Mutual Moves by the United States, China and Russia
Sinan TOPUZ / email@example.com
Rising tensions across the globe, from the South China Sea to the Persian Gulf, and from the Eastern Mediterranean to the North Sea, has given momentum to the competition in the field of combat platforms. The global trade potential for warships, which was 39 billion dollars in 2017, realised as $40 billion dollars in 2018, and is expected to reach $45 billion in 2024. As we did last year, we will be sharing with you the latest developments about the global warship sector. We covered events of 2019-2020 in two parts, and starting with the most recent developments witnessed by the United States, the People’s Republic of China, and the Russian Federation.
The most important development of 2020 for the US and perhaps for the world warship market was the conclusion of the Guided Missile Frigate (FFG (X)) tender. The US wants to position the FFG(X) frigates somewhere between the ARLEIGH BURKE class destroyers and the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS), in terms of price and capability. As the tender results were expected to be announced in the summer of 2020, the announcement that came in April was a surprise. The tender worth $5.5 billion was awarded to the US based Fincantieri/Marinette Marine (F/MM), which will be responsible for the first ship and nine additional options. The US Navy does not want to experience the same problems encountered in the LCSs and FORD-class aircraft carriers. According to the contract, the Navy has the right to open a new tender following the first ship, the ninth ship or whenever it deems necessary.
Unlike LCS, FFG(X) will have air defence warfare and electronic warfare capabilities. The frigate’s air defence capabilities were defined based on a local air defence system, rather than an air defence system designed for territorial defence like in the case of cruisers and destroyers. Anti-submarine capability also stands out as an important feature.
Giuseppe Bono, CEO of Fincantieri, explains the reasons behind their success in the tender as:
- Fincantieri’s offer provided the best quality/price balance;
- They fully met the requirement of the US Navy for a ship mainly with submarine warfare capabilities;
- While the competing ships were present only on paper, FREMM is already operational;
- Thanks to their previous projects such as the one they carried out together with Lockheed Martin for the AEGIS system, they did not need a major superstructure update; and
- The ongoing LCS construction in their own shipyard facilitates their contact with the Navy.
Retired Vice Admiral Rick Hunt, chief strategy officer at the company, listed their most important advantages during a sectoral event that was held before the tender was finalised:
- High readiness rate thanks to the conditional maintenance policy driven by artificial intelligence (As an example, this rate is 75 percent in the Italians’ offer and is higher than that of the United States);
- The bridge was designed taking into account safety factors;
- In addition to the 32 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) on board, 16 Naval Strike Missiles can also be launched from the ship;
- The ship has a hybrid propulsion system and is capable of generating sufficient energy for directed energy weapons; it is even capable of generating energy equivalent to the energy generated by Flight III ARLEIGH BURKEs;
- Electrical power can be increased without a need to making additional openings on hull or decks and patches afterwards or a requirement to create additional space;
- The ship’s silent navigation capabilities meet all requirements of the US Navy, from radar cross section to the IR fingerprint;
The costs of the first, second and the remaining ships are expected to be $1.2 billion, $1.05 billion, and $0.9 billion, respectively.
Among the competitors of Fincantieri was AUSTAL USA’s AUSTAL frigate, which is a more armed variant of the manufacturer’s Independence-class ships. While F/MM competed with its 6,700-ton FREMM design, General Dynamics and Bath Iron Works Shipyard took part in the process with the 6,000-ton Navantia Álvaro de Bazán class F100 frigate. The design of Huntington Ingalls Industries, the other competitor in the tender, was not disclosed.
According to the information we received from open sources, we can summarise the reasons why the FREMM design of F/MM was chosen: The report submitted to the US Congress shows that the proposed design’s displacement is 500 tons larger than that of the Italian FREMMs; and its 7,400-ton displacement corresponds to 76 percent of the displacement of ARLEIGH BURKE ships, which are the most commonly used ships in the US Navy. However, the proposed design’s cost per unit is 49 percent lower than that of the ARLEIGH BURKEs. Meanwhile, the proposed design, which is 151 metres long, is 7 metres longer than the 144-metre FREMM, and is 36 percent cheaper than the same-class ships in terms of cost per 1,000 tons. When it is compared with LCS-1 (Freedom), the cost advantage becomes 15 percent. Sources show that cost advantage is high also when the same cost calculations are made in a way that the proposed design is compared with the United States’ national coast guard ship programme.
Meanwhile, there is a point worth mentioning related to this issue. The fact that Helge Ingstad, which can be considered as Norway’s F100, collided with a commercial ship and then sank where she had run aground on 13 November 2018 may be seen by the US Navy as a design error. So, this probably perceived as a risk that no one wants to take.
As for Austal’s LCS design, it is said that the US Navy didn’t like the aluminium ship; that the machine configuration does not provide the desired silence; and that Huntington Ingalls’ undisclosed design also contains risks. FREMM and F100 were noted to be larger than their peers. However, it seems that the misfortune of F100 and the fact that the US Navy lost its trust in the LCS left FREMM alone in the race.
