Given that many of the anti-Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) crowd have adapted the FFG-7 Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigates as a sort of “alternative” to the LCS (a legacy shipbuilding program that, in the opinion of the anti-LCS crowd, was everything the LCS program is not), a nice dose of history might be in order.

Those who now love the FFG-7 program probably don’t remember that the FFG-7, in its early days, was the LCS of the Seventies.

Don’t believe me? Here’s an excerpt from a June 1977 paper entitled “The U.S. Sea Control Mission: Forces, Capabilities, and Requirements,” detailing criticism leveled by, back then, the trendy-minded, well-heeled anti-FFG-7 crowd. Read the passage. It should sound familiar to anybody who has sorted any amount of anti-LCS agitation:

“The FFG-7 program has met with considerable criticism in recent years on several accounts. It has proved far more costly than originally planned: estimates of its unit cost rose from about $65 million to $168 million in constant dollars in just three years. At the same time, serious questions have been raised about its capabilities. Critics claim that the FFG lacks firepower and redundant sensors for operations in high-threat areas; that its single screw propulsion renders it vulnerable to attackers; that it lacks size and capacity for low-cost, mid-life modifications. Other critics have suggested that the FFG is too slow for conducting ASW operations against modern Soviet submarines. The House Armed Services Committee was particularly critical of the FFG program…”

That’s quite an inauspicious beginning…But today, more than 30 years after introduction, FFG-7s remain efficient enough for modern Navies to operate–and valuable enough to upgrade.

Look closely at those cost estimates. Plug the first FFG-7 cost estimate into an inflation calculator and the result is $230 million–almost exactly the same amount of money the Navy first programmed for the LCS.

Shove that final 1977 FFG-7 cost estimate of $168 million into an inflation calculator, and the end result is $595 million in 2009 dollars. Today, the LCS-3 and 4 cost $548.8 million and $547.7 million respectively. If one of the two LCS designs functions as advertised–and are hiding no major flaws–then we’ve got a pretty interesting higher-end FFG-7-like replacement platform.

That bit of context might give LCS critics something to think about. Of course, even with the “FFG-7 was/is better than the LCS” platform knocked about a bit, the debate over whether or not a less costly ship model might serve just as well as an LCS remains valid…and valuable. So have at it!


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  • Ahem, lets factor in the cost of the mission modules, shall we. At least the Figs came equipped with a SAM/SSM missile system, a 76mm gun, torpedos and sonar. They also had a crew size that would allow it to stay on station for more than a couple of weeks. Oh yes, twice the range too. Of course, they couldn’t do 50 knots, so they must be inferior!

  • Yep. And critics of the carriers–from the heady days of the Lexington and Saratogo–liked (and still do like) to rail about the price of their attached air wings…


    Additionally, the FFG-7 had significant room to grow, something that is completely lacking in the LCS. When the Mission Module Program manager celebrates because he found an 800lb weight reduction by using a different type of door on the misson modules, you know you have little to no room for growth. So all the things that LCS doesn’t have to begin with, like a deguassing system or torpedo defenses, will likely never be retro-fitted in the future.

    Another interesting thing to note is that manpower is not that different between the two when you add in the fact that there are 4 crews planned for 3 ships for LCS, the mission package crews, and the additional shore infrastructure that will be required to support the LCS (And LCS manpower will be more expensive since there are no first term personnel on an LCS).

  • This is more proof of the obsolescence of frigate type vessels,not a call to “like the LCS or lump it”! The decline of the frigate has been ongoing since the Perry’s entered service, which are now costing closer to the missile destroyer which we need. You can’t build exquisite type vessels only and expect to increase the Navy or perform sea control. They are now too costly to build in adequate numbers and too undercapable to make up for their lack of quantities.

    The answer is the corvette type and patrol vessels which cost one-third the price of FFG/LCS, at less than one-third the size. A back to basics in warship design, or continued shrinking.

  • Byron

    And to what affect will these corvette bathtub toys have? Will they be large enough to have both offensive and defensive weapons and sensors? Will they have sufficient electrical generation? Will they have a decent cruising range other than that large pool known as the Med? How much punishment can they absorb and still bring most of their sailors home, unlike Starke and Roberts?

