In fighter procurement, there’s a concept known as the high-low mix: buy a small number of expensive fighters and a large number of less expensive fighter. The theory goes that it’s bad to be outnumbered and bad to be out-gadgeted, so mix the two together and mitigate the disadvantages of both1.
There’s a similar paradigm in naval procurement, although the reasoning is different. Big, expensive surface combatants—your carriers, your Kirovs, your Burkes—are well and dandy, and indeed, are usually more capable than the equivalent tonnage of smaller things. They have an enormous and obvious drawback, though: physically, they can only be in one place at a time. Luchtburg has its ‘high’ platforms in its aircraft carriers2, and it also has its ‘super-low’ local naval force3. What has been missing, up to this article, is a solid, dependable, light- to middleweight warship: an Oliver Hazard Perry for the modern age.
I’ve rather given up the game in the title, because, for a nation in the Americas, there is only one choice that makes any sense for worldwide sea lane influence: the FREMM, a French-Italian collaboration. Specifically, I’m talking about the Italian anti-submarine version. Over the French version, it has 900 tons, extra range and speed, room for a second helicopter, extra VLS tubes4, anti-submarine cruise missiles, a towed array, and a better radar. As I see it, a frigate5 has three major roles.
First, and most traditional, is the anti-submarine role. The Italian ASW FREMM is an extremely capable ship in this regard. Perhaps its most critical edge over other, similar options is the ability to carry two medium-lift helicopters. With their mobility, sensors, and immunity to counterattack, helicopters are extraordinarily important ASW assets, to the point where I dismiss out of hand any ASW ship without room for a brace of helos. Also important is a good towed sonar, and FREMM doesn’t disappoint. It has an advanced towed array from Thales, which has such exciting features as a separated transmitter and receiver array for working around layers, and low-frequency operational modes for longer active detection ranges.
Second, a ship operating by itself must be able to defend itself against air and cruise missile threats. The Italian version uses the Selex EMPAR radar, one of the class-toppers in the realm of passive electronically-scanned arrays for naval vessels, and the Luchtbourgish version carries thirty-two tubes6. As with all FREMMs, it supports Aster 15 and Aster 30 missiles. As an added bonus, the latter has a dedicated anti-ballistic variant in testing, and already has minor anti-ballistic capability. Luchtburg’s FREMMs will come with standalone SEARAM launchers mounted on the foredeck and the hangar roof.
Third, a frigate must be able to attack other things on the surface, be they other seagoing vessels or land targets. The VLS, with its sixteen SYLVER A70 cells, can support cruise missiles, and the FREMM has eight cruise missile launchers amidships (the Italian version can launch anti-ship missiles, anti-submarine missiles, and land-attack missiles from the midships launchers). Further, for smaller targets, our FREMM variant mounts a pair of OTO-Melara rapid-firing 76mm guns. OTO-Melara produces a bunch of interesting ammunition for its rapid-firing guns, including an anti-ship round with IR terminal guidance, and a GPS/INS-guided land-attack munition.
1. I think. I’m not actually an expert.
2. And probably Arleigh Burkes or indigenous large missile destroyers, but I haven’t decided yet.
3. I’ll tell you later.
4. As equipped, it only has sixteen, but the Italians reserved room for another sixteen.
5. I’ll be using the European term for the FREMM, although calling a 6900-ton ship a frigate is patently absurd.
6. I would like more, but I don’t think it’s plausible to pack them in.
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