FFG-7s: Square Pegs?

By Lieutenant Commander Bruce R. Linder, U. S. Navy

What the Class Represents: As a result of sheer weight of numbers, the FFG-7 will have an impact on surface force operations far beyond her principal design mission. Fifty Oliver Hazard Perry- class ships have been authorized for construction through the fiscal year 1983 budget. This represents the largest single U. S. combatant ship class built since World War II. Upon completion of the class, the FFG-7s will comprise some 50% of the U. S. frigate force, and frigates will account for almost 30% of U. S. surface combatants by 1990.

In antiair warfare (AAW), the class, with its Standard missile loadout of up to 40 missiles, will represent 67% of the magazine capacity of medium-range area defense missiles at sea. The class is also capable of converting this magazine potential into complementary area  AAW coverage for Spruance- and Knox- class escorts.

In antisubmarine warfare (ASW), the class will be the predominant deployment platform for the LAMPS III helicopter system. Backfit of the SQR-19 towed array is also planned; upon installation, the class will comprise nearly half the tactical "tail" surface ships ready for use.

Although described as the quintessential low-mix escort for U. S. Navy fleet missions, the FFG-7 compares favorably with front-line escorts of many allied navies (Table I). Thus, she could capably augment or complement allied naval units in their assigned wartime areas of responsibility, suggesting an important and innovative use for the class.

Design: For the past 12 years, the Navy has struggled to bring the concept of the low-mix escort to reality. The design development has been based on the recurring themes of, first, cost control to allow the procurement of large numbers and, second, optimization for the NATO resupply and support role. Dedication to these themes blended the best portions of the low-mix argument popularized by Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, Jr., former Chief of Naval Operations, with the real requirements for an open-ocean escort. Support for this approach was fueled by the retirement of large numbers of World War If escorts and the specter of a projected shortfall in escort assets to support general war requirements.

As the design idea for the low-mix escort progressed through the actual development phase, many design variations were proposed. Particular attention was paid to the development of an escort attuned to the NATO role, an escort able to combat the submarine-launched AAW threat, and an escort designed to supplement rather than supplant existing ships. The principal design regulator of strict adherence to both cost and displacement limits became the deciding factor in the selection of a mix of shipboard systems to accomplish design goals. Decisions were made in favor of a single screw, gas turbine design, a Mk-13 launching system for both Standard and Harpoon missiles, a substantial helicopter capability, a towed array, an emergency point defense AA W system, engineering survivability, predominant use of existing systems and hardware, and increased dependency on outside support.

Conversely, decisions were made in opposition to a large hull-mounted sonar, a shore bombardment capability, a three-dimensional air search radar, a large degree of shipboard silencing, and a significant level of shipboard system redundancy.

The resultant ship, after almost a decade of study, design, and implementation, is remarkably true to what was first envisioned. The FFG-7 class goes to sea, on balance, as a capable open-ocean escort with the engineering, weapon, and command-and-control systems necessary to carry out that mission.

Nagging questions remain, though? Were our design presumptions correct? Can the FFG-7 carry out those tasks initially envisaged? Does she have the right mix of capability and flexibility to be included as a functioning member of our deployed forces?

The supposition involved in the genesis of these questions is clear. The FFG-7 may substantially embody the raison d’être of the open-ocean escort espoused in the 1970s, but she may quickly confront her operational upper limits as she is integrated into naval operating forces in the 1980s.

Now That We Have Them… : In carrier battle group (CYBG) and surface action group (SAG) operations (and even in some open-ocean escort and amphibious escort operations), multiple ship task groups have been organized so that specific warfare coordination duties have been assumed by individual ships or staffs. This is the composite warfare commander doctrine of command and control.

These ship and staff assignments, such as the antiair warfare commander (AAWC) or antisubmarine warfare commander (ASWC), help the task force commander maximize the tactical worth of his formations by the delegation of important, but time-intensive, warfare coordination duties. With the implementation of this command and control concept in the mid-to-late 1970s, the U. S. Navy task group of today is generally considered better able to confront multidimensional enemy threats while preserving its offensive potential. One spin-off of this command-and-control scheme is that the assigned warfare commander and his attendant staff is achieving a high degree of operational expertise in his specific warfare area through focused training and repetitive operational experience. These recognized "experts" may commence detailed planning many weeks in advance of an at-sea operation, focusing their attention on the combat system attributes of their assigned ships that most closely parallel their assigned warfare area. For instance, detailed planning involving a ship that has both an AAW and an ASW capability but assigned to the ASWC will almost always stress her ASW objectives at the expense of her AAW capabilities.

