H-I pitches ‘Patrol Frigate’ as cheaper alternative to LCS

Huntington-Ingalls says its simulations show its ship would be cheaper for many missions than the Navy's LCS

Many others have argued this case, but now shipbuilder Huntington-Ingalls Industries is making the pitch all on its own: A new “Patrol Frigate” version of its National Security Cutter would be as good as – or better than – the Navy’s littoral combat ships, it says.

In a commentary posted Wednesday on DoDBuzz, H-I’s customer relations director Patrick Stadt described how the company had commissioned computer modeling that put a naval version of its ship up against a notional LCS in a series of small-warship, “LCS-type” missions.

The twist: The simulation accounted for LCSes both with and without their interchangeable mission equipment – the offboard aircraft, boats and submersibles that the ships need to locate mines, hunt submarines, and take almost all the missions for which LCS was built. The results, given their origins here, will not surprise you, but here they are just the same:

The analysis determined that out of the 19 missions traditionally performed by small surface combatants, seven indicated the Patrol Frigate was the preferred ship. When compared against a non-missionized LCS, (just the seaframe, no mission systems), the Patrol Frigate was the preferred ship in 15 missions.

To compare operational costs (fuel and personnel), six modeled scenarios were run based on proposed scenarios in the [Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments] paper, ranging from securing loose nuclear weapons to maritime interdiction. For those two scenarios, the Patrol Frigate reflected an operational savings of approximately 29 percent and 33 percent, respectively, when compared to an LCS-type ship.  In all six scenarios (the two above and convoy protection, maritime stability operations, counter piracy/counter crime, and humanitarian assistance/disaster response), the Patrol Frigate reflected an operational savings of approximately 26 percent.

The modeling and simulation performed supports the premise that the Patrol Frigate would make an affordable and strong contribution to the low-end of a traditional threat spectrum.  By constructing a mixed fleet of high-conflict and low-conflict capable ships, navies around the globe can glean significant budgetary savings while better aligning ship capability with anticipated mission scenarios.

Yes, the deck is stacked when you pit a fully capable ship against one that’s not operating as intended, but it’s also possible that the ongoing technical problems with the LCS mission modules could mean the Navy has no choice but to field ships without some of the equipment it’s been counting on. For its first trip to Singapore next year, the littoral combat ship USS Freedom is set to carry a “demonstration” module, as opposed to a real one.

The problem for H-I is that no matter how many times or how many ways it makes the pitch for its “Patrol Frigate,” it can’t seem to get any traction. The Navy’s mind is made up – Navy Secretary Ray Mabus confirmed again to Congress this month that the service is locked into its program for 55 LCSes. Even though LCS has its critics on the Hill, no one, as yet, has begun to seriously champion the frigate.

Why the silence? Maybe the Navy pleased everyone in 2010 when it selected LCS designs by both competitors, Lockheed Martin and Austal USA. Happy vendors mean happy lawmakers, and twice the potential opposition to another small ship muscling in on the territory of two satisfied camps.

H-I has also pinned its hopes on the potential for international sales of the “Patrol Frigate,” forecasting a global demand for as many as 215 frigate-sized ships over the next 20 years. So far, that evidently has not translated into real orders. Don’t look for the sales pitch to go away, though: The company is trying to scare up work as soon as it can because the end of production on the National Security Cutter is in sight, and when it winds up, the “Patrol Frigate” concept probably will, too.