WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy’s newest surface combatant has Italian heritage, the Navy announced Thursday.

In a major win for Wisconsin’s Marinette Marine shipyard, the Navy selected Fincantieri’s so-called FREMM design, an acronym that stands for “European multi-purpose frigate,” in its original Italian. The shipyard, which is also on the hook for building the remaining mono-hull littoral combat ships and a frigate version of it for Saudi Arabia, is now a major player in U.S. Navy shipbuilding.

The detailed design and construction contract, worth $795.1 million, covers the design work and the first ship, as well as options for up to nine others. The total value of the contract if all options are exercised will be $5.58 billion. The contract is expected to be rebid after the first 10 ships.

The Navy is providing a significant portion of government furnished equipment, including a variant of the AN/SPY-6 radar destined for the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers under construction, and those costs are not included in the $5.58 billion.

Fincantieri campaigned hard to win the contract, bringing the FREMM to the United States to show it off and work with U.S. ships off the coast. The victory beats out challenges from Huntington Ingalls Industries, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works with Navantia’s F100 design, and Austal USA with an up-gunned version of its trimaran littoral combat ship.

According to the the Navy 2021 budget documents, the service is planing for it to take six years to complete design and construction of the ship, which should be finished in 2026.

The second frigate is expected to be ordered in April 2021, and from there it should be delivered about five and a half years after the award date.

Put another way, the first ship should be delivered to the fleet in July 2026, and the second about three months later.

The Italian FREMM Alpino moored pierside in Baltimore. The ship's design is the basis of the US Navy's next-generation frigate. (Staff photo By David B. Larter)
The Italian FREMM Alpino moored pierside in Baltimore. The ship's design is the basis of the US Navy's next-generation frigate. (Staff photo By David B. Larter)

The FFG(X) is supposed to be a small, multi-mission ship with a modified version of Raytheon’s SPY-6 radar destined for the Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, Lockheed Martin’s Aegis Combat System, as well as some point defense systems and 32 vertical launch cells for about half the cost of a DDG.

Of course, without knowing which ship the Navy intends to buy and what the final detailed designs look like, firm price estimates are impossible, but the Pentagon has some projections.

The first ship ordered in 2020 is expected to cost $1.28 billion, according to budget documents.

The buy was supposed to be one ship in FY20, then two vessels every year until the full 20-ship buy was complete. But the Navy wanted to make sure it staggered the buy more responsibly, said Rear Adm. Randy Crites, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, in his rollout of the 2021 budget earlier this year.

"We don’t want to have a repeat of some of the lessons of LCS where we got going too fast,” Crites said. "As it is, we’re going to have eight frigates under construction when we deliver the first one in 2026.

“Right now we’ll award one later this year, wand the plan is for one next year but that will get looked at. Then we’ll ramp up to two to three, with nine in the [future-year defense program].”