Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. John Richardson and the service’s top acquisition official recently validated the future frigate’s, FFG(X), requirements and said the process is proceeding as scheduled.
This validation comes after the Navy highlights its interaction with industry leading up to requirements finalization for the frigate, seeking to avoid problems and delays in the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The LCS and FFG(X) will count as the Navy’s small surface combatants toward its goal of a 355-ship fleet.
Vice Adm. William Merz, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Warfare Systems (OPNAV N9) told the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower on Nov. 27 that while the Navy “took some lumps on the LCS, we learned a lot” and lessons were rolled into the frigate acquisition process.
“The frigate process is a new process for us,” Merz said. “We brought industry in early to discuss how the requirements play out, using their expertise to really discover the art of possible before we set the requirements.”
While that created some anxiety up front, Merz said it has led the Navy to get a good ship for a good price point to avoid the pitfalls from problems in previous ship classes.
James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, told the committee the frigate’s acquisition strategy has been helped by specifying a need for a parent design and the interactive and integrative requirements discussions with industry that Merz mentioned.
Geurts said he and the CNO validated the requirements only after nearly a year of the iterative conversations with competitors. The process looked at cost, risk, and schedule impacts of potential requirements changes. He said this led to a good balance of affordability, achievability and operational effectiveness.
Geurts said the Navy is currently drafting the request for proposals (RFP), and expects to have a draft RFP ready for industry in the spring followed by a final RFP ready by the end of FY ’19.
The Navy expects to award a construction contract in FY ’20 and purchase 20 ships total.
“So that program remains on track and I’m confident we will execute that to plan,” Geurts told the subcommittee.
Geurts also affirmed that funding in the FY ’19 defense appropriations bill to buy three LCSs rather than the requested one is not expected to change the number of frigates the Navy procures.
In May, before the defense appropriations and authorization bills were approved, he said additional LCSs ordered by Congress would not change the service’s plan for 20 frigates (Defense Daily, May 2).
While the assistant secretary confirmed the FFG(X) program will have full and open competition, in February the Navy awarded contracts to five shipbuilders to mature their designs: Austal USA, Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], Lockheed Martin [LMT], Fincantieri Marinette Marine, and General Dynamics [GD] Bath Iron Works (Defense Daily, Feb. 16).
Austal is pitching a modified version of its Independence-variant LCS, Lockheed Martin is offering a version of its Freedom-variant LCS, Fincantieri Marinette is offering a variant of the Italian FREMM frigate, GD is working with Spain’s Navantia to offer a version of the F100 frigate, and HII has not publicly stated its offering but previously presented a variant of its Legend-class Coast Guard National Security Cutter as a patrol frigate.