In this command-and-control environment, the surface ship optimized in a particular area of naval warfare will predominate the ship exhibiting a general combat system versatility. This is largely a result of the economics of ship design development. The ship with an optimized combat systems mission may incorporate better and more expensive hardware than the more generalized ship, which must stretch her combat systems costs across more than one warfare area. Although far from a recognized naval axiom, examples of this warfare specialization abound in our naval surface force: the Spruance- class destroyer in ASW, the guided-missile cruiser in AAW, and the missile hydrofoil in anti-surface warfare (ASUW).

Task force warfare commanders, in their search for the best structure of assets in their area of concern, will inevitably gravitate toward an appreciation for those ships that have the best particular warfare capabilities. How, then, does the more generalized ship fare? It is, in a word, unappreciated. The FFG-7 in the peacetime world may be justtype of ship. Consider her specific warfare attributes from the point of view of a task force warfare commander.

AAWC: The FFG-7 fields a Mk-92 fire control system (FCS) the derivative of a Dutch radar system, for both her gun and missile systems. The Mk-92 FCS in concert with a separate  tracking and illumination radar (STIR) can provide two channels of missile direction for her magazine of up to 40 SM-J (MR) missiles. The FFG-7 AAW system also incorporates the search capabilities of the long-range AN/SPS-49 radar.

The AAWC would be impressed with the AAW potential of the FFG-7, but no amount of discussion would alter his cognition of the limitations of the class. For instance, the bulk of the FFG-7 class presently has no Link-II data linking capability, no three-dimensional search radar, a limited number of missile guidance channels, and a fire control system that Secretary of the Navy John Lehman has described as "a problem" in need of "improvement.” These restraints force the FFG-7 into an AAW supportive role only, rather than that of a leading member of an integrated task group AAW defense.

ASWC: The primary ASW capabilities of the FFG-7 have yet to be installed. Late in the 1980s, FFG-7 ships will have the use of up to two LAMPS III helicopter and a long-range passive towed array sonar system. This combat system will provide a formidable ASW capability against nuclear submarines. Today, the ASWC would view the FFG-7 with only her medium-range, direct-path AN / SQS - 56 digital sonar and close-rangetorpedo system, as exceedingly limited in ASW capability.

ASUWC: The FFG-7 weapon system includes a Harpoon missile capability and a short-range Oto-Melara 76-mm. rapid-fire gun. This closely matches the surface striking capability of many other ships available to the ASUWC, making the FFG-7 a good augmentation to existing firepower.

CVBG Screen Commander: Medium-range sonar capability, Quick sprint speeds, and a good short-range AAW missile capability make the FFG-7 an excellent candidate for carrier plane guard duties.

The FFG-7 is not considered a substantial improvement in force capabilities, or even a substantial supplement to existing capabilities, in any of the warfare areas. In fact inclusion of the FFG-7 into a warfare commander's cast of assets may cause complications. For instance, with a crew size smaller than many other destroyers and frigates, crew endurance limitations, especially during times of increased readiness must be considered. In addition, the FFG-7 was designed specifically without a high degree of equipment redundancy or significant internal repair capabilities, befitting the design mission of a point-to-point escort. These factors tend to tie the ship to shore support facilities to a much greater degree than other ships.

The FFG-7 is becoming the square peg for the Navy's round holes of operational planning. Although not designed for battle group operations, she must increasingly be integrated into CVBGs and SAGs in order to comply with existing surface force-wide training, deployment, and force structure objectives. This role would continue in any likely worldwide naval involvement, short of general war, in the near future.

Beyond participation in CVBGs or SAGs, opportunities for the FFG-7 to operate in environments similar to those envisioned by her designers are rare. In peacetime or in many limited war scenarios, there is little need for convoys or escorted URGs. Similarly, ARG escort requirements, except for scenarios associated with a high level of hostilities, are in most demand only during the assault phase-the phase when covering forces from a battle group would be present and the need for additional FFG-7 escorts proportionally reduced.

