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As delegates gather for the Surface Navy Association 2020 meet in Crystal City, VA, a spokesperson in the Office of Corporate Communication at US Naval Sea Systems Command confirmed to MON that the US Navy’s (USN) FFG(X) programme of record remains for a class of 20 guided-missile frigates. The service’s current budget calls for the buy of the first FFG(X) in fiscal year (FY) 2020, the next 18 at a rate of two per year in FYs 2021-29 and the 20th in FY2030.

The Navy intends to build the FFG(X) to a modified version of an existing ship design—an approach the service calls the parent-design approach. This parent design could either be a US or a foreign ship design.

To that end, four industry teams are on record to compete for the FFG(X) programme. An important differentiator among these teams is that two are reportedly proposing to build their designs at the two shipyards that have been building the US Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) – Austal USA in Mobile, AL  and Fincantieri/Marinette Marine of Marinette, WI. The other two teams are reportedly proposing to build their FFG(X) designs at General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works in Bath, ME and Huntington Ingalls Industries/Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, MS.

The Fincantieri-led team, which includes Gibbs & Cox and Trident Maritime Systems, plans to adapt the prime contractor’s ‘best‐in‐class’ FREMM frigate, already in service for the Italian Navy since 2012, as the basis for its bid.

The NAVSEA spokesperson further confirmed the service expects to award an FF(G)X contract “in the fourth quarter [July-September] of fiscal year 2020,” and continued, “The Navy will award one base ship with options for nine ships to the selected bidder. Source selection specifics cannot be discussed.” 

So, how will Navy acquire the second tranche of FF(G)X? The spokesperson responded, “A second procurement activity would notionally take place in the FY 2025 timeframe.  The specific acquisition strategy for these ships will be determined in the coming years.”  

The Navy is on record that the new FFG(X) is to be fitted with an AEGIS-derived COMBATSS-21 combat management system, a C4I suite, an Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) and a Mk53 Decoy Launching System (NULKA), in addition to an unmanned aerial system (UAS), an MH-60R helicopter and other systems. Asked whether any of this or any other onboard content can be from non-US sources, under International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) and other restrictions, the spokesperson responded, “The FFG(X) will deliver common Government Furnished Equipment.” 

Of additional significance is the Navy’s previously-stated special interest in the ship’s vertical launch cells to potentially support the EVOLVED SEA SPARROW Block 2 and/or STANDARD Missile-2 Active missiles. Asked to confirm whether other missiles might be fitted on the new FFG(X) in the VLS or separate canisters, the service spokesperson replied, “The FFG(X) has requirements to include the MK 41 Vertical Launching System (VLS). The VLS has the capability to carry and launch a multitude of missile types consistent with the capability of the installed combat system. Specific missile types and numbers cannot be discussed publicly.

                                                                                                                                Marty Kauchak in Virginia for MON

Fincantieri Marine Group plans to adapt its FREMM frigate design, already in Italian Navy service since 2012, in its bid for the US Navy’s new FFG(X). (Photo: Fincantieri)

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