A Proposal For A New Class Of Frigates

     On General Quarters! I have not talked about frigates a great deal, but the fact is the Navy needs a new class of frigates to replace the Perrys and the LCS. Here is what I believe would make an optimal class of frigates for the Navy. For purposes of simplicity I will refer to the proposed class of frigates as FFGX After production starts the design will be frozen, with improvements added on after the ships have been launched, during their fitting out and after.

The mission the FFGX is designed for is that of the Perry-class frigates. Convoy escort, basic anti-aircraft and cruise missile defense and good anti-submarine capability. The FFGX would also have to be well armed for close in work with swarm attacks in the Middle East. The FFGX would also be able to escort carriers in a moderate threat environment, but only as a stopgap measure. The FFGX is meant to be bought in large quantities to replace both retired Perry-class frigates and the ~20 canceled Littoral Combat Ships. The FFGX is not meant to be a ballistic missile defense platform, nor a replacement for destroyers. It is meant to be a ship which can release destroyers to more important duties, but whose loss can be afforded without weakening other CVBGs.

1. Dimensions. FFGX would be roughly the same length at the Flight III Perrys, at 160m, a beam of 15m, and a draft of 8m. 

2. Speed. FFGX would have a top speed of at least 30 knots.

3. Propulsion. FFGX would be powered by gas turbines, twin GE LM2500s.  

4. Electronics. FFGX would carry the same electronics package as the LCS. Namely, a SAAB Sea GIRAFFE 3D search radar, LM COMBATSS-21, AN/SQR-20 towed array, and a BAE NULKA actie decoy, among others. The FFGX would also carry an AN/SLQ-32(V)5 EW system to provide for ASCM defense, or any follow-on system to the AN/SLQ-32(V)5.

5. Armament. FFGX would be armed with 1 76mm gun amidships, and 2 triple-tube Mk 32 torpedo tubes. FFGX would carry between 1 and 4 8-cell Mk 41 VLS modules on the bow to provide forAAW and ASW rockets. The FFGX would mainly carry the SM-2 for AAW. FFGX would also carry at least one Stand Alone Defensive System as proposed by Grand Logistics. For work in the littorals FFGX would carry 2-4 25mm chain guns mounted evenly on either side, for use against use against small boats. A different version of FFGX would be outfitted with a helipad and hangar for ASW use. The helicopters carried would be 2 SH-60 Seahawks, or another future type of ASW helicopter.

6. Cost. Currently, an LCS costs about 700 million dollars, the FFGX needs to be in that same range, being no more that 20%-30% more expensive. The FFGX would be purchased in large numbers to replace both the Perry-class frigates, and any LCSs in service (The LCSs being relegated to training ships or fast transports), with a purchase of at least 80. 

7. Naming. All FFGXs would be named after naval figures who distinguished themselves in combat, or Medal of Honor recipients, no exceptions.


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  3. I really like the FFGX Frigate idea. However, this Texas USNR Chief Warrant Officer would like to respectfully provide some feedback.
    1. The LM6000 is a gas turbine engine, not a diesel. I’m a fan of gas turbines. Powerful, less moving parts, and significantly simpler in operation to diesels. The LM2500 is the predominant gas turbine power plant in the US Navy, and many international navies. The latest version (LM2500+G4) is twice as powerful as the original with which I deployed on the USS Ticonderoga (CG-47). Maintaining the same schools, and logistics streams that are upgraded with product improvements cost less than wholly new schools and logistics streams.
    2. In order to keep up with the Carrier Strike Groups (CSGs) the vessel should be able to indeed reach a sustained speed above 30 knots. Two improved LM2500 gas turbines can do that even on this sized vessel. Gas Turbine Generators (GTGs) make a lot of sense as well with the same analysis as for diesel propulsion. Also GTGs provide full electrical power generation capacity in 90 seconds, where as a diesels must warm up before this output level is possible. If the vessel is equipped with Hybrid Electric Drive (HED) then the electric motors mounted on the Main Reduction Gear (MRG) can power the ship with energy generated by the GTGs using less fuel while traveling slower (under 15 knots which is most of the time). This saves maintenance on the LM2500s which is based upon operational hours on the unit. Electric drive is extremely quiet which facilitates hunting submarines, emphasis of which is a stated mission goal of the US Navy. The HED also saves fuel during a typical underway period, and provides options to the commander as to where and when he should burn his/her fuel.
    3. Being an Aegis Sailor I have personally experienced the benefits and synergistic effect of using non-rotating 3D electronic scanning radar. Many things are possible with this type radar that simply cannot be accomplished with a rotating radar. This is in addition to the fact that there are no moving parts to break reducing maintenance. Maintenance on non-rotating electronic scanning radars is automated using digital systems that are troubleshooting the equipment in real time all the time. If we operate from the assumption that a single school and logistics train is a good thing, then commonality should be maintained amongst as many platforms as possible. Therefore, the new Air & Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) which is an integrated air & missile defense radar system, that is tailored to the size of vessel installed, will share many of the same components or line replaceable units. Raytheon’s new AMDR is modular and the capability is determined by the number of 24” cubed modules used. The FFGX will only need 9 to give it the same capability as an Aegis SPY-1 radar. This would be the preferred sensor for the FFGX and maintain commonality with the new version of US Navy DDG-51 Flt III Destroyers. I would put an AN/SPQ-9B on board for gun fire control which provides additional data for the Command & Decision system that drives the displays providing redundancy and diversity in tracking.

