Navy Picks Italian Design For Its New FFG-X Guided Missile Frigate

The frigate, which will be built at the Italian firm's Wisconsin-based subsidiary, is based on ships already in service with four allied navies.

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The U.S. Navy has chosen Marinette Marine, a Wisconsin-based U.S. subsidiary of Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri, to build up to 10 of its new guided-missile frigates, presently referred to as FFG(X). This follows reports just days ago that the service would award this contract soon, months ahead of its initial schedule.

The Pentagon announced the contract award, valued at $795,116,483, in its daily contracting announcement on Apr. 20, 2020. This is a fixed price deal with incentives that covers the costs of designing and constructing the initial ship, as well as various other ancillary costs, and also includes separate options for nine additional frigates. Fitting the first FFG(X) out with the required weapons, sensors, and other systems could raise the total purchase cost to $1.281 billion, which is in line with previous cost estimates, according to Navy budget documents. The Navy hopes to see the average unit price drop to around $781 million as over the course of the production run.

The full contract announcement is as follows:

"Marinette Marine Corp., Marinette, Wisconsin, is awarded a $795,116,483 fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract for detail design and construction (DD&C) of the FFG(X) class of guided-missile frigates, with additional firm-fixed-price and cost reimbursement line items. The contract with options will provide for the delivery of up to 10 FFG(X) ships, post-delivery availability support, engineering and class services, crew familiarization, training equipment and provisioned item orders.  If all options are exercised, the cumulative value of this contract will be $5,576,105,441. Work will be performed at multiple locations, including Marinette, Wisconsin (52%); Boston, Massachusetts (10%); Crozet, Virginia (8%); New Orleans, Louisiana (7%); New York, New York (6%); Washington, D.C. (6%), Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin (3%), Prussia, Pennsylvania (3%), Minneapolis, Minnesota (2%); Cincinnati, Ohio (1%); Atlanta, Georgia (1%); and Chicago, Illinois (1%). The base contract includes the DD&C of the first FFG(X) ship and separately priced options for nine additional ships.  The FFG(X) will have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, and electronic warfare and information operations.  FFG(X) represents the evolution of the Navy's small surface combatant, with increased lethality, survivability and improved capability to support the National Defense Strategy across the full range of military operations in the current security environment. Work is expected to be complete by May 2035, if all options are exercised. Fiscal 2020 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) funding in the amount of $795,116,483 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Federal Business Opportunities website and four offers were received. The Navy conducted this competition using a tradeoff process to determine the proposal representing the best value, based on the evaluation of non-price factors in conjunction with price. The Navy made the best value determination by considering the relative importance of evaluation factors as set forth in the solicitation, where the non-price factors of design and design maturity and objective performance (to achieve warfighting capability) were approximately equal and each more important than remaining factors.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-20-C-2300)."

Fincantieri's proposal is based on the Franco-Italian Fregata Europea Multi-Missione (FREMM), or European Multi-Mission Frigate, design, variants of which are in service with the Italian, French, Egyptian, and Moroccan navies. You can read more about the FREMM derivative the shipbuilder developed to meet the FFG(X) requirements in this past War Zone piece.

The Italian shipbuilder beat out offers from a partnership between General Dynamics Bath Iron Works and Spanish shipbuilder Navantia, as well as ones from Austal USA and Huntington Ingalls. The competition first began in 2017. Lockheed Martin dropped out of the running in 2019 as a prime contractor, but is also a member of Fincantieri's team of subcontractors.

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The five original FFG(X) teams. Lockheed Martin pulled out as a prime contractor in 2019.

"The Navy’s Guided-Missile Frigate (FFG(X)) will be an important part of our future fleet," Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Gilday said in a separate U.S. Navy statement. “FFG(X) is the evolution of the Navy’s Small Surface Combatant with increased lethality, survivability, and improved capability to support the National Defense Strategy across the full range of military operations. It will no doubt help us conduct distributed maritime operations more effectively, and improve our ability to fight both in contested blue-water and littoral environments.”

“I am very proud of the hard work from the requirements, acquisition, and shipbuilder teams that participated in the full and open competition, enabling the Navy to make this important decision today,” James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development, and Acquisition, also said. "Throughout this process, the government team and our industry partners have all executed with a sense of urgency and discipline, delivering this contract award three months ahead of schedule.  The team’s intense focus on cost, acquisition, and technical rigor, enabled the government to deliver the best value for our taxpayers as we deliver a highly capable next generation Frigate to our Warfighters."

Fincantieri's proposed FFG(X) variant of the FREMM, which is a very mature and still-in-production design, long appeared to be a very attractive and low-risk option for the Navy. In addition, the FREMMs feature a highly efficient combined diesel-electric and gas (CODLAG) propulsion system, which could make the FFG(X) variant relatively cheap to operate, as well.

The head of the Navy's Program Executive Office for Unmanned and Small Combatants (USC), Rear Admiral Casey Moton, also told reporters that Fincantieri had done significant work to demonstrate the capabilities of its proposed ship. "I think we did a lot of due diligence," he added.

The contract is also an important win for the Marinette Marine shipyard specifically, which has been building Freedom class littoral combat ships as part of a partnership between Lockheed Martin and Fincantieri. With the end of the Freedom's production run looming, another major U.S. military contract will help ensure it additional work down the road. Marinette Marine is also set to build four other frigates, derived from the Freedom class, for Saudi Arabia.

At present, Navy expects the construction of the first FFG(X) to begin no later than 2022 and then take delivery of that ship in 2026. Depending on when it might exercise the remaining options in the contract, it could have eight more in various stages of production when the first one arrives. The service has said it does not expect the COVID-19 pandemic to impact these shipbuilding plans.

Beyond all this, this is certainly an exciting announcement that will have significant impacts on the structure of the U.S. Navy's surface fleets for years to come.

The War Zone will continue to update this post with additional details as they become available.

Contact the author: joe@thedrive.com