Operationally, then, in the 1980s, the FFG-7 will be faced with incorporation into battle group-type activities—a task for which she has not been optimized in design. But, with the class numbering 50 hulls, it cannot be ignored.

The Challenge: Achieving a high degree of use from a class of ship currently so widely unappreciated is a task that must be approached head on. Soon, this class will be the largest single class of escort. Soon, thereafter, as older classes are retired, ships of the FFG-7 class will comprise the majority of all frigates. Low mix notwithstanding, the sheer size of this class demands that naval planners squeeze every ounce 'of service from these ships if future Navy-wide objectives are to be met.

Coupled with any discussion concerning possible means to increase the effectiveness of the class must be an examination of modernization options. An analysis of modernization alternatives should review which improvements are currently programmed arid the impact of these plans on the capability of the class to perform its required missions. In ASW, space and weight have been reserved for the eventual addition of the LAMPS III helicopter system, fin stabilizers, and the SQR-19 towed array system. No major upgrade for the medium-power SQS-56 hull-mounted sonar is programmed. Execution of these modernization initiatives will result in a step improvement in FFG-7 ASW abilities, making the class an important wide-area ASW asset.

In AAW, considerable concern has been raised over the quality of the installed Mk-92 FCS. A three-phase modernization program has been discussed to correct system reliability and performance degradations and to make the unit a more credible AAW resource. The first phase, currently ongoing, has been the development and installation of a series of ordnance alterations to correct reliability problems observed in fleet operations and inspections.  The second phase, currently in research and development, will entail a major program upgrade with the formulation of a coherent receiver transmitter to improve the performance of the radar system.The proposed third phase would include replacement of the existing radar by a lightweight phased-array system. The exact direction this third phase will take is open to discussion and should be classed as a long-term improvement. These three phases of proposed modernization and the backfit of the Phalanx close-in weapons system define an encouraging direction in improved FFG-7 AAW capabilities.

Present modernization plans in both AAW and ASW are decidedly skewed toward the correction of deficiencies observed in the introduction units of the class. Present modernization intentions will not counter threats developing over the life of the class. Additional initiatives to improve the class should therefore be a recurring theme in annual research and development program deliberations. The FFG-7, however, will not be an easy class to modernize during its lifetime. This is a result of two things: little space and weight that have been reserved for later system additions, and the size of the class. Any ship improvement cost must be multiplied by a factor of 50.

The FFG-7 class is with us now and will comprise an increasingly influential bulk of our surface forces. The low-mix design limitations of the class, coupled with the desire to fit a wide variety of combat systems at a low total ship cost, has resulted in a class of ship long on adaptability but short on specific warfare area potency. The solution for how to employ the FFG-7 class in the coming years must be innovative.

Some suggestions to kindle thought on this solution include the following:

  • Specialization: Invest in class modernization focused on a particular warfare area, leaving other warfare areas as currently configured. For example, in stressing ASW, we should dramatically improve or replace the SQS-56 sonar and add an antisubmarine rocket capability. Or in stressing AAW, we should immediately support efforts to install phased-array radar updates and data link capabilities. As a subset to specialization, we should consider dividing the class into two, with some ships AAW-oriented, and others ASW.
  • Battle Group Capable: Currently, the FFG-7 is officially considered "non-battle group capable," meaning she is optimized for lower-threat environments than those that might be encountered by a naval battle group during conflict. We should immediately upgrade FFG-7 AAW and/or ASW effectiveness and ensure that she is able to participate in the data and communication links of battle group command and control.
  • Tactical Teams: The FFG-7 could be teamed with another ship to provide increased tactical use . This option could be particularly effective if the FFG-7 were employed as an ASW "shotgun" for an AAW picket ship or if she were employed in tandem with allied forces.
  • Operation in Squadrons: A squadron of FFG-7s could be designated to act as a tactical unit, much as hydrofoils do now. Then, we should develop doctrine and tactics to support a wide range of new missions, such as inshore operations, choke point operations, barrier ASW, and overseas home-ported support of allied navies.

The Oliver Hazard Perry class can potentially become the highly appreciated FRAM of the 1990s, that is, if we do not let the class become the Navy's square peg of the 1980s.

Commander Linder has served on board cruisers, destroyers, and frigates—all in the Pacific. He holds a master's degree in oceanography from the University of Michigan and is currently assigned to the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations.

 

 
 

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