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Destiny of the Frigate Pt 2

December 29, 2009

The Elusive Destroyer Replacement

It might seem peculiar to add to a discussion on the future of the frigate with thoughts in the Arleigh Burke class destroyer. Please bear with and hopefully all will be clear.

Now for sheer power at sea, it doesn’t get any better than a DDG-51 Burke destroyer. It is big, like a World War 2 heavy cruiser, yet it has more firepower than a much larger battleship from the same era. Its size also leaves much room for adaptation and modernization, which is a good thing since the class is about  all the Navy can bear in terms of cost and design.

The DDG-51 replacement in production would have been the DDG-1000 Zumwalt class, a 14,000 ton monster with every kind of advanced technology you can imagine. It has a unique tumble-home hull which makes it very stealthy. Electric propulsion provides immense power for future advanced weapons (not yet developed), and its missile launchers, though fewer than the smaller Burkes, are all armored. It is the most expensive non-carrier warship in all history, with really no reason for being built other than “because we can”. The Navy wasted a whole decade of funding on this ship while the fleet shrank, then decided it no longer wanted the Zumwalt. In other words, it was a single Ferrari in a naval environment calling for many Fords.

The Zumwalt platform probably would have been the basis of a new CGX cruiser replacement, but its prohibitive cost prevented all this. The Navy even dallied with the notion of placing anti-missile weapons on a ( just barely) lower cost LPD-17 hull, then decided it should be nuclear powered which returned the prohibitive expense. Most likely the CGX will be dead in the water, canceled outright in the upcoming Quadrennial Defense Review, and rationally so.

It appears the venerable Burkes will soldier on indefinitely, which isn’t bad news. As we stated, it is a great design, open to numerous modifications, and will probably me unmatched by any other destroyer in the conceivable future. It is just too bad that the worlds richest, most powerful, and most expensive Navy can’t design and deploy a new destroyer if it wants to, on time, within budget, and in the numbers required. Could it be they are trying to keep a dated type of ships ongoing long past their prime? In other words, perhaps the destroyer as we now know it is obsolete and ready for a modern make-over.

The Rebirth of the Frigate

Here is where we return to our frigate discussion. Note in the first post we detailed the demise of the vessel as a low end, low cost escort ship. No longer could such vessels be built quickly and in large numbers since they now possessed advanced weapons in the league of the missile destroyers and cruisers. The frigate is now a powerful addition to the fleet, for anti-surface, anti-air, and anti-submarine warfare, an exquisite vessel in its own right, still less the price of a destroyer.

As we noted the trend has been ongoing in Europe, where capable area missiles like Standard SAMs have been matched with the low cost frigate hull to create an affordable but powerful guided missile warship. Yesterday we detailed the creation and deployment of guided missile frigates in the 1970s and 1980s. Here are their modern ancestors of the 2nd generation:

The Spanish and Norwegian vessels are armed with a lighter weight but still potent American Aegis phased array radar.  France, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Britain use a similar system, built by Thales and BAE called SMART-L. Though not Western, honorable mention goes to the Russian/Indian Talwar class, a derivative of the Krivak III frigate, 4035 tons, which also bares phased array technology, as some of the most powerful warships in the Indian Ocean. The 6 South Korean “KDX-II” are classified as destroyers, but at 5520 tons full load more closely resemble the above frigates.

Where we say the frigate has now become too expensive to be considered a low cost escort to be bought in adequate numbers, it might be just the right platform for a destroyer replacement. It is already performing this function in many world navies, and might finally be the answer to the much delayed successor to the Arleigh Burkes in the USN. The destroyer replaced the cruiser in the post WW 2 era, as the perfect platform for carrying the new and expensive surface to air missiles. Likewise was the new Aegis system in the 1970s not placed on the exquisite American nuclear cruisers, but on a modified Spruance destroyer hull. We see the frigate as an affordable, powerful, and practical successor to the DDG in a new era at sea.

While we have no particular favorites among those listed above, the price is right, ranging from $500 million to $770 million each. Concerning the new low tier escort at sea, well, you know how we feel on this subject!

31 Comments leave one →
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  3. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 4, 2010 12:25 pm

    Speaking of the Danish Command and Support ship HDMS Absalon, she’s back to the anti-piracy patrols in which she previously served as flagship of CTF 150. She is heading out January 5, sailing for the Horn of Africa again. She will take command of Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG 1) on January 25, which is hunting pirates in the area (Operation Allied Protector). Denmark will have the command for one year. Absalon will be relieved by her sistership, HDMS Esbern Snare, following six months duty on the station.

    I found the above being contributed by a Dane at He included the following links relating to operations of SNMG 1. Note that this naval task group is made up solely of destroyers and frigates along with one or more oilers and provisions ships. In this instance HDMS Absalon is being utilized as a command frigate of a formation composed of multi-national warships. I think that happens to be an excellent example of this type of vessel’s usefulness.

  4. leesea permalink
    January 4, 2010 1:55 am

    Bsmitty I think the Absalons were built to DNV naval auxilary rules -will have to check that out. I will go looking for which rules are used for the Iver Huitfeldts.

    More and more I believe the distinction between corvette and frigate is their aviation capability. Former can get by with a UAV pad or maybe a helo deck only, while the latter has full helo deck, hangar and M&R.

    The former would have one boat in addition to ships launch, while the latter would have more boats, M&R and extra crews spaces.

    While weapons suites can be changed out over the lifetime of a ship, aviation and boats take up deck structure which is not easily changeable.

  5. Steve Petty permalink
    December 31, 2009 3:57 am

    While the Visby class is often proposed as LCS or frigate substitute for littoral warfare but these are short ranged ships using some unproven in warships construction technology. I think a better corvette option might be the Lurssen 62 class as used by Baharain, Singapore, and the UAE. At 630tons, a range of 4000nm@16kts, 4 exocets[substitute Harpoons], 76mm gun, Goalkeeper[sub. Phalanx] Crotale octuple launcher[sub. Searam], a helo deck with a lift to lower a Dauphin 2 type helo [sub. Firescout] into a hanger and with a draft of less than 10ft and a speed of 30-35kts. it could be an excellent littoral combat ship without as much need for support as the Visby type.

  6. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 30, 2009 3:33 pm

    Scott B–Yeah, occasionally Galrahn and I share brains, though he would never admit to such a thing!

  7. James Daly permalink
    December 30, 2009 6:21 am

    Good find Scott. I like this bit, and its relevant to the Frigate discussion:

    “What is interesting is that the location of the attack was about ~750 nautical miles from Diego Garcia, but ~1220 nautical miles from Mogadishu (see pic above). Can someone explain to me how a bunch of dudes with machine guns in speedboats can operate ~1220 nautical miles from Mogadishu, and the worlds only superpower cannot build a ship less than 3,000 tons without complaining about range and endurance.”

  8. Scott B. permalink
    December 30, 2009 6:07 am

    Off Topic :

    Information Dissemination Plagiarizing New Wars

    A tribute to Mike B’s growing audience, at the very least…

  9. elgatoso permalink
    December 29, 2009 10:16 pm


  10. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 29, 2009 9:41 pm

    B. Smitty,

    My last posting was meant to be directed to you, not Byron. I shouldn’t try to write when I’m a bit under the weather. I forget what I’m saying and to whom I’m directing my message.


    Sorry for any confusion that I may have caused.

  11. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 29, 2009 9:38 pm


    The Danes have built both of the Absalom class and are building the three Iver Huitfeldt class ships in commercial shipyards. Which is to say that they got large cost savings by performing a significant portion of their construction outside of any military-industrial pricing system.

    Then, the military / naval combat systems were integrated into the prepared hulls.