    The FFG was and is a tough little ship. It’s been performing it’s missions for a long time now, and doing them well. And FYI, DS, the FFGs past their class decom date ten years ago. Everything after that was gravy.

    Last, since I’ve worked on FFGs since they were brand spanking new, I know for a fact they are and have had room to grow. The same argument is not true of the LCS.

    Pitiful comparison…

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    Despite Mike Burleson’s continuing advocacy of a Jeffersonian Gunboat policy redux, instead of those “expensive” frigates (it is amusing to see the same arguments, practically verbatim, after a couple of centuries), Byron’s points are on the mark. The gunboats (aka LCS) are oversized,underarmed, top heavy, fragile, and not multimission in any tactically or operationally meaningful sense… for the frigate niche in the spectrum of missions and operational capabilities.

    Mike: you keep using the term exquisite. In this context, I do not think it means what you think it means. In my understanding it refers to being of very high value based on excellent design and craftmanship, thus something to be sought. Not necessarily high cost either, but it seems the mistake of the age to confuse cost with value.

    From my standpoint the correct term for the LCS is “shoddy” (technically the weave specified for the cloth of union army uniforms), which means poorly and cheaply manufactured, as well as overcharged for, in addition to being grossly inadequate for the purpose.

    Inadequate ships are the most expensive once the battle commences.

  • Jim Dolbow

    Great post Springboard! I have long thought it was criminal to prematurely retire these frigates. Instead of transferring them to foreign navies, they shoukld have been given to the USCG.

  • Jim Dolbow

    Great post Springboard! I have long thought it was criminal to prematurely retire these frigates. Instead of transferring them to foreign navies, they should have been given to the USCG.

  • Chuck Hill

    Jim, Since I was one, I recognize only someone in the Coast Guard would consider this premature. But then the 378s are 7 to 22 years older.

  • Heh. Fun to poke at the hornet’s nest from time to time. Now, anybody who reads the home blog knows that I’m no fan of the LCS-1; I’m far more excited about the LCS-2–as an unmnanned vehicle platform, sensor distributor, and Marine Corps taxi.

    What I do find interesting is that, I think, in certain quarters we’ve looked back on the FFG-7 with rose-tinted glasses. The FFG-7 had to weather a lot of criticsm that, right now, is being leveled at the LCS, and yet the FFG-7 grew into something that nobody–and I mean nobody–expected. I’d have loved to have known what side of the road Byron fell upon when the FFG haters were proposing DD-963s as heavier-armed, longer-legged, bigger growth potential and more survivable a platform. (But the 963s…they didn’t last for the long road, did they?)

    While price over-runs stink, I think anybody who goes to the fainting couch about the LCS price over-runs (without mentioning the NSC Cutter or LPD-17) is being disingenuous (Congressman Taylor, call your office!). Looks to me like the Navy took the FFG-7 playbook and is looking at the LCS as something of a one-for-one replacement…that might give one a pause, but…I’m just throwing the info out there for discussion.

    Certainly, I think some of the criticsm about the LCS is valid, some not so much (LCS-1 is topheavy. LCS-2? Ahh, not so much…). I strongly suspect LCS-1 has some unrecoverable flaws, while LCS-2 has a lot more room for interesting stuff–we’ll see if it can take the tonnage. Manning, you know, we’ll have to see. But the Swift seems to have done alright so far…

    I didn’t think somebody would bring the old Hamilton Class up here, but, hey, welcome! These oldd guys sure keep on keepin’ on…

  • leesea

    ALCON, lets be clear here the Navy said it wanted an HSV and that is what they got in both LCS. The naval officers seem NOT to understand the implications of adopting an HSV? to wit all the BS ideas about adding systems and therefore weight to an HSV which only works to a small extent. News flash one can not add weight to an HSV like one can to a displacement hull! So do blame the new designs so much as those who specified them!

    Also Grampa I don’t think this applies to LCS? “poorly and cheaply manufactured, as well as overcharged for, in addition to being grossly inadequate for the purpose.” The Navy got what they asked for!

    Lets hope the USN can change course by changing the “next-gen” LCS RFP? With revised performance rqmts and specified systems, they might be able to tweak it?

  • Scott B.

    This blog entry lacks a bit of *contextualization*, shall we say. E.g. :

    1) The Mission Package aspect was completely left aside, not just from a cost POV as William Powell observed earlier, but also from a performance / maturity POV. Contrast the relative maturity of the weapons systems of the Perry back when it was being designed with the *immaturity* (to be prude) of every single Mission Package, from SUW to MIW, without which LCS becomes a meaningless proposal.

    2) Back in the good ol’ days of the Cold War, *high-threat* environments didn’t exactly have the meaning they have today, and even by today’s standards, any of the existing LCS designs would have a hard time coping with *medium threat* environments anyway. E.g., it’d be interesting to find out how that big aluminium box called LCS-2, with its skeleton crew, would be able to swallow even one Exocet. I’m not even going to consider LCS-1 at this stage : shooting at the ambulance would be a serious lack of decency !!!

  • YNSN

    I do not hear many people talk about why the concept of FFG7 was invented. If there was no DLGN (CGN) initiative then there would be no FFG7. It was Zumwalt who introduced the concept of Hi-Lo (according to his auto-bio. I wasn’t around for it, as I wasn’t to be born till the next decade). To compare a ‘Hi’ (LCS) system to a ‘Lo’ (FFG7) just isn’t right. We do not have a replacement for the FFG7 because the philosophy behind the FFG7 is being ignored, or powerpoint’d to obscurity.

    To add insult to injury of ADM Zumwalt’s philosophy, we named the DDG1K after him.

    If we are going to have a Navy that will be able to be a Force for Good on a global scale, we are going to need to take a serious look at ADM Zumwalt’s philosophy of Hi-Lo.

  • Scott B.

    Mike Burleson said : “A back to basics in warship design, or continued shrinking.”

    If we go by the definition of the corvette you just posted over at your home blog, the corvette option would actually be a giant step backwards, for instance in terms of :

    1. endurance
    2. seakeeping
    3. versatility
    4. adaptability
    5. air defense
    6. interoperability
    7. survivability
    8. crew comfort
    9. free spaces
    10. embarked aviation

    The corvette option doesn’t hold water in a US Navy context, and is probably the least fiscally efficient (read : responsible) investment one could make in the current context.

    The corvette option simply shows that some people out there want to replay the entire streetfighter comedy, hoping we wouldn’t get the exact same outcome that we get today with the entire LCS program.


  • The FFG-7 was a far higher-end ship than Zumwalt originally wanted.

    My two cents–I think the much-vaunted (and much gold-plated) mission packages are going to fold under their own weight. So, if that leaves us with–as I expect–LCS-2, the Navy gets the burrito, to fill it with what they (or the Marines) want. Right now (and for a while yet) I think the mines, mini-ship, surface fires “mission set” is kinda overkill.

    At it’s cheapest, the LCS is an armed transport and research vessel that can carry Marine Corps stuff and may–depending upon what gets developed out there–push interesting embarkable things beyond their test/prototype stage. To me, that fills a niche.

  • Scott B.

    Springboard said : “The FFG-7 was a far higher-end ship than Zumwalt originally wanted. (snip) At it’s cheapest, the LCS is an armed transport and research vessel that can carry Marine Corps stuff and may–depending upon what gets developed out there–push interesting embarkable things beyond their test/prototype stage. To me, that fills a niche.”

    What you’re describing here are two radically different trajectories.

    In one case (the FFG), the cost escalation parallels a significant improvement over the initial requirements : it’s certainly more expensive than initially envisioned, but you end up with a much better product.

    In the other case (the LCS), the cost escalation doesn’t seem to parallel any improvement in terms of capabilities, and, as you seem to suggest, the opposite might in fact happen, with the end-product not even capable of fulfilling the missions originally envisioned.

    In the first case, the end-product effectively becomes a significant component of the surface fleet.

    In the second case, *at its cheapest*, it merely *fills a niche*.

    A couple more comments on LCS :

    1) $500+ million seems awfully expensive for *an armed transport and research vessel that can carry Marine Corps stuff and may–depending upon what gets developed out there–push interesting embarkable things*. But perhaps this is just me.

    2) A niche doesn’t simply exist on the offer side : the product also has to be its demand. Has the US Navy (or the Corps) expressed any tangible need for *an armed transport and research vessel that can carry Marine Corps stuff and may–depending upon what gets developed out there–push interesting embarkable things* ?

