The Weekly Wire: For Your Situational Awareness 5/14/20
US Navy Selects Fincantieri to Furnish Future Frigate
Hamilton Cook, Research Associate
Last week, the US Navy announced that it had selected Fincantieri’s US subsidiary, Marinette Marine, as the winner of the FFG(X) competition and awarded the initial $795 million contract to design and build the first ship. The vessel will be a modified version of the FREMM frigate that is the backbone of the French and Italian navies, and was chosen over offerings from Austal, Huntington Ingalls, and Bath Iron Works. If all options are excised, the contract would cover the initial ten ship, $5.5 billion production run of FFG(X).
The award itself will have several far-reaching consequences. It will intensify the political stakes involved in future shipbuilding debates, particularly those around the US Navy’s future structure. The stakes were already set to be high in this year’s defense budget debate as the Navy decided to make significant cuts to the Areleigh Burke program and Virginia class submarines to fund emerging technologies and unmanned vessels under a constricting topline. Now, they face the additional threat of a surface combatant program in a critical swing state that could very well cannibalize other existing programs if the COVID-19 epidemic has a major impact upon defense spending.
The win will likely also lead to the reshaping of how the frigate export market is viewed. For the past two years, the British Type 26 Global Combat Ship has been ascendant. BAE secured frigate orders from Australia and Canada that were both larger than that of the UK. The FREMM, meanwhile, seemed to be a lost cause, with only sales of individual ships to Egypt and Morocco, and the French eventually cutting half of their orders in exchange for the more exportable Admiral Ronarc’h class. With the success of the FFG(X) however, the success of the Type 26 is more starkly one of Commonwealth export success, while the FREMM gained an additional boon beyond an extended order book: NRE funding for the mounting of American systems on the FREMM, making it a very palatable option for traditional American-sourcing navies.
As the FFG(X) is positioned as a solution to reduce the operational strain on the battle force backbone of the US Navy, this FREMM variant will see a notable increase in firepower as the design is modified for American use. The foremost amongst these will be the doubling of the ship’s missile battery from 16 tactical or strike-length vertical launch systems to 32 strike-length cells, thereby equaling or exceeding the missile complement of the Type 26. This main battery will be partnered with a new Enterprise Air Surveillance radar and quarterbacked by an Aegis Combat system, with a 21-cell RAM battery held in reserve for point defense. However, this likely results in a tradeoff for the Navy when it comes to direct fire systems, as the Navy currently only plans to mount a 57mm cannon instead of the standard FREMM 76mm. The Navy is clearly aware of this though, and while it has set the threshold requirement for FFG(X)’s Over-The-Horizon missile complement at the ubiquitous eight cells, it did set an objective requirement for the mounting of 16 OTH cells.
The rest of the vessel’s future systems are standard fare for a future US Navy vessel. FFG(X)’s anti-submarine warfare suite would be controlled by the AEGIS-compatible AN/SQQ-89(V)15 Underwater Combat System, a to-be-determined hull sonar array (likely AN/SQS-62 Variable Depth Sonar), and, critically, will feature the TB-37 towed array sonar along with the objective requirement of mounting the SVTT Shipboard Torpedo Launch System. FFG(X)’s electronic warfare and countermeasures suite might be even more ubiquitous, as it will mount the SLQ-32(V)6 that will feature modernized ECM and ESM capabilities alongside the Spectral Signal Exploitation system. The ship’s C4I backbone and tactical network will be CANES, and the vessel will have hanger facilities for simultaneous organic MH-60R and MQ-8C operations.
On May 7, the United States’ Department of State approved a possible foreign military sale of up to 4,569 mine-resistant ambush protected (MRAP) vehicles to the United Arab Emirates. The potential value of the sale is $556 million, and the vehicles involved are counting as Excess Defense Articles taken from US Army stocks. The UAE requested a mix of 12 different MRAP models, including the MaxxPro Long Wheel Base, MaxxPro Recovery Vehicle, and Caiman Multi-Terrain – but the exact number of each model to be sold has not been disclosed. The UAE intends to use the new MRAPs to protect critical infrastructure, conduct humanitarian assistance, and improve its ability to both protect itself and participate in joint operations in the Middle East. While the sale has been approved, it has not yet been finalized, so some details may change before a final contract is signed.
The Swedish Defense Materiel Administration (FMV) has approved the procurement of a basic training aircraft to partially replace the aging Saab 105 trainer that has been in service since the 1960s. The Saab 105, of which the Swedish Air Force operates 46, is used for both basic and advanced training roles. The new basic trainer is to be a commercial off-the-shelf solution. Current plans call for 10 aircraft to be ready for students in 2023, though earlier plans had up to 20 aircraft. Saab had partnered with Pilatus in 2014 to offer PC-21 basic trainers to the Swedish Air Force. Saab also provides some sub-systems on the PC-21. The approval of a dedicated basic trainer leaves the door open for the Saab/Boeing T-7A to fill in the advanced trainer role, which the Saab 105 will have to fill until 2025. Gripen C/Ds will act as an interim advanced training solution from 2025 until a dedicated advanced training is procured in the 2030s. Thanks to the T-7As selection for the US T-X competition, the T-7A will likely be a strong contender for the program.
On May 8, the Polish Ministry of Defense announced it would start looking to acquire 32 support helicopters, dubbed the Perkoz program. A total three variants will be procured under the program for combat support, reconnaissance, and transporting troops. A technical dialog will take place over July and August with potential suppliers, with the goal of accepting tenders beginning in mid-2021. The rotorcraft will replace Poland’s aging Mi-2 helicopters, which have been in service for over 50 years. The ministry of defense first announced this program in 2018 with the aim to acquire 50 new rotorcraft under the program but was not a priority for the armed forces under the 2017-2026 Technical Modernization Plan. Instead Poland previously prioritized the acquisition of attack helicopters under its Kruk program, though the program to replace the Mi-24s has been delayed to 2022.