This 1 Flaw in the Navy's New Frigates Could Cause Huge Problems

Michael Peck

Key point: The Navy needs to get the design for its new frigates right if they are to be worth the cost.

The U.S. Navy’s new frigate may not be armed with enough missiles to defeat Russian and Chinese warships, according to a new report.

FFG(X) is the Navy’s attempt to resurrect frigates, which are essentially small destroyers. The last frigates in the American fleet was the Cold War Oliver Hazard Perry class, which was retired by 2015. The Navy wants 20 of the new frigates, with the first acquired in late 2020. The Navy has asked for $1.3 billion in the FY2020 defense budget for the first vessel.

The Navy has not fixed on a design, though five American and European shipbuilders have offered their versions, which range from a trimaran hull to 6,000- and 7,000-ton vessels.

But regardless of which design is chosen, one issue could be a lack of missile launchers, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service, which is Congress’s analytical arm. The FFG(X) will only have 32 Mark 41 Vertical Launch System tubes, which are missile launchers – actually more like silos – embedded in the deck.

An arsenal of 48 missiles sounds formidable, but the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers mount 96 VLS tubes, which raises the question of how much bang for the buck the FFG(X) provides. “Supporters of requiring the FFG(X) to be equipped with a larger number of VLS tubes, such as 48, might argue that the FFG(X) is to be roughly half as expensive to procure as the DDG-51 destroyer, and might therefore be more appropriately equipped with 48 VLS tubes, which is one-half the number on recent DDG-51s,” CRS said in its typically guarded language. “They might also argue that in a context of renewed great power competition with potential adversaries such as China, which is steadily improving its naval capabilities, it might be prudent to equip the FFG(X)s with 48 rather than 32 VLS tubes, and that doing so might only marginally increase the unit procurement cost of the FFG(X).”

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