(Washington, D.C.) The U.S. Navy is massively arming its first Constellation-class Frigate as part of an ambitious and high-op-tempo move to deliver as many as 15 of the new ships within the next five years.
Designed by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri Marinette Marine, the new 7400-pound ship will be armed with 32 missile-firing Vertical Launch Systems able to fire SM-3, SM-6 and even Tomahawk missiles.
The ship will also operate with a deck-mounted Mk 110 57mm gun, advanced, high-tech Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR), Electronic Warfare systems and Rolling Airframe Missiles, among other weapons. The final specs for the ship are now being established, assessed and refined for upcoming production.
“Bridge design is something we are going after right now. If you walk on a 51 bridge (DDG 51 Destroyer), it is cluttered with a lot going on up there. We want to have a very clean bridge, kind of like an LCS but more of a Fincantieri design where you have a functional display. The watch sailor needs to look out the window and drive the ship,” Capt. Keven Smith, Program Manager, Constellation-class Frigate.
A cleaner, less cluttered bridge area can support unobstructed command and control for the ship including key functions such as Navigation, targeting or even weapons employment.
Prioritizing functionality and ease of use for bridge commanders, Smith explained that sailors on watch need an “interface system and a ship control system that is understood.” To make this happen, he added, Navy Frigate developers are integrating a commonly used system called Ship Control System Government which is now on many amphibious assault ships and carriers. The new standard interface will also go on DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
Smith also explained that much of the development is taking place through advanced computer simulations and modeling to design key aspects of ship technologies, hull configurations and internal spaces for the ship.
“High-fidelity” simulations were used to assess and refine specs for various systems and technologies to be integrated into the ship. One key area, Smith explained, was replicating the performance of the Raytheon-produced EASR radar through simulation, to ensure the highest level of functionality and performance.
“With high-fidelity simulation, we are burning down all the risk that we can with Aegis integration in the Frigate with the EASR radar,” Smith explained.
As a variant within Raytheon’s AN/SPY-6 family of radars, the EASR is scaled to perform missions specific to the Frigate. Raytheon developers explain that SPY-6 radars are scalable by design, to adjust or tailor the number of Radar Module Assemblies needed to meet mission demands.
RMAs, 2ft X 2ft X 2ft blocks, can be configured for different ships and tailored for a particular mission scope, enabling different SPY-6 variants to perform high-value air defenses across the Navy fleet.
Carriers and amphibious assault ships, for example, need different kinds of air surveillance and defense when compared with destroyers, which need the most capable air and missile defense radar systems. Smith explained that, unlike the 37 RMAs on the DDG 51s SPY-6 v1 radar needed to find and counter heavy enemy threats such as incoming ballistic missiles, the EASR radar relies upon nine RMAs to perform its mission.
Dual-Attack: Littoral & Blue Water
The Navy intends to architect this ship in what could be referred to as a dual-attack capacity, meaning the ship will be built for both Littoral and massive blue-water maritime warfare on the open sea. Some of the technological indications, now being refined by the Navy through simulation, are showing great promise that such an approach is indeed achievable.
While initially being conceived as an up-gunned LCS, or more survivable LCS-type platform, the Fincantieri Marinette Marine-engineered Frigate has taken on more of its own developmental trajectory to incorporate both littoral kinds of maritime warfare capabilities as well as “open” or “blue water” combat potential. For instance, initial plans for the Frigate years ago were not clear or certain that the ship would integrate missile-launching Vertical Launch Systems, yet the current ship under development will include as many as 32 VLS, Smith told an audience at the Navy League’s Sea Air Space Symposium.
This, Smith further elaborated, will require the engineering of a well-crafted technological interface between the VLS fire-control systems and ship-board Aegis Radar.
Making the ship Aegis radar capable, particularly with the inclusion of the most advanced Baseline 10 configuration, massively increases an air and cruise missile defense capability which is merged into a ballistic missile defense capability. Most U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers are Aegis capable, a technological capacity which actually greatly fortifies an ability to track and destroy a wide range of missile threats. An Aegis-empowered defensive ability includes countering anti-ship missiles and even ICBMs closing in on the earth’s atmosphere in the terminal phase with a newly configured longer-range, larger SM-3 Block IIA interceptor weapon.
Success for a mission of this kind, Smith explained, relies to a great degree on synergizing, merging and integrating Aegis fire control systems with a Raytheon-produced Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR).
“We are trying to burn down all the risk we can with Aegis integration with the EASR radar. We are working now on making those kinds of investments. You cannot throw away any kind of integration. If there is an opportunity to burn down risk, you have to take it. We don’t want to have this introduced on the waterfront,” Smith explained.
These kinds of attributes certainly could help defend against any kinds of incoming land-launched ballistic missile or anti-ship missiles. The ship is also armed with a Raytheon-Kongsberg weapon called the Naval Strike Missile, a Raytheon Rolling Airframe Missile for closer-in shipboard defenses and attack and of course an ability to launch longer-range, highly precise SM-3, SM-6 and Tomahawk missiles, Smith explained.
However, despite this heavy firepower, the Frigate is by no means intended to merely replicate a U.S. Navy cruiser or destroyer as it is engineered with multi-functional, LCS-like anti-submarine and surface warfare systems.
These attributes, combined with a more shallow draft when compared with deeper draft cruisers and destroyers, will enable the Frigate to successfully engage in more littoral missions such as coastal patrol or land attack. An ability to both fire a long-range Tomahawk capable of firing 900 nautical miles from locations closer to shore opens up new target possibilities for Navy ships looking to strike very far inland targets less accessible from farther ranges.
These attributes, combined of course with EW, cyber and possibly even laser weapons, are intended to enable a kind of “hybrid” mission set for the ship to include land attack, countermine missions, anti-submarine warfare as well as “over-the-horizon” missile technology.
In essence, the ship is heavy enough to support and operate in a heavy, great power warfare environment yet also more versatile than a destroyer in that it can maneuver closer to shore and offer a kind of medium, dual pronged option for commanders.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.