    It was and is a different approach with regards about how to construct major combatant warships (at 6,645 tonnes these are major combatants). I don’t know how the Spanish and Norwegian AEGIS frigates were constructed, but I don’t think they were brought into commission with means as inexpensive as those used to construct these Danish warships.

  12. Jed permalink
    December 29, 2009 8:37 pm

    Byron – but can’t the DDG51 carry the full complement of 8 Harpoons if required ? Also can not their VLS suite carry quad-pack ESSM ? Because this has a anti-ship mode too.

    Mike – I think you get too stressed about nomenclature. The term frigate goes back to the days of sail, a ‘destroyer’ started out as a “Torpedo Boat Destroyer”, lets not even visit your fixation with the term Corvette…. :-)

    So yes a modern frigate is a lot bigger than one with 3 masts and 20 canon…….

    In the RN the system was changed at some point post WWII to Frigate = ASW primary role, Destroyer = AAW primary role.

    The Danes don’t call the Iver Huitfeldt class Frigates (or Destroyers for that matter) they call them “Patrol Ships” – perhaps we should all start using that term ? Hang on, is patrolling the same as ‘cruising’ ? That would make the Cruisers then !!

  13. B.Smitty permalink
    December 29, 2009 5:00 pm

    D. E. Reddick,

    I would like to see a comparison of naval design rules used between the F100 and Iver Huitfeldts. Are they built to the same survivability standards? What about signature reduction?

    If both ships really are built to similar standards, then the Iver Huitfeldt class does appear to be an bargain. If not, then it might be a heavily-armed ship with a glass jaw.

  14. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 29, 2009 3:59 pm

    B. Smitty,

    Well, each basic hull with propulsion and such other equipment (as required to actually sail) cost only $332 million, each. Three of them have been acquired for just $997 million. That’s before adding the weapons. These ships are very inexpensive given their size and capabilities.

    Once completed and upgraded to their stage 2 configuration, they’ll have the following weapons:

    I) One Mk 45 mod 4 127 mm / 62 cal. main gun;
    II) Four Mk 41 VLS eight-cell launchers for 32 SM-2 IIIA long-range SAMs and/or Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles;
    III) Thirty-six Mk 48 and/or Mk 56 VLS cells for medium-range ESSM SAMs;
    IV) Eight or sixteen Harpoon Block II AShM (SSM) cannister launchers;
    V) Two Oerlikon Millennium 35 mm Naval Revolver Gun System CIWS;
    VI) MU90 Impact ASW torpedoes;
    VII) Four Stinger Point-defence SAMs;
    VIII) Aft helo landing deck & hanger for Augusta Westland EH-101.

    I’ve probably missed something or simply left it off from this listing of the weapons fit for these frigates. Note that the missile load of (maximally) 84 missiles (88 if you count the four Stingers) is nearly as great as that of a Burke DDG-51 class destroyer (90 Mk 41 VLS cells). Quad-packed ESSM and ASROC loads change the relative composition of the Burke’s missile load out in comparison to the Danish Iver Huitfeldt AAW frigates, but that depends upon which flight of Burke is examined.

    The Spanish Navy’s Álvaro de Bazán or F100 class of frigates does carry a 48-cell Mk-41 VLS with 32 Standard SM-2MR Block IIIA and 64 ESSM SAMs along with eight RGM-84 Harpoon AShMs (SSMs) in cannister launchers. These Spanish F100 AAW frigates are more heavily missile-armed than the Danish Iver Huitfeldt AAW frigates. Yet, the Danish ships are truly inexpensive and nearly as well armed. Further, the two advanced CIWS systems of the Danish frigates clearly are superior to the ‘provision’ for a single FABA 20mm/120 Meroka CIWS system as found on the Spanish frigates.

