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Video: Northrop Grumman& Eastern Shipbuilding Group Build New Weapons into The New Coast Guard OffShore Patrol Cutter

By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven

(Washington D.C.) Deck mounted guns, drone operations and an integrated network of “meshed” sensors are all likely to operate as key components of the Navy’s new FFG 62 Constellation-class Frigate, a new ship tasked with many missions to include 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. 

Significantly, the Navy’s emerging weapons structure for its new Fincantieri-built Frigate, now nearing completion of its initial design phase according to a statement from Naval Sea Systems Command, likely aligns 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.” 

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. At its inception, Navy developers referred to the new Frigate as the FFG(X). 

“The FFG(X) small surface combatant will expand blue force sensor and weapon influence to provide increased information to the overall fleet tactical picture while challenging adversary Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Tracking (ISR&T) efforts,” Naval Sea Systems Command FFG(X) documents said.

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, according to Raytheon data. 

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. 

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As the Navy’s FFG 62 Constellation-class Frigate nears completion of its design phase, many are likely to wonder about the kinds of weapons, sensors and technologies the new ships will incorporate. The Navy’s new FFG ships are intended to bring what could be called a new hybrid mixture of surface warfare attack, reconnaissance and deep water maritime warfare abilities.

Now being built by Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, the new platform may quite likely be armed with an MH-60R helicopter, Fire Scout vertical take off and landing drones, SeaRAM interceptor missiles, surface-to-surface and surface-to-air weapons such as 30mm guns, Hellfire missiles and perhaps even an over-the-horizon missile to attack targets at longer ranges.Navy plans for the new Frigate have called for the ship to be  integrated with anti-submarine surface warfare technologies including sonar and surface-to-surface weapons. Perhaps this could include a 30mm gun and closer-in missiles such as deck-launched Hellfire missiles. 

Added to the equation is the possibility that the Navy will include an over-the-horizon missile chosen by the Navy for the LCS is the Naval Strike Missile by Kongsberg-Raytheon, so it certainly seems this kind of long-range offensive strike weapons might also prove useful for the new FFG 62. Going back to the early conceptual phases of the ship, it was decidedly determined by the Navy that the new platform will be armed much more significantly and heavily than an LCS and operate with a more strongly reinforced hull. Subsequently, the Navy expanded its plans for the ship to include some elements of air defense and drone operations. 

Whatever the precise configuration of the new Constellation class Frigates, the Navy plans to build many of them quickly, as the service’s 30-year Shipbuilding Plan calls for the construction of as many as 15 of the new ships over the next five years. The shipbuilding plan document says the Navy plans to make "investments in FY2022 in long lead time material and the stand up of a ‘follow yard’ in FY2023 to increase FFG production to three ships in 2023 and up to four new frigates by 2025."

The Navy’s fast-growing fleet of drone ships, increasingly capable of new levels of autonomy and manned-unmanned teaming, have also been emphasized as fundamental to the Navy’s vision for the new Frigate. While the new ship is of course, by design, quite distinct from the Littoral Combat Ship and be built for heavier combat, it may nonetheless be similar in the respect that it will operate drones. The LCS continues to operate large numbers of surface and undersea drones to hunt for mines and submarines and scout targets as needed. 

"FFG(X) will be capable of establishing a local sensor network using passive onboard sensors, embarked aircraft and elevated/tethered systems and unmanned vehicles to gather information and then act as a gateway to the fleet tactical grid using resilient communications systems and networks," a NAVSEA from several years paper states, a text which offers some clues as to the kinds of configurations and missions likely to be used by the Navy’s Constellation-class Frigates. 

Evolving plans for the frigate over the years have considered "space armor" configurations, a method of segmenting and strengthening ship armor in specific segments to enable the ship to continue operations in the event that one area is damaged by enemy attack. This would make sense, given that the ship is intended to operate effectively if needed in a major power maritime warfare circumstance wherein large surface combatants may need to maintain operations even if hit by enemy attack. 

-- Kris Osborn is the Managing Editor of Warrior Maven and The Defense Editor of The National Interest --

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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.