Navy’s New Frigate Expected at Sea in 2024
By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy expects to field its new frigate in 2024 while it sustains the small combatant industrial base with an additional littoral combat ship (LCS) order in 2018.
Sean Stackley, acting secretary of the Navy, testifying June 15 before the Senate Armed Services Committee, said that for the 2018 budget the Navy is requesting “two littoral combat ships, one of which is to follow in an amended budget proposal.
“We are seeking your support as we transition from the littoral combat ship to a frigate design that will provide multimission capability and increased survivability for our small surface combatant program,” he said. “The three littoral combat ships appropriated in 2017 with the additional ships we are requesting this year help fill our gap with small surface combatants and ensure a healthy industrial base for a competitive frigate down-select in 2020.”
“We’re committed to moving toward a more capable, more lethal and survivable frigate program,” Adm. John Richardson, chief of naval operations, told the committee. “The threat has changed. It’s become more challenging. The way we operate has changed. We’re operating the fleet under new concepts and want that frigate to be relevant in a distributed maritime operational concept. The combination of those two, with any changes in the fiscal environment, has caused us to re-address the requirements for the frigate.
“By the time that we define the requirements — which we’re just about done with — we’ll work with industry to find what I call the knees and the curves as to what’s possible technologically on a cost, schedule and risk that’s definable,” he said. “I think 2020 is an aggressive target. If we can go faster, we will.”
“We’ll put a request for proposals out in 2018 to get the proposals in 2019 with an award in 2020,” Stackley said. “We would expect industry to complete their detailed design; it will take them a year to a year and a half to complete their detailed design while they order material, about a three-year build span. So, we would expect the frigate to be in the water ready for delivery in the 2024 time frame. If we can accelerate that, we will, but what we don’t want to do is incur additional risk. We don’t want to take on the risk they took on in the LCS program where they established non-realistic schedule, and proceeded when a design was not mature.”
Stackley said the frigate competition will be full and open.
“Both of our LCS builders are strong competitors for that future frigate,” he said. “We want to ensure that they are healthy competitors and they maintain their viability in the interim.
“The  budget reflects one ship in 2018. Congress added one ship in 2017, so our strategy at the time was we would take the three ships in 2017, combined with one in ’18 to ensure that each of the builders has a ship in ’17 and ’18 while we continue to look at 2019 and what unfolds in the industrial base in the interim. That is being revisited with regard to minimum sustaining rate — one per year — and then there is economic order quantity, which is three ships every two years per builder. We’re straddling those numbers and the decision was to add another ship in 2018, and that amended budget submission is pending.”
“We’re completely united with you to work with industry to accelerate this acquisition process as fast as we can,” Richardson said. “Moving into construction before you have a mature design is just a recipe for cost overruns and schedule delays.”