NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Navy is planning to bring in candidates to be a second Constellation

-class (FFG-62) frigate shipbuilder early in the process before competition to minimize difficulties and added costs.

Capt. Kevin Smith, program manager of the new frigate class, PMS-515, admitted that “there’s been a lot of discussion from the last administration into the current administration about where we’re going to go.”

“It’s pre-decisional in the Navy right now but we do have in our contract a Technical Data Package (TDP) that we can exercise that option all the way into the 10th ship. So our intent is that, at some point based on a profile, we can exercise that TDP and then work with candidate yards interested and then start building up on a second source and doing a competition in the future,” Smith said during a briefing at the Navy League’s annual 2021 Sea Air Space expo Monday here.

However, Smith reiterated the timing of the decision is “pre-decisional.”

A TDP entails the technical and manufacturing information needed to build and support a system throughout its lifecycle. In this case, the TDP would allow the Navy to award a second shipyard to build the frigate.

The Navy awarded Fincantieri’s Marinette Marine a $795 million contract in 2020 for the detail design and construction of the first frigate as well as options for the following nine ships (Defense Daily, April 30, 2020).

Last year, former Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said the Navy intended to procure more than the 20 planned frigates, with plans to buy up to 70 small surface combatant vessels. The small surface combatant category consists of Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) and over Constellation-class frigates (Defense Daily, Oct. 29, 2020).

At the time Braithwaite said the Navy originally projected 20 frigates but now planned to build more.

The Navy’s last full 30-year shipbuilding plan, released in December and shortly before the Biden administration came into office, had the Navy planning to add a second frigate shipyard to ultimately procure four vessels per year (Defense Daily, Dec. 10, 2020).

Smith also said before the Navy contracts for a second yard, it intends to first iron out design maturity, production maturity, and the other first ship class “kind of woes, so we need to take that into account.”

He said some of the risk the service is working to minimize involves integrating various government-furnished equipment and program of record systems used on other vessels into the frigate’s Aegis Combat System.

The FFG-62 is set to feature systems like Aegis Baseline 10 combat system, a Raytheon Technologies [RTX] Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) from the SPY-6 family of radars, 32 Vertical Launching System (VLS) cells, the Raytheon and Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM), and SLQ-32(V)6 Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block II devices

Smith argued the Navy’s vision for a potential second shipyard is similar to how it built the Ticonderoga-class CG-47 cruisers or currently builds the Arleigh Burke-class DDG-51 destroyers as class designs with a lead and follow yard concept with class-standard equipment.

As opposed to the LCS, “we’re not going to have different variants of the frigate. It’s going to be the same class design much like” Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] led CG-47 with General Dynamics Bath Iron Works [GD] following production and currently with Bath leading production on destroyers with HII as a subcontractor building them as well.

Smith said the Navy’s plan is to bring in candidate second yards in early phases prior to the competitive stage of a second source competition “to make sure they learn the design as much as possible.”

He compared this to how the Navy worked with industry on the initial design or the frigate to make sure all competitors understood the design requirements with a parent hull design.

Rather than just provide the TDP, “It’s going to be much more collaborative, so that’s another approach we’re trying to take to make sure we can burn down the risk. So we’re trying to be smart about it, we don’t want to have a huge learning curve at the second yard.”

He said second yards often have a learning curve from different cultures and production processes anyway, but this way the Navy can help smooth some of the differences.

“Our thought was – get them in early so they learn how are they going to build that design so they will learn how are they going to build that design so that they can work through a lot of those issues.”

In May, the Navy awarded Fincantieri a $554 million modification to build the second ship, named the future USS Congress (FFG(63) (Defense Daily, May 21).

The new frigates are based on Fincantieri’s FREMM multi-mission frigate built for the Italian and French navies.