  • Byron

    So, you’re saying we should go ahead and spend a half billion a pop for 50 of these high speed research/Marine taxis? Damn, you must have a better in with POTUS and SECDEF than anyone thought. Hey, what are we going to get to take the FFGs place? You know, six months off east Africa showing the flag, working with local coast guards and Navy’s and a gentle reminder with the Stars and Bars to local heads of state that yes, we do have a global navy still, and help is just over the horizon. Can LCS do that? Uh…no. Not with that YTB crew and a half.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    Ahem, we Marines would prefer it, if not too much trouble, that our taxis don’t sink the first time someone puts an itty bitty hole in ’em!

    Give us enough amphibs and we will get where we need to go. Some over the horizon capability, NAVAL GUNFIRE, and tac air.

    Blowing in at 40+ knots isn’t going to outrun the ordnance that can put the LCS under, in amphibious ops or any place else.

  • Grandpa Bluewater

    D. Springb.

    OK, you got me fair and square on the LCS 2’s righting arm, for the moment, err… until modified in later life. The characteristics after weight growth, mmmm, dunno.
    ITS ALL ALUMUNUM. therefore an unsatisfactory warship design. Elephant at the garden party alarm, NavSea respond and report.

    Nuff said.


    My criticism is of the NAVY for the design, management of the program and oversight of construction. Yes, it got what it said it wanted. So did the Union army. So the comment stands.
    Shoddy. As in can and must do better, starting right….standby….
    mark! NOW.

    Contractors are cunning and devious organizations dedicated to minimum fulfillment of the contract at maximum profit to themselves. It is, I believe, a design feature of capitalism.

    You have to monitor, audit, supervise, oversee, and outsmart them.
    WSAM’s and ED’s concerned? Not good enough. Not by a country mile.
    It can be done right. See SSN’s, new construction, on time & under budget, recent record of.

    Happy to respond to your challenge. Shall we break another lance?

  • It was Zumwalt who introduced the concept of Hi-Lo (according to his auto-bio.

    Hardly. You can follow the development of ocean escorts from the DE program in WWII through the Dealys, Brooks, Garcias, Knoxes to the Figs.

    If you want, you can go back further and look at the Eagle boats as precursors to the DE/FF family.

  • “Despite Mike Burleson’s continuing advocacy of a Jeffersonian Gunboat policy redux, instead of those “expensive” frigates”

    So, how do you build a 313 Ship Navy when your “low end” vessels are pricing as much as your high end? One-half billion if you don’t put any armament on it. But the pirates are controlling much of the Gulf in fishing boats and converted motherships.

    Yeah, a couple 3000 ton battleships will solve all our problems.We will dazzle them with our coolness! Whatever.

  • Spade

    “And to what affect will these corvette bathtub toys have? Will they be large enough to have both offensive and defensive weapons and sensors? Will they have sufficient electrical generation? Will they have a decent cruising range other than that large pool known as the Med? How much punishment can they absorb and still bring most of their sailors home, unlike Starke and Roberts?”

    Once upon a time we could build 1-2k ton ships that had all that.

  • Byron

    Spade, once upon a time Naval ships did not require air conditioning or high end sat coms, radios, ECM gear and fire control. It was berthing with hammocks and iron sights. It was either shoot the plane down or die, no spoofing allowed. Back then, the need for a huge amount of electrical generation wasn’t needed. It is today, and in part drives the size and cost requirement of modern Naval ships.

    Can we build a modern 1-2K ton ship? Sure. Will it have the range and station keeping to operate in place for more than a couple of days? Will it have the wherewithal to withstand a modern attack AND dish it back out? All in a 200 ft. long ship?

  • leesea

    Granpa we are on the same side, so lets go spear NAVSEA the core of the shipbuilding problem?

    My solution to fixing the force naval force structure begins with a spectrum of ships. I don’t see anyway that the Navy will not build the first flight of LCS. BUT that should NOT stop them from building a littoral warfare ship larger than a FAC like Byron says) to complement what the LCS won’t be able to do.

    Anyone who meantions LCS and out great Marines in the same sentence should walk the plank! The two don’t go together. There are already ships capable of taking NGFS weapons, they are the LPD17 class. We bought an exquisite Cadillac SUV and it should do more!

