BREAKING: Marinette Marine Tapped to Build Navy's Next-Gen Frigate

By Jon Harper
An artist rendering of the guided-missile frigate FFG(X)

Photo: Navy

The Navy has awarded Fincantieri Marinette Marine Corp. a $795 million fixed-price incentive contract for detail design and construction of a new class of guided-missile frigates known as FFG(X), the service announced April 30.

The contract will provide for the delivery of up to 10 platforms, post-delivery availability support, engineering and class services, crew familiarization, training equipment and provisioned item orders. The cumulative value will be $5.6 billion if all options are exercised.

The Marinette, Wisconsin-based company won a downselect after an open competition. During a call with reporters, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James “Hondo” Geurts declined to identify the companies that were bidding for the contract, but General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Austal USA and Huntington Ingalls Industries/Ingalls Shipbuilding were reported competitors.

The FFG(X) will have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare and information operations. It will include an Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar radar, Baseline Ten AEGIS Combat System, a Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, communications systems, MK 57 Gun Weapon System countermeasures and added capability in the electronic warfare/information operations area with design flexibility for future growth, according to a Navy press release.

The vessel is expected to operate in blue-water and littoral environments.

“It will be more lethal, survivable and have increased self-defense and local-area defense capability and capacity over previous small surface combatants,” Geurts said.

Vice Adm. Jim Kilby, deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities, N9, said the new platform will give strike group commanders operational flexibility.

“This frigate, though it’s classified as a small surface combatant, really falls nicely in between our small surface combatants and our large surface combatants,” he told reporters. “I see it doing multiple things. This is going to be a real workhorse for the United States Navy supporting distributed maritime operations in the future.”

The price tag of the lead ship will be about $1.3 billion once construction, design, government-furnished equipment and other costs are factored in, Geurts said. Follow-on ships are expected to cost $781 million per vessel (in calendar year 2018 dollars), which is below the Navy’s target, he noted. That number is based on an anticipated 20-ship fleet.

Detail design work will begin May 1, according to Geurts. Construction of the lead ship is expected to begin no later than April 2022, with expected delivery in 2026. The Navy hopes the platform will achieve initial operational capability in 2029 or 2030, and full operational capability in 2031 or 2032.

The Defense Department’s fiscal year 2021 budget requests calls for procuring the first 10 ships by 2025. The Navy plans to buy 20 total over the life of the program. Geurts said officials haven’t settled on an acquisition strategy for vessels 11 through 20.

Rear Adm. Casey Moton, program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, said the Navy had taken steps to reduce risk for the lead ship, including by requiring a non-developmental design and planning to use government-furnished equipment for combat systems that are being built for other vessels.

The FFG(X) contract award came in about three months ahead of schedule.

In recent weeks the Navy has been trying to accelerate contract awards to help bolster the defense industrial base during the COVID-19 pandemic. Geurts said those concerns did not factor into the decision to award the FFG(X) program ahead of schedule.

“Having said all that, three months early obviously helps us from an industrial base standpoint, and provides some more stability in the shipyards as we move forward,” he added.

Geurts said he doesn’t expect the pandemic to disrupt the FFG(X) program like it has for other shipbuilding programs.

“The first year or two of this will be in detail design, engineering-level work,” he noted. “We’ve proven across all our shipyards an ability to keep a high percentage of design work going on schedule, … so I don’t see that element over the next year or two as being sensitive to COVID the way you know the industrial operations are in some of our shipyards.

“I don’t see it as a risk to this program because of the phasing,” he added. “The industrial operations and construction won’t start for a little while — another two years down the road.”

Infectious disease experts and other observers hope that effective treatments and a vaccine will be available earlier than that to put an end to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Topics: Acquisition, Navy News, Shipbuilding

Comments (1)

Re: Marinette Marine Tapped to Build Navy's Next-Gen Frigate

I am guardedly optimistic because the US Navy really needs a new frigate. The FNOP, SAR, escort, expansion, "Show the Flag," Fleet Week visits, patrols, Drug War pursuits, and USN's presence can be accomplished with newer ships smaller, cheaper, and less maintenance-heavy than Cruisers and Destroyers, and definitely more lethal than NSC, OPC, and LCS.
In some parts of the world, having the FFG(X) is all that is required, such as South America, Arctic Patrols, Africa, and the Gulf of Mexico.
Building more than 10 new frigates makes logical sense to increase the total 355-ship count.
Some critics deem the armament too limited and would prefer 48 VLS and a 76mm gun (should have retained the 76mm gun instead of swapping it for the 57mm gun), but I think 32 VLS cells is adequate (same as the Oliver Hazard Perrys), especially if fitted with ESSM four-packs for a few cells. Having two MK38 MOD 2 25mm chainguns should have been added in addition to two triple Mark32 Surface Torpedo Tubes. Nonetheless, the armament fit should be enough for self-defense and sure beats what the LCSs are armed with, even with eight NSMs.
A key factor would be distributing the FFG(X)s to ports that don't have adequate defenses, such as USCG docks and stations for better AAW and ASW CONUS defense, and that is what the FFG(X) should do more...act as the second and third layer of close-in CONUS and port city defense in addition to deployments overseas. Especially in the Gulf, FFG(Xs) could act as Drug War patrols instead of waiting for NSCs and OPCs to sail down from the Coasts into the Gulf of Mexico. The FFG(X) should have enough deck space to install 16 NSM launchers, MK32, MK38, Phalanx CIWS, and even a cluster of ESSMs behind the Bridge superstructure if necessary. Good choice and really needed for future Naval operations.

Cenebar at 4:02 PM
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