In January this year, at the US Surface Navy Association Symposium in Washington DC, Dr Regan Campbell, PMS515 program manager at the US Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), gave attendees an update on one of the major future procurements for the service.
Campbell is in charge of PMS515, which has responsibility for the evaluation and initial procurement of the US Navy’s FFG(X) next generation frigate. The frigate will become the backbone of the navy’s future capability with 20 ships expected to be procured.
According to Campbell, FFG(X) will be an “agile, multi-mission platform designed for operation in littoral and blue water environments”. It should be able to operate independently or integrate with a task force to conduct offensive and defensive surface, anti-submarine, and air warfare roles.
Scoping out options: De-risking with multiple contracts
NAVSEA initially requested proposals for the first phase assessment in November 2017 and required that the frigate be based on an existing design that is already in service.
FFG(X) leverages the proposed capabilities of the original Frigate(FF) work that had already been underway, but with additional requirements including: increased air warfare capability in both self-defence and escort roles; enhanced survivability; and increased electromagnetic manoeuvre warfare capability.
The brief was eagerly anticipated by industry with a number of teams lined up for the initial scoping work submitted as conceptual design proposals. When Campbell spoke at NAVSEA, these contenders were awaiting the imminent announcement of who would move forward to the next phase.
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The Navy hopes to de-risk the programme by awarding multiple contracts in the initial phases. Campbell said that in this way NAVSEA would reduce programme risk for Detail Design & Construction (DD&C) phase in three key ways: by mandating the integration of particular warfare system elements and cyber architecture; requiring mature parent designs to produce the most cost effective and capable designs to meet FFG(X) requirements; and by the navy providing system specifications that detail technical requirements for the FFG(X).
It was within those limits that NAVSEA announced the award of five contracts in February, each worth $14.99m with options to increase to $21m, to cover the conceptual design phase. The five awards went to Austal, Marinette Marine, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Lockheed Martin and Huntington Ingalls.
The line up: Proven designs and experienced contractors
For this phase of the programme, Austal is proposing its Independence class Littoral Combat Ship design as the baseline. The Independence class is already in service with the Navy and is the only trimaran design to be so. According to Austal it is a high speed, agile, shallow draft and networked surface ship that is Open Ocean capable but “designed to defeat growing littoral threats and provide access and dominance in the coastal water battlespace”.
For its proven design, Marinette Marine selected the FREMM frigate design of parent company Italy’s Fincantieri.
“We’ve assembled a world‐class team of partners to customize to American design standards and deliver an advanced, flexible and highly reliable ship to the US Navy for their current and future needs,” Francesco Valente, president and CEO of Fincantieri Marine Group stated in February. “Our American shipyards are tailor‐made for building small surface combatants and we have a strong, established and reliable US supply chain.”
Marinette Marine argues that the FREMM design, which was initially developed by Fincantieri in collaboration with France’s DCNS, is the most capable and modern off‐the‐shelf frigate available in the world for the range of capabilities required by the US Navy. The Italian shipyard is building ten of the vessels for the Italian Navy and six have already been delivered and accumulated some 30,000 hours and 200,000 nautical miles in real‐world operations.
Fincantieri told us that one of the main challenges for all FFG(X) competitors is adapting the parent design to the extensive set of US specifications, including the Navy’s system specification which exceeds 2000 pages.
Among the areas that the company said would set apart its design are: the hybrid electric drive propulsion system; flight deck and aviation capabilities; similar auxiliary systems to those already in service with the Navy; and integrated communication and warfare systems.
The General Dynamics Bath Iron Works bid is based on the frigate design of Spanish shipyard Navantia. The latter has designed a family of Aegis Guided Missile Frigates that puts it in a good position for the programme. Now on contract, Bath Iron Works says it intends to mature the design to meet the specifications established by the Navy that will be used for the DD&C request for proposals at a later date.
Bath Iron Works is an experienced Navy contractor and is currently building both Zumwalt and Arleigh Burke class destroyers. In a statement, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works president Dirk Lesko stated the company “looks forward to working with Navantia to further develop a guided missile frigate design that meets the needs of the US Navy.”
The final known design is that of Lockheed Martin, which has submitted its Freedom class LCS as its contender.
“We are proud of our 15-year partnership with the US Navy on the Freedom-variant Littoral Combat Ship and look forward to extending it to FFG(X),” said Joe DePietro, Lockheed Martin vice president of small combatants and ship systems. “Built to US Navy shipbuilding standards, our frigate design offers an affordable, low-risk answer to meeting the navy’s goals of a larger and more capable fleet.”
The road ahead: Narrowing down requirements
That puts four design contenders on the starting blocks. However, to date, Huntington Ingalls has refused to publicly divulge its design. “Ingalls Shipbuilding is pleased to be selected for the next phase in the Frigate programme. We look forward to working with the navy to provide a reliable solution for this important platform,” was all a company spokesman would tell us.
Now that the contracts have been let, the next milestone will be in sixteen months after the initial phase of work when NAVSEA will use the work carried out by the competitors to narrow down the requirement. After that, Campbell expects a request for proposals for the full and open competition for DD&C in the fourth quarter of 2019 followed by a contract award in Fiscal Year 2020.