U.S. Navy Emphasizes Frigates in Modernization Plans, Shifting Focus to Small Combatants

The U.S. Navy is adjusting its modernization plans, placing increased emphasis on small combatants, specifically frigates, according to Rear Adm. Fred Pyle, the director of surface warfare. This shift comes in response to the findings of the 2023 Battle Force Ship Assessment and Requirement study, which highlighted the value of having a larger number of small surface combatants in the fleet.

The Rise of Frigates: Rear Adm. Pyle emphasized the significance of building a substantial number of frigates, citing their capability to distribute force effectively while being smaller and more cost-efficient than larger vessels like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The Constellation-class frigate, for which construction began in August 2022, is expected to play a pivotal role in achieving this objective. Pyle aims to secure full funding for the frigate program, expressing a long-term goal of reaching a production rate of four frigates per year.

Force Structure Study Insights: While the details of the force structure study remain classified, it reportedly calls for a 381-ship fleet, an increase from the previous target of 373 vessels. This adjustment reinforces the need for a larger, more capable, and distributed naval force, aligning with the Navy’s modernization goals.

Challenges and Future Plans: Rear Adm. Pyle acknowledged the ongoing challenge of balancing the portfolio within budgetary constraints. The Navy is working to finalize the implications of the force structure study on the budget and modernization plans, with additional details expected to be released with the fiscal 2025 budget request around February.

Modernization Plan Overview:

  1. Building Phase (FY24-FY28): Focus on building the Constellation-class frigate and Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyers. This phase also includes the commencement of the Large Unmanned Surface Vessel program.
  2. Capability Addition Phase (FY29-FY33): Enhancements to existing surface ships through the DDG Mod 2.0 program and the development of the Lockheed Martin-made Integrated Combat System. DDG Mod 2.0, featuring Aegis Combat System Baseline 10, AN/SPY-6 radar, and Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) Block 3, is highlighted as a centerpiece of modernization efforts.
  3. Next-Generation Combatant Phase (FY34-FY38): Introduction of the DDG(X) next-generation destroyer program, which aims to accommodate directed-energy weapons and larger launchers for extended-range missiles.

The U.S. Navy’s modernization plans reflect a strategic shift towards prioritizing smaller combatants, particularly frigates, as highlighted by the force structure study. This adjustment aims to enhance fleet capabilities, emphasizing the importance of a larger number of small surface combatants in navigating the evolving maritime landscape. The upcoming budget request is expected to provide further insights into the Navy’s commitment to modernization and readiness in the face of dynamic global challenges.

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