Thursday, June 20, 2013

Norman Polmar - Once More Unto the Breach for Frigates

Subscription required for the whole thing (I know you are all subscribers...), but there is a double-header in the latest Proceedings where Norman Polmar once again reminds everyone that yes ....
... the U.S. Navy needs frigates!"
While many are resigned to the Fleet we are being given, vice the Fleet we feel our nation needs, it is helpful to remind everyone that there are other, arguably better options out there. Foreign designed or ... even ... something that might even feel a bit ... familiar.
Thus, the LCS cannot be effectively considered a frigate replacement. At the same time, the size of the Fleet can be expected to decline significantly in the next few years or— at best —stay at approximately 275 ships. The LCS program has been reduced to 52 ships (from 55), but it is more likely that the final number of these ships will be about half of that figure.

This situation calls for the construction of new frigate-type warships for the U.S. Navy. In terms of time and money, developing a new frigate design at this time is unaffordable. While there have been proposals to modify the design of the Coast Guard’s national security cutter to serve as a frigate, that ship lacks growth potential and service life, as well as certain military features, to become an effective frigate. The Perry design dates to the early 1970s. Still, the efficacy of the design is proven. Further, the massive damage suffered by the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) from a mine and the Stark (FFG-31) from two Exocet missiles demonstrates the survivability of these ships. (Both were put out of action by the damage—“mission kills”—but they survived.)

The most cost/time-efficient approach would be to update the Perry design. For example, use the space and weight of the Mark 13 missile system for a vertical-launch missile battery for the antiair role; provide an updated, more effective gun in place of the current 76-mm Mark 75; and update the radars and electronic-warfare suite. Indeed, the Australian Navy has updated its Perry -class ships with its Mark 13 launcher capable of firing Standard SM-2MR as well as Harpoon antiship missiles plus an eight-cell Mark 41 launcher installed for the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile. (A total of 34 Perry -class frigates currently are in service by other navies—Australia, Bahrain, Egypt, Turkey, Poland, Spain, Taiwan, and Pakistan.)

Also, in an updated FFG design the hull could be lengthened by some 14 to 20 feet. This is feasible from a naval architecture viewpoint and has been done to previous surface combatants, and it should have no negative impact on the FFG design. In fact, it would increase speed by a knot or more (with the same propulsion plant). The additional length could provide improved accommodations and the space and weight for antiship missiles (lacking in the LCS). This installation could be an eight-canister Harpoon battery or more advanced weapons.

The ship would retain the current two-hangar configuration, permitting the operation of two Seahawk helicopters or a single helicopter plus unmanned aerial vehicles. Alternatively, one hangar could be used for mine countermeasures gear or other specialized equipment. Such modified ships could be employed for SEAL/special-operations support, mine countermeasures, and other missions. Such variants would be akin to the almost 100 high-speed transports converted from World War II-built destroyer escorts.
Ideal? Perhaps not ... I would prefer new-design, but especially in a modified new-construction of a proven design - Norman's idea would be much more useful than the sub-optimal LCS, the 21st Century "Jeff Boats" we now have.

You know what - there are worse corners to be in than Mr. Polmar's.

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