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Report: U.S. Navy's New Frigate May Deliver Three Years Late

Constellation-class
Illustration courtesy Fincantieri

Published Apr 2, 2024 7:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

The U.S. Navy's future Constellation-class frigate program is on track to run as much as three years late, according to USNI. Weighed down by workforce recruitment issues and design maturity challenges, the program may not deliver its first hull until 2029, according to a formal program review document.  

In 2020, the Navy selected a design based on the proven and popular French/Italian FREMM frigate to serve as its future guided missile frigate platform. The fast-track plan called for the first hull, USS Constellation, to deliver in 2026. 

However, the Wisconsin-based builder of the Constellation has experienced challenges in recruiting and retaining workers. The U.S. Navy has provided direct assistance in the form of a $50 million grant for retention bonuses, payable to yard employees who stayed for a year or more. Manning difficulties continue, according to USNI, and extend to the white-collar workforce as well. (Most American shipbuilders and shipbuilding supply chain companies have reported similar staffing problems, and the Navy has experienced the same difficulties in filling its own ranks.)

The Constellation-class' timeline has also been affected by design modifications. From the start, the frigate program was intended to leverage a proven hull design to reduce risk and cost, a lesson taken from the Littoral Combat Ship program. A source close to the Constellation-class program told USNI that the ship has changed so much that it now has approximately 15 percent commonality with the original FREMM. The design work has not yet been completed, though construction is already under way. 

A top Navy procurement official also told Defense News that the shipyard for the Constellation-class is juggling two other tasks - completing the last few hulls of the Freedom-class Littoral Combat Ship, and building a derivative of the LCS for export to Saudi Arabia. 

The U.S. Navy may add a second "follow-on" shipyard to build additional Constellation-class frigates, in parallel with the initial shipyard. That second round of procurement is expected to occur further down the road in order to leverage any lessons-learned from the first hulls in the series. 

Other high-profile shipbuilding programs are also delayed, the review found. The Columbia-class ballistic missile sub is behind by a year, Virginia-class attack subs are behind by 2-3 years, and the future carrier USS Enterprise is behind by up to two years, according to Defense News.