The Drift

Navigation Brief

WASHINGTON – Good evening, Drifters

A lot of interesting feedback from last week’s Drift about maintenance. Thanks for your emails and keep them coming.

This week will be a more traditional version of The Drift. I said from the outset (and for those of you who were on the original email some six months ago and remain today, thanks for sticking with me) that this was going to work a bit like a dispatch from my notebook. Today will be a lot like that.

I’m still finding things in the Navy’s budget documents that are interesting to me and, I trust, interesting to the kind of people who would sign up for a Navy-centric weekly email blast. I figured I’d delve into FFG(X) a bit tonight, and not just from the 2020 budget submission, but from the last few months as well. There has been a lot more clarity and some interesting developments in the past few months.

So, I figured let’s make this an occasional feature I call, uncreatively, “The Program Brief.”

Let’s Drift!


The Program Brief: FFG(X)

I’ll try and do this in a logical, repeatable format for the next time we tackle a program. So here goes.

What is it: The FFG(X) grew out of a 2014 requirement for an up-gunned frigate that would be a more survivable small surface combatant than the littoral combat ship, which was developed for a different concept of operations than turned out to be necessary in world of great power competition. In 2017, the Navy rolled out its requirements (in a Defense News scoop, I might add) for its new frigate, which was quite a bit more ambitious than just an LCS with more weapons strapped on.

The new ship is designed to both integrate with, and complement, the carrier strike group and operate as a distributed node in a sensor network. According to the most recent budget documents, the FFG(X) will be capable of “anti-surface warfare (SUW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), electromagnetic maneuver warfare (EMW), air warfare (AW) mission areas, and survivability while keeping the ship affordable and as a part of a ‘high-low’ mix of surface ships.”

How many: Twenty right now, but don’t expect that to hold. The force structure assessment it sprang from called for 52 small surface combatants and 104 large surface combatants. All the Navy has done since then has walk away from that assessment.

In an interview late last year, Rear Adm. Ron Boxall told me that he viewed the assessment as too heavily weighted toward big ships.

The Quote: “Today, I have a requirement for 104 large surface combatants in the force structure assessment; I have 52 small surface combatants. That’s a little upside down. Should I push out here and have more small platforms? I think the future fleet architecture study has intimated ‘yes,’ and our war gaming shows there is value in that.”

So, how many? Time, and the force structure assessment due out by the end of 2019, will tell. There are nine in the FYDP, with the first ship starting construction in 2022.

What’s it packing: The FFG(X) is armed to the teeth and wired for combat.

Electronics: A scaled down version of the AN/SPY-6 air and missile defense radar that is destined for the DDG Flight III; NIXIE AN/SLQ-25E, which is a torpedo decoy system; the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block II with a SLQ-32; a planned Next Generation Surface Search Radar; a Multi-Function Towed Array sonar; and a hull-mounted sonar (or variable depth sonar, depending on the final design).

Computers and comms:  The Frigate Weapons System, a combat system that will be a variant of AEGIS Baseline 10 and based on the common source library; the Consolidated Afloat Network Enterprise System, which is the Navy’s advanced afloat computer network in development; the Network Tactical Common Data Link Variant B, a BAE-developed data link for sharing information between platforms; Cooperative Engagement Capability; a signals exploitation suite for the spooks; and Navy Advanced Extremely High Frequency Multiband Terminal, which is high-end satellite comms.

Weapons: The FFG(X) will pack a 32-cell vertical launch system; a MK 48 gun weapon system; eight over-the-horizon missiles, which will be the Naval Strike Missile; and a 21-cell Rolling Airframe Missile launcher.

Crew: The original RFI called for a crew of a maximum of 200. The crewing model is going to be blue and gold to keep the ship out to sea for as long as possible. Read more about that here.

