The US is in the market for a new frigate. A frigate is very similar to a destroyer and cruiser, its two surface ship sisters, but there is a greater limit on its abilities. It does not have quite as large an armament, and its mission range—the distance it can safely and effectively sail—is smaller as well. Why then is such a vessel necessary?
A frigate would be an asset to a currently struggling United States Navy as a smaller ship can perform minor missions such as patrols or dissolve minor conflicts. A larger ship would consume more time and effort to complete these assignments.
Moreover, the US Navy has recently experimented with another destroyer variant similar to the size of a frigate called the Littoral Combat Ship, or LCS for short. However, it was largely a failure and the USS Independence and USS Freedom—the two LCS ships currently in commission—have been plagued with technical problems, perhaps in part to an unconventional design. As the LCS ships are largely insufficient, the Navy has decided to purchase a frigate.
This leads to another dilemma, which is what kind of frigate exactly to choose. The price is one of the determining factors. The Navy would overall like to have the cost under 800 million dollars.
Thomas Copeman, vice president of Raytheon Company for business development in air warfare systems, sums up the overarching need of a future frigate: “taking action in all the domains, and ensuring they are integrated and synchronized to achieve a military effect of some sort,” which essentially means the United States needs to find the right balance for the amount and organization of weapons systems and other naval assets. In addition, the new frigate should have reliability, survivability—to be shock-hardened, which is the capability to keep functioning even when damaged—speed, so that it can keep up with other vessels in the Navy, and a minimal crew requirement. This last point is very important since one of the reasons for 2017’s various naval accidents was understaffed crew on the ships involved. Again, the Navy needs to find the balance between potent weaponry and power but firm and reliable build.
There are several prominent designs, each of which have benefits and disadvantages. The Danish, French, and Spanish all have quality frigates—the Franco-Italian FREMM, the Spanish Navantia F105, and the Danish Stanflex. These are all under consideration, since they have been proven by various missions.
However, the Royal Navy’s future frigate design, Type 26 Global Combat Frigate, is also a prominent candidate. It has a large mission bay so it can adequately perform a great variety of missions, with an equally sizable helicopter landing deck. Along with a small boat deck capable of housing 4 RHIBs—Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat—the Type 26 is flexible for almost any type of mission. Although it doesn’t possess the speed of the LCS, it still meets the Navy’s requirements and can perform missions with the rest of the fleet. The main drawback from this model is its cost—6.6 billion USD—nearly as much as the US Navy’s destroyer. This means they would be paying the same amount for a ship that is less powerful.
The frigate could be used to protect larger warships or merchant ships as escort vessels. In addition, one of its main tasks would also be hunting and defeating submarines. Although a destroyer or cruiser could easily accomplish these jobs, it would be a waste of effort and time because of the time and men required to run the ship. Without a doubt, a frigate is in order.