Has the US Navy forgotten how to build frigates?

In recent decades, the US Navy's programs to design new surface combatants have had a bumpy ride, to say the least. Beyond the developments of the Arleigh Burke class destroyers, a ship designed during the 80s, all these new programs encountered such design difficulties that they led to the start of a significant capacity downgrade. of the United States Navy.

To overcome this, the Pentagon undertook, at the end of the 2010s, to launch a new frigate program. Called the Constellation class, this program was based on an already proven model, in this case, the Italian FREMM of the Bergamini class, precisely to avoid the excesses observed in previous programs, which had led to considerable delays and massive additional costs.

A few weeks ago, a report ordered by Secretary of the Navy Carlos del Toro revealed numerous dysfunctions in current US Navy programs. The program for the Constellation class frigates was no exception. Indeed, in just four years since its launch, the program has already fallen three years behind schedule, and is only expected to enter service in 2027.

A new report, this time from the Government Audit Office, or GAO, published recently, drives the point home even further. Indeed, to summarize its conclusions, the US Navy has indeed forgotten how to effectively conduct major industrial programs such as the construction of a new frigate, with a faulty methodology highlighted by the Constellation program.

The GAO's clear-cut report regarding the US Navy's conduct of the Constellation-class frigate program

I have to say that revelations made by the GAO, around this program, are surprising, when it comes to the most imposing and powerful navy on the planet. Not only has the program fallen behind almost as long as it has been in existence, but it has, so to speak, abandoned most of the paradigms that gave birth to it.

FREMM Bergamini class frigate
Ultimately, the Constellation frigates and the Bergamini-class FREMMs will only have 15% common components. Are these the same 15% that the French and Italian Fremms share?

Thus, the Constellation class frigates had to be quick to design, and even faster to produce, so as to have an easily activated lever to strengthen the American surface fleet, if the need arose, even if the program , it only covered 20 ships.

For this, the US Navy agreed to turn to an exogenous model, the Italian FREMM of the Bergamini class having been selected, both for its undeniable qualities and the fact that Fincantieri had its own shipyard across the Atlantic, Marinette Shipbuilding. , which notably produces the Independence-class LCS in Wisconsin.

Quickly, however, the Italian FREMM began to be transformed by the various services of the US Navy, taking in the process several hundred tons and a new tranche, in particular to strengthen its resistance to enemy strikes.

Over the months, the two ships diverged even further, to the point that today, only 15% of the initial FREMM remains in the Constellation class. Everything from propulsion to armament, sensors and even the hull have been modified or changed, so the GAO in its report refers to the two ships as "distant cousins", and no longer as close relatives.

Obviously, in doing so, the program almost entirely eroded its expected benefits. Thus, the initial design of these frigates went from 3 to 6 years. Worse still, the construction of the first units began while the final architecture of the ships had not been decided and validated.

A Methodology problem highlighted by the GAO concerning the conduct of US Navy industrial programs

These deviations and shortcomings have numerous consequences, whether on the price of the program, as well as its industrial efficiency. Thus, the price of the first four units ordered by the US Navy from Marinette Shipbuilding has increased by $310 million since they were ordered, without this affecting a change in scope.

Launch LCS No.7 USS Detroit Marinette Shipyard
Launch of the USS Detroit, 7th LCS and fourth Freedom-class ship, at the Marinette Shipyards, WI, which also builds the Constellation-class frigates

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  1. Put financiers in place of engineers, pay these accountants like princes and ask them to lead the project. Oh well, it doesn't work?
    The fall in the American level is more linked to a “Wallstreatian” vision of the world, in search of the easy trick, the PowerPoint that solves everything and Excel magic than to a drop in the level of engineers. By devaluing hard skills in favor of accountants, these budgetary and programmatic aberrations are likely to be repeated.


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