As part of its FY2018 budget submission, the U.S. Navy has initiated a new program, called the FFG(X) program, to build a new class of guided-missile frigates. The U.S. Navy wants to procure the first FFG(X) in FY2020, a second FFG(X) in FY2021, and two FFG(X)s per year starting in FY2022. Given current Navy force-structure goals, the U.S. Navy might procure a total of 8 to 20 FFG(X)s. The U.S. Navy’s proposed FY2018 budget requests $143.5 million in research and development funding for the program.
U.S. Navy frigates are smaller, less capable, and less expensive to procure and operate than U.S. Navy destroyers and cruisers. In contrast to cruisers and destroyers, which are designed to operate in higher-threat areas, frigates are generally intended to operate more in lower-threat areas. The U.S. Navy envisages the FFG(X) as a multimission ship capable of conducting Anti-Air Warfare (AAW, aka air defense) operations, Anti-Surface Warfare operations (ASuW, meaning operations against enemy surface ships and craft), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) operations, and Electromagnetic Maneuver Warfare (EMW) operations (EMW is a new term for electronic warfare).
Although the U.S. Navy has not yet determined the design of the FFG(X), given the desired capabilities just mentioned, the ship will likely be larger in terms of displacement, more heavily armed, and more expensive to procure than the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs). The U.S. Navy envisages developing no new technologies or systems for the FFG(X) – the ship is to use systems and technologies that already exist or are already being developed for use in other programs.
The U.S. Navy’s desire to procure the first FFG(X) in FY2020 does not allow enough time to develop a completely new design (i.e., a clean-sheet design) for the FFG(X). (Using a clean-sheet design might defer the procurement of the first ship to about FY2023.) Consequently, the U.S. Navy intends to build the FFG(X) to a modified version of an existing ship design – an approach called the parent-design approach. The parent design could be a U.S. ship design or a foreign ship design. The U.S. Navy intends to conduct a full and open competition to select the builder of the FFG(X), including proposals based on either U.S. or foreign ship designs. Given the currently envisaged procurement rate of two ships per year, the U.S. Navy envisages using a single builder to build the ships.
The FFG(X) program presents several potential oversight issues for Congress, including the following:
- whether to approve, reject, or modify the U.S. Navy’s FY2018 funding request for the program;
- whether the U.S. Navy has accurately identified the capability gaps and mission needs to be addressed by the program;
- whether procuring a new class of FFGs is the best or most promising general approach for addressing the identified capability gaps and mission needs;
- the U.S. Navy’s proposed acquisition strategy for the program, including the U.S. Navy’s intent to use a parent-design approach for the program rather than develop an entirely new (i.e., clean-sheet) design for the ship;
- the potential implications of the FFG(X) program for the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base; and
- whether the initiation of the FFG(X) program has any implications for required numbers or capabilities of U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers.