Beyond LCS: Navy Looks To Foreign Frigates, National Security Cutter


on May 11, 2017 at 3:34 PM

[UPDATED with Sec. Stackley comments] WASHINGTON: The Navy is seriously considering derivatives of foreign designs and the Coast Guard’s National Security Cutter for its new frigate, after three years pursuing an upgraded version of its current Littoral Combat Ship. The shift has shaken up the industry, panicking some players, while others quietly reposition:

  • Wisconsin’s Marinette Marine, which currently builds the 3,500-ton Freedom variant of the LCS, may instead offer an Americanized version of the FREMM, a 6,000 to 6,700-ton frigate built for the French and Italian navies by Marinette’s parent company, Fincantieri. If so, Marinette would probably part ways with its current prime contractor, Lockheed Martin, and contract directly with the Navy.
  • Maine’s Bath Iron Works (owned by General Dynamics) will probably revive a previous partnership with Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, whose 5,900-ton F-100 family has the same Aegis radar and air defense system as American destroyers. That makes it the most sophisticated but also probably the most expensive contender, unless they deliberately downsize the radar to cut cost.
  • Mississippi’s Ingalls — whose parent company, HII, also owns Virginia’s massive Newport News — is dusting off proposals to militarize its Legend-class Coast Guard National Security Cutter as a 4,675-ton Patrol Frigate, the smallest and likely the cheapest competitor. Offering the only alternative to LCS that’s invented in America, Ingalls has a definite edge.
  • Alabama’s Austal, which builds the 3,100-ton Independence variant of LCS, specializes in building lightweight, high-speed aluminum ships, leaving them with little option but to offer an upgraded Independence. Austal says that hull is still large enough to accommodate high-end equipment like Vertical Launch Systems.

Other options got honorable mention from our sources. BAE System’s Type 26 Frigate for the Royal Navy looks promising, but isn’t built yet so it has no track record. Denmark’s Iver Huitfeldt frigates rely on plug-and-play StanFlex equipment modules, a concept that’s already proved problematic on LCS (which they inspired).

In general, many foreign frigates are over-built for the US Navy’s needs. Global navies often use frigates as the mainstay of their battle line, a role the US reserves for much larger destroyers, so they pack their frigates with expensive high-end systems, especially for wide-area air defense. The US Navy wants to keep the frigate affordable, with more air defense than LCS has today but less than its scores of Aegis destroyers already on hand.

“They are looking for something in the $700 million to $1 billion range,” said Bryan Clark, a retired but well-connected Navy strategist the Center for Strategic & Budgetary Assessments, which itself recommended a larger frigate in a recent congressionally-chartered study. That’s as compared to $550 million for the latest Littoral Combat Ships, whose price has come down dramatically since early overruns, and about $1.8 billion for an 8,200-9,700 ton Aegis destroyer. “If it could be half the price of a destroyer, that’s probably the ideal.”

[UPDATED]  “It’s going to be a best-value type competition, so cost and capability will be factors,” acting Navy Secretary Sean Stackley told reporters this evening after the US Naval Institute’s annual meeting. “I expect there to be a range of designs,” both LCS derivatives and others.

“If you’re an existing builder (i.e. Austal and Marinette), you are in a competitive position because you have a hot production line (and) you’ve got mature costs,” he said. “Now their challenge is integrating new capabilities.”

At the same time, “definitely, the competition will be open to foreign designs,” Stackley said. “There are going to be some caveats”: All contenders must meet US requirements, especially for survivability; they must give the Navy technical data rights so it can “sustain and modernize” the ships; and they must be built in US shipyards.

Is there any preference for domestic vs. foreign, LCS derivatives vs. different designs? Stackley simply repeated the Navy’s promise that the competition would be “full and open.” [UPDATE ENDS]………..Read entire post


The much larger foreign frigates can carry much more firepower: 24 to 48 VLS cells on the Navantia F-100 family, depending on the model. The Fincantieri FREMM has just 16 cells, same as the Patrol Frigate. They also have sophisticated military-grade radars, sonars, and other sensors that the National Security Cutter currently lacks, although Congress might require reequipping the FREMM or Navantia with made-in-America kit.

Now, small ships can pack quite a punch — Norman Polmar wryly suggested the US just buy Russian designs, like the corvettes and frigate that fired cruise missiles over 900 miles from the Caspian Sea into Syria. Both Austal and Marinette-Lockheed have drafted designs for upgraded LCS that include heavy-duty equipment such as Vertical Launch Systems, the Navy’s multi-purpose missile tube used for both offensive and defensive weapons. But small ships with big weapons often lack endurance, because they skimp on ammunition reloads, fuel reserves, and crew size — all classic problems with Russian ships.

Legend Class National Security Cutter

Eight Legend Class National Security Cutters (NSCs) are being built under the Deepwater Programme of the US Coast Guard (USCG). Built by Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, NSC is the largest and most technically advanced class of cutter in the USCG fleet. The NSCs will replace the aging 378′ High Endurance Hamilton class cutters in service since the 1960s.

NSCs can be deployed in homeland security, law enforcement, maritime safety, environmental protection and national defence missions.

Legend Class cutter programme

In June 2002, the USCG signed a $17bn contract with Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS, a joint venture of Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin) for the Deepwater Programme. The programme includes delivery of 91 (eight NSC, 25 OPC and 58 FRC) new cutters, 35 fixed-wing aircraft, 34 helicopters, 76 UAVs, 93 upgraded helicopters and 49 upgraded cutters over a 20 year schedule.

In July 2005, the programme was expanded to 25 years due to post-9/11 mission requirements. As a result, the contract value increased to $25bn. Source

Ship list: Here

Class overview
Name: Legend-class National Security Cutter
Builders: Ingalls Shipbuilding
Preceded by: Hamilton class
Cost: $684m(average), $735m(FY13 ship)
In service: 2008–
Building: 3
Planned: 9
Completed: 6
Active: 6
General characteristics
Type: United States Coast Guard Cutter
Displacement: 4,500 long tons (4,600 t)
Length: 418 feet (127 m)
Beam: 54 feet (16 m)
Draft: 22.5 feet (6.9 m)
  • Combined diesel and gas
  • 2 × 7,400 kW (9,900 hp) MTU 20V 1163 diesels
  • 1 × 22 MW (30,000 hp) LM2500 gas turbine engine
Speed: Over 28 knots (52 km/h; 32 mph)
Range: 12,000 nautical miles (22,000 km; 14,000 mi)
Complement: 113 (14 officers + 99 enlisted) and can carry up to 148 depending on mission
Sensors and
processing systems:
  • EADS 3D TRS-16 AN/SPS-75 Air Search Radar
  • SPQ-9B Fire Control Radar
  • AN/SPS-73 Surface Search Radar
  • AN/SLQ-32
Electronic warfare
& decoys:
  • AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare System
  • 2 SRBOC/ 2 x NULKA countermeasures chaff/rapid decoy launchers
Armor: Ballistic protection for main gun
Aircraft carried: 2 x MH-65C Dolphin MCH, or 4 x VUAV or 1 x MH-65C Dolphin MCH and 2 x VUAV
Aviation facilities: 50-by-80-foot (15 m × 24 m) flight deck, hangar for all aircraft

Specification data

Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates: Details

FREMM European Multimission Frigate: Details


Type 26 Global Combat Ship: Details

Hobart Class (for reference to F-100): Details


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