MARINETTE — The U.S. Navy released a Request for Information (RFI) on Monday which could have ramifications close to home. 

The Navy’s solicitation from the shipbuilding industry this week called for designs of a new frigate ship, tentatively called FFG(X), or Fast Frigate, Guided (Experimental). The FFG(X) would fill the Small Surface Combatant category, which the Navy has aimed to increase to 52 ships. The bulk of the Small Surface Combatant fleet will be Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), currently being built by Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Marinette and Austal USA in Mobile, Ala. 

The RFI for the new frigates calls for a ship of similar size to the LCS, but with several differences and upgrades in technology and design. The Navy said it is looking for a ship with combat and mechanical systems that can integrate with a carrier strike group or operate independently, hunt submarines and kill ships over the horizon. It is opening the floor up for existing designs and adaptations from them, in order to see faster results. 

According to an article in Popular Mechanics, the RFI reflects “widespread dissatisfaction with the troubled, frigate-sized Littoral Combat Ships.”

“The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) fell victim to a combination of technological overreach and a changing geopolitical environment that made the ships minimally capable, unreliable, and obsolete in a world of variable global threats,” reads the article by Kyle Mizokami. “In its place, the Navy wants a more traditional guided-missile frigate design capable of tackling larger, more complex roles.”

Mizokami’s statement certainly reflects the views of some in Congress about the LCS program, most notably Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who famously said the ships were “an unfortunate and classic example” of defense acquisition gone wrong. High-profile breakdowns of LCS have given some a tainted view of the program, and the growing size of the People’s Liberation Army Navy, China’s naval force, as well as aggressive relations with Russia, have brought a critical eye to the LCS program and its shortcomings. 

Still, the transition from LCS to a frigate design has been in the works for several years, and Austal USA and Lockheed Martin, Marinette Marine’s partner in the LCS program, have been working on their designs for submittal since at least December, when it was reported in a Senate Armed Services Committee meeting by Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition Sean Stackley. 

The Navy’s hope is to award the contract for the first FFG(X) in 2020, with one ordered in 2020 and another in 2021, followed by two per year beyond that.