDS relegated to Tier 2.

      A separate paragraph devoted to Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block 2 and/or Standard Missile-2 Active missiles.  "Solutions should describe the launcher type, cell quantities the proposed design could accommodate, and if able to be cost effectively integrated include considerations for strike length variants to maximize weapons flexibility"

      That’s why I think Navy wants an AAW frigate.

      No formal, rigorous analysis with an Analysis of Multiple Concepts, AMC, or Analysis of Alternatives, AOA, for addressing the capability gaps/mission needs for the FFG(X), neither did they with the LCS, but appear to be basing CONOPS requirement on the 2014 Small Surface Combatant Task Force (SSCTF) report.
      My presumption was if the Navy had carried out a formal AoA that the FFG(X) would be a balanced ASW/AAW frigate and substantially cheaper than the $14.4B budget for ten frigates to assist in achieving the aim of a 355 ship Navy.


      CNO understand your reservations on radar, but a few thoughts on my understanding on the new gen. radars

      The new radars are using GaN silicon and have a larger output power compared to older generation GaAs radars, theoretically 10-50 times as they have a much higher breakdown voltage compared to GaAs and can take more electric power and convert into EM power

      The two principle advantages of GaN antennas here are the ability to run more efficiently thereby consuming less power and cooling resources for a given performance (smaller power and thermal footprint for a fixed performance) or the ability to extract a lot more performance by addressing the power and thermal capacity (reflected in the Burkes 5 AC plants uprated from Flight IIA 200 to 300 tons Flight III of cooling each).

      GAO reported "According to Raytheon, performance of this SPY-6 engineering development model has exceeded requirements, demonstrating SPY+17 decibels (greater than 50 times the sensitivity of the SPY-1D(V) radar currently being fielded on DDG 51 Flight IIA ships)" (Comment since deleted). If true this represents a range improvement by a factor of 2.66 over SPY-1 + 17 decibels rather than range factor of 2.37+ original target, plus 15 decibels.

      SAAB claim with their GlobalEye with its GaN it has 70% more range than the previous GaAs version.

      Above was background to my comment "equal if not better radar capabilities than the Flight IIAs with their older generation SPY-1 radars."

    4. Oh, I quite understand the basis for your radar comment. The reality may or may not prove out.

      "According to Raytheon ..."

      "SAAB claim ..."

      Manufacturer's claims!

      Lockheed claims the F-35 is a wonder weapon.

      Lockheed claims the LCS is a wonder weapon.

      Bofors claims the Mk110 57 mm gun on the LCS is a wonder weapon.

      I can do this all night but you get the idea. Manufacturer's claims should be taken with a huge amount of disbelief. Cut the claims in half and you're probably somewhere in the vicinity of reality.

      That said, understand that I have no data to say that the radar won't be everything that it's claimed to be. I hope it is. The history of manufacturer's claims, however, almost assures us that the actual performance will be substantially less than claimed.

      The problem I have with claims is that the Navy, in recent history, has begun to accept such claims with no proof and has designed platforms based on those utterly unsubstantiated claims. That's the real problem. The F-35 was designed on nothing but claims. The LCS and modules were nothing but claims. And so on.

    5. I think there is a big difference between something like the F-35 or the Zumwalt or EMALS/AAGS and the new SPY radar: the SPY is merely a refinement of an existing hardware system (a system that is constricted by well known laws of physics and processing power) while the others are trying to combine unproven hardware systems with unproven software and unproven weapons systems. I would expect the new radar's capabilities will wind up pretty close to manufacturer claims in this case.

      But back to the AAW Frigate: CNO, if we stripped everything else out of a Burke, including the helicopter, and kept only the radar, the VLS, and maybe the deck gun, how big would the ship really need to be?

    6. "how big would the ship really need to be?"

      Well, roughly a third of the Burke's length is devoted to flight deck and hangar so one answer would be a ship 2/3 the size of a Burke. That would take the size from 509 ft to 335 ft or thereabouts.

    7. If you don't need 30+ knots on a ship that is already 2/3 the size of a Burke, you can use a much smaller propulsion plant. If you only need 20 knots, we could consider diesel power which would free up topside space because we no longer need the huge air intakes and exhaust required by gas turbines.


    8. There's a domino effect to size reductions. With no aviation detachment or aircrew, you need less berthing space, less galley space, fewer heads, less water storage, less food storage, and so on. You also need less magazine space, fewer machine shops, less spare parts storage. The size reductions just keep coming.

      Ships balloon in size as we add just a few more capabilities but the reverse is also true as we subtract just a few capabilities!

    9. Doesnt all that get us pretty close to frigate sized for the AAW role? Especially in the next 5-10 years if the improved SPY is even close to claimed? I know the Navy is saying they need something even better for the ABM role but that just means they need to actually get off their ass on a Tico replacement that could carry it or go for that San Antonio class ABM proposal. In a peer war I would think it would be a big benefit having 1 or 2 frigates moving around screening for planes and cruise missiles while a bigger ship is there solely to take on BM carrier killers.

  4. The big frigate idea seems to be a bit of Europe envy. It makes sense for a small NATO Navy as they may be the equivalent to a capital ship for them. For the US it makes little sense as we can afford a variety of ships—if spent properly.
    At price above we might as well just reduce the fit of a Burke, leave off everything not ASW or AsuW, and just a defensive AA that shaves off a half-billion and gives a proven platform for the same price the Navy wants to risk money with a new design or the proven problem child LCS.
    Or the Navy could save even more and simply turn older Burke’s like the flight I and alter during FRAM updates, taking off the older spy/aegis and making it a frigate.
    A new frigate isn’t needed, just more ASW ships and those don’t need to be mini-Burkes


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