GEAR & TECH

This Spanish warship could be the next US Navy frigate

(U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate Airman Eben Boothby)

Let's face it: The littoral combat ship has not exactly lived up to all of the hype. In fact, it has proven to be inadequate in replacing the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates. Now, the United States Navy has started the FFG(X) program to find the next guided-missile frigate, and five shipbuilders are contending. One such shipbuilder is General Dynamics, which intends to iterate on the Spanish Alvaro de Bazan-class guided-missile frigate.


This class of frigate has been around for a while — the lead ship was commissioned by the Spanish Navy in 2002. The vessel weighs 5,800 tons and carries a five-inch gun, a 48-cell Mk 41 vertical-launch system, two twin 324mm torpedo tubes, a 20m Meroka close-in weapon system, and, for good measure, an H-60 helicopter. The Bazan also has the SPY-1 radar and the Aegis Combat System. In this sense, it's like a miniature Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer.

The Cristobal Colon, the fifth Alvaro de Bazan-class guided missile frigate.

(Photo by Diego Quevedo Carmona)

As the Bazan-class was entering service, the United States Navy had begun to look at replacing the Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigates. The Perry-class frigates had been initially equipped with a Mk 13 missile launcher that could carry up to 40 missiles (usually a mix of RIM-66 Standard SM-1MR missiles and RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missiles), a single 76mm gun, two triple 324mm torpedo tube mounts, and a Mk 15 Phalanx close-in weapon system.

USS Reuben James (FFG 57) during her trials in the 1980s. Note the Mk 13 missile launcher.

(US Navy photo)

The littoral combat ship has seen a number of problems. The big issue has been breakdowns that leave the ships stuck pierside. Well, one didn't break down, it got iced in — but the problem persists nonetheless. The other problem is that the littoral combat ships usually enter the fight with just a single 57mm gun, a few .50-caliber machine guns, and a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile.

An Alvaro de Bazan-class guided missile frigate in the Pacific. Note the antenna for the SPY-1 radar.

(US Navy photo)


The Navy is planning to buy 20 of these new frigates, with the announcement and order of the first ship to be made in 2020. Whether the Bazan makes the cut remains to be seen.