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The Navy’s Constellation-Class Frigate: Built To Sink Anything?

Constellation-Class Frigate
Image: Rendering of USS Constellation (FFG-62). Fincantieri media handout.

Although not necessarily as capable as the Arleigh Burke-class, the new frigates could be armed with the Navy’s newest and most potent anti-ship missiles.

A New Frigate Is Coming

A new report from the Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan public policy research institute, provided more details into the Navy’s new frigate, the Constellation-class. The report shows how the Navy’s ships will differ from their parent design, the Italian-French FREMM (Fregata Europea Multi-Missione) frigate.

Building a new class of warships is not an easy task, nor is it cheap. Take the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, the Freedom and Independence-classes — those ships’ budgets ballooned, triggering a Congressionally-mandated production halt. That’s why the U.S. Navy opted to modify an existing design rather than build a from-scratch plan from the ground up.

The Details

“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 Congressional Research Service report on the Constellation-class explained. “U.S. Navy frigates perform many of the same peacetime and wartime missions as U.S. Navy cruisers and destroyers, but since frigates are intended to do so in lower-threat areas, they are equipped with fewer weapons, less-capable radars and other systems, and less engineering redundancy and survivability than cruisers and destroyers.”

One of the primary differences between the Italo-French design and its American counterpart is length: the Constellation-class will be over 23 feet longer. The Navy anticipates using the additional space to accommodate larger, more powerful generators and provide future growth flexibility. Likewise, the Constellation-class’ total displacement increased by about 500 tons. In addition, the Constellation-class’ propellers will be fixed-pitch “for improved acoustic signature.”

Constellation-Class ships would free up Navy destroyers to undertake anti-surface and anti-air roles by performing duties like convoy escort and anti-submarine warfare in their stead. Still, the Constellation-class would be no slouch if push came to shove.

The Navy would potentially like to arm the frigates with the Naval Strike Missile, an over-the-horizon weapon, and newer extended range Harpoon anti-ship missiles, significantly augmenting the class’ firepower against surface ships.

Postscript

Although the Constellation-class frigates would not be nearly as capable as the Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, especially in an anti-air role, the class could offer a potent anti-submarine and anti-surface ship capability. In addition, if the Navy chooses to integrate the Naval Strike Missile and extended range Harpoon missile onto the platform, the new frigates could be quite capable. And by modifying an already existing design, the new class is less likely to cause massive budget overruns seen in previous Navy programs.

In total, the Navy would like to procure 20 Constellation-class ships, with the first 15 hulls expected by 2026.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer based in Europe. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

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.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. Shellback33

    September 30, 2021 at 10:34 pm

    Doesn’t Evan look like a US Navy Ship of war!

  2. Barondog

    September 30, 2021 at 11:47 pm

    It should come as no surprize that the Constellation class increased in both size and displacement during the design process. This has been the norm for warships since the turn of the century. The question is what is the USN getting in capability for this growth and what is it cost? As these changes were planned by the USN and the contractor there is no need for concern. I just hope that these are still multi mission capable ships. They seem to be powerful anti surface ship and anti submarine platforms. But what about air defense? Certainly that would be a mission these ships would be expected to carry out as well. For 80% the price of a destroyer I do not think that is an unreasonable expectation. These frigates are exactly what the Navy said it was not building mini destroyers. But that is not an issue so long as all the capabilities are needed.

  3. Robert Gregory

    October 1, 2021 at 2:50 am

    Get rid of the pop gun and replace it with a 5” 62.

  4. Duane

    October 1, 2021 at 7:42 am

    While the Conny sounds sensible as the author describes the Conny’s, that’s not the reality.

    The Connies will cost at $1.5B (minimum – virtually certainly much more when they get to producing them) almost as much as an Arleigh Burke destroyer, but with vastly less capability. The Connie is most certainly not an off the shelf product – virtually every system on it is US GFE and therefore has never before been integrated onto the FREMM hulls. It was never produced in the US before either. So the costs and schedule in reality are going to be far higher/longer than the Navy has promised.

    The LCS offerings, however, already have most of the US GFE already well integrated into their hulls, with years of operating experience, and both variants have existing hot production lines in the USA. Meaning the costs will be far more predictable and the production schedule far more reliable.

    If the Navy really wanted a low cost frigate, it would have selected either of the LCS designs, which cost only 1/2 what a Connie costs and would have provided identical capability in terms of guns, missiles, sensors, ASW, etc.

