Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer told a House panel on Wednesday he is “pretty confident” the new future frigate, FFG(X), will stay at its current estimated cost.

The frigate competition has five platforms, “which makes this probably one of the most competitive platform acquisition programs that we’ll have so we’re quite excited about that. We look at the learning curves on those hulls that are already out there and they’re already impressive,” Spencer told the House Armed Services committee.

The future USS Sioux City (LCS-11) finishing acceptance trials in Lake Michigan in May 2018. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)

The Navy expects the initial vessel to cost up to a maximum of $950 million, but that follow-on ships will cost around $800 million each (Defense Daily, Jan. 17).

Despite thinking the Navy will stay on target, Spencer admitted, “the reason I pause for a second is I read the latest GAO report on the Columbia and one of the things the Navy is criticized for is not estimating the costs in an appropriate matter, that we underestimate.”

The GAO report, released earlier this week, said the Navy’s estimate that Columbia-class submarine procurement will cost $115 billion is over optimistic, especially with labor hour assumptions (Defense Daily, April 8).

“I’m hoping and I’m pretty confident that the number that we’re projecting here is the first ship number and it’s going to be a conservative number, but we are definitely driving for the $800 million number,” Spencer said.

The service released a draft request for proposals for the detail design and construction (DD&C) contract last month. The DD&C will cover the first 10 of a total 20 frigates (Defense Daily, March 1).

In response to Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.), Spencer also said the Navy is removing nothing between the first and follow-on ships.

The cost savings come from a “learning curve. You build something once you, know how to build it. You build it twice you know how to build it better. Three, four, five, you come down to industrial learning curve. That’s what you’re witnessing for the $800 million. No capability or capacity reduction.”

The Secretary added that he believes the Navy is on track to award the DD&C by the end of FY 2020 as part of an aggressive timeline.

“And I want to make sure that you understand that when we say aggressive, it’s aggressive on a historical basis. These are all proven form designs.”

The Navy’s FY 2020 budget request laid out its expected schedule: the first frigate will be awarded in July 2020, start construction in July 2022, and be delivered by July 2026. The Navy will also award two frigates per year from 2021 – 2024, with construction on each ship planned to start about two years after award.

The budget request includes about $1.28 billion for frigate spending in FY ’20, and over the Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) plans to spend a total of $8.7 billion. When adding the 11 planned vessels outside the FYDP, the Navy plans to spend $20.5 billion total for 20 frigates.