Modern Frigates

     A couple decades ago, the US Navy began building billion-dollar Aegis super-ships. The idea was sold that the sophisticated Aegis computerized radar would link all ships in a battle group to optimize firepower.  Eventually, the Navy built enough Aegis ships for all its battle groups, but insisted that two Aegis ships were needed per battle group in case one ship broke down or suffered damage.  Unfortunately, the US Navy now buys nothing but expensive Aegis ships, while complaining to Congress that it needs more surface combatants.

     As the Navy decommissions the last of its frigates (FFG-7s), only Aegis cruisers and destroyers will remain to conduct basic naval missions like drug interdiction, search and rescue, coastal reconnaissance, special anti-terrorist operations, and blockades.  Devoting large sophisticated ships with 322 crewmen for simple missions is a tremendous waste of resources.  These expensive ships are too valuable to risk for most missions close to shore or in confined areas like the Persian Gulf.  The obvious solution is to build smaller, inexpensive frigates.  This has been advocated for many years by a former naval officer, Dr. James George, at the Hudson Institute.  The Navy may spend a decade "designing" a new frigate, and it would probably end up with a huge billion-dollar "frigate".  However, the Navy still needs a coastal warship, so the best option is to begin immediate procurement of a modern ship already in service, the Israeli Eilat Class (Sa’ar 5).  

The Sa'ar 5 is a stable, high-speed platform incorporating stealth technology to minimize radar cross section and infrared and acoustic signatures.

     Although this 1227 ton, 260-foot ship is called a "corvette", its weaponry and 33 knot speed are comparable to a frigate.  It has a stealthy design, sonar, torpedoes, missile launchers, a gun mount, and a helicopter hanger large enough for a Navy H-60 helicopter.  The Navy could greatly increase this frigate's lethality by adding  the US Army's new EFOG missile system to strike small craft and targets ashore. 

     The Sa’ar 5 only requires a crew of 71, costs far less to buy, support, and operate.  Its smaller size makes it more difficult to target and its smaller draft allows it to operate in shallow waters.  These three "Israeli" ships are built by Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi in 1995, the same location where the current Aegis destroyers are made.  As a result, politicians should have no objections to building three Sa'ar frigates each year in place of one fewer Aegis DD-51 destroyer.  The Navy would not need billions of dollars to develop and test  these frigates, it could simply place an order this year for a Sa'ar design fitted with current Navy communications systems.

       The Navy’s current plan for building four DDG-51s will result in a surface combatant fleet of 120 expensive destroyers by 2030.  If three Sa’ar 5 frigates were added and one destroyer removed from each year's budget, the Navy could have 90 Aegis destroyers and 90 frigates instead. This fleet of 180 surface combatants would provide more flexibility and keep operational tempo at reasonable levels.  This is a politically neutral option since the same amount of money would go to Ingalls shipyard.  Purchases of an economical high-tech frigate by the U.S. Navy will also open the door for foreign military sales.  Click this link for more Sa'ar 5 Information

                                               Carlton Meyer  editor@G2mil.com

©2002 www.G2mil.com

Letters

I remembered a report from a design study conducted by Team 1992 of the Naval Postgraduate School - Total Ship Systems Engineering on how a future Frigate for the US Navy should look like. They named it Regional Deterrence Ship. It can be found here:  http://web.nps.navy.mil/~me/tsse/files/1992.htm  The Ship features a flexible VLS that can be equipped with a variety of weapons - from NSSM over ESSM up to, depending on VLS version, Tomahawk, ATACMS or a mulipack version of the new Affordable Weapon AW. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/munitions/aw.htm

The ship has a powerful hard-kill self-defense suite, featuring two Phalanx and two RAM launcher. With a few adjustments, this could be the basis for an effective and affordable warship. Perhaps two of these ships could be bought at the price of an Arleigh Burke class missile destroyer, but I'm no expert on costs, so that's just my wild guess.  However, even this sort of ship might be a little to large for the tasks awaiting a navy in the littorals.

Second, the german Navy, as a result of it's focus on littoral warfare during the Cold War, it was tasked in defeating an attempted amphibious operation of the Warsaw Pact, has extensive expertise in this field.  The conditions in the Baltic were unique: A rough sea, difficult water conditions, small confined waters - and little went undetected there and attack was expected - that for example resulted in the german Navy adopting combat capable minesweepers, with a relatively heavy defensive armament for their type: The SM-343 class, built, uniquely, of amagnetic steel. These ships were built to operate in harms way, and built to survive, they had about the same sensor suite as Germanys S-134 A class fast attack boats.  Building them of steel not only allowed speedy and cost efficient production but also easier combat damage repair.  As losses were expected, they built a large number of small units, with a good punch. Because their bases could be overrun, they relied on largely sea based logistics.

