The Navy’s ambitious effort to accelerate the production and delivery of its emerging Constellation-class Frigates seems to align with clearly defined objectives in support of the service’s continued shift toward great power, blue-water maritime warfare – that means worries about China and or Russia.
The Navy plans to acquire as many as 15 new Frigates within five years.
New Frigates: Warships with New Roles
These new warships will be tasked with many missions, including a requirement to find and destroy small swarming boat attacks, support carrier strike groups, conduct dis-aggregated operations, attack enemies with an over-the-horizon missile, and engage in advanced surface and anti-submarine warfare.
The new ships come in at 496 feet long and will displace 7,300 tons. By design, the frigate’s size and weight specifications are intended to fit between littoral combat ships and DDG 51 destroyers. While the frigates are not being built with the kinds of armaments used on destroyers, they will still be armed with heavy weapons, Aegis radar, and missile-launching vertical launch systems. A Navy essay on the ship says the new Constellation-class ships will include cutting-edge Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar, an emerging threat detection system able to perform air defenses and surveillance in support of maritime combat missions. The ships are also well armed, as they are being built with Mk 41 Vertical Launch Systems, Mk 110 57mm Gun Weapon Systems, and a suite of electronic warfare (EW) technologies, service information says.
The integration of Aegis Radar Baseline 10 is quite significant, as it incorporates a software suite connecting a combat system to include fire control, advanced radar, computing, and an ability to identify targets and launch interceptor weapons.
The Navy vision for the ship class, which was envisioned several years ago, seems to emphasize warfare networking priorities through the use of terms like “blue force sensor and weapon influence.” Navy plans have long called for establishing a local sensor network using passive onboard sensors and “embarked aircraft” to act as a “gateway to the fleet tactical grid,” as Navy documents describe it. This Navy vision was expressed by the service’s call for a netted system of sensors called Cooperative Engagement Capability, intended to connect radar systems to other sensor-derived information.
A concept of networking is integral to the idea of linking the new Frigate with other large surface platforms such as cruisers, destroyers, and even carriers to accomplish what the Navy’s initial Request For Information identified as a need for area air defense and the ability to defend against raids of small boats.
A well-armed ship, which is what the emerging structure of the ship clearly seems to be according to Fincantieri graphic renderings published by NAVSEA, is consistent with the Navy’s previously articulated plan for the ship, which envisioned a platform that could travel in substantial aggregated combat scenarios such as Carrier Strike Groups and Expeditionary Strike Groups. At the same time, in a manner likely aligned with the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations strategy, the concept for the ship also likely incorporates a requirement for the ship to be able to operate somewhat autonomously or separated from other ships in close proximity and operate drones to enable more disaggregated, independent missions.
Kris Osborn is the Military Affairs Editor of 19FortyFive and President of Warrior Maven – Center for Military Modernization. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.