The US Navy botched the design of its new $1 billion frigates: report

  • The US Navy's guided-missile-frigate project faces delays because of a flawed design, a report has found.

  • Construction for the $22 billion project started before the design was completed, causing issues.

  • The Government Accountability Office has recommended prioritizing design quality and testing on land.

A congressional report published Wednesday has found that the US Navy's designs for its guided-missile-frigate project are flawed, stalling construction and delaying the delivery of the first frigate.

"The Navy had good reason to be optimistic that the frigate program was positioned to deliver capabilities on the schedule it promised," the report says. "Subsequent missteps, however, have jeopardized the Navy's ability to achieve these goals."

In order to accomplish its ambitious goal of acquiring and delivering up to 20 Constellation-class guided-missile frigates over the course of 20 years — an endeavor projected to cost more than $22 billion — the US Navy began building the first frigate before its design was complete. But that was a big mistake, a congressional watchdog found.

The US Government Accountability Office reported that this misstep resulted in design challenges that paused construction on the first ship, which began in August 2022, and would cause the frigate to be delivered to the service three years late.

"To reduce technical risk, the Navy and its shipbuilder modified an existing design to incorporate Navy specifications and weapon systems," the report says. "However, the Navy's decision to begin construction before the design was complete is inconsistent with leading ship design practices and jeopardized this approach."

In addition to scheduling delays and the halting of ship construction, the Navy has yet to demonstrate frigate propulsion and machinery control systems.

But the report suggests that scheduling delays coupled with changes made to the frigate testing process may allow the Navy to test these two unproven systems on land. By doing this testing, there may be fewer problems once the ship is at sea.

The future frigate was designed to be a multi-mission workhorse that carries air defense and strike missiles, as well as torpedoes to attack submarines. It's being built by Fincantieri Marinette Marine in Wisconsin.

A US Navy spokesperson said Thursday that the service added engineers to complete the frigate design sooner and will review ways to improve the workforce that builds warships.

"The Navy recognizes the importance of a mature and stable design prior to construction start and the Frigate program challenges associated with delays in design completion," Lt. Cmdr. Javan Rasnake told Business Insider. "The Navy has established a collaboration site at the Fincantieri Marinette Marine shipyard and surged both Navy and contracted engineering design personnel to accelerate Frigate design maturity and support ramp up of production."

GAO makes five recommendations in its report, including that the Navy prioritize measuring the quality of ship designs over the quantity of design deliverables. It also recommends that the Navy complete and assess the design before moving on to building the second frigate.

The Navy agreed to accept four of the recommendations and one of them partially, which involved updating testing.

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