Industry view: Why the Navy needs a ‘Patrol Frigate’

In this commentary, Huntington-Ingalls Industries’ corporate director of customer relations, Patrick H. Stadt, makes the case for a U.S. Navy version of the company’s National Security Cutter.

The fourth of eight planned National Security Cutters is currently in production at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. The first three cutters have been delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard and are already proving themselves as highly capable, multi-mission ships.

The NSC’s capabilities not only support the traditional U.S. Coast Guard missions of search and rescue, fisheries enforcement and counter narcotic patrols, but also add national/homeland defense and support of Navy missions to the mission set. Principally designed to carry out all of those Coast Guard missions, the NSC is also highly capable today of fulfilling several missions in support of naval requirements, particularly where greater endurance and mission flexibility are key factors.

With minor configuration variations, the NSC can become a Patrol Frigate that can perform additional missions against a broad array of threats including air, submarine, and surface. As navies worldwide grapple with balancing affordability, capability, and performance, integration of Patrol Frigates into a fleet mix will efficiently and effectively capitalize on the ships’ strengths to carry out a broad range of frigate missions.

The NSC was originally designed as the replacement for the aging Hamilton class of 378-foot cutters built in the late 1960s. NSCs were first envisioned to have modern propulsion and communications systems but relatively few major differences when compared to the cutters they were replacing.

During the design spirals that refined the requirements, the terrorist attacks of 9/11 occurred, and along with the disposition of the nation, the requirements changed for the NSC. The new cutters had become much more than just replacements for the old Hamiltons.

These post-9/11 requirements for the NSC resulted in a better armed, more survivable cutter with enhanced communication and aviation capabilities. With the exception of ice operations and aids to navigation, the NSC is fully capable of carrying out all of the varied missions of the service.

Not only do they possess this multi-mission capability on every deployment, they do so independent of any other floating unit. Their 12,000 nautical mile range allows for extensive on-station operations; the optimally sized crew of 110 is trained and capable of carrying out the numerous missions while embarking only an additional six-person aviation detachment for normal ops and an additional 11 persons for wartime ops.

With a top sustained speed of 28 knots and endurance based on food stores of 60 days, the NSC is a ship capable of projecting a relevant, persistent, independent presence. Its armament is similar to the combat system suite found on the U.S. Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, which also includes soft kill and other electronic warfare systems. Fully interoperable with the U.S. Navy, it is also capable of underway refueling and replenishment. With this degree of flexibility and capability inherent in the NSC, it stands out as a ship that could greatly benefit navies around the globe in mission areas envisioned for small surface combatants and quickly fill the gaps caused by the decreasing numbers of frigates.

To quantify how NSC as a Patrol Frigate could be complementary to other small surface combatants, HII used a modeling and simulation program that was derived from a personnel and fuel cost evaluation tool. Prior to running any simulations, HII retained MicroSystems Integration, an established modeling and simulation company, to validate the model and its input assumptions. After minor adjustments, the model was found to be sound and useable for the purpose of analyzing various operational scenarios employing patrol frigates and small surface combatants.

For the purpose of the modeling, the 2010 Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s paper on “Littoral Combat Ships, An Examination of its Possible Concepts of Operation” was employed to baseline the mission areas and operational scenarios. The CSBA paper was also the prime reference in “The Littoral Combat Ship and Irregular Warfare,” an article written by Capt. Robinson Harris and posted on the Second Line of Defense website on Sept. 14. The CSBA paper suggested 19 varied missions, including special forces insertion and extraction; maritime interdiction; influence/humanitarian assistance, disaster response operations, and resource protection, the last being the focus of Capt. Harris’ discussions.

MicroSystems Integration used historic U.S. Navy data from the 2010 Navy Program Guide to calculate the expected frequency for each of the 19 missions for the LCS-type ship during an average year and then assigned the preferred ship to each. The history was taken from legacy ships that now perform “LCS type” missions. Preferred ships for a given mission were determined through numerical analysis of rated parameters consisting of speed, endurance/presence, defense, small boat launch and recovery, aircraft launch and recovery, command and control, draft, and stealth. For the purpose of this analysis, the Patrol Frigate was “as built, operating independently” (equivalent to the current NSC configuration) and the LCS was “missionized, operating independently” (a blended version of the two LCSs currently in production).

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 CSBA 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.

The Patrol Frigate is an optimum balance of affordability, capability, and proven performance for low-conflict, high-endurance missions and would be a cost effective addition to combatant fleets around the world.