These commentators state that with the retirement of aging AEGIS-radar equipped cruisers and destroyers, the U.S. Navy will have a shortage of VLS cells to counter peer nation threats and that more missile firepower via more VLS cells per new frigate is required.
The Congressional Research Services’ (CRS) updated 19 October 2021 FFG-62 frigate report stated that:
“The Navy began procuring Constellation (FFG-62) class frigates (FFGs) in FY2020, and wants to procure a total of 20 FFG-62s. Congress funded the first FFG-62 in FY2020 at a cost of $1,281.2 million (i.e., about $1.3 billion) and the second in FY2021 at a cost of $1,053.1 million (i.e., about $1.1 billion). The Navy’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $1,087.9 million (i.e., about $1.1 billion) for the procurement of the third FFG-62, and $69.1 million in advance procurement (AP) funding for the fourth and fifth FFG-62s, which are programmed for procurement in one or more future fiscal years.”
By comparison, the CRS released a DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyer report the same day (19 October 2021) that stated the cost of the DDG-51:
“When procured at a rate of two per year, DDG-51s cost roughly $2.0 billion each. Due to the reduced production economies of scale that would occur at a production rate of one ship per year, the one DDG-51 requested for procurement in FY2022 has an estimated cost of $2,401.7 million (i.e., about $2.4 billion).”
The DDG-51 Flight I and II have 90 Mark 41 Vertical Launch System (VLS) cells per destroyer while the Flight IIA and Flight III Arleigh Burkes have 96 VLS cells. The FFG-62 Constellation-class frigate with 32 VLS cells has roughly half the Mark 41 missile firepower of an early DDG-51, not including the frigate’s separate 16 Naval Strike Missile (NSM) launchers amidships. Therefore, one can argue that a FFG-62 frigate has 48 long-range missiles when the 16 NSM are included.
Nonetheless, the online debate revolved around the actual Mark 41 VLS cell count, not the number of other potential missile launchers aboard the FFG-62 (such as the Mark 49 Rolling Airframe Missile launcher and the 16 NSM launchers).
The CRS’s October 2021 FFG-62 frigate report provided the U.S. Navy’s answer and the deciding evidence on settling for 32 VLS cells per new frigate instead of the suggested 48.
“Another potential aspect of this issue concerns the planned number of Vertical Launch System (VLS) missile tubes on FFG-62s. The VLS is the FFG-62’s principal (though not only) means of storing and launching missiles. FFG-62s are to each be equipped with 32 Mark 41 VLS tubes. (The Mark 41 is the Navy’s standard VLS design.)
“Supporters of requiring each FFG-62 to be equipped with a larger number of VLS tubes, such as 48, might argue that FFG-62s are to be roughly three-quarters as large, and at least half as expensive to procure, as DDG-51s, and might therefore be more appropriately equipped with at least 48 VLS tubes, which is one-half the number on recent DDG-51s. They might also argue that in a context of renewed great power competition with potential adversaries such as China, which is steadily improving its naval capabilities, it might be prudent to equip each FFG-62 with 48 rather than 32 VLS tubes each, and that doing so might only marginally increase FFG-62 unit procurement costs. They might also argue that equipping each FFG-62 with 48 rather than 32 VLS tubes will permit the Navy to more fully offset a substantial reduction in VLS tubes that the Navy’s surface fleet is projected to experience when the Navy’s 22 Ticonderoga (CG-47) class cruisers, which are each equipped with 122 VLS tubes, are retired, and provide a hedge against the possibility that Navy plans to field VLS tubes on Large Unmanned Surface Vehicles (LUSVs) will be slowed or curtailed for technical or other reasons.
“Supporters of having each FFG-62 be equipped with 32 VLS tubes might argue that the analyses indicating a need for 32 VLS tubes already took improving adversary capabilities (as well as other U.S. Navy capabilities) into account. They might also argue that FFG-62s, in addition to having 32 VLS tubes, will also to have separate, deck-mounted box launchers for launching 16 anti-ship cruise missiles, as well as a separate, 21-cell Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) AAW missile launcher; that the Navy is moving ahead with its plan to deploy additional VLS tubes on LUSVs, which are to act as adjunct weapon magazines for the Navy’s manned surface combatants; and that increasing the number of VLS tubes on each FFG-62 from 32 to 48 would increase (even if only marginally) the procurement cost of a ship that is intended to be an affordable supplement to the Navy’s cruisers and destroyers.
“A May 14, 2019, Navy information paper on expanding the cost impact of expanding the FFG-62 VLS capacity from 32 cells to 48 cells states:
`To grow from a 32 Cell VLS to a 48 Cell VLS necessitates an increase in the length of the ship with a small beam increase and roughly a 200-ton increase in full load displacement. This will require a resizing of the ship, readdressing stability and seakeeping analyses, and adapting ship services to accommodate the additional 16 VLS cells.
A change of this nature would unnecessarily delay detail design by causing significant disruption to ship designs. Particularly the smaller ship designs. Potential competitors have already completed their Conceptual Designs and are entering the Detail Design and Construction competition with ship designs set to accommodate 32 cells.
The cost is estimated to increase between $16M [million] and $24M [million] per ship. This includes ship impacts and additional VLS cells.’
“Compared to an FFG-62 follow-on ship unit procurement cost of about $900 million, the above estimated increase of $16 million to $24 million would equate to an increase in unit procurement cost of about 1.8% to about 2.7%.”