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The US Navy Tried to Sink an Old Oliver Hazard Perry Frigate

Sink Oliver Hazard Perry
Image: Creative Commons.

The Perry-class was designed for convoy escort—but managed to do more than that. Here’s why they were so hard to sink.

Fearsome Frigates

The Oliver Hazard Perry-class are frigates, and were originally envisioned as escort platforms for anti-aircraft and anti-submarine warfare while crossing the Atlantic Ocean.

In the event of a war with the Soviet Union, the Perry-class would defend open-ocean convoys, like merchant ships or amphibious warfare ships. Today, they are able to conduct surveillance, interception operations, and other escort duties and are noted for their durability.

The Oliver Hazard Perry-class also has the distinction of being the first computer-designed ship, which was designed and planned by the first female program manager in the U.S. Navy, Raye Montague. The Navy had budgeted a month for the ship design, but Montague was able to complete the design in a mere nineteen hours with computer aids.

Rugged

The Oliver Hazard Perry-class are known for their robustness and durability. In 2016, a retired Perry-class was towed out to sea, where the U.S. Navy used it as target practice, proving the class’ durability.

It was hit by “a Harpoon missile launched by a South Korean submarine, the ROKS Lee Eokgi. Next, the Australian frigate HMAS Ballarat launched another Harpoon, and an Australian SH-60S helicopter shot it with a Hellfire missile. U.S. maritime patrol aircraft then hit it with Harpoon and Maverick missiles.”

But that was only the beginning for the frigate, as more ordinance was inbound.

“The cruiser USS Princeton hit it with yet another Harpoon missile, and an American SH-60S Navy chopper hit it with more Hellfires. U.S. Navy F/A-18 Hornets lobbed a 2,000 pound Mk. 84 bomb at it, and a U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber dropped a GBU-12 Paveway laser guided 500 pound bomb on it. A U.S. Navy submarine got into the action, striking it with a Mk. 48 torpedo.” All of this to sink a single Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate.

Ghetto Navy

Yet the Perry-class was heavily criticized from their beginning and were not America’s favored warships. More expensive, more highly-capable destroyers, like those equipped with the latest AEGIS system, drew precious funding dollars.

Also over a decade ago the standard SM-1R missiles the Perry-class had for air defense were badly needed an upgrade. But rather than modernizing them, a simple chain gun was swapped into their place. Not exactly an improvement.

Reactivation

In 2017, there was talk of reactivating some of the mothballed Perry-class frigates for use in combating drug smuggling or for Arctic patrol. Quite a few Perry-class frigates were in storage and had been stripped of their weapons systems.

Getting the Navy up to 355 ships had been a Navy priority, and reactivating some of the Perry-class would have cost only $35,000 per hull.

“With obsolete combat systems and aging hulls, these vessels would require significant upgrades to remain warfighting relevant for another decade,” according to a U.S. Navy document, which explained that money for the Perry’s would be better used elsewhere.

“Any potential return on investment would be offset by high reactivation and life-cycle costs, a small ship inventory, limited service life, and substantial capability gaps. Furthermore…these costs would likely come at the expense of other readiness, modernization or shipbuilding programs.” The frigates were never reactivated.

Still, one of their successor classes, the Independence-class is far from perfect, and has many problems.

Into the Deep

The original Oliver Hazard Perry-class was commissioned in 1977, and the last Perry-class was decommissioned in 2015—nearly forty years of service.

Not bad for a cheap, computer-generated design that was stripped of its defenses and ridiculed within the Navy. Not bad at all.

Caleb Larson is a Defense Writer with The National Interest. 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.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Rich King

    September 21, 2021 at 7:53 pm

    I served onboard The USS Jack Williams FFG-24, which was sold to the country Bahrain in 1996

  2. Tim Palm

    September 21, 2021 at 8:31 pm

    Spent 5 years on one. 3 deployments and we were only down one time. It was a blast and they sent us anywhere.

  3. Ernest C massie

    September 22, 2021 at 9:10 am

    Navy has had some complete wads in charge for spme time. Whoever bought into the LCS progran, the umpteen uniform changes, first dumping frigates, then bringing back a poor facsimile, same with LSTs, now trying to dump cruisers. Do they work for China and Russia??

  4. Dennis Chalut

    September 22, 2021 at 10:52 am

    Never served but I have been an advocate of saving good old ships and aircraft but the perry class I have been watching since 1975 as deviloped . I was impressed. Now scrapping them ? Keep them in service .
    Wake up pentagon new is not always better .

  5. Bruno Padovani

    September 22, 2021 at 8:21 pm

    The Perry’s had strong robust hulls. Two of them (Stark and Roberts) were struck by a Harpoon and a mine respectively, and survived. Assuming reasonable remaining life on their hulls, they should be put back into service, with upgraded combat systems, many of which are much more modular than combat systems were 25 years ago. Easier to install, and easier to transfer onto another hull in 10 years. We should not trust the people who gave us the LCS to make a good decision regarding the Perry’s.

  6. Slobodan Schmidt

    September 22, 2021 at 10:50 pm

    I spent five long years on a Perry class. I have to say that I think years should be spent designing ships if these are an example of ships designed in a hurry.

  7. Vince Pascual

    December 11, 2021 at 12:24 am

    So, it would cost too much to reactivate these “tough little ships” but yet, our allies are STILL using them. Any how is our LCS program working out? And how much did these cost the American taxpayer? Isn’t the Navy retiring a couple of the LCS’s early?
    Reactivating the remaining Perrys to do tasks like drug interdiction, patrolling our coastal waters would free ships like the Arleigh Burke class destroyers to do more front line work like protecting our carriers.
    I’d rather invest in putting these tough frigates back to sea by adding a VLS right in front of the bridge with a 57mm DP computer controlled gun up front and upgraded sensors and radars. You know what? Everything costs money.
    These Perrys can still do convoy duty and escort carriers. Didn’t the Navy also want to reach the 355 ships goal to keep up with the Chinese? Who the hell is running the Navy?

  8. Nathan

    May 19, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    That was my old home, USS Rentz FFG-46(94-97). Watched the sinkex, was heartbroken to loose her but proud she was such a tough gal in her final moments.

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