    What the Navy stupidly did was to cave into the ship hating LCS trolls who hated LCS from the get go because it was not a destroyer. These are the “destroyer mafia”, most of them old fart retirees and professional media sh*t disturbers and naval critics.

    The problem with the Conny design is that it fits exactly into the anti-sweet spot of surface combatant design. So large (6,500 tons) that is is really a destroyer sized vessel, and you pay for ships by the ton (exceeding $1.5 Billion a hull,at least as promised, but we all know that number is going up) vs. $2.0 B for a AB. Yet the Connies come with only a 32 cell VLS – 1/3 that of an Arleigh Burke DDG.

    So hey, get 1/3 of the capability for 75% of the cost! What’s not to like about that formula! That is, if you don’t do math.

    The LCS designs come in at around 3,800 to 4,000 tons – a perfect frigate size – and would have cost less than half of what a Connie costs, but provide exactly the same weapons and sensors, and BETTER aviation capability, especially on the Indy class design with its huge flight deck and hangar bay.

    The Navy needs to ignore the destroyer mafia and the ship hating trolls, and get back to the business of designing and building and operating cost effective ships, which they are certainly NOT doing with the Conny class of frigate.

  5. Duane

    October 1, 2021 at 7:50 am

    The Mk 110 57 mm is no “pop gun” as the stupid ignorant critics claim. It is the perfect gun weapon for a modern surface combatant. Nobody will ever use deck guns again for ship to ship combat – that’s why we’ve had guided missiles on ships for the last 60 years. Guns are useful only against small surface vessels, and against incoming aircraft and missiles.

    The extreme high rate of fire of the 57 mm gun (over 220 rounds per minute – at least ten times the firing rate of our 5 inch naval guns), combined with multiple precision guided munitions (with multi-targeting modes, both IR imaging and laser guided) will put far more rounds into the target than any other naval gun in history. A single round from a precision guided, blast-frag warhead with proximity fuse, has been proven time and time again to completely take out a small attack craft with a single round. Small attack craft are the primary threats to surface warships today.

    The old mindset on guns that bigger is better has been obsolete since WW Two.

  6. MICHAEL D DIRMEIER

    October 1, 2021 at 10:43 am

    Given that it is the USN, most likely it is designed to sink at any moment. It should not be that way, but a Woke military isn’t interested in ships that actually work.

  7. BenW

    October 1, 2021 at 10:55 am

    The frigate lacks a hull mounted sonar and ASW system so its anti-sub role will be lacking.

  8. Chuck

    October 1, 2021 at 11:02 am

    What does “woke” have to do with the USN’s competence or lack thereof in the fiscal challenges and design creep traps of shipbuilding? Go troll someplace else.

  9. nkawtg

    October 1, 2021 at 11:27 am

    So the Constellation Class Frigate is 7 feet short of the Arleigh Burke class destroyer. So why call it a Frigate?

  10. William Kelly

    October 1, 2021 at 11:51 am

    Before we give this to the Taliban, we should at least have the courtesy to ask them what they want on it.

  11. thelaine

    October 1, 2021 at 1:23 pm

    Thank God they are moving on from the cursed LCS financial fiasco. At least they have admitted that the LCS proves that they can no longer be trusted to build a surface ship class from scratch. Never has so much money been poured into a ship with so little return. John McCain was right. The LCS was a money pit. The defenders of the LCS are the financial leeches and cash beneficiaries of this financial disaster of a ship who have zero compunction about screwing the taxpayers into oblivion and never stop lying about it. They are so greedy they wanted the cursed LCS to be the new US destroyer. As long as the gravy train continues, they are happy, regardless of the cost to the people who pay the bills. The whole point of the LCS was to create a cash machine for the defense contractors. If we had devoted the time and resources to a proper new frigate instead of the LCS, we would have a whole fleet of them in service now, instead of the pathetic LCS, which has given us the worst return on investment of anything afloat. Its greedy defenders should declare their conflicts of interest, but they won’t, because they have no shame.

  12. Jim

    October 1, 2021 at 3:40 pm

    I’d rather have the MUCH advanced Zumwalt class funded! Each was $3 BILLION a copy, but that was due to all the R&D that went into these. Would new Zumwalt’s cost a much more reasonable $1.5 – $2.0 BILLION>
    They were designed to be and ARE the most advanced destroyer in the world, and not that they have FINALLY determined what arms to carry, they have been excellent in their performance.

  13. Geoff

    October 30, 2021 at 2:34 am

    If they don’t arm it with anti ship missiles they shouldn’t build it, the longer range ASM would be the better choice

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