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Constellation: Meet the Navy’s New Guided-Missile Frigate

Constellation-class
An artist rendering of the U.S. Navy guided-missile frigate FFG(X). The new small surface combatant will have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations. The design is based on the FREMM multipurpose frigate. A contract for ten ships was awarded to Marinette Marine Corporation, Wisconsin (USA), on 30 April 2020.

The United States Navy would like to procure a total of 20 Constellation-class frigates. Here’s what we know.

Frigates

Unlike destroyers or cruisers, which are designed from the outset to operate in high-threat maritime environments, frigates are designed to operate in lower-threat environments. And while there is a great deal of overlap between the type of missions that cruisers, frigates, and destroyers can perform, frigates are generally less heavily armed with less capable radar systems and a smaller weapon loadout.

This is not to say that frigates are not useful; frigates can provide navies with a more economical solution for low-threat tasks. Pairing less-capable but more cost-effective frigates with cruisers and destroyers has been called a high-low mix and a solution for providing navies with a platform to conduct peacetime operations and combat missions. 

To that end, frigates can undertake humanitarian aid and disaster relief and anti-piracy operations and escort or training/engagement missions with allied countries while able to keep pace with more capable naval ships and conduct anti-surface warfare, anti-submarine ops, and air defense operations.

Constellation-class

Building new a new ship class from scratch is no easy task — and not always cheap either. The U.S. Navy is keenly aware of this after their last from-scratch classes, the Freedom and Independence-class of Littoral Combat Ships ballooned in price, triggering a Congressionally-mandated production halt.

To protect the new Constellation-class frigates from a similar fate, the Navy is using a parent-design approach that modifies an existing frigate design to the needs of the U.S. Navy. The Navy hopes that this approach will reduce design time and cost, keep production on schedule and help reduce technical design challenges. The parent design is the FREMM multipurpose frigate, built by Fincantieri Marinette Marine, an Italian shipbuilder. Though somewhat larger than the Italian parent, the Navy expects that much of the design will remain the same, particularly the ship’s propulsion and bridge.

In keeping with the typical frigate mission profile, the new Constellation-class will be “multimission small surface combatants capable of conducting anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), antisubmarine warfare (ASW), and electromagnetic warfare (EMW) operations,” according to Congressional Research Service documentation. In addition, the new class is to be “capable of operating in both blue water (i.e., midocean) and littoral (i.e., near-shore) area, and capable of operating either independently (when that is appropriate for its assigned mission) or as part of larger Navy formations.”

Ultimately the U.S. Navy would like the Constellation-class frigates to be very flexible, sink over-the-horizon surface ships, help escort surface ship groups in part by detecting enemy submarines and defending convoys while networking with larger surface ships. These are tasks that frigates have traditionally undertaken and would free up higher-end and more expensive destroyers to undertake other roles.

Constellation-class

Imager: Fincantieri handout.

Still, the Constellation-class would be no slouch at sinking enemy ships. Once it enters service, one of the class’s potential armaments could be the Naval Strike Missile, a potent over-the-horizon ship-killer. Though currently aboard the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, the Naval Strike Missile has great potential across the U.S. Navy. Additionally, the newest, extended range Harpoon anti-ship missile could further augment the Constellation-class’ firepower.

Postscript

Although the first of the U.S. Navy’s new Constellation-class frigates have yet to leave shipyards, the first 15 hulls are expected by 2026. 

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer based in Europe. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Written By

Caleb Larson, a defense journalist based in Europe and holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the Willy Brandt School of Public Policy. He lives in Berlin and writes on U.S. and Russian foreign and defense policy, German politics and culture.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. L.Elscot

    August 25, 2021 at 8:05 am

    The start of your article is not the best. Dutch frigates have one of the most sophisticated radar systems. Even better than what USN got. So inform yourself better!

  2. dms

    August 25, 2021 at 10:42 am

    Sweet. Finally, something good has emerged from the failed LCS fiasco. Imagine…we could already have a fleet of these beauties if we hadn’t spent so much time and money on the LCS disaster.

  3. Paul

    August 25, 2021 at 10:55 am

    Nothing has emerged yet. DDG-1000 Guns don’t work as the ship still isn’t upto advertised capacity. LCS had four ships mothball early. This is a design by a Foreign nation – Italy. Let’s hope it’s better than cars.

  4. Barry Wood

    August 25, 2021 at 11:04 am

    Thanks to the ONI and it’s NATO allies in putting a stop to Sun Tzu’s latest “incarnation”. We can only hope that when Taiwan is attacked there are a couple of German army divisions nearby to assist in securing the island and fill the prisoner of war cages.

  5. dumpster4

    August 25, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Will the lack of a hull-mounted sonar and the lack of ship-mounted torpedo tubes be a problem?

  6. Steven Lodahl

    August 25, 2021 at 11:23 pm

    Dust off the WW II plans for the light cruisers, give them a redesign which gives them two three-gun turrets forward mounting 8-inch gun, install multiple CIWS systems and CHAFF dispensers on both sides mid-length of the hull, install a hangar towards the aft with the capability of carrying 3 helos or a mix of helos and drones.

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