Was a time 70-80 years ago when a 7,400-ton surface warship was a light cruiser. These days, it’s a frigate. The last frigate delivered to the US Navy was USS Ingraham (FFG-61) the end of a 51-ship line. Australia, ROC, and Spain used the design for 20 of their own ships, mostly built in their own yards.
The US Navy then demonstrated its eagle-eyed focus (not) on delivering the biggest bang for the buck (not) by spending the next 30-years on the toy boats of the Independence and Freedom classes, and gave up only when it became obvious that it had a hard to maintain coastal water ship, where the survivability requirement was met by abandoning ship when a single serious hit occurred. These were the first disposable warships built by America. The best part was that these tubs could add nothing to a task force because they had to be protected using shore-based air, and in any case were brown water, not blue. Nothing like a defenseless ship to enhance combat power. As is the norm these days, no one was punished for this atrocity. There is no accountability any more regarding the tax payers money, not to speak of the loss of the Navy’s fighting capability.
The FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry ships were 4200-tons, with a 40 Standard/Harpoon magazine and two helicopters, a Phalanx, and the usual torpedoes and so on. The new frigates, based on the FREMM design (Italy and France) have a 32-round VLS, a 21-round RAM type launcher, a helicopter, and a UAV etc. They will carry 8-16 anti-ship missiles as well. The ships had to be bulked up for US survivability standards, which is why they are about 1000-tons heavier than their Euro counterparts.
There is no doubt the new US FFG is a good-looking ship with lots of firepower and endurance. At a proposed $850-million each (read $1.2-billion when ready to deploy in 2030), they’re a reasonable cost. These days, after all, carriers cost up to $14-billion, destroyers are approaching $3-billion, and the new attack submarines will likely be $5-billion+. The US Navy has got it right, three decades latter.
Given the speed with which China is rising, one would assume fifty frigates would be built. Not a chance. American strategy to combat China is to talk the adversary to death. Our other strategy is to keep reassuring ourselves that Chinese warships are no match for ours. But 20-years ago, did anyone think a day would come when the US would have to pull back its bombers from Guam, and think twice before engaging the Chinese in combat in the China Seas? Some of us did foresee the day, and were met with condescension. All status quo powers make this mistake, so America is not particularly to blame, but then is not one entitled to expected better from our country?
The current shortcomings of the Chinese Navy are well known. Chief among them is the lack of reliable fighters for carriers, and submarines which are quieter than 20-years ago, and nowhere near a match for ours. There’s also the question of what happens in combat when on one side you have a Navy with 250-years of battle experience, and the other side has none. Still, does anyone want to bet that by 2030 the Chinese will not have a decent fighter for their carriers? Currently, according to South China Morning Post, China has suspended work in its fifth and sixth carriers, about the size of their US counterparts. Yet, it takes the Chinese four years to put a new carrier into sea trials, and their shipyards can turn out two at a time.
I won’t go into other Chinese naval shipbuilding advances – like a capacity to turn out 15 destroyers and frigates a year, and a Wasp type amfib every year. All I’d like is for our broad-bottom Pentagon and Navy HQ types to understand is that our margin to make stupid mistakes – as happened with the LCS ships – is gone, and from now on our refusal to up defense spending leads us to closer to disaster.
As a start, the US needs to start planning for 16 carrier battle groups, full air groups of 70 combat aircraft, a lot more amfib lift, more SSNs – and fifty FFGs.
“Shooting Guns & Having Fun”