After the end of the cold war the german Navy shifted focus on out-of area operations, and designed a new corvette sized vessel, the K-130, to replace (or, you never know in these days of budged cuts here, to complement fast attack boats). It carries the swedish RBS-15 Mk.3 antiship missile (200km range/ a new, german-swedish seeker with imaging IR and a sophisticated Radar seeker and sophisticated swedish mission planning system). They are also to be equipped with the Polyphem fibre-optic guided missile and can lay mines. They carry the proven 76 mm Oto Melara gun (thus, they lack a NSFS capability), and have a potent self defense suite with 2 RAM launchers and 2 MLG-27 27mm autocannons. They also have a speedboat for boarding missions.  The K-130 is pretty much a no-frills warship: Simple, good endurance, moderate speed, good seakeeping, good sensor platform, a helopad, low operating costs, effective yet cheap stealth measures. They are excellently suited for non glorious everyday tasks like embargo control, or other sea control missions.

Usually, fast attack boats swarm out at high speed and, in concert, sprint and drift and hide, using radar, ESM and data link to create a situation pic of their area of operation. The K-130 concept uses drones rather than ship sensors to provide the situation picture and targeting datam, as well as the later battle damage assessment.  That allows to build a larger platform that has the endurance, more comfortable crew quarters (a necessity when deployed for a longer period - on fast attack boats they are offboard, on the tender) and heavier punch that fast attack boats lack.

As a result of that, the drone component is the critical component, much less a "force multiplier" rather than an "enabler" for the K-130. Without them the K-130 would be unable to make a good use of its long range missiles. More on the K-130 here:  http://www.blohmvoss.com/e/info/presse_18072000.html

Decision on drone type has yet to be made. Originally the ships were to get the Dornier SEAMOS drone, but that program is either running just very slow or totally cancelled. The RQ-4 is another choice, just like the Bell Eagle Eye, and in case the US Navy or the Coast Guard would employ them, the german Navy could jump on board, or get an off the shelve solution like the Cl.327 (my favorite: small, relatively cheap, flexible ... expendable and suitable for use over land as well).  The current US concepts for Sea Archer and Corasir and others all aim on a much higher speed, a feat that will certainly drive up unit costs. More on these projects here: http://web.nps.navy.mil/~me/tsse/files/projects.htm

A slower platform, would be considerably cheaper, and offer lower operating costs, probably without significant loss in operational flexibility and effectiveness, and perhaps, more units. Basing could be novel too: Forward based ships, say in Qatar, and rotating crews, two per ship, flew in from their home base in the US to relieve the crews after a period of time.  Info on the LCS here:  http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/systems/ship/streetfighter.htm

The refocusing of the US Navy also runs under the program name "Streetfighter". The dispute about very capable large ships only or a high-low mix isn't new. It has popped up here and there in the past, the FFG-7 Perry class is the result of such an approach - the low solution to complement the larger ships like Aegis Cruisers and Spruance class destroyers.  The difference is just that atm, in absence of a submarine threat and a major enemy navy the US Navy very much focuses on power projection, therefor the LCS/ Streetfighter program(s).  One brief view on that: http://www.msnbc.com/news/546846.asp?cp1=1

One major aspect was to restore the ability of the US Navy to accept losses:

"The President of the Naval War College, Admiral Art Cebrowski, and others such as Capt. Wayne P. Hughes, have advocated the deployment of larger numbers of smaller ships to operate in "harm's way" in littoral waters.  Cebrowski and Hughes talk of "tactical instability," where a navy is unwilling to risk its ships because the fleet is constituted principally of small numbers of expensive ships. They propose "re-balancing the fleet" by supplementing the currently planned large surface combatants with the procurement of smaller ships."  One other candidate ship I forgot is the swedish Visby class (offered to the US Navy by a US lead contractor), depicted here: http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/europe/visby.htm

Modern, more reliable technology will further reduce the need for dock overhaul and allow for longer deployed periods overseas. Thanks to their size the ships could also deploy on their own keel, and don't have to rely on dock transports for deployment. Adopting a flexible and affordable smaller platform like the K-130 with a bigger 12,7mm gun, or the Saar 5 class you proposed, would allow a cost efficient solution for the current US capability gap: to show the flag in hostile waters or to protect and defend a passing naval combat group close to the shore or in a bottleneck or NSFS for Marines - with a with a platform that can survive in the dangerous environment close to a hostile coast, and that is expendable in worst case because it is built in large numbers and
cheap.

                                                                                                   Norbert Schulz