Table 1. Technical Specifications of Ships Competing in the FFG(X) Programme
|Type||Manufacturer||Width/Length (m)||Weight (t)||SAM||SSM||Propulsion System||Personnel|
|FREMM||F/MM||19.8/151||7,400||32-cell Mk 41 + 16 NSM||CODLAG||140|
|F100||General Dynamics Bath Iron Works Navantia||18.6/146.7||5,853||48-cell Mk 41||CODOG||250|
|AUSTAL Frigate||Austal||32/139||2,300||32-cell Mk 41 + 16 Strike Missiles||CODAD Waterjet / Gas Turbine||130|
|Huntington Ingalls||Not disclosed.|
Looking at the physical properties of ships, as given in open sources, will also provide a better understanding of the subject (Table 1). According to the information we have in hand, it seems that FREMM, which features a wide range of weapon systems, command & control systems and sensors (57 mm gun, SEA RAM, Sonar, COMBATSYS-21 command & control system, electronic warfare systems) provided by the Navy as government furnished equipment (GFE) out rivalled its competitors not as a surprise but as a natural outcome. At this point, we have to underline that we do not know the exact price quotes.
Sources from Fincantieri announced that the company invested $180 million in its shipyard in the US until the tender was concluded; and that an additional investment of $80–100 million dollars will also be made.
Apart from this project, different signals came throughout the year from the United States, which set out with the target of 355 ships. First, they prepared a plan to increase the life span of ARLEIGH BURKE Flight I destroyers from 35 to 45 years, however, they later announced that the project had been shelved. The project will continue with Flight III destroyers with reinforced radars (SPY-6). A contract has been concluded for 13 Flight III ARLEIGH BURKE destroyers.
The media covered statements saying that large unmanned sea vehicles will start to be in the seas beginning from 2024. For the period of 2021–2025, the budget required for unmanned vehicles is $12 billion, and its breakdown is as follows: $4.3 billion: MQ-4C Triton Maritime Surveillance System; $1 billion: MQ-25 Stingray Carrier-Based Tanker System; $2.2 billion: unmanned surface platforms; $1.9 billion: underwater platforms. It is understood that the budget increased by 129 percent compared to 2019.
Recently, the United States announced that it will retire the first four ships that serve as test ships under the LCS programme, which aims to put forth cost-effective ships, without going under a major overhaul, and stated that the resources allocated for the maintenance of these ships will be shifted to other priorities.
The US public opinion has recently started to discuss reducing the number of aircraft carriers from 11 to 9 and increasing the use of unmanned vehicles with the use of 70–80 large warships and 55–70 small warships. This discussion and the subsequent developments are important for the future strategies of the US Navy and the nations following US.
A Comparison of İSTİF and FREMM Class Frigates
I don’t think it is correct to compare the fighting capabilities of ships by looking at material figures only, and at the end of the day, I believe that the difference is made by men and women who serve on board. However, when we look at the physical properties in light of the information we have today, we can see that there are differences between Turkey’s İSTİF class frigate and FREMM, the selection of the United States, in terms of tonnage and proportionally in terms of weapons and sensors. While the displacement of İSTİF is 3,000 tons, FREMM’s displacement is more than double of this, and accordingly can carry more payloads. The number of VLS cells onboard FREMM is 32, while this number is 16 for İSTİF class. On the other hand, the gun used in FREMM is 57 mm, while the one preferred for İSTİF class is 76 mm. The İSTİF-class frigate’s model displayed at IDEF 2019 featured SEA RAMs, which are also preferred in the United States. Having said that, there is no publicly available information on how ASELSAN’s GÖKDENİZ system will enter the game. Meanwhile, the surface-to-surface guided missile ATMACA will make a significant difference. We know that a considerable number of countries are willing to see these systems in the inventory of Turkey so that they can add them to their procurement lists. Undoubtedly, the major differences will be observed as cost per ton, cost per platform, and cost versus firepower. Just as it is a big mistake to talk about a strategy without considering the resources, it would also be a mistake to compare the ships, even physically, without taking into account the cost factor. I have no doubt that when the costs are revealed, İSTİF class will prevail.
We can say that like in the above-mentioned preferences of the United States, the features, which make İSTİF-class ships be considered as warships, will be provided as GFE. The ships will be equipped with the technologies Turkey produces, however, the most important difference of İSTİF Class will be their employment at highest performance by the precious personnel of the Turkish Naval Forces, based on the tactics and doctrines developed specifically for these weapons and sensors.
People’s Republic of China
According to the reports of the United States, China will have 360 and the United States will have 297 warships in late 2020. The figure is expected to be 400 for China in 2025.
According to the unconfirmed information received from some open sources, China launched sixteen 1,370-ton Type 56 corvettes, eight 7,000-ton Type 52D destroyers, two 13,000-ton Type 55 destroyers, one 20,000-ton, one 30,000- ton Type 71, and seventy-five LPHs in 2019.
