Senate Bill Funds Frigate But Wary of Second Yard Plans

The Senate appropriations committee draft fiscal year 2022 defense bill would fund the Navy’s request of $1.088 billion to build the third Constellation-class frigate, but is wary of plans to add a second shipyard too quickly.

In May, the Navy requested about $1.2 billion in funds for a third frigate and advance procurement funds for two more ships (Defense Daily, May 28).

The new Senate bill adds $3 million for “bromine free water systems” and takes out $69 million from the advanced procurement funds due to “unjustified request for advance procurement.” Separately, the bill reduced the frigate development account funds from almost $109.5 million to nearly $103 million due to the “FORGE software factory acquisition strategy.”

The bill report said that while the committee recognized the frigate is based on a proven hull design and mature technologies and the “significant role” it will have in the Navy’s future battle force, “it remains a new class and presents typical first-in-class production challenges.”

“The Committee notes the past challenges of the Navy and shipbuilding industrial base in managing costs, technical concurrency, design changes, and schedule of lead ships of a class.”

The Senate Appropriations Committee is particularly concerned about prematurely adding a second frigate shipyard before the first one “has identified and corrected technical and production issues will inject unneeded risk and complexity into the program.”

In August, Capt. Kevin Smith, program manager of the Constellation-class frigate, PMS-515, said adding a second shipyard is “pre-decisional” but said they intend to exercise the option for the Technical Data Package (TDP) by the 10th ship to work with candidate yards to start building a second source for frigates via a future competition. (Defense Daily, Aug. 3).

The TDP allows the Navy to take the technical and manufacturing information needed to build and support the frigate throughout its lifecycle and award a second shipyard.

Smith also said the navy plans to bring in candidate second yards in early phases before the competitive stage to make sure they learn the design as much as possible.

The Senate bill directs the Secretary of the Navy to prioritize several objectives before awarding a second frigate shipyard contract. This includes technology maturation and risk reduction for critical shipboard components; major systems integration; full ship technical data package creation; and successful operationally realistic testing for the first ship.

“The Committee also understands that setting up the [Constellation-class frigate] manufacturing capacity, workforce, and supply chain requires consistent year-over-year funding to meet the demand for production ramp up.”

Therefore, the bill directs the Navy Secretary to submit a report to the congressional defense committees outlining the acquisition strategy for achieving the full frigate program of record and meeting the technology maturation and risk reduction objectives within 90 days after awarding a contract for a second shipyard. 

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

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

The Navy originally planned to procure upward of 20 total frigates that, combined with the current orders for Littoral Combat Ships would make up the small surface combatant force. However, more recent long-term fleet plans call for a larger amount of small surface combatants than 20 frigates and the total LCS numbers combined. 

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

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