WASHINGTON – The U.S. Navy will have to set up a land-based testing site for the engineering plant destined for its new Constellation-class frigate program, according to a provision in the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act on President Trump’s desk.
The frigate program, lately known as FFG(X), includes a propulsion system that hasn’t been used before in the Navy, which congressional authorizers see as a risk to be mitigated by a testing facility. The ship is being adapted from Fincantieri’s FREMM design, which was a strategy to reduce overall risk in the program by using an existing design.
“While recognizing an existing parent design can reduce design, technical, and integration risks,” an explanatory statement for the NDAA notes, “the conferees are concerned that significant risks remain in the FFG-62 program, including: cost realism; shifting to predominantly U.S. component suppliers instead of the mainly foreign suppliers used in the parent vessel design; and a complex Combined Diesel Electric and Gas Hull, Mechanical and Electrical (HM&E) drive train that has not previously been used on U.S. Navy ships.”
The move is the latest in a series of measures dictated to the Navy by an increasingly skeptical Congress that has repeatedly expressed concerns about the Navy’s dubious track record for fielding new technologies. Members have put restrictions on how fast the Navy can move on some unmanned technologies, for example, fearing the service will charge too far ahead and find it can’t make its concepts work, an issue that has dogged the littoral combat ship program.
The conference report makes specific mention of the LCS as an example of the Navy skipping land-based testing to its detriment.
“Since 1972, [land based engineering and test sites] testing has reduced the acquisition risk of five of the seven Navy surface combatant classes (Spruance-class, Oliver Hazard Perry-class, Ticonderoga-class, Arleigh Burke-class, and Zumwalt-class),” the explanation reads. “The littoral combat ship classes, the Freedom- and Independence-classes, are the two recent classes that have not had the benefit of a LBETS.
“Since lead ship deliveries in 2008 and 2010, both LCS classes have encountered significant, costly, and debilitating engineering failures. The conferees believe many of these LCS engineering failures would have been discovered, analyzed, and corrected faster with less negative operational impact had the Navy established a LCS LBETS.”
Per the statement, the Constellation-class frigate engineering test facility will be required to:
• “Test of the full propulsion drive train”
• “Test and facilitation of machinery control systems integration”
• Be able to simulate “the full range of electrical demands to enable the investigation of load dynamics between the HM&E equipment, combat system, and auxiliary equipment.”
The Navy will be required to submit its plan for implementing the land-based testing site in its 2022 budget materials.
Trump has threatened to veto the NDAA over an unrelated provision he wants added to the bill as part of an ongoing feud with social media companies, though it’s unclear if he will follow-through on the veto threat.