The Navy’s long-awaited future frigate program will be carefully scrutinized in the new House Armed Services Committee (HASC) seapower subcommittee, the likely new subcommittee chair said Jan. 16.

Speaking at the annual Surface Navy Association conference in Arlington, Virginia, Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), the former seapower ranking member, said the FFG(X) program’s numerous decision delays have caused “frustration” on the Hill.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Feb. 22, 2016) — Capt. John F. Meier, Pre-commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford’s (CVN 78) commanding officer, talks with Rep. Joe Courtney of Connecticut in his in-port cabin during a scheduled visit to the ship. Ford is scheduled for commissioning in 2016. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Patrick Grieco/Released)

“The frigate program has been one that we have been eagerly awaiting a decision by the Navy,” Courtney said Wednesday. “There is frustration about the fact that it keeps getting pushed back and delayed.”

The Navy announced plans to delay the contract award for the future frigate until 2020 during a May 2017 House Armed Services Committee hearing (Defense Daily, May 4, 2017). The service awarded five conceptual design contracts for $15 million each in February 2018, according to an October 2018 Congressional Research Service report. Those contracts went to Austal USA; Huntington Ingalls Industry Ingalls Shipbuilding [HII], Lockheed Martin [LMT]; Fincantieri/Marinette Marine; and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works [GD].

“How we handle that – if there is going to be another request for another delay – is going to be, frankly, a headache for us this year,” Courtney said, adding, “I’m hoping that we’re going to get more positive news than we’ve had in the last couple of years in terms of the timeliness of that.”

The service plans to procure a total of 20 vessels, with the first ship award in FY ’20 and the second award in FY ’21. It is hoping to achieve a unit cost of about $800 million, with a cost ceiling of $950 million for the FFG(X) program, Rear Adm. John Neagley, PEO Littoral Combat Ship said at the 2018 SNA conference (Defense Daily, Jan. 11, 2018). Back then, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) was expected to award between four and six conceptual design contracts lasting for a 16-month performance period by mid-2018.

Congress authorized nearly $133 million in research-and-development funds for the future frigate program in the fiscal year 2019 budget. The FY ’20 Presidential Budget request is expected to be revealed Feb. 8, and Courtney said the seapower subcommittee would be watching how the budget plays out “like a hawk.”

Courtney is likely to take the subcommittee gavel for the 116th Congress, but official HASC sub nominations have not yet been revealed and are subject to approval by the full committee.

Final committee member selections were made on Tuesday, Courtney noted. The committee is known for its bipartisan nature and Courtney would continue that heritage should he be chosen to lead, he added. “Maintaining that bipartisan, productive results-oriented tradition is certainly the priority that I can bring to the gavel if things go well over the next couple of weeks or so,” he said.