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    “So, how do you build a 313 Ship Navy when your “low end” vessels are pricing as much as your high end?”

    Forensic accounting and vigorous prosecution of crooked contractors for a start. Knock off promoting Project Managers who
    allow the kind out of control cost growth seen on the LCS mess, instead send them home in disgrace.

    That program still hasn’t gotten control of their “modules” construction after how many years? We need to get smart about contract writing and write penalty clauses with teeth.

    Stop buying the “great leap forward” scam; low end utility vessels are the wrong place to start shoveling overpriced new tech into. Put proven systems only into prototypes, go into series production only when the prototype gets past its teething problems. Introduce new gear on an evolutionary basis. Learn the difference between brilliant design and fancy design.

    You want to do something “out of the box”? Pair up historians, Master Chiefs from the ships, and WSAM’s and start doing archive searches. Most of what is biting the Navy in the butt now was so doing in the 70’s, according to the old salts of that now distant time, most of it wasn’t novel in the 40’s. Find out what worked in the past, evaluate it and put it to work.

    Get the apple and chair polishers out those chairs in DC and out on the waterfront evaluating proven merchant marine practices and equipment the Navy is blissfully ignorant about, for adaptation at low cost. Stop ignoring the Great Lakes. Bulk ore freighterS 750 feet or more in length go up the NARROW AND WINDING Calument river every day, extremely confined water, with two men in the pilothouse. They tie up using less than ten men (including two officers) on deck using 50 year old specialized deck machinery the Navy doesn’t know exists. They moor in about a quarter the time a similarly sized Navy ship would take and immediately start RAPIDLY loading cargo. Point is other places and other folks have good ideas which can be put to work if INTELLIGENTLY ADAPTED BY QUALIFIED ENGINEERING DESIGN EXPERTS AND INSTALLED IN AN EVOLUTIONARY MANNER.

    The gigantic loss of technical talent and expertise due to twenty years of decimating the Petty Officer and CPO ranks with ill advised personnel reductions has got to stop. Instead of promoting the best to LDO and using their ability for a full thirty year career, we have pushed them onto the beach to lose the treasure locked up in their heads forever, or hire them back as contractor personnel at much higher rates. The officer side was even worse. Then there is the evisceration of basic technical training due to a prejudice against dirty hands and bloody knuckles. The Navy pays for that every day.

    Shipbuilding is out of control, that doesn’t mean it has to stay that way. Others do it right. Find them and pick their brains.

  • Grandpa Bluewater


    Mmmm, we may be in violent agreement. Mike and I agree sometimes, but I’m not an enthusiast for “littoral” anything. Coastal, sure. Inshore, as required. I have my reasons.

    Volume of a ship goes up with the cube of the waterline length.
    So, ignoring stability considerations at your considerable peril,
    does the amount of equipment you can stuff in, the capacity of tankage and just about everything else, either at the square or cube, depending. That includes horsepower per knot (which goes down as you go faster, alas). Draft is complicated, related to how the tin is bent…see also, Archimedes.

    So it’s all a gigantic zillion factor compromise. The LCS is just a bad one. All gee whiz and not so much hard earned experience. You need the Goliaths. You need the little Davids. It’s all a question of proportion. You don’t need ANY ships unfit for battle.

    Small is not so hot. Because seakeeping is crucial. But again it’s a compromise. A balancing act.

    Sometimes tiny is great, for specialty work. Example, a 98 pound female welder convinced me every shop should have somebody you can hold by the ankles upside down in a hull frame of a small tank and do precision mirror welding on critical pipe systems. Great DC phone talker too. Useless carrying casualties up 5 decks in a stretcher wearing breathing apparatus. Not so great on a six inch diameter fire hose. Great specialty design, but you only need relatively few.

    If this stuff was easy everybody would wear double breasted navy blue suits with gold buttons and gold on the sleeve(s). As it is, panaceas don’t exist.

  • sid

    Just whats needed…

    A ship design already known to not, “be survivable in a hostile combat environment”, to make up the bulk of the USN’s surface COMBATANT fleet.