Who is competing: The five designs participating now in the conceptual design phase are variants of Lockheed Martin’s mono-hull littoral combat ship as well as Austal USA’s trimaran version, Fincantieri’s FREMM, Navantia’s F-100 frigate and a repurposed version of Huntington Ingalls’ national security cutter design.

What does it cost: The Navy asked for $1.3 billion for the first FFG(X) hull in 2020, and has said that each subsequent hull should cost closer to $800 million per hull.

What’s next: All five designs are facing a final design review this spring, ahead of the Navy kicking off a full and open competition for the detailed design and construction contract, which will be awarded in the final quarter of fiscal 2020.

What’s the twist: The five hulls already in the pipeline clearly have an advantage, but BAE’s Type 26 is waiting in the wings. It didn’t meet the requirement s for the first phase because it was not mature enough but Type 26 is further along now. Plus, it has recently been selected by both Canada and Australia for new frigate programs. It could be a late spoiler in the competition, but it remains a remote possibility.

The Favorite: Heck, it’s anyone’s guess. Conventional wisdom would say that either Fincantieri’s FREMM or Lockheed’s revamped Freedom-variant LCS, but just because they would both be built in Marinette, Wisconsin. But it’s anyone’s ballgame. Huntington Ingalls could just as well swoop in, or even Austal, though their version would be the only aluminum-hull version in the running.

And that’s the latest on FFG(X), you are all caught up!

Now on to The Hotwash.

The Hotwash

Arms control is back, baby!

President Trump met with senior Chinese officials today in Washington and some interesting talking points came up in a presser. All the sudden Trump is talking about arms control agreements with Russia and China as a way of throttling back on military expenditures.

Check this out.

Excerpt: President Trump said Thursday he was interested in a new arms control pact with China and Russia to reduce "ridiculous" military spending.

"They're making a lot of weapons, tremendous weapons. And so are we. We just had $716 billion approved for military last year, and now we're possibly going to do more this year," Trump told reporters at the White House. "Between Russia and China and us, we're all making hundreds of billions of dollars worth of weapons, including nuclear, which is ridiculous."

Trump spoke as he hosted Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office, where the men expressed optimism about reaching a bilateral trade deal by next month. Trump said a possible disarmament pact would follow a trade deal, and he asked Liu for his thoughts.

"I think it is a very good idea," Liu said.

Read more: Trump says US, China, and Russia should limit 'ridiculous' arms spending

Movement on Next-gen fighter

Maybe the Navy is finally feeling a bit of heat on its slow progress on a next-generation fighter because it looks like some movement is afoot.

From USNI today.

Excerpt:Just as the first Block III F/A-18E/F Super Hornets are rolling off the Boeing production line, the Navy is launching a new plan for what comes next, senior aviators told lawmakers Thursday.

The Navy is finalizing its analysis of alternatives (AOA), due within the next two month, Rear Adm. Scott Conn, the Navy’s director of air warfare (OPNAV N98), said during a House Armed Services tactical air and land forces subcommittee hearing.

Three years ago, the Navy had started an AoA requirements study for the Next-Generation Air Dominance program. The goal was to replace the capabilities of the Super Hornets and the electronic attack EA-18G Growlers. At the time, Navy officials said the study would evaluate manned, unmanned and optionally manned airframes as part of a family of systems.

The report, Conn said at today’s hearing, “will inform future choices reflected in future budget cycles in terms of what do we need to do to get after the lethality that we need at a cost that we can afford.”

Read more: Navy’s Next-Generation Fighter Analysis Due Out this Summer

More Reading

Stubborn issue: Navy Rules Out Suspected Physiological Episodes Cause While Super Hornet Rates Grow in 2019

Something to watch: Manila blasts China over ‘swarming’ flotilla

Far out, man: Two drone squadron sailors convicted for manufacturing drugs on California Navy base

Trouble in Subland? The US Navy, seeking savings, shakes up its plans for more lethal attack submarines

Navy sub production in CT faces financial hurdles

The Navy Is Assembling a Hacker Team to Fight Off Small Drones

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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