WASHINGTON – The U..S Navy’s next-generation frigate could be awarded within the next few months, earlier than expected, the service’s top civilian said Friday.

Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told conservative radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he had tasked Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts to look at accelerating the award of the first ship, which was slated for this fall.

“The plan was to try and do it in the latter part of this year,” Modly told Hewitt. “I’ve asked [Geurts] to try and accelerate that earlier, and he’s looking into the possibilities for doing that.

“But obviously, you know, we have acquisition rules, and we want to make sure that we do this in the proper way.”

The competition has narrowed to bids from Huntington Ingalls Industries; a team of Navantia and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works; Fincantieri; and Austal USA.

Navantia is offering a version of its F-100 design, which is in use by the Spanish Navy; Austal is submitting a version of its trimaran littoral combat ship; Fincantieri is offering its FREMM design; and Huntington Ingalls is believed to be offering an up-gunned version of its national security cutter.

Lockheed Martin’s version of the FFG(X), an up-gunned, twin-screw variant of its Freedom-class LCS, was pulled from the competition in May.

The FFG(X) is supposed to be a small, multimission 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 destroyer.

The first ship ordered in 2020 is expected to cost $1.28 billion, according to budget documents, with the next ship in 2021 dropping to $1.05 billion.

The Navy expects it to take six years to complete design and construction of the first ship, which should be finished in 2026. Once construction begins, planners anticipate it will take 48 months to build.

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. That means that the first ship should be delivered to the fleet in July of 2026, and the second about three months later.