The U.S. Navy posted a Request for Information (RFI) on July 10 with details what capabilities it is seeking in its future frigate program, the Guided Missile Frigate (FFG(X)).

Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) said in the posting to FedBizOpps that it envisions a competition for the FFG(X) to consider existing parent designs for a Small Surface Combatant that can be modified to accommodate the capability requirements of the Navy.

The post said the Navy is interested in the frigate to provide combatant and fleet commanders with an asset to achieve sea control objectives and perform maritime security operations while facilitating access in all domains in support of strike group and aggregate fleet operations.

The RFI’s main objective are to understand industry’s parent designs and their ability to integrate both warfare system elements and threshold requirements into the new FFG(X) design; understand the sensitivities to the parent designs for integrating the warfare systems or threshold requirements; and understand the drivers in non-recurring engineering, recurring engineering, production schedule, and operations and support costs.

The ship has two purposes: support combatant and fleet commanders by supplementing the fleet’s undersea and surface warfare capabilities, allow for independent operations in a contested environment, extend the fleet tactical grid, and host/control unmanned systems as well as relieve larger vessels from stressing routine duties during operations other than war.

The RFI highlighted the frigate will use unmanned systems “to penetrate and swell in contested environments, operating at greater risk to gain sensor and weapons advantages over the adversary.” The FFG(X) is also planned to be capable of establishing a local sensor network via onboard passive sensors, embarked aircraft, elevated/tethered systems, and unmanned vehicles to gather information. This network will then act as a gateway to the fleet tactical grid using resilient communications networks.

NAVSEA separates the FFG(X) ship operations into three phases. During Phase 0, called Shape the Battlespace, the FFG(X) will operate independently to develop recognized maritime and air pictures, perform presence missions, conduct security cooperation activities, support humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HA/DR) efforts, and conduct security assistance and security force assistance (SFA).

The frigate’s Phase 0 operations aim to reduce demand on high end cruisers and destroyers that currently perform anti-submarine warfare (ASW), surface warfare (SuW), and theater security cooperation missions. The Navy said this will allow for “an increase of more capable assets to maintain a stabilizing presence in regions where tensions with nations that have highly capable naval forces may exist.”

Phase 1 is Deter Aggression and Phase 2 is Seize the Initiative. During these kinds of operations, the FFG(X) will aggregate into strike groups and large surface combatant-led surface action groups, yet also maintain the ability to “robustly defend itself” during conduct of independent operations while connected and contributing to the fleet tactical grid.

This is in contrast to frequent criticisms of the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), which have more limited surface combat capabilities. The Frigate program was early meant to be the next step beyond the LCS, but cost and capability criticisms have opened the Navy to wider set of potential hulls, including international options.

In the latter phases, the frigate is set to employ over-the-horizon and anti-ship missiles, defenses against raids of small boats, integrated operations with area air defense capable destroyers and cruisers, active and passive undersea sensing capabilities, electromagnetic sensing and targeting capabilities, and electromagnetic information exploitation capabilities.

The Navy is seeking to use common Navy systems across radar, combat system, C4ISR systems, and launcher elements to achieve the ship’s missions. The RFI also encourages hull, mechanical, and electric systems commonality with other Navy platforms.

The RFI notably said the Navy is interested in understanding the trade space surrounding the addition of launcher capability to support Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block 1 and/or Standard Missile-2 (SM-2) Active missiles.

Other details about the frigate from the RFI include an expected service life of 25 years, 200 personnel crew maximum, range of 3000 nautical miles at 16 knots, 28 knot sustained speed, and five percent space/weight/power/cooling service life allowance.

The post notes two tiers of major weapons systems for the ship, with tier 1 being the most desired.

Tier 1 includes a C4I suite, COMBATSS-21 Mod Combat Management System (CMS) Aegis derivative, Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR) three face fixed array, one Sikorsky [LMT] MH-60R Seahawk helicopter, a self-defense launcher capability, an Mk53 Decoy launching system, canister launched Over-the-Horizon weapon,  Raytheon [RTN] SeaRAM Mk15 Mod 31 anti-ship missile defense system, the Lockheed Martin [LMT] SLQ-32(V)6  (SEWIP Blk II) electronic warfare system, a tactical cryptological system (TCS) and one Northrop Grumman [NOC] MQ-8C Fire Scout-style unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or future similarly sized unmanned system.

Tier 2 includes weapons like the BAE Systems MK 110 57mm Gun (with ALaMO), Surface-to-Surface Missile Module (SSMM Longbow Hellfire), and other naval systems.

Austal USA, builder of the Independence-variant LCS quickly welcomed the RFI.

“With our hot LCS production line and highly skilled workforce, we are well prepared and very excited for this great opportunity to take the next step into future warfighting by expanding the capabilities of the Independence-variant LCS,” Craig Perciavalle president of Austal USA said in a statement.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee and frequent critic of the LCS, said July 10 he is “cautiously optimistic” regarding the frigate RFI.

“This new Frigate must be more capable than the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program, with minor modifications. For example, the new Frigate’s ability to perform local area air defense for convoys of ships would provide a necessary and clear capability improvement over the LCS program,” he said in a statement.

“I look forward to learning more about the new Frigate requirements and acquisition strategy, including how the Navy will deliver on time and on budget,” McCain added.

A July 12 update to the RFI noted The Program Executive Office for Littoral Combat Ships (PEO LCS) Frigate Program Office (PMS 515) will host an industry day to discuss the program’s requirements on July 25 in Washington, D.C. The industry day is meant to share details on the desired FFG(X) capabilities; discuss RFI objectives; and seek input with interested contractors on the Navy’s plan to design, develop, and construct these ships.

Responses to the RFI are to be sent via email to NAVSEA at lawrence.gordin@navy.mil by 3 p.m. Aug. 24.