    The Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen class of frigates are a derivative design based upon the Spanish Álvaro de Bazán (F100 class). At present these AAW frigates are equipped with only a single eight-cell Mk 41 VLS with 32 ESSM SAMs and eight AShMs (SSMs). These ships can be enhanced with three additional Mk 41 VLS launchers. That could mean a load out of 128 ESSM medium-range SAMs or a mix of ESSM, Standard, TLAM, and/or ASROC missiles. It is unclear what is possible with these potential 32 Mk 41 VLS cells aboard this particular class of AAW frigate.

    The Iver Huitfeldt class AAW frigates cost less and more of them can built for the same investment while getting nearly the same level of armaments in a similarly sized hull. The Danes have got it right. There are lessons there that other navies could learn from them.

  15. B.Smitty permalink
    December 29, 2009 2:57 pm

    D. E. Reddick,

    How are the Danish Iver Huitfeldt AAW frigates really any better than the other AAW frigates mentioned?

    The Spanish F100 can carry as many missiles and has SPY-1D vs APAR/Smart-L. So it could even perform BMD, given appropriate upgrades.

  16. B.Smitty permalink
    December 29, 2009 2:52 pm


    Isn’t there a surface-to-surface mode for SM-2?

  17. James Daly permalink
    December 29, 2009 2:06 pm

    The Franco-Italian Horizon class looks virtually identical to the British Type 45’s, only with Exocet added. Yet they’re classed as Frigates, and we’re calling ours destroyers Funny old world. Especially when you consider that any future RN Frigate in the FSC mould will likely have a main gun, SAM and SSM capability. As do the Type 23 Frigates.

  18. WTH permalink
    December 29, 2009 1:28 pm

    The summary sounded like this is all just a semantics game. You’d be happy if we started calling destroyers cruisers and frigates destroyers? Killed it for me.

    A few points (and I know all of these have been hit here before) :
    A lot of folks are avoiding how the USN really fights: nearly all offensive striking firepower is in aircraft. How do you kill a DDG from a FFG? The aircraft. Been there, done it. Byron’s point above, that real value in BBs was how much defensive firepower could be strapped on to protect CVs, is hugely valid. The primary role of most surface combatants today is purely defensive: protect the carrier. Everything else is secondary and nice, but not the job.

    As for escort, to claim that you can escort with a modern corvette needs a bit more evaluation. Two points there, first what are you talking about primarily escorting? The vast majority of international trade is tankers, container ships, etc. BIG honking brutes that go 15-18 knots in ALL weather. Corvette sized hulls don’t play well in that game. Secondly what are you trying to protect ships you’re escorting from? Subs, small boats, missiles? The answer to the first two is aircraft, surface ships just do not have the speed to create a large enough protected bubble without impractical numbers. The missile threat (and now we’re really talking area defense which is trickier than point defense) requires a powerful radar and decent missile magazine. All of this points to a hull larger than a corvette, and then you start talking range, if you want to go transoceanic, guess what: larger hull.

  19. Byron permalink
    December 29, 2009 1:25 pm

    Excuse, I forgot the TWO Harpoons.

  20. Byron permalink
    December 29, 2009 1:24 pm

    Mike, no land based aircraft carries an ASCM (at least in the US inventory) Harpoons on B-52s was an experiment, TASMs phased out years ago. Closest thing to it is Maverick or Penguin.

    The ONLY weapon aboard a Burke to kill another ship is a SINGLE 5″ gun. One.Gun. That’s math so simple even I can understand it. One gun does not a battleship make. There are ZERO anti-surface weapons other than the ONE GUN.

    The best anti-ship weapons platform? An SSN. One Mark 48 ADCAP will ruin a regular ships day, three sank the America in minutes.

    And Mike, I believe I’m the one that mentioned BBs becoming AAW platforms in 1943.

  21. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 29, 2009 12:48 pm

    Byron, if the primary anti-surface weapon today is naval attack aircraft, and shore based bombers armed with ASCMs, then the Burke rightly may be considered a battleship, since with Aegis she is well equipped to kill these weapons. Also, let’s not forget the BB’s were also anti-aircraft killers with their secondary AA armament, recalling USS South Dakota’s shootdown of 26 enemy aircraft in a single battle.

