New Diagram Details How The Navy’s Frigate Will Differ From Its Italian Parent’s Design

Perhaps most notably, the infographic says that “all differences shown were proposed by Fincantieri and incorporated into the [company’s] FFG(X) design prior to contract award.” This is significant given reports that emerged last month that indicated that the Navy had asked Fincantieri and Marinette Marine to enlarge the Constellation-class design after selecting it. 

“The Italians did a very good job in the design of the internal spaces, and the flow of a lot of those spaces,” Navy Captain Kevin Smith, the Constellation-class program manager, had said during a talk at the Navy’s League’s Sea Air Space conference on Aug. 2. “You could say we bought a bigger house, [but] from a modeling and simulation perspective, it’s exactly the same.”

Those remarks had raised questions about the potential for cost growth or schedule delays due to significant changes in the ship’s design, despite the Navy’s touting the use of an existing, in-production design as a starting point. The information the Navy provided to CRS and CBO makes clear that this growth had occurred before the award of the initial FFG(X) contract. Whether the changes might still result in the ships being more expensive or more complicated to build remains to be seen, though the service has, so far, dismissed any such concerns.

It’s also worth noting that Navy “program officials stated they will complete the [Constellation class] critical design review and production readiness review in summer 2021 to support construction start in October 2021, 9 months sooner than previously estimated,” according to an annual report assessing progress on various major U.S. military programs that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released in June. “The Navy said the updated schedule reflects the maturity of the ship design selected for the April 2020 award. Program officials noted they expect the Navy to review the basic and functional design for the ship’s 34 design zones prior to construction start, and for each major construction module, the shipbuilder plans to complete the detail design and construction drawings before starting the module’s construction.”

The Navy has reportedly been considering the possibility of hiring a second shipyard to produce a batch of these frigates in the future to help prevent delays in delivery or even accelerate production, as well as support America’s shipbuilding industry. Right now, the service wants the first of the frigates, the future USS Constellation, to be delivered by 2026. In May, the Navy exercised an option under its existing contract with Fincantieri Marinette Marine to buy the second ship in this class, expected to be named USS Congress, but no target delivery date for this frigate has been made public yet. GAO says the Navy’s current plan is to reach initial operational capability with the type in 2029.

The Navy’s contract with Fincantieri Marinette Marine also includes options for eight more ships. At present, the service’s goal is to buy at least 20, in total, in the coming years, but that number could easily grow. The Navy has made clear it is very interested in expanding and modernizing its fleets in recent years, driven in no small part by concerns about the continued growth of China’s naval capabilities. Congress looks set to add money to the Pentagon’s proposed defense budget for the 2022 Fiscal Year to buy more ships of various kinds, among other things.

Regardless of how the Constellation-class program progresses from here on out, we now have a much better understanding of exactly how these ships will differ from the original FREMM design.

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