Navy Secretary Re-Designates Modified Littoral Combat Ship As a Frigate

By Valerie Insinna

First, they were called small surface combatants, then the modified littoral combat ships. But now, the more lethal, final 20 LCSs will simply be known as frigates, the secretary of the Navy announced Jan.  15.

The new hull designation of “FF” will apply to all littoral combat ships that are modified with more advanced weapons, sensors and combat systems, including retrofitted vessels, said Ray Mabus during a speech at the Surface Navy Association national symposium in Arlington, Virginia.

“It’s going to be the same ship, same program of record, just with an appropriate and traditional name,” he said.

LCS isn’t the only ship that will be renamed. Vessels with unwieldy designations such as the Afloat Forward Staging Base, Mobile Landing Platform and Joint High Speed Vessel will also be rebranded

in the coming weeks with ones that better reflect Navy traditions, he said.

“We started naming shapes with some interesting acronyms that seem to have come out of the Pentagon instead of our naval tradition,” Mabus said.  The littoral combat ship is not an L-class amphibious ship. “I hear ‘L’, I think amphib. Everybody else does. I hear littoral, and I have to tell you, I spend a good amount of my time explaining what littoral is.”

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley gave input on the new designations, he said.

Mabus’ announcement comes on the heels of a decision in December to acquire 20 upgunned littoral combat ships after the first 32 are produced. Earlier in 2014, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel paused contract negotiations on the last 20 vessels of its 52-ship LCS buy, while a small surface combatant task force looked at a range of ships with “frigate-like capabilities.” Options included the purchase of an LCS-derivative, off-the-shelf vessel or clean-sheet design.

Ultimately, the service chose to buy more LCSs, but with new armor and weapons aimed at making it more survivable and lethal.  Possible improvements include an over-the-horizon, surface-to-surface missile and multifunction towed array sonar, he said. The Navy may also upgrade the first 32 ships with these capabilities.

The FF-designation isn’t a political rebranding meant to silence critics who said the small surface combatant task force should have opted to acquire a more traditional frigate design, Mabus said.

“If you put the attributes of a frigate and then list the attributes of a small surface combatant, we’re actually more capable than a normal frigate is,” he said. “They don’t look like traditional Navy ships sometimes, and I think that’s one of the issues that … traditionalists have. But if you look at missions, you look at what a frigate is supposed to do, that’s what this ship does.”

The modifications to the LCS will cost about $75 million per ship, Mabus said. Even so, new frigates will cost less than the $220 million cost cap mandated by Congress, he added.

The Navy’s program office is still forming the requirements for the new frigate, said Rear Adm. Brian Antonio, LCS program executive officer. It will deliver its acquisition framework to the office of the secretary of defense on May 1.

Topics: Defense Department, DOD Budget, DOD Policy, Shipbuilding, Surface Ships

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