    The only thing lacking for the Burke’s to be an extreme surface killer, is the Navy mindset, without a peer antagonist, and an over-confidence in the handful of carriers it possesses.

  22. D. E. Reddick permalink
    December 29, 2009 12:11 pm

    The likely best of the Euro-frigates are still being built – the Danish Iver Huitfeldt AAW frigates. These are the new class based upon the successful Absalom class of support ships. We discussed them recently:

    They’ll carry a mix of Standard SAMs, TLAMs, ESSM SAMs, and Harpoons. I believe the total is 84 missiles, if maximally fitted out. And that’s on a hull of 6,645 tons displacement at full load. The USN and the RN would do well by studying how to build such inexpensive yet powerful warships (as compared to DDG-51 and Type 45 destroyer classes). Combining their inexpensive construction techniques and features with the lower-cost AEGIS combat system used in the Spanish and Norwegian classes of AAW frigates would create powerful blue-water, open ocean escorts of the type needed to protect amphibious forces wherever they may be deployed.

  23. Byron permalink
    December 29, 2009 11:38 am

    Mike, a Burke is a lot of things but a battleship it ain’t. Primary missions for a BB were surface warfare (killing other ships) and shore bombardment. The Iowas were the height of this class design. Even in 1943, though, it was seen that there would be few chances for another Jutland; instead, the real value would be the enormous amount of anti-aircraft weapons that could be brought to bear to protect the carriers.

    Burkes have little to bring to the table when it comes to surface warfare; they are primarily anti-air platforms with secondary missions of anti-sub and land attack (with Tomahawk).

    I do agree with you on the Euro-frigates, especially the Spanish and Norwegian ones. Sweet boats, and for the money, we could have gotten an LCS with teeth instead of a wannabe warship.

  24. B.Smitty permalink
    December 29, 2009 9:50 am

    While there are certainly a lot of new frigate designs in the 5-7000 tonne range, there are still a few new ones around 3-4000 tonnes like the French La Fayette class, and the conceptual Royal Navy FSC C3.

  25. Scott B. permalink
    December 29, 2009 9:27 am

    Mike Burleson said : “I think something needs to be promoted up.”

    I’ve a feeling that the destiny of the *mythical corvette* is to hit the 3,000-ton mark pretty soon !!!

    At the risk of repeating myself again, what you’re proposing is merely a re-run of the same software that led to the LCS disaster. Merely re-booting the system is not going to remove the bugs. At the end of the day, what you’ll end up with is another waste of time and taxpayer $$$.

    That’s NOT the way to go !!!

  26. Mike Burleson permalink*
    December 29, 2009 7:33 am

    James, it is trending, but I fear the admirals don’t want to accept the change. What we call destroyers and frigates today would have been considered heavy and light cruisers less than a century ago, in terms of firepower something more. Yet we are still using them as “frigates” and “destroyers”. I think something needs to be promoted up.

  27. James Daly permalink
    December 29, 2009 6:54 am

    It does seem to me that over time the Frigate has evolved to be bigger, more powerful than the Destoyer. I can remember years ago – when I was a wee lad just getting interesting in all things military! -thinking that naval ship classes went corvette-frigate-destroyer-cruiser-battleship, in order of size. The nomenclature has evolved over time to be more about capabilities and roles. It can be quite misleading, looking at it through a ww2-era lens.

    Portsmouth hosted a NATO exercise a few months ago for air defence Frigates, and Alavaro de Bazan and De Zeven Provincien were both tied up for a few days. I went and had a look at them on the harbour boat tour, and if you had no idea what they were classed as you would think they were destoyers or cruisers in the old sense. The British Type 22 and Type 23 classes seem to be of the same trend.

    Is it a gradual thing you can trace from the end of ww2, thanks to the missile age, the submarine warfare of the cold war, and the helicopter?


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