(Washington, D.C.) The U.S. Navy is surging forward with a high-op tempo, fast-tracked production schedule for its new series of Constellation-class Guided Missile Frigate ships, armed warships intended to bring multiple maritime combat mission possibilities to include littoral and deep or “blue” water missions.
The service has outlined an ambitious production schedule for the new class of ship, built by Fincantieri Marinette Marine, and plans to fund as many as 15 of the new vessels over just the next five years.
This is likely one reason why Naval Sea Systems command has just announced that it has awarded FMM a contract to build the second ship, the future USS Congress. This, to be built in FMM’s shipyard in Wisconsin, is the same location where the first-in-class Frigate is beginning construction.
A Navy statement on the ship said it will operate with a varied mission set to include “air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations.”
Interestingly, while engineered with a slightly more shallow draft than heavier cruisers and destroyers, the new Frigates are in part intended to support littoral, coastal missions while at the same time operate with a clear and decided capacity to engage in massive ocean warfare on the open sea.
Heavily Armed Ships
The ship is heavily armed with Vertical Launch Systems able to fire interceptor missiles linked with Aegis Radar fire control to fire off ballistic missile defense weapons. VLS are capable of firing SM-3 and even Tomahawk missiles. The newest iteration of Lockheed’s Aegis radar is called Baseline 10, an advanced integrated system of radar, software, fire control and even targeting technology intended to conduct both air and cruise missile ship defense as well as ballistic missile defense.
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 weapon called the Naval Strike Missile, a deck launched over the horizon weapon intended to offer longer-range offensive firepower for the ship.
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It would also not be surprising to see the vessel incorporate Fire Scout drones and MH-60R helicopters for transport, surveillance and anti-submarine missions.
The new Frigates are also armed with a considerable arsenal of deck-mounted guns, weapons of particular relevance to close-in engagements such as small boat defense. The new ship has the MK 110 57mm Gun Weapons System, NAVSEA said.
While the particular hull configurations of the new Frigates are likely not available for security reasons, 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.
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 an 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 Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.