The first ship that was accepted for service in 2020 was the 10,000-ton Type 55 destroyer that is capable of carrying 112 vertical launchers. The ship, which they call as a fourth-generation warship, was described as the largest warship ever built by Chinese shipyards. The sixth of these ships was launched in December 2019.
Although there are some differences among various sources, it is considered that there are 66 (four SSBN, seven SSN and fifty-five SS) submarines in China’s inventory. It is estimated that this figure will increase to 76 (eight SSBN, thirteen SSN and fifty-five SS) submarines in the 2030s.
Shandong (Type 001A), China’s second aircraft carrier, was commissioned by the People’s Liberation Army Navy in December 2019. It is estimated that the third aircraft carrier of China will be put into service in 2024, and it is heard that the fourth ship will be designed as Type 002 and will start to be built in 2021. Of course, these expectations were based on the plans made before COVID-19 broke out…
Another type of vessel on China’s agenda is the 1,500-ton JIANGDAO (Type 056) class corvette. It is said that more than 50 of these vessels will have been commissioned by February 2020 and that the construction of more than 15 vessels is underway. Variants of the 90-metre ships were also exported to Nigeria and Bangladesh under the name C13. There was also news in the press that Kazakhstan and Venezuela held meetings regarding the purchase of the vessel’s export model, designated as the P18.
Like it was experienced during the FFG(X) discussions in the United States, the Chinese press also started to cover evaluations on what the features of the new Type 54, which will be manufactured following the 30 Type 54 frigates that were built between 2006–2018, will be. There are reports that the new ship may be called Type 54 AP or Type 57.
In September 2019, China launched Type 75, a 40,000-ton LHD-class amphibious assault ship. It is envisaged that in February 2020, three of these ships will be simultaneously under construction at the same time.
The Admiral Sergei Gorshkov-class frigates are viewed as the first part of Russia’s policy of extending into the open seas once again. It was announced to the press that following the launching of the first ship of this class, which had a length of 130 metres and a weight of 4,500 tons, in 2017, the third ship was launched at the end of May 2020. The programme which covers seven ships is known as Project 22350.
Odintsovo, the fifth ship in the Karakurt corvettes project (Project 22800), started port trials in February 2020. The first ship under the project had joined the Russian Navy in December 2019. It is learned from open sources that orders have been placed for 16 ships of this type.
The seventh of the Steregushchiy-class corvettes (covered under Project 20380), which have a weight of 2,200 tons and a length of slightly over 100 metres, was launched on 12 March 2020, while the first ship in the project was laid down in 2001. It was reported in the media that four more ships of this class are under construction; and that three ships from Project 20385 and 20386, which are more advanced variants of these ships, is either underway or in the phase of sea trials.
The sea trials of the second ship under the Russian Navy’s amphibious ship project 11711 have been completed. While the initial plan was to build two of these 6,600-ton ships, it was later decided to increase the number of ships to four. Petr Morguno, which is capable of carrying 13 tanks or 36 armoured personnel carriers, is expected to join the Baltic Fleet.
According to the news wired by TASS news agency in May 2020, following the modernisation of the Black Sea and Baltic Fleets and the Caspian flotilla, there are plans to add new platforms to the Russian Pacific Fleet and to perform certain modernisation activities. Most of these modernisation projects are about upgrading the ships and submarines with more modern missiles. The news agency also reported that the number of modernised and new ships to be commissioned for the Pacific Fleet will reach 15, including small and large ships.
The construction of Improved Kilo class (Project 636.3) submarines weighing 4,000 tons, which are considered by the Russian Navy resources as one of the world’s most silent submarines, is going on to meet a requirement of the Russian Pacific Fleet. The Russian Navy had taken delivery of the first of the six planned submarines in November 2019. The harbour trials of the second ship and the construction of two ships are in progress.
The renovated Akula-class submarine (covered under Project 971) joined the Navy in April 2020, with Kalibr-PL missiles integrated. It was announced that the delivery of the Project 955A Borei A-class ballistic missile submarine, which was previously planned to join the Navy following the completion of the tests in April 2020, has been postponed to June 2020 due to the fact that the tests took longer than expected. The first ship Knyaz Vladimir (Prince Vladimir) started first sea trials in May 2020, and it was announced through media outlets on 29 May 2020 that the tests were completed successfully. The Project 885M Yasen-M submarine was launched in Severodvinsk in December 2019. The ship, which was laid down in 2013, is expected to be put into service at the end of 2020. According to sources, there are four Yasen M submarines currently under construction.
The Russian Navy announced that the second of the Khabarovsk nuclear submarine, which they previously considered as an Oskar-class submarine (Project 949A) and later converted (with Project 09852) into a submarine capable of using unmanned underwater vehicles carrying nuclear warheads, can be launched at the end of June 2020.