The Navy is aiming to be ready with a request for proposals and technical data package for its new frigate by fiscal year 2017 so that it can procure the first two ships in the class in 2019, the program manager said Wednesday.

That’s a very tight timeline, said Capt. Dan Brintzinghoffer, program manager for the newly stood up PMS-515.

“I have about 18 to 20 months to pick and choose what the design is going to look like,” he said during a briefing at Navy League’s 2015 Sea Air Space exposition. “We will have a very, very defined requirements set. System selection will all have to be done in order to give the shipbuilders the opportunity to do their detailed design to meet the FY 19 timeframe.”

The USS Coronado (LCS-4): Photo: U.S. Navy
The USS Coronado (LCS-4): Photo: U.S. Navy

The Navy plans to maintain two frigate designs—based on the USS Freedom (LCS-1) and USS Independence (LCS-2) Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) hulls designed by Lockheed Martin [LMT] and Austal [ASX], respectively—and will add new sensors, weapons and armor to those ships, he said. Unlike the modular LCS that must be reconfigured to handle a new mission set, the new frigates will be able to tackle both the anti-surface warfare and anti-submarine warfare missions simultaneously without needing to swap out equipment.

One of the biggest departures from the LCS program will be the movement to a common combat system. The LCS Freedom-variant uses the Lockheed Martin-built COMBATSS-21 system, while the Independence is equipped with one built by General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems [GD]. The Navy is doing trade studies to evaluate those systems as well as others, and will formulate its path forward by the end of the summer, Brintzinghoffer said.

“We have to work through the details of what exactly does that mean,” he said. “Is that common software, is it common consoles?” he said. It must also decide whether to go through a competitive source selection process or to base its decision on prior competitions.

“We have to take the timeline that’s associated with awarding a contract in FY 19…and leverage that against going through an entire source selection and acquisition process,” he said.

To add lethality, the service will install an over the horizon, surface-to-surface missile on the frigate. The Navy is forming requirements and looking at what existing, off-the-shelf weapons might be a good fit.

To transition LCS production to the frigate on time, “we can’t hold off and have a five-year development program” for the missile, Brintzinghoffer said. “The intent is going to be to take things that are at a high technology readiness level and then do integration for those onto the platform.”

The Navy is also evaluating how many missiles to put on the ships and where to install the launchers. “The rules of physics still apply. We can only put so much weight on these ships,” he said, adding that making major design changes to the LCS is not an option.

It will also add 25mm chain guns and more advanced radar and electronic warfare systems.

Some modularity will still remain in the frigate design, he said. The variable depth sonar and Hellfire Longbow missiles can be transported on and off the vessel when needed, while other LCS capabilities, such as the multi-function towed array and torpedo defense systems, will become permanently fixed in the new frigate.

To accommodate the new weapons and systems, the program office is evaluating where it can decrease weight on the ship by stripping off equipment and structure that was necessary to support the LCS’ minehunting mission, Brintzinghoffer said. For example, removing the Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle and its associated cranes and support equipment frees up 25 tons on the ship.