  4. 4. The Mk41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) is the preverbal Swiss Army Knife on US Navy platforms. The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) should be the primary weapon on the FFGX up to at least 16 or so. Four ESSMs fit in a standard Mk41 VLS foot print. Other missiles must also be present including Vertical Launch ASROC (VLA), and perhaps the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile (NSM) that is smaller than a Harpoon and being tested by the US Navy at present. In addition, our new reality in the underway combat space anywhere on the planet places us in Theater Ballistic Missile (TBM) range of every potential belligerent power. That, along with the US Navy's new Naval Integrated Fire Control - Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability, would best be facilitated by something that can not only defend against ASCMs (hope they are not supersonic) but TBMs as well (that will be supersonic+), and have donation SM-6 on board for OTH engagements of ASCMs by the force and a few SM-3s for TBM defense. That is why I'm looking for strike length cells forward at least of qty 8 to 16, if we do not get some strike length cells down the sides of the helo hangar. We can have eight outboard cells in a short length (ESSM), and longer cells inboard. In addition a Directed Energy (DE) growth space should be on any new vessel, so electrical power capacity (GTGs) must be present or upgradable to provide more electrical power. The GE38 turboshaft engine is the same size of the 501K GTGs turbine based upon the T56 aircraft turbine engine. A GE 38 based GTG would generate close to 10 Megawatts.
    5. The US Navy has spent a huge amount of treasure developing guided projectiles that can handle practically any threat, and with rocket assist out to a considerable range. Taking advantage of this capability should be on the FFGX as had been traditional on all US Navy platforms prior to FFG-7 when the cheaper 76mm was introduced, necessitating additional schools and logistic supply chains. Consideration for guided rockets on the FFGX should be in the mix at significantly less cost and considerable capability. The Anti-submarine Warfare (ASW) mission requires not just the VLA capability in Mk41 VLS but also the Mk32 Triple Torpedo Tubes, one set for each side of the ship. One MH-60R multi-mission helo will provide all the capability required for supporting logistics and combat operations for the vessel. The second hangar space is better used for additional Mk41 VLS loadout. The US Navy’s future Naval Integrated Fire Control - Counter Air (NIFC-CA) capability make the availability of SM-6 Standard Missiles more important than ever before. Interdicting Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) in the future will be the difference between survival or not. Hitting them OTH is preferred and this requires the range and capability of the SM-6. Donation missiles should be on all new surface combatants.
    6. This vessel is going to cost $1 Billion. We can build three for the cost of one DDG-51 Flt III. If we compete the building contract between two yards savings are possible using the DDG-51 Program as an example. I would build two versions with one having boats aft as on the National Security Cutter, and have a towed sonar on the ASW version. It is possible to have a single boat aft and have a smaller towed array sonar as well. Both versions should look almost exactly alike including a hull mounted sonar. If these vessels are to be ASW platforms the hull mounted sonar, towed sonar and MH-60R multi-mission helo will make these platforms very capable in the ASW mission, particularly if they have HED propulsion. I am looking for 50 evenly split between the two types. Eighty (80) platforms is better. We can just about fit all this on the National Security Cutter with some modifications.

    1. Mr. Conway, my apologies for taking so long to respond. I have not checked the comments on GQ! for some time. In response to your points:

      I cannot argue points 1 and 2, I am not a naval architect, nor versed in naval propulsion systems. The reason I originally selected the LM6000 was because I believed the Navy needed a totally new propulsion system for the FFGX. However, in doing some research on the LM2500 I do believe that would make a better powerplant for the FFGX.

      3. Aegis is absolutely out of the question for the FFGX. The mission of FFGXs would be convoy escort, which entails mainly AAW and ASW. The AMDR and any earlier Aegis radars, are I believe not needed for the FFGX. The Navy has stated that they need a 20’ system to meet future ballistic missile threats, and the Burkes can only house a 14’ version. If the burkes are unable to provide the space to house the size of radar the Navy needs, the the FFGX will never be able to do so as well.

