Sometimes, It's What They Don't Say
(Source: Forecast International; issued March 13, 2018)
NEWTOWN, Conn. --- The US Navy has awarded five concept development contracts for the new FFX program. The $15M contracts were awarded to General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (offering an F-100 derivative), Fincantieri Marine (the Italian version of FREMM), Huntington Ingalls (their own frigate design), Austal USA (an LCS-2 derivative), and Lockheed Martin (an LCS-1 derivative).

The FFX program envisages the development of a larger, more heavily armed successor to the Littoral Combat Ship classes. The five selected designs, three developed in the US and two in Europe, represent developments of proven designs. The two European ships are already in service with a variety of navies and are well-regarded by their operators. The two LCS-derived designs are enlarged variants of the original classes in which the mission module equipment is permanently installed rather than being part of a reconfigurable ship package. The HII design is a derivative of the National Security Cutter built for the US Coastguard.

However, the interesting part of this development is not who got the contract but who didn't. Seven designs were proposed as candidates for concept development contracts. The two bids that were rejected at this point were the Atlas USA/TKMS offering a F-125 derivative and a BAE Systems bid offering the Royal Navy Type 26 frigate.

Although no official reason for their failure to win a contract has been advanced, the well-publicized electronics and stability problems with the F-125 may have cost it a place in a program where the key words have been "avoid technical risk." As an unproven design that has barely started construction, it would appear that the level of technical risk in the Type 26 design may have been regarded as too high.

In 18 months' time, when the concept development phase is completed, the five candidate designs will be pared down to three. There are no obvious candidates for deletion at this point although the current favorites are the two LCS-based designs and the Italian FREMM class. Whether this proves to be correct or not is something only time will tell. Although nobody has openly admitted it, the technical risk issue may well continue to dominate the selection process.


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