Destiny of the Frigate Pt 2
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 In other words, perhaps the destroyer as we now know it is obsolete and ready for a modern make-over.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:
- Spanish Álvaro de Bazán class frigate–6250 tons
- Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen class frigate–5290 tons
- Dutch De Zeven Provinciën class frigate-6050 tons
- German Sachsen class frigate-5690 tons
- Franco/Italian Horizon class frigate-7050 tons
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!