  • YNSN

    It was Zumwalt who introduced Hi-Lo. Because it was Zumwalt who was faced with a SECNAV and SECDEF who wanted an entire nuke surface fleet. I am not saying that he was the first CNO to put small combatants on the sea to make sure we had enough numbers. But, I am saying he is the first CNO, that I know of, that pushed an acquisition philosophy that we still face today. I would imagine we would still have that philosophy if we did not have Reagan in office in the 80s, with defense budgets able to afford anything. We need that philosophy today. Yes it is freakin’ awesome to have a ZUMWALT capable ship floating. I am sure it will do awesome things. But, if we are going to gorge there, we will need to do less elsewhere. So, we need another FFG7 concept. That same philosophy of Hi-Lo. I wish I had the book with me so I could quote it. But, someone on this blog MUST own “On Watch” by ADM Zumwalt…

    Want to fix the LCS? Put a gun on it and some harpoons. make sure it has as good of a SSDS and link system as LPD 17. take the extra room and put UAV gear there and extra berthings for a larger crew.

    There, good enough for me to want to sail in… Oh, and loose the aluminum please.

  • UltimaRatioReg


    I have it (someplace) and have read it. I would perhaps say that Zumwalt put name to a concept that goes back quite a ways. “Hi-Lo” could just as easily be the term given to WSC in 1915 when the Royal Navy had it drummed into them that a large number of dreadnoughts (like the nuclear fleet of the 1970s) lacked sufficient flexibility in employment and suitability, and were prohibitively costly for the entire gamut of warship requirements.

    Hence, the beginning of truly modern “light” cruisers and large destroyers with seakeeping qualities.

    My $.02

  • SM1 Ret.

    I’ve been out of the loop now for over 10 Years but I’ll say this. It is all about having the right balance. I sailed on a FFG-7, a good ship yes but not without it’s flaws. But is that not true of just about any one of our platforms? We need the big guys who can cover a lot of area as well as little guys who can get in close. Can we all agree that aluminum should be left out of the shipbuilding equation? As for the Marines, we need enough ships and small craft that can deliver them quickly, safely and with some firepower. This will cost money that most people don’t want to pay. In closing, I agree with the comment “give the FFG’s to the USCG instead of selling them to foreign navies.

  • SwitchBlade

    A few additional thoughts;
    I was involved in the FFG program almost from the beginning – tested the 76mm gun on the USS Talbot. Pre-commed FFG-26, USS Gallery and served at DESRON 8 in Mayport while still getting new FFGs.

    The original main mission of the FFG was to be escorts for the amphibious groups and the resupply convoys going to Europe in the case of WWIII. Many of the criticisms leveled at the design were for being attached to CVN Battle Groups, which of course they were. However, there were several design features which would have significantly increased the FFGs capabilities. A major improvement would have been to install the main engines backwards with the intake end aft and the exhaust forward. Downside – the Main Gear Box would have had to be at the front of the engine room with the corresponding required length of shaft and associated design features. UP SIDE – the exhaust stack would have been directly aft of the main mast and the intake plenums would still have been on the side but redesigned. The STIR radar could have been mounted on a small platform on the aft side of the main mast or on a small but slightly taller platform than it is on. The CIWS could then have been on a short platform aft of the STIR but forward of the 76mm gun, permitting it to fire over the 76mm gun with a large (300 degree) field of fire. The 76mm gun may have had to move a little aft, but would have then haved a correspondingly large field of fire. This would have substantially increased the combat capability of these ships. There were other issues that had to be corrected, such as superstructure cracking, lack of “armor” for many electronic spaces and the weight issues. But, they were a good low mix ship that went to sea with mostly the original very capable design. The problem with the Spruance class was that many weapons and other capabilities were to be added later – and for the most part it didn’t happen.

    The LCS is a different story. I don’t think there is as clear a definition of the mission they are designed for as there was with the FFG. In addition – as should have been learned from history (to many Naval Officers have technical degrees which makes them susceptible to this type error – but that’s another story) the LCS won’t be used only for it’s designed mission – but for many others; and they won’t have the right mission package most of the time because you come the mission with what you have, not what you want.

    I believe the original article was trying to imply that since the FFG turned out to be a good ship despite the original criticism, the LCS will also. I don’t think that is the case. Other than cost, the issues are different and not even close to being similar.