June 20, 2024

Has the US Navy forgotten how to build warships?

Over the past few decades, the US Navy’s plans to develop new surface combat aircraft have had a bumpy ride, to say the least. With the exception of the development of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer designed in the 1980s, all of these new projects faced design problems that led to a significant reduction in the US Navy’s capabilities.

To counter this, the Pentagon pledged to launch a new warship program in the late 2010s. The project, known as the Constellation class, is based on an already proven model, in this case the Italian Bergamini-class FREMM, precisely to avoid the excesses seen in previous projects, which led to significant delays and massive additional costs.

A few weeks ago, a report commissioned by Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro revealed several dysfunctions in the US Navy’s current programs. The Constellation class battleship program is no exception. In fact, four years after launch, the project is already three years behind schedule and is not expected to be operational until 2027.

A new report from the Government Audit Office (GAO), released recently, makes this even clearer. To sum up their conclusions: The US Navy has indeed forgotten how to effectively undertake large industrial projects such as the construction of a new warship, and the Constellation program proves a flawed methodology.

GAO’s definitive report on the US Navy’s conduct of the Constellation-class warship program

It must be said GAO disclosures, surrounding this project, is amazing when it comes to the most impressive and powerful fleet in the world. Not only is the program almost as far behind as it has been, it has abandoned most of the precedents it set.

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Ultimately, the Starships and Pergamini-class FREMMs will share only 15% common components. Is this the same 15% shared by French and Italian frames?

Therefore, the Constellation-class warships had to be designed quickly and produced even more quickly so that they could be used as an easy lever to strengthen the US surface fleet, which had only 20 ships in the program.

For this purpose, the US Navy agreed to resort to an external model, choosing the Italian FREMM of the Pergamini class, with its undeniable qualities and Fincantieri’s own shipyard on the other side of the Atlantic Marinette shipbuilding. Specifically, Wisconsin produces the Independence-class LCS.

However, the Italian FREMM began to be quickly redesigned by the various services of the US Navy, absorbing several hundred tons and a new installment, especially to strengthen its resistance to enemy attacks.

As the months passed, the differences between the two ships grew more and more, so that today only 15% of the original FREMM remains in the Constellation class. Everything from engines to weapons to sensors and even the hull have been replaced or replaced, so much so that the GAO describes the two ships in its report as “distant cousins” rather than close relatives.

Obviously this has completely negated the expected benefits of the project. Therefore, the original construction of these warships took three to six years. Worse still, the final configuration of the ships was still undecided and the construction of the first units began without verification.

U.S. A methodological issue highlighted by GAO related to the Navy’s conduct of industrial programs

These deviations and defects have many consequences for both the cost of the project and its industrial performance. The cost of the first four units ordered by the US Navy from Marinette Shipbuilding has increased by $310 million since the order was placed, with no change in volume.

LCS No. from USS Detroit Marinette Shipyard.  Initiation of 7
USS Detroit, the 7th LCS, and the launch of the fourth Freedom-class ship, Constellation-class frigates are also built at Marinette Shipyards, WI.

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