      4. The mission of the FFGX being convoy escort and any minor tasks carried out by DDGs, there is not so great a need (or even space availible) for ASMs aboard the FFGX. ASM would certainly have a place aboard the FFGX, but with a limited number of VLS cells there may not be enough space to allow a meaningful number of ASMs to be carried. The Australians and Turks have both fitted an 8 cell version of the Mk 41 just fore of the Mk 13 launcher. Furthermore, I simply do not know if a full size version of the Mk 41 would fit into the bow of the FFGX. Please remember that the FFGX has the same basic dimensions of the OHP-class frigates. Perhaps two or even three 8 cell modules might be able to fit into the bow of the FFGX. But even then most cells would have to be devoted to SAMs and ASW rockets. There will not be space in the VLS cells for ASMs. That said, the Taiwanese were able to mount 8 Harpoon ASMs atop the superstructure, so a similar method may work in mounting purpose built launch canisters for ASMs.

      5. The FFGX will not be able to engage targets OTH like the Ticos or Burkes. I believe the FFGX would be better served by carrying the SM-2 rather than the SM-6. Not only is the SM-2 cheaper then the SM-6, but the SM-6 would be a waste of money to put aboard the FFGX without Aegis systems to engage OTH threats and ballistic missiles systems. In addition, the SM-2 does have a limited anti-surface capability, which would give the FFGX at least some ASuW punch.

      6. As to the NSC hull, I do not believe that will work. The NSC is shorter than the FFGX as envisioned. The NSC does have a larger beam, but the top speed of the ship is limited to 28 knots. Not nearly enough to escort a CVN in a pinch (a secondary mission for the FFGX, I might add). The width of the hull relative to it’s length will affect the top speed of the ship, and the NSC hull does not fit the requirements for the FFGX.

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  6. I’m not a naval architect either. The hullform for the DDG-51 and NSC are instructive. Our older hulls that were long and thin do not handle Blue Water Operations well, in heavy weather, particularly in the Arctic Regions. They twist and turn and the HTs are driving themselves to distractions just trying to keep the hull together in heavy weather. That is why the first two NSCs had to go back into the yards for modifications after their acceptance trials. That is why a wider beam is required, with twin shafts, and independent Main Reduction Gears, each in its own engineering space, sequestered from the other, which provides redundancies required for combat operations.
    Many do not understand Aegis, and that is a specific shipset of equipment sold by Lockheed Martin for DDG-51 or larger ship sizes, or ashore. The concept of Aegis is to have a very capable non-rotating 3D sensor, with capable display, command and control system, providing a superior situational awareness, evaluation tools, and consequently coordinated engagement capability. Over-The-Horizon is provided by networks and services, not core capabilities of the parent combat system. The SPY-1 radar is line-of-sight only. It does not bend or see through the planet. The AMDR (intermediate version) will be installed on DDG-51. Power and cooling is required to drive each 24” cubic modules to provide functionality. The number of cabinets to power an antenna 14” across (about 40 modules/array face) is significant and takes up space and displacement. A 9-module array face requires 1/4th the power and cooling which is significantly less, takes up about ¼ the space, WILL fit in an NSC. The advanced capabilities in the new technology give the radar about the same capability of the old SPY-1A. This AMDR Lite will use the same hardware, software, control cabinets as well as maintain the same logistics and training as the rest of the fleet. The ‘non-rotating’ aspect of the radar provides capabilities in and of itself that are unique and not available on rotating radars. Suffice it to say it improves situational awareness, and ability to respond significantly by a factor of ten (10).
    With respect of Mk41 VLS cells, there are different lengths that provide different capabilities. A Mk41 footprint that is shorter in length can house four (4) Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) with a range in excess of 20nm and very capable. An SM-2 Blk II/III Standard Missile (RIM-66) requires a Standard Length cell which also will accommodate a VLA. The SM-2 Blk IV (RIM-67 with the Mk 72 booster) requires a Strike Length Mk41 VLS cell that also accommodates SM-6 and SM-3. The line should have been drawn at the Standard Length Cells at a quantity of at least 16. Without a direct local track on the ASCM own ship, SM-6 OTH would be my only shot one has until the ASCM came over the horizon and I can shoot it in the face with an ESSM with 86lbs of blast fragmentation warhead, or I could use an SM-2 at this point with its 137lb HE warhead. As with the Australian Mk41 cell installations that protrude up through the deck, this application may require a similar construct.
    If ASW is an emphasis, then quiet propulsion while sub-hunting is a high priority. There is no quieter propulsion than electric. It is more efficient if the ship is not to exceed 12-15 knots that can easily be done with electric drive.
    Finally, the National Security Cutter (NSC) hull. The separation of the engine room into two separate engineering spaces for distributed propulsion systems for damage control redundancy is the overbearing requirement. The latest version of LM2500s provide just under 50,000lbs of thrust each. If the shaft and MRG can handle it, you will have as much thrust on the two shafts with two currentversion LM2500s, as we had with four turbines on the old USS Ticonderoga (CG-47). That will go over 30 knots with a rubber window and the SQS-53 on the bow.