The phantom frigate

Huntingon Ingalls wants to build a gray-hulled, heavily-armed, Aegis-equipped version of the Coast Guard's new flagship cutter. Problem is, nobody seems to want to buy it.

Huntington Ingalls Industries may now be a separate company from its former parent Northrop Grumman, but some things never change: This week, as it has for years, exhibitors used their booth at the Sea Air Space trade show to promote a concept that the new company officials still hope could be a big new moneymaker for the Ingalls yard in Pascagoula, Miss.: A badass naval version of the comparatively tame National Security Cutter now in use with the Coast Guard.

The concept used to be called the “National Patrol Frigate,” but now HII is just calling it “the Patrol Frigate” — hear that, international customers? — and unlike the Coast Guard’s production version, this thing would be armed to the teeth. In addition to the main gun forward (possibly the same 57mm gun on the Coast Guard’s ships and Navy’s littoral combat ships, but not necessarily) it could have vertical launch cell for missiles, Harpoon missiles on the faintail, and even a SeaRAM launcher on the deckhouse above the helo hangars. The ship would even carry an Aegis SPY-1F radar on its main mast. All this hardware would make one of these things practically a pocket battleship, in today’s terms, given the 4,500-ton National Security Cutter hull.

There’s only one problem: No one seems to want to buy them. The Coasties love their ships as-is, and they don’t need or want all those expensive weapons. Both the Navy’s models of LCS are far from perfect, but the brass loves them and doesn’t want to hear about the National Security Cutter design. So what navy could possibly want a ship that required all those costly missile reloads — especially SeaRAM? Good question.

(For the record, HII’s model builders put a tiny paper American flag on the model they displayed this week at Sea Air Space — maybe they hope tomorrow’s American admirals will come around after all.)