Video Above: How the US Navy Can Fast-Track Building 500 Warships
Deck mounted guns, drone operations, cruise missile defenses, anti-submarine technology and an integrated network of “meshed” sensors are all expected to operate as key components of the Navy’s new Constellation-class Frigate.
These new warships will be tasked with many missions, including a requirement to find and destroy small swarming boat attacks, support carrier strike groups, conduct dis-aggregated operations, attack enemies with an over-the-horizon missile and engage in advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare.
The new, well-armed ships are a large priority for the Navy, which has set an ambitious pace of beginning as many as 15 within the next five years. At the moment, the current build rate is slated at one or two new Frigates per year, yet members of Congress are asking for a potential acceleration to three or four new Frigates per year, a move which would require the addition of a second shipyard.
US Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-WI, whose district is home to Frigate construction, raised concern that a single shipyard may simply be insufficient to meet the demand. She questioned Navy leaders about their resolve related to the possibility of expanding shipbuilding capacity to increase the pace of production and sustain a robust industrial base. During a Senate Appropriations Committee - Defense 2023 Budget hearing, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said he was “in favor” of adding a second shipyard, referring to the importance of maintaining a highly-skilled and available shipbuilding industrial base with the requisite expertise.
“Proper investments in the Frigate industrial base will be important,” Del Toro told lawmakers. Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday echoed the Secretary’s remarks, saying “if you don’t give industry what they need, the supply chain becomes fragile.”
Recommended for You
Significantly, the Navy’s emerging weapons structure for its new Fincantieri-built Frigate appears to align with the service’s initial vision for the ship.
A Navy statement several years ago said the platform will “employ unmanned systems to penetrate and dwell in contested environments, operating at greater risk to gain sensor and weapons advantages over the adversary.”
Video Above: Navy Next-Gen DDG(X) Destroyer to Fight to 2060
The Constellation will come in at 496 feet long and will displace 7,300 tons. The frigate’s size and weight specifications are, by design, intended to fit between littoral combat ships and DDG 51 destroyers. While the frigates are not being built with the kinds of armaments used on destroyers, they will still be armed with heavy weapons, Aegis radar, and missile-launching vertical launch systems.
The Navy vision for the ship, first articulated several years ago, seems to emphasize warfare networking priorities through use of terms like “blue force sensor and weapon influence.” Navy plans have long called for the establishment of a local sensor network using passive onboard sensors and “embarked aircraft” to act as a “gateway to the fleet tactical grid,” as Navy documents describe it. This Navy vision was expressed by the service’s call for a netted-system of sensors called Cooperative Engagement Capability, intended to connect radar systems to other sensor-derived information.
A concept of networking is integral to the idea of linking the new Frigate with other large surface platforms such as cruisers, destroyers and even carriers to accomplish what the Navy’s initial Request For Information identified as a need for area air defense and an ability to defend against raids of small boats.
A well-armed ship, which is what the emerging structure of the ship clearly seems to be according to Fincantieri graphic renderings published by NAVSEA, is consistent with the Navy’s previously articulated plan for the ship, which envisioned a platform that could travel in substantial aggregated combat scenarios such as Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups. At the same time, in a manner likely aligned with the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations strategy, the concept for the ship also likely incorporates a requirement for the ship able to operate somewhat autonomously or separated from other ships in close proximity and operate drones to enable more disaggregated, independent missions.
Kris Osborn is the President of Warrior Maven - Center for Military Modernization and 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.